In terms of narrative descriptors, what follows is something akin to Creative Non-Fiction; or fictionalized autobiography and reportage. Inevitably, everything here is partial and hence, in some pure sense of the word, false.
That partiality results both from fallible memory and the inherent inability to show the real connections among each and every piece depicted, and all the parts of my life that ‘don’t make the cut,’ either because they don’t entail the bogus ‘racial’ category or because they lack whatever mix of macho and oomph that a good vignette ideally would manifest. In any case, this sort of selectivity biases the sample, so to say.
And that’s just part of the story. Mediation, scholarship, textualization, and the complex whorls of cultural impact are mostly missing here, despite the fact that all such matters intertwined with experiential materials that I’ve determined to incorporate. Even to include a teeny, tiny fraction of all such interloping, interconnected, interrelations could make of each and every anecdote here a lengthy, intricate novel or other kind of narration.
Nevertheless, this mixture of memory and mediated meandering does come from the realm of the real. It all adds up to, if not a portrait of a life—my life—with a certain and consciously chosen coloration, as it were, then at least a few ‘snapshots’ of that existence.
A Childhood Mainly ‘White’
With very few exceptions, folks of European extraction surrounded me in my early years. In the event, at least one of these exceptional circumstances offers some telling insights, both about my family and ‘living in the U.S.A.,’ as it were.
My parents divorced when I was eight years old, a hideous sundering of what otherwise promised to be the typical admixture of nightmare and fantasy that is the vaunted American “middle class.” While I won’t go in to precisely how, a possible racial component could characterize this break-up. We got to stay in the house that sat on a nice street in a White neighborhood of a Columbus suburb, but the ‘wolves were howling’ in my mom’s mind, if not yet right ‘at the door.’
In any case, this eventuality soon enough hurtled my mother and her four chicks—of whom I was the eldest—into a proletarian condition at every turn. A primary manifestation of that downward drop was in food: less of it was available, and peanut butter and jelly on bread became a mainstay for anywhere from a few days to a week each month, especially since the youthful Spindoctor, in particular, was “a hollow pit” with a “hollow leg” who threatened to “eat (us) out of house and home.”
Though such a development does not on the surface relate to ‘race’ in any but the intellectual or investigative realms, it soon enough brought about a confrontation with color in reality. My mother’s talents as a wordsmith and secretarial wizard of almost unimaginable speed and accuracy sucked her back into the labor market, leaving the brood at home and in need of care.
A first, youthful caretaker, a just graduated neighborhood high school student at loose ends, did not work out. Our second “babysitter” was a Black woman, stern and compact but efficient.
In one way or another, she took upon herself the task of making sure that we didn’t too quickly gobble up all the peanut butter and bread, sins of which I was all too likely to be guilty. The upshot of this inevitable loggerheads was a confrontation between us, during which I scooted around our modest kitchen with a piece of Wonder Bread and a knife laden with buttery brown Skippy’s while our guardian scampered after me with a fly-swatter, generally ineffectual in her attempts to deliver a “good whopping,” like she said that I needed.
This led to a dismissal at the hands of my mother that evening, a sacking which the woman declared “racist” in every way. “It’s because I’m colored!” she pronounced with a matter-of-fact mien that combined bitterness and resignation.
My normally articulate and tough-minded mother was at a loss at this accusation, since she had herself beaten me when I uttered a “nigger” that one of my fellow first graders had used two years before, but her celebrity-good-looks-secretarial cohort, Linda Lane, was with her and took over the role of interlocutor in this instance. “I don’t care if you’re yellow, blue, green, or orange; you’re never going to hit these children again.”
The outcome of this imbroglio was that, at age eight and a half years, I became the de-facto overseer of my two ‘school-age’ siblings for a time, and then of the lot of them when my youngest sister too went off to Kindergarten and thereby came home each afternoon. Plenty of other little incidents touched on ‘race’ while we lived in Ohio—the Navajo woman next door who had married a Manhattan Project machinist was a trip worth a novel or two—but, as noted, it was mainly a white-bread set of circumstances.
