Thursday, March 5, 2009

Poetic Terrorism

By Joseph Savage

The class on Friday the 13th began as normal as any other class on any other day might. Students trickled in until the exact hour and while we sat waiting for the lecture to begin one of the students started talking about the police. There was a “traffic-stop-sting” on 18th and she’d been pulled over with about 7 other cars. They were all lined up on the shoulder of the street with fully uniformed officers writing tickets at their windows.

“The policemen are such a problem,” the professor is young, from Latin America and begins to tell us a story.

“When I lived at my home, my car was stolen. My family reported it, but with luck the car made it back unharmed, parked right in front of our house,” she went on, “The thing is, since it was reported stolen we had to take it down to the police station to sit for one night. We drove it down, everything perfect on the car, and dropped it off. The next day, when the car showed back up, everything was missing. The CD player, windows, anything and everything that could be removed was stolen,” she sighs, “and it was done by the police. That’s the way it is. I’m not saying anything bad about the police here, just that in my country they are horrible.”

Everyone sort of laughs it off. Whenever anyone talks this way about the cops it’s always kind of funny because everyone knows there is nothing that contests the authority’s absolute power.

I sit in the back of the class. I don’t really care about the material; I just come to class to finish school. I am in my last few terms before entering the real world. There is a very curious student who always seems overly hyped up about everything and regularly acts very critical of everything. His name is Slater Brawley.

I like to watch Slater because, at the very least, he seems a little different from the other students. I wonder what he thinks about all this university stuff. I wonder what he thinks of being a duck. You can tell he’s unsatisfied. I’d like to talk to him, but don’t know what to say and it’s definitely not the norm to just go up and say hello. That part of college I still haven’t figured out. Social networks are a very strange thing, and I assume that Slater wouldn’t mind talking with someone; it is his first term here at the University.

The class goes on. The professor is always trying to get people to speak up. Slater is always ready, but you can tell he holds back. He doesn’t want to dominate the class. He doesn’t want to feel marginalized or on trial as the one student who is really interested in the subject matter. So you can see him, a bit nervous, watching and thinking, his eyes move from here to there and unlike most of the students, Slater tries hard to always sit up straight, to always maintain good posture with powerful broad shoulders.

The theme of today is two short stories concerning the Independence of Mexico. The first one, “The Dead Man” talks of a man who accidently falls on his machete while working in his plantation. The main character didn’t want to die, and Slater kept talking about our inability to accept death although we are constantly aware that it will come. It’s difficult to exclude philosophy from a literature class. The second story, The Bullet Party was about the era of Pancho Villa. Some 300 prisoners were shot by pistol, one after the other entering from a corral to meet their doom. Slater went on talking about morals and the values of human life. It’s hard to keep ethics out of a Literature Class.

I personally don’t care. I mean, I care about life, but stories and essays and lecture class…I’m tired of them. And as I was day dreaming of the parties coming up for Valentine’s Day, someone came into the room looking distraught and serious. The whole class looks up at him.

“Are you the professor?”

“Yes, I am the discussion leader. The GTF, what can I do for you?”

We all wait to see what’s happening.

“I need to speak with you in the hallway for a moment.”

The two of them disappear. Slater looks a little worried. I wonder if it has something to do with him.

“WOW,” a student says, “That’s the director of Student Life. I’ve never seen him so shook up. He’s usually very happy and upbeat.”

“I wonder what’s happening,” another student says.

“I’ve never seen anything like this happen before.”

Everyone is discussing what’s going on; everyone except Slater and myself. I don’t say anything because I just don’t say anything, but I have a feeling this has something to do with Slater.

The door opens again and the GTF enters saying, “Ok, well nobody worry. Whatever the problem is I’m sure it will be resolved easily and simply.”

“What’s the matter?” a few students are still curious.

“It’s a secret,” she says, “no one worry. Let’s finish up our lecture; we only have 10 minutes left.”

Everyone goes back to acting studious, discussing and aiming for a good grade. The professor acts as if nothing’s happening, so does everyone else, even Slater seems a bit more at ease. I continue to sit slouching, chewing on my pin. It’s still a little too early to be in class, and I’m hung over from last night, and still there are the parties this weekend. I need to take a nap. I’ve yet to see Slater at any of the parties I’ve gone to. I wonder what he likes to do after class. Maybe the visit from the Office of Student Life has something to do with it.

