Atlas Slugged-AgainSlugged Again

 

    “Who is John Glatt?”
    Dragnie Tagbord chuckled as the arms of the students before her shot with arrow-like directness and clean mechanical precision toward the ceiling. Among this group of third-graders, such a response--the lifting of hands and their display to the gaze of their instructor, each other, and to the distinguished woman visiting their school--was a proud and public announcement of knowledge. I know, proclaimed each raised hand. I know, with pure awareness in the consciousness of my mind, the answer to the question I have just been asked.

    Their teacher, Miss Pigg, was a short, squat woman in a shapeless, baggy garment the color of desiccated oatmeal. Although constantly informed by politicians and television personalities of her value to society, in her outward, personal appearance she looked shabby and morose, as if harboring in some unconscious recess of her intelligence the shameful awareness of the fact that, like all those whose livelihoods involved servicing the needs of children, she produced nothing. She pointed. “Yes, Johnny Timmons? Do you know?”

     “I?” The boy, a ten-year-old unafraid to proclaim his love of truth, suppressed a smile tinged with amused mockery. “Yes, I know it. John Glatt is the smartest, bravest, most rational man in society,” he replied. “It was he who, ten years ago, recruited our nation’s true producers—the entrepreneurs and businessmen whose vision, courage, and energy wrests value from the mute, raw earth—and led them into a strategic retreat from the forces of theft, cowardice, and corruption that prevailed over men in that desperate time. It is to him..um…”

    Dragnie whispered, “It is to him we owe—”

    “It is to him we owe the Age of Production, which we enjoy—”

The rest of the class joined in. “—TO THIS VERY DAY!”

    A laugh escaped from Dragnie’s lips. Exercising her free will, she re-captured it and restricted it to solitary confinement. She had chosen to spend this John Glatt Day touring one of the ten thousand kindergarten-through-Grade Twelve institutions, all of them independently owned and operated and all of them called The Glatt School, that had replaced the hidebound and notoriously inefficient public educational system. It would not do, she thought, to display levity in this, or any, environment.

     Wordlessly, Dragnie turned and left the classroom. There was no need to thank the pupils. There was no need to thank their teacher. There was no need to wish them well. Her exit was itself a kind of lesson. Do not ask for praise, it said. Do not ask for acknowledgment or good wishes or pampering. Do not ask for “please” or “thank you” or “you’re welcome” or “Gezundheit” or any of the other tokens of mental enslavement with which men have for centuries sought to limit the sacred freedom of the individual ten-year-old and draft him like a chump into the unconscious mob that men call “society.” We have no time for nurturing. Our enemies are massing. We need you to be strong—not only when you become adults, but today. We need strong third-graders, and second-graders, and first-graders. We need strong kindergarteners and nursery-schoolers and pre-schoolers and Mom-and-Me toddlers and babies and infants. We desperately need strong neonates, fetuses, and zygotes. For that matter, we need strong housepets. We need strong dogs and cats. We need strong hamsters. We need strong gerbils.

    Dragnie’s heels clicked with rhythmic percussiveness and her smart gray suit fell perfectly and shifted gently as she strode down the corridor. Two tiers of lockers lined the walls of the hallway, each locker with its own reinforced padlock built to withstand a blast equivalent to twenty pounds of TNT, to ensure the sacred privacy and protection every peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, every Yum-Time juice box, every Super-Fun-Pak of Fat-Free Mockolate Chip cookies, from looters of the world.

    A distinctive sound caught Dragnie’s ear as she neared the main entrance lobby. It was the sound of a human voice, emanating from the school’s auditorium. She felt herself drawn involuntarily toward it, as if something in her unconscious were responding to something of which she was not conscious. Her slim legs and trim suit cast a gliding shadow across the lobby’s travertine floor in the slanting afternoon sun. Opening the heavy, ornate oak door of the auditorium, she entered.

    The theater was dark, its house lights turned off and therefore providing no illumination by which things might be seen. Chilly white fluorescent lights beamed down from over the stage, however, and by their efficient glow Dragnie could perceive, with her sense of vision, the presence of two persons. One was seated in the front row. She was an adult, obviously a teacher or administrator, whose slouching posture and indifferent air revealed her as someone for whom existence was a thing to be taken for granted. “Not so fast, Nathan,” the woman called, smugly pleased with her authority and the sanction it provided for dispensing criticism of the work of others. “Start over.”

    The target of her command was the young man onstage. He was an older student, probably a senior. Standing erect at a lectern, he wore the trademark dark slacks and sage-green shirt and tricolor necktie embossed with dollar signs of the Upper School boys. He received the woman’s advice with an unruffled ease, as if already accustomed to being subjected to the glib, careless directions of the second-guessers and public-speaking-correctors and high-school-student-bossers-around of the world.

    “Parents, teachers, Principal Sloughninny, fellow students,” he proclaimed. “We have come tonight to celebrate John Glatt, and I? Who am I, you ask? I am the senior who has been selected to represent the student body. I am the senior who has written this speech which I myself am giving to you now. I am the senior who is alive as himself and is the me that you see before you at this very moment.”

    Dragnie found herself stumbling into a seat as though in a daze as if in a hypnotic trance. Her eyes never left his tall, erect, noble, commanding, confident figure even as her ears never left his astute, devastating words.

    “You have said, ‘How can an eighteen-year-old give a speech that will do justice to John Glatt?’ I am doing so for you now. You have said, ‘No school child is competent to offer adequate praise to the smartest, bravest, most rational man in society.’ I am proving you wrong as I speak. You have said, ‘The mind of a high school student is impotent and without value.’ I am refuting that assertion in ways you have hitherto found unimaginable.”