A ‘Browner’ Move Back to Texas
Divorce did more than introduce me to a ‘rainbow’ way of thinking in one particular case. It launched our now five-member family unit, at the glimmering hint of a rationale—my step-grandmother’s brain cancer—back to the Rio Grande foothills of the Lone Star State. Instead of a handful of occurrences that revolved around color, now thousands of such cases happened each year to all four of the little waifs who had just detrained from Columbus, Ohio’s upscale outskirts.
Each of the small proportion of ‘case materials’ that end up here, were it to occupy its natural page or two or three, would mean that PART TWO of this condensation of a life, would run to a small volume at least. My response to this potential is twofold; in all of the subsections from here onward, at most one or two, or at the outside three, abridgments will show up ‘in full,’ while the remainder of the incidents will find company in more or less a page with more or less like bits and pieces.
Texas represented an almost monstrous change for the children in this equation, though my sisters—younger, more resilient, who knows?—eventually did just fine with the transition. I skirted trouble in half a hundred ways but then settled well enough into the nerd persona which was likely my fate anyhow.
My brother John, however—who both achingly missed our father, whom he had subsequently worshipped, and missed his friends in Ohio—at once hit the skids and discovered his inner entrepreneurial genius. A novel or TV series lurks in these evolving eventualities, but in the abbreviated form here, the central element is that my very Gringo brother fit seamlessly into the barrios and ghettoes of Central North San Antonio.
He was only six when we arrived in Texas, and his big brother definitely was not his most supportive ally, or even a particularly apt pal, having failed to internalize ‘Grampa’ Hickey’s rule of thumb: to be ready to beat the hell out of anyone outside the clan but to form a seamless wall of solidarity against any threat to the family bloodline. By the time that he was eight, John—unlike his brother, as naturally social as an ant and hilariously comic, with antics that more than once saved his life—had made friends far and wide around the apartments and rental houses that we occupied, changing domiciles every six months or so, on the near North side of the city, inside the ever-expanding reach of the I-410 ring road.
And he made himself useful, learning a serviceable enough Spanglish to take part in all manner of adventures. His primary utility, in the event, was as a messenger and delivery boy, in modern parlance a drug-mule and courier.
He was riding his own scooter before he was ten, which he hid from all and sundry in the shed that sat adjacent to a little companero’s homestead nearby. Much of brother John’s mechanical acuity came to the fore during this period, inasmuch as the conveyance in question was as apt to break down as operate on any given day.
His confreres in his daily rounds consisted of many urchins like himself, almost straight out of Dickens, except they were all Mexican American but for one much larger Black youth who would accompany my brother when he went into ‘certain neighborhoods,’ riding behind John as he zoomed from street to alleyway to sidewalk as if he had been born with an urban motorcross destiny.
His legerdemain as a driver, his derring-do, his ability to elude or jolly up any of the occasional coppers and other adults who took notice of him, occasionally with a passenger aboard, made him soon enough indispensable to what my classmates referred to—like me, without a clue at the time of young John Thomas’ role in the organization—as the ‘San Antonio Cosa Nostra.’ Whatever else was happening in these almost daily rounds, an ounce here or a bag of pills or cash there, only a tiny slice of it is possible to imagine exclusively or even mainly as ‘white privilege’ or ‘color prejudice,’ or, Lord have mercy, racism.
Apparently, once he began to sample some of the product, an inevitable wildness of a burgeoning puberty—in which a very precocious relation to young women of multiple hues, and some females not so young, all of whom found his adorable cuteness and youthful manliness irresistible—led to a situation that upended everything for my younger sibling. He hijacked a pick-up truck, his careening navigation of which was not nearly so nimble as his perambulations aboard his scooter, and the wreckage that resulted, despite his and his paramour’s attempt at flight, led to arrest, probation, and ultimately—thanks to a definite instance of prejudicial intervention on his behalf by a White case officer who recognized nascent athletic talent and intelligence in this young gringo boy—football, another mixed-‘race’ mélange that might provide additional chapters, biographical vignettes, and so forth, at a different point in time.