“Okay class. Thank you. Have a great weekend.”

The professor’s dismissal snaps me out of my day dream and I gather my things to go. I don’t have any more classes today so I’ll just turn in my work and head home to prepare for the festivities. And as I was slipping my assignment into the folder with my identification number on it, I hear the professor speak to Slater, “Slater, could you please stay after a few minutes?”

“Sure,” his voice is cherry and complying.

I go out the classroom like normal, but wait around on the lawn outside Condon Hall to see if Slater comes out with the Director of Student Life. As I really don’t care about the university too much, I do care about drama, and I’ve been interested to know Slater for some time. So I waited.

Sure enough he leaves with the Director and they begin walking down the street slicing thru the middle of campus, heading for the Office of Student Life. Slater doesn’t seem too worried and is talking and smiling with his escort. I really wanted to know what happened so I followed them carefully, nonchalantly, and it is very easy to blend into the crowd, for all together there are close or even more than 20,000 students enrolled each year.

They walk quickly and arrive all the way to the other end of the campus in no time disappearing inside Oregon Hall. With nothing to do, I sat there out in front of the new residence halls, put in just 2 years ago, covering up the old tennis courts and outdoor recreation sites. I smoked a cigarette and looked around. The campus health center was right next to me and I watched the sad people go in, climb the stairs, and await their therapy session. There are so many depressed people in this world. When I was a kid the doctors tried to give me meds. Said I wouldn’t be able to function in society without them. I disagree and that is part of the reason I keep to myself. I don’t want to be labeled.

Time went by, 20 minutes maybe, and finally I see Slater coming out the door with the same man who walked him down, pointing over in my direction, yet not at me directly, which the thought frightened me, but over towards the entrance to the Health Center. Curious. Did Slater have a problem? Is he troubled? It’s not every day that the Director of Student Life meets with you and then shows you where the entrance to the Health Center is. I decided I’d stick around and see if I could find out more.

Slater crossed the street. He rolled a cigarette and sat down and pulled out a notebook and began writing while he smoked. I almost went up to him, but suddenly he got up and disappeared up those same stairs that all the sad people take. What’s wrong with Slater? Did he forget to take his meds this morning? Did he do something horrible? And just as those thoughts passed thru my head, 2 fully uniformed police officers left out the building of Student life. They took the same exit that Slater had used just 5-10 minutes ago. Was there a connection? Did those two cops have anything to do with this whole thing? I thought back on the two antidotes told in class.

By this time I was hooked to figure out all the mystery. I sat and waited to see if Slater would come back out of the Health Center, all the while watching the masses of people walking, stopping, smoking, talking, eating, all the things that we do on campus. I guess part of the reason I was so curious is that I just wish sometimes to see something different happen. I long to see emotion on campus with some sort of breaking from the norm and a leap into true existence. The university is a bubble, and as I’ve just seen, not a bubble totally separate from guns. I mean, the two officers that walked out of Oregon Hall both had full holsters. What is the need to bring firearms onto a campus?

Finally Slater walks out the front door of the Health Center. I had to know at this point and so as he passed me heading back up towards Kincaid I said, “Hey.”

“Hey. You’re in my class, right? The one we just got out of?”

“Yeah. I wanted to know what was happening. Did those cops have anything to do with you?”

There were cops? No way. I saw them in the lobby when I left the building, but I didn’t think they had anything to do with me. Maybe they were just in case.”

“Well, what did you do?”

“Uh...,” and he smiles, almost proud of himself, “I wrote a poem…,”he pauses, “and sent it to the president of the university and the Oregon Board of Higher Education. Kind of a protest, but also as a suggestion for the new selection of president. You know that Dave Frohnmayer is retiring this year, huh?”

“No I didn’t know that. But why all the drama? It’s like high school that you’d be called out of class like that. What did the poem say?”

“Well, it was just some thoughts. I didn’t think it was too serious, especially for an intellectual atmosphere. I just made some statements concerning the contradiction of this school. But I guess they thought I was gonna hurt somebody. I think they were picturing a bloody suicide on campus, or maybe even a terrorist attack. But hey! I’m not a terrorist. I swear.”

