My first post here on Open Salon.com might lead some to believe that I failed to seize an adequate education. The fault lies wholly on my own shoulders as my intent was to draw a contrast between accredited scholars and “buffs” who are now, through the miracle of the internet, able to research much of the once-clandestine source material.
I am primarily a product of the U.S. public school system, taking and passing 5 AP courses my senior year of high school. I was fortunate to spend my junior year abroad at a fairly prestigious all-boys grammar school in the suburbs of Manchester, England where I studied A-level English, History and Maths (as they call it).
I was accepted to and spent 2 ½ years at Davidson, a small, selective liberal arts college nestled in the countryside of North Carolina. It's an opportunity I now deeply regret squandering.
In 1989, along with 17 or so other Davidson freshman, I ran for class president. We were allotted ten days and $10 to campaign. One of the greatest guys I ever met, Rob Hughes, agreed to be my campaign manager. He, I and some of the other guys on our hall brainstormed a campaign that was very much “out of the box.”
Instead of plastering the typical posters and flyers all over campus on day one, we did nothing – the whole first week. One of the guys on our hall, Joe, who was also running, mentioned he hadn’t seen any of my posters and asked if I had dropped out of the race. I can’t remember if I smiled coyly, but I sure wish I had.
It was September and there was a lot of scrap wood lying around campus. Because space was cramped in the dorm rooms, many students built lofts. Moving their beds atop often, precariously-crafted structures allowed for the necessities of any self-respecting dorm room: sectional sofas, disco balls and well-stocked bars to entertain fellow classmates.
We collected enough scrap wood to cobble together six-foot tall letters that spelled out J-A-R-E-D. We painted them purple and hid them.
Three nights before the election, we stenciled the rough likeness of the man-sized letters onto a small flyer and slipped them under the doors of every freshman on campus. The next day, they all awoke to the same conundrum: what is this scrap of paper with nothing but J-A-R-E-D spelled out? I imagine most of those went directly in the garbage can.
That same day, a dozen or so hall mates wore t-shirts with the same lettering etched on with Sharpies. Subconsciously, we were sowing seeds that were soon to be reaped.
A day before the election, early in the morning, we buttressed those gargantuan letters, standing by themselves in the grass, at the cross-paths, 40 feet in front of Commons, the building where every freshman ate. They all saw it and I was congratulated by students, teachers and staff for the creativity of the campaign (some even remembered those silly t-shirts and scraps of paper, amused at the extent of our planning).
But we weren’t finished.
The night before the election, we raided the local landfill and constructed a huge garbage sculpture in front of Chambers, the primary classroom building. We stapled four bed sheets together and spray painted, in those same, giant, roughly hewn letters J-A-R-E-D and hoisted it 20 feet above the sculpture, securing it in the limbs of the oak trees that had stood there for centuries.
On their way to class that morning, every freshman had to walk past a big pile of what was, questionably art, with a huge J-A-R-E-D billowing in the wind above it.
Not only did I win in a landslide, the Student Body President said it was the highest voter-turnout in school history.
Now I find myself in a similar situation: how do I, a self-taught man with no accreditation, get both scholars and the public to notice that van Gogh painted The Last Supper? This morning I realized my opportunity on Open Salon.com might just be that initial flyer slipped beneath the doors of the unsuspecting.
I wonder what Rob Hughes and those boys from First Belk are up to these days…