While ‘hermano Juan’ was up to all manner of mischief, his own hermano, and sisters as well, were undergoing their own ‘multicultural’ initiations to a different, Texas-sized, slice of the American pie. Brother Jimbo’s first such contextualization concerned food, go figure. He became an absolute aficionado of cheap and plentiful “all-you-can-eat” smorgasbords at the plethora of Mexican restaurants that graced South Texas environs. His mom, frequently on first-name basis with the universally Hispanic proprietors, would often boom out, a hearty chuckle punctuating her commentary, that “they always say a ‘Hail Mary’ when they see you come in the door.”
School also introduced color-and-culture issues. Through one of ‘Grampa’ Fox’s Catholic school board contacts, we all got to attend Longfellow Junior High School, though we weren’t, ‘technically,’ in its arena, a useful dispensation of privilege to the mother of a future nerd because its demographics were less brown and ethnic, and therefore better staffed and funded, and hence ‘intellectual.’ For reasons unknown to the unprepossessing Spindoctor, one Russell White, the school bully and ruffian who was nearing sixteen years as he tried to finish ninth grade for the third time, took a profound dislike to me, threatening, literally, to kill me on the way home the afternoon of our first crossing swords, so to say. Lucky enough for me, a new friend, a Jewish fellow just arrived from Israel and almost fourteen as an eighth grader because of limited English—and even darker than Russell, whose “half-Black and half-Mexican and half-White” blend gave him the tincture and bone structure of a young Johnny Depp—was by my side when this all happened. At the 3:30 bell, he took me in hand and led the gang that had undertaken the task of running me to earth a merry chase, the upshot of which was that we survived the afternoon. Within a month, Avi—trained in Jaifa as a boxer—beat the snot and some of the pulp out of Russell in a gym-class challenge, and no further problems issued from that quarter for an otherwise not-particularly-martial Spindoctor.
Work, too, from bussing tables with variously ethnic coworkers, diving for pie and other uneaten morsels from the high-priced tables at a seafood establishment that one of mom’s Latino friends owned and operated, to all the other ventures that he had till college, contributed to his awareness and understanding of race and culture and related concepts like class, though no one had whispered of this latter notion’s existence yet. Nothing inculcated this comprehension of skin-tone in conjunction with socioeconomic position like his sojourn at Texas Pharmacal, however.
A newly-minted subsidiary of New Jersey’s Warner-Lambert, pre-Parke Davis takeover or Pfizer merger, the local division executive’s executive secretary was mama Kassy, who made sure her chicklets had an opportunity for paying work each Summer. In his first interlude there, before tenth-grade’s sophomoric initiation, the Spindoctor learned various valuable lessons: the cushiest summer-work in the plant was delivering the mail, reliably handled by the TP chief’s son. Jimbo, meanwhile, had the initial assignment to fill in at different places in the firm’s assembly lines, where mainly spry and clever Mexican-American mothers kept pace with the speed-up protocols of the machinery, with occasional accompaniment from African American elders who also had the agility and eye-hand-coordination to let fingers fly through hundreds and hundreds of completed tasks every hour.
Jimbo, on his first day, believed that he had undergone a rite of passage to have stayed sane and focused through the first break, calculating that in two and half hours he had made two dollars sixty-two and a half cents—or about a half a penny each for the roll-on bottles that had whizzed by him so far—while the Spanish speaking women and one Black man who were on the line with him, after seven or more years at their jobs, had garnered three dollars eighty-seven and a half cents in the same period. His consciousness was developed enough to realize that this relatively small difference in wage scale between a not-quite-sixteen year old rookie, literally first day on the job, and plus-or-minus ten year veterans, seemed somehow unjust. He also had a developed-enough awareness to note that the beaming mail delivery by the boss’ well-scrubbed, pinkish, basketball-star son was also not in keeping with perfect fairness, as his mind resonated with his mother’s voice, “Yeah, well life’s not fair!”
In the event, when the rub-on deodorant assembly process began to roll once more after the break—not at the start-of-shift moderate rate but at the hyperkinetic pre-fifteen-minute-breather pace—and then got even faster, he expressed his capacity to act the Luddite and put his arm across the line after about ten excruciating minutes, spilling dozens of bottles of creamy chemicals all over the spotless concrete floor. That was the last he saw of a machine-controlled environment that Summer or the next. To the order-fulfilling department, or “Shipping & Receiving,” he went, where he worked with one Black and one Hispanic woman and three Black men fitting product into boxes as efficiently as possible, a spatial envisioning capability that came naturally enough to a Spindoctor to allow Summer’s completion with relative aplomb.