“Ha ha…Kind of like Virginia Tech, or something, huh?”

“Yeah of Columbine, except I used a pen and paper with words and images, and I sent it thru email to a few people, including one of the wealthiest members of our little community. Did you know that the president makes around $700,000 a year? And our professors make the same as a mail courier, while students drown in debt. It’s all so interesting.”

“Well, do you have the poem?”

“Yeah, you wanna hear it?”

Of course I wanted to hear it. This thing that had caused all this drama, I had to hear it. He pulled out his journal and started to read.

“ To the University of Victory

Why is it like this?

There’s no time…
There’s no time…

Why do I feel this way?

I’m falling behind…
Falling behind…

Time ticks and the clock quickly tocks…
Your lecture halls are filled with stale
electric light…

Why does it have to be this way?

Athletes make millions…
Arts and science starve away…

I know you see this…

The library’s dying…
Oh! It’s dying…

Don’t you feel it?

Inside I’m crying…
I am crying…

Can’t you see this?

The intellectual sits aside
while the crowd cheer on with pride,
feeling we’re alive through great Olympian dreams.

Time and time again,
I pass Kesey’s statue with a grin…
I stop and stare at him
And think of this town we’re in…

Don’t be defeated…

I come to class my eyes are bleeding,
And my body swims in alcohol.

Please appease me…

Tell me how to talk your lectures
at these parties I’ve been seeing.

Please forgive me…

I don’t know why I call on you
Just sometimes I feel lost
And that maybe you’ve the clue.

Time and time again
I walk Knight’s million volumes

“Ye Shall Know the Truth”


Have you heard it?

We live in a town of taser tag
with red coats in the streets
searching through our bags.

Do you not feel it?

Exclusion Laws…
Exclusion Laws!

Don’t you hear it?

It’s time to let if fall,
before they drown us all
converting journalists to marketers
selling golden shovels. GOLDEN SHOVELS?!?

I need more of you…

I do…
I do…

Be my friends.

My parents are far away
I want to feel okay
I need to make all A’s
So I can go back home.

Why does it have to be this way?

There’s no time…
There’s no time…

Why do I feel this way?

Falling behind…
Falling behind…

Time ticks and the clock quickly tocks…
Our lecture halls are filled with stale
electric light.

He stopped reading. He’s a good reader. It’s a poem to be heard rather than read. He does the whole thing with this funny English accent and with hand gestures and movements and all. He’s eccentric. I can relate to the poem a little, but it is critical and I guess it might sound angry, but I don’t know. I just say,

“Well, that’s not so bad. It’s critical, but no scary or threatening. I don’t get it. But you need be careful these days. Terrorist are everywhere.

“Terrorists can be anyone…I guess I’ve committed Poetic Terrorism in a sense. I don’t know if I should continue writing or just shut up and visit those counselors. I mean, they all kept asking me if I wanted to commit suicide. Suicide! Or if I wanted to hurt other people. Well, I don’t. I thought Americanism was being critical. I thought intellectualism was to write poetry. But now…Now I’m just not sure…now…you know what I am now?

And I told him. We were thinking the same thing.

“Red Flagged…”

He knew what I meant and then it suddenly hit me. Could I be red flagged too for my curiosity? Who might have seen me here with Slater? It’s funny because I began to feel watched and strange, and I didn’t want to be in the same boat as Slater, but I could relate to him in certain ways. In many ways I feel the same, but it’s not worth it to be red flagged.

Having those thought I cut the conversation short with Slater even though he was gonna say more, even though I wanted to hear more, even though I wanted to say more, and I walked away. I waved goodbye and told him I’d see him in class, but I don’t want anyone to associate me with him…and as I looked back over my shoulder walking away, I saw Slater sitting back down smoking a cigarette and writing in his notebook and I thought that maybe, just maybe, he is a terrorist.

1 comment:

Alex Lotorto said...

hey, my college president spied on me all last semester when i was organizing my students for a democratic society chapter. he had all of my professors report directly to them about my progress in classes. then the president of college democrats gathered volunteer student informants and the college held five high level meetings with secret service about me before joe biden came. they had a plan to attack me and follow me undercover. sds ended up leafletting about expensive textbooks.

this story is helps me stop feeling alone. thank you