Thursday, September 22, 2011

Altered States

Back in my small-town Texas high school in '82, there was a big announced assembly in the cafeteria: Real Russian soldiers were going to talk to us!

There were two guys there in "Russian" uniforms. My classmates, and the school principal, were immediately randomly belligerent: "Why don't you believe in freedom?" After my principal -- a grown-up -- acted like that, I got up the nerve to stand up and, first, apologize for my principal for being rude (to boos) and then to ask a specific political question: "If the Communists claim to stand for workers, then why did your country crush the recent workers' revolution in Poland?" (the "Solidarnosc" movement led by Lech Walesa).

I don't remember the answer, except that it was a generic, non-satisfying one. What I do, though, remember, is the knee-jerk idiocy of my high school classmates, all-too-eager to mock the so-called "Russians" standing before them. No one had anything intelligent to ask; it was all put-downs.

It was subsequently revealed (later that day in school) that the "Russian soldiers" were American Army plants, sent around to high schools to inspire patriotism. Yes, Reagan was sponsoring these kind of odd things -- among high school kids -- in '82.

That moment stood out to me. The knee-jerk nastiness from the whole crowd (including grown-ups) and just me asking the actual political question, and another girl (just moved to Azle from NYC) asking, in the face of all the nastiness, about what the soldiers ate for breakfast on an ordinary day! :)

That same girl, by the way, gave me a 3-inch John Lennon "Listen to this Button" button that she'd gotten in NYC, after learning how much I liked him. Marilyn Carmody. Later changed her acting name to "Rose Carmody." We acted in one one-act high school play together that won her an award in state competition: "I Never Saw Another Butterfly." She was the main Jewish girl in the concentration camp. I was one of the 3 supporting Jewish girls, whose main scene consisted of clutching some barbed wire and wistfully spewing a line.

What I also remember about her is when I'd gone to see 1980's "Altered States" showing at the theaters in Fort Worth a year or so later... A friend that we shared had told her that I was an "intellectual." Maybe, but as a teen, I was a very tongue-tied one. I'd loved the intense movie, was very moved by it. But when the NYC-girl asked me what I thought the "message" of the movie was... I was unprepared to "discuss" it. I stared at her like a dummy. And then she said, "I think it was about Love." I nodded. Despite all the goings-on, it was indeed just about that.

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