Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Barack Obama versus Charles Klein

On a chilly autumn Tuesday in 1968 I suited up with my Liberty High School soccer pals to do battle with the opposition from Scanton, PA. As always with the coal miners from Scranton, the game was a low scoring, rough and tumble contest with the good guys coming out on top 1-0. I had had my hands full in my position as right halfback playing almost man-to-man against their scrappiest player. Frankly, things had gotten out-of-hand between he and I: cut lips, black eyes, elbows flying and words spewing forth as if from the devil himself. Following the game, as I was walking through the mandated handshake line, my nemesis came up from behind me, tapped me on the shoulder and delivered a roundhouse right onto my cheek and nose knocking me out for a brief period of time. I have little recollection of the 30 minutes that ensued except for seeing a host of my fellow LHS Hurricanes rocking Scranton’s bus from side to side.
The following week I was summoned to the office of Charles Klein – the distinguished, elegant and most articulate principal at Liberty High. Upon arriving I encountered my coach – Mr. Mike Bounassi – and a good pal and captain of our team – Tim Fisher. All three of us were escorted into Mr. Klein’s office. I had no idea what was happening but immediately found out. Mr. Klein began by telling us that he had received a letter from his counterpart at Scranton High outlining the events that transpired during and following that recent game. He then turned to me and said, ‘Thomas, this letter suggests that you played dirty and also used very vulgar language during this contest. Although I find that difficult to believe I wish to ask you to describe these events from your perspective.’ I began to sweat and I got dizzy but, nonetheless, I began a fallacious and most dishonest fairy tale about ‘the pressure of competition, a few pushes and shoves and some modest curse words.' Mr. Klein zeroed in on the curse words. ‘Exactly what words did you use, Thomas?’ Now I began feeling like I was going to puke but, nonetheless I said, ‘Oh, I don’t really remember; probably something like damn it or who the hell do you think you are.’ Mr. Klein pressed harder: ‘This letter says the language was far worse than what you are suggesting.’ So I stared at the floor and said, ‘I called him an asshole and told him he was full of shit.’ At this point, still staring at the rug in Mr. Klein’s office, I sensed that Tim’s shoulders were shuddering as if he had begun laughing. I slowly glanced over and up at him and, indeed, he was doing all he could do to maintain his composure. Mr. Klein pressed even harder by telling me to be honest and open and simply come out and tell me what else was said. As if possessed by some bizarre demon I blurted out something like: ‘Well, one time I broke for a ball and the son-of-a-bitch grabbed the back of my jock strap like a f---ing faggot and then he tried to knee me in the nuts and another time he tried to pull my shorts down and I asked him if he was a queer or something and then he called me a m-----f---er so I kneed him in the thigh and spit in his ear.’ Tim was now a goner and so was Coach Bounassi. However, Mr. Klein’s eyes looked like the tumblers on a slot machine. I suspected he had never heard such filth being spewed from the mouth of an innocent, blond-haired teenager. Never in my life have I been pushed so hard to the brink.
All of this came to mind this morning as I was watching news coverage of General McChrystal’s visit to The Oval Office.