I Learned Early The Truth Behind Elections


Because Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 8, I am reminded of the very first election I was involved in — it was in grade school, for president of the safety patrol.

At Lancaster Elementary School, being part of the safety patrol was a very big deal. Students who had good grades and a semblance of propriety were chosen by their teachers to help keep other children from behaving like, well, children.

The jobs of a “safety cadet” were many: to escort new kids to wherever they were supposed to go, to help kindergarteners who were lost or scared, to make sure miscreants made it to the principal’s office with no detours, and — get this — to stand next to the highway alongside a police officer when school let out.

Of course, I don’t mean a highway like I-95 or, heaven forbid, Tampa’s I-4 (which recently won the “deadliest highway in the country” award). I mean what we safety patrollers “in the biz” would call “a busy street.”

As sixth-grade cadets, our responsibility was to keep everyone on the curb until the police officer blew his whistle and stopped traffic, then guide the group of children safely across. This meant crossing the street many, many times and probably is not allowed today. It’s an accident waiting to happen as friends, balls and sometimes runaway gerbils are involved. But, back then, it was the crème de la crème of responsibilities, and we took it very seriously.

We also had safety gear that was the envy of everyone in the school. This gear consisted of two items — a white belt that extended over one shoulder to make sort of a “Z” and which should’ve been made of some reflective material but wasn’t, and a set of brass knuckles. Seriously.

No one was sure about the intended purpose of the knuckles, including the teachers, but we cadets didn’t care. We wore them proudly and threateningly. And, to be honest, they weren’t actually knuckles as much as a 5-inch metal shield molded to fit your hand with a band extending from one side to the other that you could hold onto. We had not been trained in their use and, to this day, I cannot imagine what their use was. But to us, they were brass knuckles, plain and simple, to be shoved into the face of any child daring to step off the curb before we told them it was OK. And, oh, how we wished certain kids would step off the curb!

At any rate, one fall we were told that all students would be voting for president of the safety patrol. The duties of the president were but one — to lord it over the rest of us. Almost overnight, crudely crayoned posters appeared in all the hallways, and two people emerged as the most viable contenders — Sheila, a great kid whom everyone loved, who was impartial and fair and had yet to have creamed anyone with her brass knuckles; and Bill, whom I had seen in the hallway once. Everything seemed to be going well for Sheila, until the day before the election when Bill started handing out index cards. The cards read, “Vote for Bill!” and, taped to each card, was a lollipop. Candy in school! Candy when we were at our most candy-deprived!

I wondered if one of Bill’s parents was a politician. I wondered if my fellow classmates would be able to see this bribery for what it was. But mostly, I wondered if it was ethical to vote for Sheila while sucking on one of Bill’s lollipops. In the end, it didn’t matter what I wondered. Bill won in a landslide.

Was he the most qualified? No, but he was definitely the most popular.