It was good to be the president.
In fifth grade, I had a brief but glorious flirtation with the world of politics. My term was short-lived, and the organization I was elected to run fizzled out due to tween drama and general apathy. But I got to sit on top of the world (aka, the school playground merry-go-round) for a few glorious fall days, and though I never re-entered the world of school politics, it was heady while it lasted.
My fifth-grade school year was one of the best academic experiences of my life to date. Our elementary only went up to the fifth grade, so we were kind of the graduating class. We were the top of the heap, and we knew it, walking the halls with new found superiority and popped collars. We had a new teacher, a young man (gasp! Only ladies can teach elementary school!) from New Hampshire, which might have been the dark side of the moon for how different and fascinating his culture seemed from ours. I had spent most of the previous year feeling like a complete outcast in Barbourville, and was unbelievably happy to be back home with kids who talked like me and dressed like me. Never underestimate the value of being around people who talk and dress like you; wars have been waged by groups trying to rid their turf of people who speak strange tongues and wear peculiar costumes.
The girls in my class decided that we should form a club. Our goals were simple: to have something that was just ours that we didn't have to share with the obnoxious boys in the class, and to have a forum where we could scope out/gossip about/flirt with the obnoxious boys in the class while seeming like we despised them. Fifth-grade girls really can't decide whether to start being romantically interested in boys or whether to hate them with white-hot fury.
We immediately decided that before we could have any further business, we had to elect a president. It was decreed that the main perk of this job, besides being an awesome title to have, would be that the president could sit in the sweet spot in the middle of the merry-go-round and reign in majesty over the school yard. This appealed to me, mostly because of physics. The middle of the merry-go-round was the one spot on the contraption where I could sit and not fear for my life once the thing got spinning to mach speed or suffer the rest of the day from ringing ears and a migraine.
The position of president also appealed to me because I had just been inspired by Geraldine Ferraro. I felt similar yearnings to those I felt after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space; I've never been really comfortable being the first to do something, but I am a world-class follower. I had wanted to be the second woman in space, or maybe the third if someone beat me to it. So in the fall of 1984, I decided, despite my shyness and lack of popularity, that I would someday be the second female Vice President. That's right, not candidate, Vice President. I was too young and idealistic to realize that Ronald Reagan was an unstoppable force.
My friend Denise, who was an Alpha if I ever saw one, decided to run our elections instead of running for the position herself. Which left the door wide open for me. She announced that we would have to make a short speech from atop the merry-go-round perch at recess answering this one, simple question: Why did we want to be president of the 5th-grade girls club?
I pondered over my answer for 2 whole hours. And at recess, the speeches began.
I couldn't believe what I heard. My classmates were honest, and if I learned anything from the national debates that fall, it was that honesty in politics is fatal. One girl said she wanted to be president because she liked being in charge of things. Another girl said she thought it would be really cool to be able to sit in the middle of the merry-go-round every day. Another said she was running "just because." Amateurs.
My turn came, and I made the first prepared speech of my life. I had my audience in the palm of my hand, and I hit my constituency where they lived. I mentioned boys.
One boy, in particular: Tom, my fifth-grade crush. And I also appealed to the soft hearts and sentimentality of my friends; I kid you not, by the end of my speech, one of my classmates was in tears.
"I want to be president of our club for a couple of reasons," I began. "First of all, I wasn't here last year, and I really missed all of you. You are very special to me." I paused dramatically and made eye contact with the two weepiest girls in the class, the ones who cried at the end of the novels our librarian read aloud to us every year. "It would mean a lot to me to come back and be your president.
"Also, as you know, I have a crush on Tom. But he doesn't know I exist." (He did know I exist, because I was kind of a creeper, but they didn't need to know that. Yet.) "Maybe if I'm president, he will notice me, even though I am not the prettiest girl in the class. Because I will be a leader. And I will also be sitting right in the middle of the merry-go-round every day. Thank you for your vote."
I won by a landslide.
The first order of business was to give us a name. If I do say so myself, I more than lived up to my presidential promise with this task. I decided to name us simply, "85 G." There were 8 of us, and we were in fifth grade, and we were the elementary graduating class of 1985. And our teacher's name was Mr. Goering. That's too many 8s, 5s, and Gs to let go to waste. I exercised my mandate.
So much so that I decided to have our first business meeting at my house. Which is where it all went wrong.
Only two girls could show up, and I wasn't allowed to have anyone inside the squalor pit we lived in, so the three of us met outside on a cool, damp day. As usual, I over-prepared by having an agenda to follow when what the two attendees really wanted to do was goof off in the side yard. I also didn't account for the fact that I was at war with my former best friend who lived across the street, and she was outside taunting us and making fun of me for thinking for once that I was maybe perhaps popular.
Just when she went inside and we thought we had gotten rid of her, she came out and flipped me the bird. And I ended my political aspirations as so many do, with a spectacular show of bad judgement. I flew into an unaccustomed rage, ran across the street and grabbed her by her shirt collar. I had just backed her into the brick at the side of her house and was giving her what-for when her mom hollered out the window and stopped me. She threatened to tell my mother, and even presidents live in fear of their mothers. Everyone was shocked, and maybe a little in awe. I didn't get bullied by anyone again until after Christmas; word spread fast that I had resorted to almost-physical defense and everyone treated me with wary respect until they realized that I weighed 60 pounds soaking wet and couldn't do any real harm, anyway.
The club disbanded the next week, either because their leader had been involved in a scandal or because we were fifth-grade girls with the attention spans of cats, one or the other. And I eventually made up with my frenemy across the street a few weeks later when she showed up on a day off from school with the ingredients to make homemade peanut butter cookies. We were both home alone and she wasn't allowed to use the oven when her parents weren't there, so we whipped up a batch of cookies in my kitchen and buried that hatchet. The cookies turned out pretty good (if you didn't mind cat hair in your cookies), as did the the friendship.
My further political success, however, went the way of the Mondale campaign. I ran for secretary or treasurer of things a few times, but never won (my middle-school NHS sponsor chastised me following one election when I didn't vote for myself and lost by a very small margin. The fact that it never occurred to me to vote for myself shows I am not ambitious enough for politics.)
The middle of the merry-go-round might be a good place to be for a while, but it's not near as comfortable, or have as nice a view, as my couch.