In the chronology of things in Texas, Jimbo’s year-later first semester at Thomas Jefferson High School, roughly one-quarter White, a bit more than a sixth Black, and the rest one variation or other of Hispanic American, was my grooming period for the potential leadership of the campus Reserve Officer’s Training Corps. In this most modest arm of the military-industrial-complex another year onward, which moved the world along to the Fall of 1969, I had—by merit of grades and extracurricular prowess as an anti-communist orator and debater, and, truth be told, on the basis of very ‘White-bread’ good looks too, which Jimbo was unaware that he possessed—risen to the position of Brigade Sergeant Major, one of only two or three vantage points from which a further rise to Brigade Commander had happened in the past.
Rot-See did not exactly mirror Jefferson’s particular expression of diversity. Only a couple handfuls of ‘the corps’ was Caucasian, two fingers of which held two of three Sergeant-Major positions, and well under half of the nearly four-hundred-member collection of squads and platoons and companies were Hispanic, one of whom, light-skinned and highly cultured, held the other Sergeant-Major niche. Most of ROTC, in other words, consisted of not quite half of Thomas Jefferson’s Black population, none of whom held slots that would likely lead to top leadership positions.
One of these ‘capable servants’ of our mutual cause, so to speak, was another Junior, like me, by the name of Clyde McNeal, African American but light-skinned enough to look like a pale cousin of many of his Hispanic ‘fellow travelers,’ a lithe and voluble sergeant at the year’s outset, who drew the spot in the organizational chart that made him my ‘adjutant,’ more or less, his job “to assist the Brigade Sergeant Major in his regular efforts to uphold morale and discipline and advance and improve operation of the entire brigade,” or something similar. I don’t remember that we accomplished too many special operations worthy of such a designation.
Mainly, Sergeant Mineer would ‘suggest’ something, and Brigade Commander Sibley would agree and tell me to come up with a way to ‘implement it.’ Maybe a couple of service ideas originated from my ever-active bureaucratic brain; definitely the inspiration to provide weekly escort-and-security at football games was my notion. But I suppose, in the scheme of things, that we wrote military memos and gave pep talks and orchestrated having bodies in position at different events and occasions all during that academic year.
And I did play a role in all that. Sergeant McNeal, whose typing skills already rivaled my mother’s legendary alacrity, was the designated compositor of all my fancies for doing whatever Cadet-Colonel Sibley directed, or whatever scheme that I dreamed up that Sergeant Mineer didn’t find too “hare-brained.” In none of this process was I aware that ‘White privilege’ was in indisputable fact responsible for most of my opportunities to ‘show leadership.’ Nor did I concern myself with the fact that one fifth of the White membership of an organization, which as a whole constituted a little over two percent of the entire brigade, added up to two-thirds of the pool of candidates for next year’s lead job, which was, predictably, in the hands of another of the White members that year, in the person of Air-Force-Academy-bound Cadet-Colonel Sibley.
Truly, I was color-blind. On the other hand, I was not a bigot, nor did I have a White supremacist bone in my body, unless taking one’s ‘fit’ for a leading role for granted amounted to supremacist thinking. In retrospect, it was a cultural nexus of color and class and empire and more, which I only reflected on later.
In any case, as November wore on, well beyond the juncture at which the recognition that Jefferson—without my brother’s magic hands yet—would not advance to the football playoffs, I began to receive romantic notes and ‘gifts’ in my box in the Brigade Office, just outside of the ample space that Sergeant-Major Mineer, U.S. Army retired, and First-Sergeant Braxson, also U.S. Army retired, shared with each other while they chewed tobacco and ‘the fat’ together from predawn morning till late afternoon each day. The receipt of such ‘smoking’ missives was something of a puzzle.
