Rueben pulled the old book down off his bookshelf along with a cloud of dust and the carcass of a long dead spider.
“Guess I ought to do some cleaning around here, “the old-timer said. “Next spring maybe.”
It was the day after the 2016 elections—and every time I need a wise take on things, I visit Rueben. He’s been around a long time and has seen it all.
He told me the first time he had voted for president was for a governor of Kansas named Alf Landon. “But that would have been 1936,”I said to him doing the math. “Landon ran against FDR who was trying for his second term. If you were eligible to vote then, you’d have to be over 100 years old by now.”
Rueben looked me straight in the face and then said, “Well, maybe I am over 100. Or maybe I mighta wrote Landon’s name in a time or two through the years.”
Maybe he did. Landon himself, after all, lived to be 100.
The book Rueben had taken down from the shelf was over-sized but thin—and I recognized it as a high school yearbook. Rueben began thumbing through it until he finally stopped at a page near the middle. “Here it is,” he said. “The student body officers in my senior year.”
He pushed the open book over so I could take a look. A girl named Mildred was shown as the class treasurer. “I liked her,” said Rueben. “She always had money in her purse. But there was never a whisper of malfeasance.”
The school vice-president’s picture seemed to be printed upside down. “That’s not a mistake,” said Rueben. “That guy ran on his own self-named Opossum Party ticket. He insisted on hanging off a tree limb for that photo. Nice kid, but a nut.”
But then Reuben squinted more closely at the top photo—the student body president. So did I. “Does he have a bloody nose?” I asked. Reuben said, “He usually did. That happens when you’re always punching people. Sometimes they punch you back.”
Rueben said the school election that year had come down to two choices: A brainy girl who was class valedictorian—and the guy with the bloody nose.
The girl, Veronica Dragna, had been the previous year’s student body secretary. Her list of accomplishments was impressive. It read: “VERONICA JEAN DRAGNA. National Honor Society; Student Council; Junior Achievement; Homeroom President; National Merit Finalist; Mixed Chorus; Perfect Attendance Club; Pep Club; Homecoming AND Prom Queen.
The guy sporting the bloody nose was named Dick Spinks.
RICHARD SPINKS. Detention Club; Juvenile Work Farm; Gun Club; Advanced Aggression; Varsity Bullying.
“Spinks had never held any school office previously,” Rueben said. “He was too busy shaking down other students. So when he suddenly decided to run for student body president—no one took him very seriously.”
Rueben remembered the day Spinks announced his candidacy. “He got up on a table in the lunch room and told all the other students—“
“Don’t tell me,” I interrupted. “He told them he wanted to make the school great again, right?”
Rueben shook his head. “No. He hated school and never thought it was ever all that great. “
“So why did he decide to run?” I asked.
“He had a bunch of grievances,” Rueben replied. “For one, he thought he deserved better grades from the teachers—even though he never went to class.”
“So what kind of report cards did he receive?” I asked.
Rueben shook his head again. “Couldn’t say,” he said. “He wouldn’t show them to anyone.”
According to Rueben, Spinks said a number of shocking things in his campaign speeches —picking on certain students, making snide comments about some of the girls, including the one running against him. He also kept saying what a lousy job the current student body president had done.
“He even put down the teachers and the school administration,” Rueben said. “Half the time, he came across as a real jerk. The other half too.”
That made me wonder why he had been elected.
“Hard to say—most of us didn’t expect it,” said Rueben. “Maybe the students wanted a change. Or maybe it was because as a jerk he was so genuine about it.”
Rueben said that after Spinks’ shocking victory at least half of the student body was bewildered—even depressed. They all predicted he’d be a disaster as president.
“And was he?” I asked.
Rueben closed the yearbook and put it back on the shelf. “No one ever got the chance to find out,” said Rueben. “He got suspended shortly after the election for punching the principal in the nose.”
I thanked Rueben for the visit and got up to leave. Then I turned back around and asked,
“So did that kid who was the vice-president wind up replacing Spinks as student body president?”
Rueben nodded. “Yes, he did. And true to his promise, he conducted all school assemblies hanging upside down.”
“What did the other students think about that?” I asked.
“They thought he was pretty much of a nut,” he said.
“But they all had to admit he certainly did have a different point of view. “