Hi. I'm Billy Ray and this week I'm naked in school. Yeah, the damn Program made it all the way up here to Appalachian hill country. We'd heard rumors of it being out on the east coast, but after all, they were just rumors -- right? Guess not.
On Monday of the third week in school they called an assembly in the auditorium. Up on the stage were the Principal, teaching staff and some lady none of us had ever seen before. Principal Miles started out by welcoming us all back to another year at Ridgecrest High and then proceeded to explain all about some new government-sponsored program called 'Naked In School'.
The laughter that greeted this announcement spread like ripples in a pond up until we noticed that he was standing there with this dead serious look on his face. When the laughter died down, Josh Hartman stood up and after getting acknowledged, said, "Please, tell us this is the best joke you have ever sprung on us."
With almost what I would call 'a look of loss' Principal Miles replied, "No Josh, it's not a joke. Please, sit down son and let me explain."
For the next ten minutes or so he laid out the stated 'goals' of 'The Program'. It sounded like prerecorded, utopian BS to me and his delivery was not what I would call enthusiastic. I also noticed a look creeping over his face that when combined with his body language, shouted out the intense shame he felt at having to mouth this psycho-babble horse crap. When he finally wound down, he introduced the new 'Program Councilor' Ms. Bennington.
She trotted on over to the podium and after thanking Principal Miles she turned on this thousand watt smile and said, "Hello children, I'm from the government and I'm here to help."
A pin dropping at that point would have been like a shotgun blast going off and she actually felt she had to tell us that the preceding was a joke. No one laughed though there were a few sniffles from some of the younger kids. Mostly what met that statement were the hard faced stares from the eyes of six hundred hill children, all of which were rapidly headed toward royally pissed off.
At this point Josh stood again and when Ms. Bennington recognized him, he asked, "Ma'am, may I direct a question to Principal Miles?"
After he got the nod he said, "Sir, with all due respect, you do know what's going to happen now, don't you?"
With the saddest eyes I've ever seen on a human face the Principal nodded his head once.
Josh then looked back over at Ms. Bennington and said, "Ma'am, what Principal Miles knows in his bones and you seem to have no clue about, is that the little squad of Rent-A-Cops you have stationed by the back doors don't stand a chance of making us do anything we're not willing to do, or that we choose not to do. Don't look so alarmed Ma'am. We're deer hunters, all of us, we notice everything around us."
Then without looking away from her face, Josh said, "Would everyone that agrees with my last statement please raise your right hand?"
I glanced around and saw five hundred and ninety nine arms inexorably reaching for the ceiling.
He then continued with, "Before I forget, I should mention one more thing. You see, the people sitting in front of you are our neighbors. These are the people we will have to depend on for help during the rest of our lives. In order to do that, we have to carry a deep and abiding respect for and trust, in each of them. I'm speaking about the kind of trust that allows a person to know, that each of them would lay down their lives to help the other. We also have to respect what they believe. Now, you come in here with your bright, shiny, new government program and in essence, tell us that the respect and trust we have in them is the wrong kind. But it's not. After all, it's worked for about sixteen generations so far. I reckon it will work for a few more." He then retook his seat.
The look on Ms. Bennington's face said she was shocked to her core and she was gripping the podium so hard by this time her knuckles were turning white. Her thousand watt smile had dropped to about seventy five watts as she sputtered out the rest of her address, sounding like a tape recorder on its last legs.
After she was seated again, I raised my hand and was recognized by Principal Miles. Nodding my head in thanks, I said, "Sir, you do know where we're headed on this path, right? This could wind up making Matewan look like a minor dog fight. So, before everyone starts swinging, I'd like to propose an alternative."
After getting the sign to continue, I said, "What we'd like is a chance to poll the students and see if there is an alternative to the arbitrary selection methods in place now; perhaps some kind of a 'true' lottery system. Names could be drawn by students and pass through a screening process of their peers for suitability. We'd like the chance to hold that meeting now as long as we're all assembled here anyway. What do you think? Is this workable?"