At that time, ROTC was exclusively male. “Young ladies,” as Sergeant Mineer termed them with a merry glint in his eye, only very rarely came along to visit, perhaps once or twice a day with messages from somewhere else on Jefferson’s fairly spread-out campus. And these ‘delivery-girls,’ as it were, were universally seniors, and unlikely to have developed a crush on a member of the debate team, a spirited nerd who spent most of his time either with other ‘forensics-program’ sorts or bustling about the armory, “policing the area” or dreaming up new memos or setting up classes for the military-specialty units from our annual regimen of ‘skills-to-imbibe’ that the Department of Defense provided us.
In any case, I kept the first couple of these love-notes to myself. Their curlicued printing and lively punctuation did set my heart aflutter. They were much more romantic than graphic, let alone pornographic, but they did express the “ecstasy of embracing you” and other phrases that inevitably turned a sixteen year old’s head, despite the fact that I had a pretty ‘steady’ girlfriend at that juncture, though this would only last through the Christmas holidays, as she proved a ‘fickle pickle’ and began to date elsewhere.
My discretion did not carry the day, however, since my always snoopy co-Sergeant Major, Richard Gamez, saw one of the leering ‘headlines’ one day just prior to Thanksgiving break—“I long for you,” it said—and spread the word that some sort of “wild, jungle-love-thing” was happening in the Brigade office, with a young and blushing Jimbo the object of someone else’s very heated affection and attention. If anything, after we all returned from stuffing ourselves with turkey, the pace at which items appeared in my mail-slot picked up.
While no concerted effort to nab whoever was responsible for these materials came to the fore, an undeniably fervent interest about the situation permeated the Corps at that point. Good-natured teasing was in any event rife; reliably ‘White’ as the youthful Spindoctor was, a scarlet flush was practically guaranteed in these instances.
Then, in a to-me absolutely unexpected turn of events, Sergeant Major Weynand espied the delivery of a heartfelt love plea on Pearl Harbor Day, 1969. The perpetrator, and besotted erstwhile love interest, was none other than Sergeant Clyde McNeal.
The notion of homosexuality was pretty vague to me at that intersection in my life, notwithstanding years-ago frolics with the Whitecotton boys, both satyrs for sure, interludes of prepubescent ‘bonding’ in which brother and step-brothers took part in West Virginia, before we all departed for the Lone Star State. At this juncture, sixteen and with a healthy fantasy appetite for ‘fun with girls,’ I had a primitive kind of sense that such proclivities in other young men might mean more willing women for me, but nothing definite, certainly nothing religious or moral, had formulated itself in my fevered then-pubescent brain when all of this exploded onto the TJ ROTC scene. My more or less ho-hum disposition was not the common view, however.
On the contrary, a definitive movement soon arose to crucify cadet McNeal, drum him out of the Corps, and thereby reestablish something unstated, perhaps the sacred masculinity of the entire establishment. “No Maricon!” was on many of my fellow cadets’ lips. Nevertheless, basically without giving the matter a second thought, I put my response in writing. “If he goes, I go.”
My intuitive sense was that this was nobody’s business but Clyde’s really, and possibly mine. In any case, after my first sally that said in no uncertain terms how I opposed categorically any disciplinary action, young Sergeant Major Jimbo followed up with lengthier and more fully rational memoranda.
The upshot of the entire affair, in the end, came down to a split among the cadets themselves, but a tacit agreement between Sergeant Mineer and the school principal. In this managed view of matters, Clyde McNeal deserved no punishment, and harassment of any sort would receive the harshest response, including expulsion from Jefferson.
While a now aged Spindoctor can look back on these events with a measure of pride—I naturally stood up for decency, or something similar, this is not the real overall lesson of those years. That concerns the way that class and color and status and sex and cooperation and conflict and mutuality and self-interest and more all bubbled together in a complex stew that simple categories and explanations simply do not adequately address.
This was no more primarily a matter of oppression of imminent gay sensibility than it was mainly a racial stand-off. Various tints of the social spectrum were obviously intrinsic to what took place, and how actors in these different social spaces viewed sexuality, or such other aspects of Eros as that, was also critical. Not only did the whole scene contain such elements, but it also manifested much more besides, of a political-economic, socioeconomic, and sociopolitical cast as well, from which any who care to ponder the case might gain valuable insights.
