Back in 1967 when I was a junior in high school, Mr. Farrington, our social studies teacher, came up with an interesting idea that made us all stop thinking about our raging hormones to focus on something nearly as important—survival. The Soviet Union hadn’t crumbled yet and nuclear annihilation remained a distinct possibility, so engaging in a life and death struggle for survival, even if it was only a game, was far more interesting than the usual drivel we were exposed to in class. The game revolved around an imaginary bomb shelter. Pretend bombs were on their way from Russia and we got to decide which of our classmates got to live or die.
This was long before reality TV where pampered people get voted off an island. We all took the game seriously, but this wasn’t supposed to be a popularity contest; we each randomly selected an occupation and part of our grade (yes, we were graded on this) depended on just how well we defended the importance of our occupation in the new society we would be creating.
Some of the occupations randomly selected were doctors, electricians, carpenters, engineers, nurses and other vocations easy to defend. I mean really; how difficult would it be to convince your fellow classmates that a doctor would be useful once the doors of the bomb shelter swung open? And it would be nice to have people around who could build and repair things. The poor kid stuck with being a lawyer was screwed but the girl who was a botanist gained admittance after convincing everyone that she could teach survivors how to grow edible food and determine which ones had been poisoned by radiation.
I was stuck with an occupation difficult to defend—artist. Unlike other students who got to select randomly, Mr. Farrington chose this profession for me for, what I assume, were two reasons: one, I was the star of our high school’s Art Department; two, I was a well-known chatterbox and he must have figured I could pull off defending such a questionable occupation. At the time I didn’t think this fair, but learning that life isn’t fair is an important part of any education.
The game neared conclusion with only two students remaining to compete for the last place in the shelter. I had to contend with Jill Stanton. I went first. I rose from my desk and stood before the class to deliver a presentation on why I should be selected for survival.
I was brilliant as I defended the importance of art, building a rhythmic speech that resonated with passion and ended with, “When the bomb shelter doors open we will set about creating a new world to replace the old, but why bother? Just to survive? We need a reason to survive, something larger than ourselves, something to address our descendants to let them know what we thought and felt during this difficult time. Art is our connection to the divine, a manifestation of our indomitable spirit. Our brave new world will be a cold and heartless place without art! So select me!”
I sat down to thunderous applause. Mr. Farrington’s grin suggested that I’d pulled it off. But one hurdle remained—Jill Stanton.
She stood up and pulled at the snug sweater I’d never seen her wear before. I’d never noticed that she had breasts. And nice ones, not that I’d seen any yet. She took her time sashaying to the front of the class, where she delivered a speech of only seven words.
Without bothering to give her name or explain what her profession was, she said, “I’m young. I’m hot. And I’m fertile.” With that she slowly walked back to her seat.
It was my misfortune that there were double the number of boys in my class than girls. When the imaginary bombs came I was stuck outside the bomb shelter screaming, “Let me in...”