For the first time that morning, a look of hope flashed across Principal Miles face as he turned and walked over to Ms. Bennington. What followed was a somewhat heated, whispered discussion and I did catch a few choice phrases such as: 'how many bodies will it take' and 'guaranteed bloodshed this morning'.
Ms. Bennington finally took a good look around the room and I think it actually hit her that we were ready to physically resist her goon squad. I could almost hear the discourse she was having with herself, as she mentally played through this 'disaster in the making' and I believe that salvaging her career was the deciding factor for her; because it sure wasn't easing the students way into The Program that changed her mind. After gazing over the entire student body and seeing nothing but stone faced people, she turned her gaze to Principal Miles and nodded, "yes".
Principal Miles, heaving a sigh of relief, returned to the podium and asked, "How long do you think you'll need, Billy?"
Since I'd been thinking along these lines, I replied, "About a half hour to forty five minutes tops, Sir."
"All right son. We'll give you the forty five minutes. Just notify one of the door guards if it takes less time," He responded. Then turning to face the staff, he said, "OK folks let's give these ladies and gentlemen some privacy for their deliberations." With that: he, the staff and finally a scowling Ms. Bennington filed off the stage and out the door.
I expected a low level murmur to rise and was just a bit taken aback when I looked at five hundred and ninety nine pairs of eyes staring at me!
'Ah shit!' Passed through my mind and then I buckled down to get this done.
Figuring to 'spread the blame a bit' if this went south, I called up Sally Ewing, the student body President, to help with organizing what was to come.
We did have about a fifteen minute debate with some other ideas tossed out for consideration. But, lucky me, in the end my 'lottery' idea was adopted 'as stated'. We did add one little twist though. The lottery 'drawers' were also going to be on a random basis. That way we figured no one would be tempted to abuse the office. We then had everyone write their names and grades on pieces of paper and gathered them on stage for the initial draw.
First drawn were that week's drawers, then the 'vetting' members and finally that week's lucky winners. Since none of the names drawn were 'vetted' out, no one - except us on stage - knew who the winners were yet. I returned to the podium and asked if everyone was satisfied with the fairness of what had happened. Getting an affirmative response, I signaled Ralph Lowe to let the staff know we were done.
They filed back in and I handed the winners slips to Principal Miles. He took the podium and dismissed everyone to their classes after reading the list of the eight participants for the week. Yes, I was on the list. Oh joy.
When the rest of the students had filed out, our group-of-eight was called to the front of the auditorium, handed pamphlets, shown our boxes and asked to strip down. After putting our clothing in the boxes we were told we could pick them up out front of the school at the end of the day.
Ms. Bennington looked like she was back in her element as she laid out all the basic rules and then started prattling on about the male participants getting relief during the first five minutes of every class; as if this was some super important point. At this time the senior male participant, Hank Higgins, asked what for and produced the most intense look of shock I've ever seen on an adult face, including the one she had just shown at the podium not forty minutes before.
When she recovered a bit, Ms. Bennington stated it was to relive our sexual tension.
With a puzzled look Hank responded, "What sexual tension, Ma'am?"
I guess that's when Ms. Bennington finally looked down below waist level and realized none of the male participants were hard. She reminded me greatly of a trout gasping out its last breath as she screeched out, "How can you be standing next to naked females and not be aroused!?!"
Hank just looked back, with his puzzlement going deeper yet and said, "Ma'am, didn't you hear a word Josh said?"
"Of course I heard him. I just didn't for a second, believe him." She retorted.
I could see the thunder gathering in Hank's face at this statement, so I jumped in with, "Ma'am, you should have believed every word he said to you. You see, we don't lie to ourselves, or each other and we won't lie to you. Every word Josh spoke was the complete, unvarnished God's truth. By the end of today you will have witnessed it for yourself. Besides all of which, calling one of us a liar is a darn good way to find your butt end in a blood feud real fast."
.... There is more of this story ...