In fact, such a complicated interplay continued to define the remainder of my time in South Texas as well. Among the eventualities that made that clear were others in which my experience in ROTC played a part.
Many Friday nights, under the glaring lights and amid the wild cheers and tribal songs of martial contest and glorious victory, in which the all-but-one-brilliant-young-Black-woman cheerleading squad led our chants and bolstered our ‘school spirit,’ I stood at the head of a contingent of ushers and overseers at our home stadium or “on the road,” wherever Jefferson played. Fight the team across the field, show them Jeff High is hear. Set the Earth reverberating with the mighty cheer—Rah, Rah, Rah, Rah!
My minions were, almost universally, Black and Hispanic. Similarly, the quarterback was a young White god whose linemen, his cannon fodder, all sweated blood from brown pores of one cast, and one caste, or another.
Though I hardly noticed, chauvinism and privilege and color codes touched everything in my high-school life. My ‘advanced’ classes were either overwhelmingly or exclusively Gringo; the Chemistry teacher, Mr. Gonzalez, was the only instructor of color whom I encountered in three years.
Somehow, through this adolescence in which what most people term ‘race’ played a significant part—a growing-up that emanated from a hyper-patriotic ninth and tenth grade anti-communism that was my basic ideological substrate, a point-of-view that was no more obvious to me than was the beating of my heart or the bellowing of my lungs—I came to embrace a truly staunch critique—both somewhat class-conscious and decidedly anti-‘racist’—of U.S. actions, particularly those which involved militarism or warmongering, and especially ‘adventurous intervention’ in Asia. Though this sensibility did not manifest itself powerfully till the middle of Junior year, when my very conservative sweetheart and I split asunder, I began to hang out with the drama club crowd, who tended also to be White but who included most of the more or less ‘open’ gay students and a small swath of radicals of color, whose heightened political consciousness was, for San Antonio, way ‘ahead of the curve,’ so to say.
Thus, at the end of February, three days after I’d had the chance to serve as an ‘escort’ for all sorts of bejeweled White ladies at a Convention Center soiree, I sashayed into the armory one Tuesday wearing the black armband of Mobilization for Survival. An article in the Express-News, without mentioning me by name, noted the “possibility that sedition and insurrection” might be swelling within student ranks, “and even in the venerable Reserve Officers Training Corps, at San Antonio’s very own Thomas Jefferson High School.”
I wondered if I would find myself either forced to commit what we mispronounced as Hari-Kari, or in other ways unable to continue my march toward a commanding position in the Corps. I acceded to Sergeant Mineer’s bewildered mandate, turning a phrase as nicely as he might utter a curse, that “You sure as hell aren’t wearing that garish garbage over your uniform, Cadet Sergeant Major Hickey.” To this, I readily agreed, alternately paled and reddened, as our almost Albino-white Brigade Commandant blustered at me in tones as fiery bronze as his blushing facial countenance.
A FINAL TEXAS TALE
Despite Sergeant-Major Jimbo’s unexpected militancy about Vietnam, an aspect of the Junior-year debate topic’s concerning the Southeast Asian conflict—where I uncovered just incontrovertible evidence that the only patriotic element in the U.S. incursion there, amid Gooks and spooks galore, was to proffer profit to big U.S. businesses that could care less about the loss of soldiers, at least half of whom were an ‘of-color’ sacrifice, or the slaughter of civilians who were all ‘ethnics’—I apparently remained the likely recipient of the Colonel’s braid for the next year’s Cadet Commander’s position. One more interlude presented a possible variation, though.
As 1970’s Spring semester unfolded, Jefferson instituted an, even for-that-period, even in Texas, quite harsh and restrictive dress code. Though it did not significantly impact me, what with my almost crew-cut short hair and one-to-two days each week in uniform, it nevertheless seriously irritated the emerging Spindoctor’s sensibilities to such an extent that I chose to run for Student Council President.
Furthermore, nascent ‘Black Power’ and ‘La Raza’ feelings were also apparent, even at relatively staid ‘Jeff,’ as the ‘sixties’ were ending and the ‘seventies’ beginning. My Drama Club friends and acquaintances very blithely inculcated this burgeoning democratic consciousness into an evolving Spindoctor belief system that looked less and less like the template of terror that young Jimbo had promoted theretofore, as an orator, an extemporaneous speaker, and as a talkative student citizen.
