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Of Education

It's been somewhere in the neighborhood of two years since I've written anything on this site, but I do have an excuse; the dog ate my homework.

Hmm. That didn't work six decades ago either, and my graduation from high school was a very near thing because of it. Not entirely my fault, you see; Alex, my buddy, had a lot to do with it because he was a leader and I…well, I wasn't. We attended a large high school in East Palo Alto, California, which wasn't rural at all but was where my family lit for those entire four years, somehow. We had moved around a lot which often resulted in my being the 'new kid in school'. As such I quickly learned to attach myself to any veteran student who'd let me.

It hardly mattered that the entire freshman class was essentially the 'new kid' at Ravenswood High School, a brand new facility in itself. As a matter of habit I tried to pick out a large, easy-going scary-looking kid who repelled bullies, but I hit the jackpot with Alex; not so much size-wise, but he was good natured, funny and--more importantly--popular.

At least I thought I hit the jackpot. In old western movies the main character always had a sidekick like Gabby Hayes or Walter Brennan, which I slowly morphed into, minus the droopy hat and squinty eyes. It came so easily to me that I hardly noticed, but when we chose our elective classes after our sophomore year I followed Alex right into Ceramics and Wood Shop and Typing etc. with nary a thought. Our grades began an inexorable downhill slide but we were having fun, you know? Lots of it.

Alex (left) and sidekick headed to the Junior Prom

And it wasn't like we were neglecting schoolwork entirely; I made a ceramic ashtray in the shape of a coffin, and I also gave my parents the wood profile of a flying duck complete with protruding sheet-metal wing. Typing actually went on to be a very helpful skill too, as you can see. The elective classes were actually producing quite well, it was the required stuff that knocked us off our pins. Alex and I, by studious effort, managed to squeak out C's and D's in History and Algebra and English, but when it came to Government and Social Studies we were told in no uncertain terms the week before graduation that we weren't going to receive our diplomas if we didn't submit a truckload of retroactive work that we'd somehow missed during the school year.

It came right down to the final hours too. Alex and I stayed up all night struggling through a half-dozen retests and writing 1,000 word essays and generally contributing sleeplessness to all who resided at the Alex residence that night. Never have so few done so much for so many when we finally graduated and moved away from our homes.

Needless to say neither of us had to agonize over which college to attend, Alex hiring on at San Francisco International Airport to learn the lost art of baggage handling while I got my higher education at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. Other than a quick visit while I was home on leave I didn't see Alex again until the Ravenswood class of 1962 held its 50th reunion.

By then he'd aged some and was noticeably stove up a bit but he was still, unmistakably, Alex. He told of his voluntary transfer to another large city's airport, more for a change of scenery than anything else, and therein lies a true tale of American ingenuity that had to have been connected to his scholastic education, however loosely:

Upon his arrival he was shuttled from office to office in pursuit of the necessary paperwork required of all airline employees which was, in pre-9/11 days, mostly duplicates of duplicates distributed unevenly among anyone even remotely connected to a supervisory position. After wandering around the ground-floor baggage area for a couple days fruitlessly trying to find out where he was supposed to go and what he was supposed to do Alex discovered an old room that was apparently used as an office of some sort at one time, but was now vacant and somewhat run down. So, with nothing else of substance presenting itself he cleaned it out and began using it as his own. He was still punching in and punching out and available if anyone came calling, but nobody ever did. For years.

I could easily picture him wearing a short-sleeved white shirt with valid I.D. tag attached, wearing a tie, carrying a clipboard and a key ring around, talking with other airline employees while endearing himself in the easy way he had with people, all the while collecting a paycheck that was, after all, his due. It wasn't fraudulent and it wasn't intentional, it was just Alex coping in true Alex fashion.

The bubble burst on that horrible day of September 11, 2001, when the airlines--and the United States--changed forever. Alex's position as mostly self-employed came to an abrupt end in what must have been an appalling discovery of an almost unbelievable oversight. A blame game began but it was quickly found that Alex was innocent of everything except falling through administrative cracks in the system, and although he was absolved of any wrongdoing he was quickly and quietly moved back into baggage handling. Unfortunately for all involved Alex was no longer in physical shape for that kind of heavy lifting and immediately threw his back out of alignment in a most serious fashion, resulting in his going on permanent disability.

It's a good story and was backed up by his wife, although knowing Alex as I do I needed no proof. But it is indeed all the evidence needed to point out that in the world's system an education will never stand by itself; it needs to be augmented by a dogged determination to get on with whatever situation you're stuck in, and when it's over graduate to whatever comes next.

Even if the dog does eat the homework.



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