    His voice was rich and well-modulated. His articulation was exact and flawless. Dragnie’s conscious mind possessed the fullest awareness of the fact that he had composed this speech for an audience of students, teachers, and parents, to be presented that evening at the school’s John Glatt Day celebration. Nonetheless she felt, with a sudden shudder and a flush of pleasure, that he had written it expressly for, and was now delivering it solely to, her, to be detected and processed by the auditory system functioning flawlessly within the living mind of her personal and inviolate head.

    “Yes, we will praise John Glatt tonight. But I will do more than that. I will honor John Glatt by asserting my values. I will honor John Glatt, not by kowtowing to the bumming-out expectations you would lay on me, not by kneeling on bended knee to the bad trip of pious slogans that the so-called ‘adults’ deem okay for a ceremony of this kind. I will honor John Glatt by asking questions you would rather not be asked, which you fear being asked—but which must be asked, if in this school, and in every school, men are to be truly free.”

   “Wait a minute, Nathan—” the teacher began.

    “Let him finish!” Dragnie cried.

    The teacher turned with a start and peered back toward the rear of the auditorium, seeking to determine the source of the outburst. “Miss Tagbord?”

     “Yes,” Dragnie replied with icy veracity.

    “Sorry. Continue, Nathan.”

     The boy peered deeply into the gloom of the unlit seats. He seemed then to catch Dragnie’s eye and, with a small mocking smile of amusement and contempt, returned to his text. “It is I, then, who will now ask you, Principal Sloughninny, and you, Vice-Principal Flabb, the question which all seniors now ask—or should be asking, if their faculties of reason have not been so damaged by the nowhere nature of this institution and their self-respect not sundered by what’s going down in this school’s freaked-out scene. The question is this: Why must the Senior Prom, the theme for which this year is ‘Some Enchanted Evening,’ be held in the gymnasium of this school, and why can it not be held, as everyone wants it to be, in the La Superba Room of Chez Elegance Caterers? The cost of renting the facility can be recouped by the sale of tickets, at a suggested rate of five dollars stag, eight dollars drag. True, admission to the Prom in the gym is free. But no student utilizing his mind, no student exercising his reason, will balk at the patent justness of this nominal fee in exchange for a much cooler set-up.

    “Furthermore, regarding the matter of chaperones, we who tremble on the brink of adulthood, we who’ll by term’s end be eligible to serve in the nation’s armed forces, we who for two years now have possessed the legal right to drive a motorized vehicle and have had experience doing so—we insist: we will have no chaperones. We reject their authority. We ask: By what right do they presume to monitor and inhibit our celebration of existence, our rejoicing in the impending milestone of graduation, our frankly erotic fooling around?”

    The speech lasted an hour and twenty minutes, during which the young man, calmly and with exquisitely controlled passion, announced his defiance of hall monitors, presented unanswerably his critique of “the legislative sham that is our so-called ‘Student Council,’” and delivered a ringing challenge to the policy of requiring cheerleaders to wear tights both at practices and at interscholastic athletic competitions. By the time he ended with the traditional tracing, toward the audience, of the dollar sign and the exclamation mark, Dragnie had slowly risen to her feet and, her chin held high in open admiration, begun a quiet but pointed round of applause.

    The young man descended the three steps from the stage to the auditorium floor and joined her in the aisle. He was taller than she, gaunt and lean and erect in a body that hinted at hidden reserves of productive energy and rationally-managed ardor. His face belied his youth, and seemed to harbor a wisdom and experience beyond his years. His gaze at her was direct and uncowed. “I’m glad you approve, Miss Tagbord.”

    They were interrupted by the appearance of another young man. He was dressed in an identical manner to that of the young man who had given the speech, as if the two of them, though distinct individuals, attended the same school--which, as a matter of objective fact, was in fact the fact. “Nice speech, Nathan,” said the other young man.

    “Thank you, Eddie,” said the speech maker. “Oh, Miss Tagbord? Allow me to introduce Eddie G. Willikers. He’s on the stage crew here.”

     “Gosh,” Eddie Willikers said. “Are you Dragnie Tagbord?”

    “I am,” Dragnie replied.

     “Not so fast, Eddie!” Nathan said with a hint of mockery. “I saw her first!”

    “Yes, you did,” Eddie replied. “Well, nice to have met you, Miss Tagbord. See you later around the school, Nathan.” He walked away in a manner consistent with his own personal choice.

    “Your name is Nathan, young man?” she asked.

    “Yes, it is,” he replied. “Nathan A. Banden. Will you be attending the commemoration tonight, Miss Tagbord?”

    “No,” Dragnie said, electing not to insult his intelligence with an apology, a condescending smile, or any other expression of regret. “I have other plans.”

    “That is regrettable.”

    “To you, perhaps.”

    “Yes…to me. Isn’t that the only one who matters?”

     “To you, perhaps.”

     “Yes, to me. But don’t I matter to you, too, Miss Tagbord? If only a little?”

     “No.”

     “Quite right. And yet…”

     “Good-bye, Nathan. My compliments on an excellent speech.”

     The boy hesitated. Then he said, “Thank you, Miss Tagbord.”

    Almost against her will, Dragnie found herself saying, “You’re welcome.”

     Looking at each other, they exchanged glances on an equal, voluntary basis. “Am I?” he asked.

    “Yes, you’re,” she said. “You’re welcome.” And as she made her way up the slanted floor toward the lobby, she knew, as deeply and as confidently as she had known anything in her life, that it was true.

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