I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.
Attention Student Body, Senior Class, 1972, of My High School: I’ve never said a word about this commentary before now, but my personal Grudge Match with doing the right thing and telling a hard truth are going to go down. No more return matches. Tonight is it, so you best get ringside, grab a drink, maybe a snack, for I am bound and determined to purge myself of this filth that our Guidance Counselor, spat upon me during one morning between 10 and 11 am., on a Friday when he, the now-late Mr. Robert Owen, was busy “guiding” us on what he lovingly called Career Day.
This was a crock if there ever was a crock. A White Elephant Sale with no receipt. Buy right out of your trunk. No questions asked. This was how you, Mr. Owen, put me in a tight place just by asking my class to participate in this Career Day—we until then, had never had an adult authority figure come right out and bark the orders, Career Day, tomorrow morning, 10 am., be there. Great, I thought. Must be giving away free nutty bars. I did wish that because I went to school many times without breakfast. More on that later.
If you were from California prior to 1969, and ran into (a) Robert Owen, who wore tinted glasses and smoked Kool Extra Long’s, then he was your man. He knew lots of things because us Rubes here in Hamilton, Al., seen right away that Owen was really smart because he studied in Berkeley. Wasn’t this Berkeley, the same quiet town made wild by kids raging on LSD, “Weed,” and holding Anti-War Signs? And those clothes they wore, far out, man. Sandals almost became the State Shoe of California.
Robert Owen was the father of a good guy, Tom, his son, who grew up lifting weights and then one day, announced to the world that God had told him to bulk up and give his body for drawing crowds and taking in Love Offerings to help build King’s Ranch in Chelsey, Ala. Owen devoted himself (and body) to winning several titles for Body Building as well as performing dangerous physical feats, not tricks or illusions, to raise necessary monies to help King’s Ranch, the staff, other needs paid. Owen, I am not and will not slur him for the tough work he has done over the years. These feats, for instance involved Tom laying on his back with a piece of three-quarter plywood placed over his girth and when a signal was given, a full-size pick-up truck drove over Tom’s body and slowly, I might add. Tom always stood up, raised his hands, and showed that he was totally unharmed from top to bottom.
I met Tom a few times before he graduated the same high school that did in 1972. He was, and I’m sure, an humble-hearted guy and never talked about himself to anyone—when I talked to him, it was about me. Not Tom. And him being the guy from Berkeley.
But Robert, that is a different story. A story best told in whispered tones behind a dark cloth curtain in the back to get this out of my system. I am not implying anything dark or even ugly about Robert and Tom. Tom, in my opinion, is a great guy. And I can appreciate every child that he has helped over the years—but not Tom alone, but with staff and support personnel that numbers in the thousands all mostly just getting enough money to pay their personal bills. Making a lot of money is not top priority with the King’s Ranch and it’s staff members.
Now to take that painful, humiliating, and wishing this was over, time that I sat in a classroom with my group of five people, like Robert, our Guidance Counselor advised, I followed his instructions to the letter. The only task that we had was to take one piece of paper measuring 81/2 x 11 inches and on one side, write What Dream That I Wanted to See Come True After My Graduation . . . at the top of the sheet of paper followed by my explanation of where I wanted to live and work and what I wanted to do by way of an occupation after high school.
This was My Dream (from 1961 until that morning of Career Day, 1971): Since I was six, I had for a long time, dreamed of working at radio station. And that was it. Not a glam job or a job that might propel me to a higher stage in life . . .just work the turntables, microphone, headphones and the “wax,” which was then, 45 records and LPs all made with vinyl.
I included my Radio Hero: John Records Landecker, the Main Man at WLS-Chicago—I listened to him every night and weekend on my transistor radio in my bedroom where I lived. My parents were not into Rock Music as I was, and that was cool. Working at a radio station was about me and my dream.
I added in my last paragraph: I would love to work the Night Shift at some cool, FM Rock station and say what I wanted over the airways and play the music that everyone was listening to. Simple, right?
What happened next cut me deeper than any knife could cut me—and I still have the scar. Sure this sounds hokey, but I could care less. It was My Dream and My Life. What, pray tell, was wrong with that? If I had my hands on a flame thrower, I would have that handy device turned wide-open and creating towers of red and yellow flames high into the air—a symbol of my years of hatred; a symbol of my hot hatred to be correct.
Mr. Owen, Robert, now that I am 64, went from group to group reading every piece of paper the students had written. He injected some advice, laughter and I saw him pat one of my classmates on the back. I was so stupid that I let myself believe that he might pat me on the back for what I had chosen for my occupation—and for nothing more but me writing an honest answer to: What Do You Want Your Dream to be?
Now it was The Reckoning Hour. Robert, still wearing those green tinted glasses, walked to my group and started reading the papers from all of my classmates . . .until he got to me. I give him credit. He did pick up my paper and I assume, read it. If he did read it, he was one quick speed reader for in the time span of him picking up my paper, reading it, it took less than 5 seconds for him to . . .
crush the paper, toss it in the trash can and say these very words to my face: “A radio station?! (hard laughter) You want to work for a radio station? (more laughter). Shoot! You could not empty the garbage can for one of them,” and walked out of our room without saying anything else. What did my other classmates do before the bell rang? They were all jabbering, giggling and comparing their job choices while I just sat there. And stared at the trash can.
I did feel the hot stinging tears behind my eyes. I knew that it would not take much for me to completely break down, but then my dad and mom would let me have it for being weak. And the explanation that I made myself believe was . . .this Robert Owen was no doubt a man with a huge IQ. from the many degrees and certificates on his Guidance Counselor office. And since he had lived and worked in Berkeley, well that was a slam dunk. This Owen character was dead-on with my dream of wanting to be a DJ at an all-night, all-Rock FM station.
But whether you are 15 or 45, dreams die hard. If they are from the heart. Mine is at its last breath and soon, I will be gone. Body and all. Dream and all.
Children, no pathway thinking or essence seeking. Dream, my friends! Dream!
© 2018 Kenneth Avery