OCTOBER 4, 1976, SPECIAL TOWN MEETING
I’m sitting in the non-voters’ section at Town Meeting. I’m sixteen so I have to wait two years before I get to sit down on the floor with everyone else. You used to have to be 21 to vote, but that changed back in 1971 because of Vietnam. Sparky Manx says, if you’re old enough to fight, you’re old enough to vote. So they lowered the voting age. It took a lot of kids dying and a lot of kids holding signs to make that happen. I was only eleven so I didn’t get to vote or die or hold signs. I didn’t even know what a Vietnam was until last year in history class. My parents went on a big march in D.C., back in ’69, but they didn’t take me with them. I thought they were in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or something, just without balloons. I was little and they didn’t want to scar me. They said I should wait till I was older.
Seems like life is all about waiting to get scarred.
Anyway, it’s Monday, October 4, 1976, 7:31 P.M., and I’m here at the Special Town Meeting for the Town of South Quagmire (just north of East Quagmire). I’m recording this for our school newspaper, The Quagmire Quarterly which, to the best of my knowledge, has never come out more than twice in one year. I’m a junior. I got assigned to write about this special Town Meeting because our school has an article on the warrant, Article Four.
We’re waiting for a quorum, which is one hundred people. That’s the least amount of people you need to vote. I count 97.
Actually, it’s Birnam just counted 97. Birnam’s my brother. He also wants me to say that today is exactly two hundred years and three months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which is not exactly true if you want to talk about who signed the Declaration of Independence when, but I’m not arguing. All men are not created equal. Birnam is brilliant with numbers. He’s not so good at other stuff, but we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. There are two cops standing behind us, Officer Farrell and I don’t know the other guy’s name. They are giving me the eye. I think I will take my tape recorder and move.
I’m sitting in the sound booth at the back of the middle school auditorium balcony. It’s really just a big box with a glass window and a couple of consoles for running lights and microphones. I asked Mr. Carroll, who’s sitting in the non-voters’ section because he lives in one of the Bridgewaters, I forget which one, and he said I could. He’s school superintendent. He’s cool. I haven’t been in here since eighth grade when we did the spring talent show. Arianna, she was my girlfriend at the time, until my parents interfered, we ran six lights and two mikes, nothing compared to what we got at the high school. We popped a circuit breaker and messed up the order on two songs. No big deal.
We made out fine.
‘Made out’ being the operative word.
‘Words,’ Birnam says. Birnam’s very particular. He came in here with me. There was no chance I could ditch him.
Arianna’s sitting in the non-voters’ section with her friend Karen Pina. She hasn’t noticed I moved in here yet. She’s sixteen too, seventeen in November. Karen’s eighteen already and she’s a registered voter, but she says she doesn’t want to sit down on the floor with old white men.
It’s funny being back in the middle school. It’s a lot smaller than I remembered. The stage is especially small. I was on it for Pirates of Penzance in the eighth grade. I got to play a pirate but didn’t get a solo because my voice was breaking. I got to marry Arianna, who was a daughter of the Major General. Birnam was a policeman for about the first week of rehearsal and then he dropped out. The stress was too much for him. He was in the sixth grade, but he was supposed to be in the fifth. He’s got double-promoted twice, which is why now he’s a sophomore when he’s only supposed to be in eighth grade. He’s very smart, and we’ll leave it at that.
Arianna’s just turned around and is trying to figure out where I disappeared to. So, that’s good. We had a rough summer, but maybe things will get better now. (Birnam, quit punching me.) The high school did the play South Pacific last winter, and I got to play Lieutenant Cable and she was my girlfriend, Liat, who is supposed to be Tonkinese, which is kind of like Chinese. Arianna got cast because she has beautiful skin color. She’s Cape Verdean, which is not black, but is a kind of black, except people from Cape Verde, which are some islands off the coast of Africa, are Portuguese, not really black, which is not the same as white but not black either. It’s a little tricky, and we got in trouble because I was supposed to fall in love with her in the play, but I also fell in love with her backstage. Actually, I’ve been in love with her since Pirates, so last year I invited her to the Sophomore Swing, which is a dress-up dance in the spring, and she said yes, but then my mother told me we couldn’t go to a dance together because my dad talked to her dad, and they decided it wasn’t a good thing, so we had to break up, and she ended up going with Jimmy Gomes, who’s Cape Verdean too, and he’s only a freshman. Well, sophomore now.
It was kind of like in the play where Lieutenant Cable loves Liat but can’t marry her because she isn’t white.
I’m white, so it was a problem for my parents, which is funny because my parents packed me and Birnam in their Jeep Cherokee and we did Woodstock when I was nine, and my parents are the biggest hippies on the planet, love, peace, and rock-and-roll, and you’d never guess they are prejudiced. They were stoned and naked the whole time. I guess they didn’t think that would scar me. No one knew it was gonna be such a big thing back then. Just some concert in a field that got way out of control. But I don’t remember black people at Woodstock except maybe Jimi Hendrix onstage a little, so I don’t know. I was only nine and wasn’t paying attention to those things.
Only a few black people live in South Quagmire, but a lot of the people who live here are Cape Verdean. They came to work on the cranberry bogs. Arianna’s grandfather came here when he was ten. He left his home and his parents and came here with his older brother. He’s been here ever since, and now he’s on the School Committee. So Arianna and I have been together in school since first grade and we’ve been friends since eighth grade when we got married onstage, which our drama teacher, who is really just the elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Lewis, called color-blind casting.
I think she is not as prejudiced as my mother.
My father, I don’t know. They wouldn’t say what he talked about with Arianna’s dad, and he wouldn’t tell me either.
My father’s name is Charles Wood, but everyone calls him Chuck. Chuck Wood, get it? Some people call him Woodchuck Wood just to be funny. He doesn’t like it. He works at the cranberry company as a maintenance foreman. Runs a forklift, keeps the refrigeration units from breaking down. My mother’s name is Gladys, but she changed it to Cher when she married Dad. Cher Wood. Like in Robin Hood, right? Or because she’s a big fan of Sonny and Cher, I don’t know. My brother Birnam is three years younger than me. My brother Woodstock just turned six. My parents say he was conceived at Woodstock, but Birnam says, “Do the math!” and Birnam is usually right about these things. My name is Petrified.
My parents spend a lot of time under the influence of drugs.