My old sweetheart came back. Sergeants Mineer and Braxson smiled that they “saw no problem in pushing a vote for the Corps” in the Student Council race. Clyde McNeal was on my ‘campaign committee,’ as was my debate partner at that time Albert, or as he stated the case with a rolling of ‘r’s,’ Alberrto Gutierrez, an almost unbelievably handsome and sweet-talking Mexican American whose family was a substantial proponent of ‘cultural pride,’ both in the community and at school. We posted our campaign posters, which elicited universal chuckles and good feelings, around the campus: “Give Jefferson a Hickey,” my own slogan our recipe for engagement. My bridge partner, bound for Stanford and a counsel for conservative or middle-of-the-road ideas, was the campaign manager, who in the end gave in to my developing, extremely democratic, message.
Jefferson had always ‘elected’ a White fellow to lead Student Council prior to that conjunction. This year’s field reflected that history: eight candidates were Gringos, one was Black, and Vincent Torres was a brilliant Mexican American campaigner.
The first culling of this herd of wannabe politicos left five of us to deliver speeches to the entire student body. I and three other White males, along with Vince Torres, stepped up to the Rostrum in early May of 1970.
By lot, I spoke last, always my favorite spot. The only speech out of the ordinary—my three hypothetically closer cousins of the ‘Caucasus’ all emphasized school spirit and good grades and positive attitudes—was Vince Torres, whose talk focused on subtle issues of representation and change.
When I came to the lectern, the hush that came over the crowd and my entry into the orator’s zone that had won me a few prizes made of the next ten minutes—our allotted time to speak—a magical and torrid blur. I spoke about the presumption of telling young adults how to dress; of the foolishness of preaching democracy without letting soon-to-be citizen practice it; of the heady potential of power to transform our lives and make of Jefferson a “true laboratory of liberty that might shake the foundations of Texas and the world.”
When I finished, a beat or two of silence ensued, before a deluge of cries of acclaim and thunderclaps of applause rose like a tidal wave that roared ashore in that auditorium; basically the entire student body leapt to its feet to shout out approbation. Completely astonished by this, I looked around at the principal, assistant principals, and guidance counselors who shared the stage with us.
Their faces also registered amazement; as well as an unmistakable nervousness and even a little trepidation. When the roaring and stomping and cheers did not cease, the principal himself, stern as usual, his face aglow with a sheen of uncharacteristic sweat, stepped to the podium and called for calm, ultimately lowering the cacophony to a murmur of surf that allowed for a dismissal of the captive pupils and an end of the program and the journey to lunch that was next on the agenda.
Vincent Torres and I faced each other in a runoff. My speech became a basis for his victory, which according to what I heard was the biggest landslide in our school’s history.
Whatever other components of electoral maneuvering or behind-the-scenes posturing might have transpired, this event was a clear-cut expression of a new phase in history, when groups would choose from among their own to find leadership and imprimatur. And, whatever the case may be, he was a much better, and eminently more manageable student leader than I ever would have been.
As things developed, I was also the last White R.O.T.C. Cadet Colonel at Jefferson. My turning down a West Point appointment may have been the final insult to the SOP that was tolerable, or the time may just have come for different scheme of things to rule.
In senior debate efforts, my Jewish partner and my Hispanic partner made us a more-than-usually diverse team, whomever I paired with on a specific weekend. We won in fields that were overwhelmingly White and largely Anglo.
I dated Mary Alice Garcia for a time at the end of Spring semester, and our Latin-loving soul kisses might easily have gotten out of hand had I not skittered off in fear. On our senior trip, just before graduation, we visited Monterrey, Mexico, where the taste of metal from foundries and blast furnaces and factories tinged the tequila that we snuck into our rooms to celebrate what was soon to be a real rite of passage. A young Black beauty, Lorraine Thomas, and I spent an hour in the pool, kissing and petting before we, too, decided that going any further was too wild an idea for a virgin like the Spindoctor.
And then a new phase in instruction about color and class and consciousness was ready to begin. More about that will follow shortly, as Part Two-B, so to speak.