O Positive - Talkin Jesse Helms Blues
Every student should be lucky enough to have a teacher like Mr. Rawls. The history and civics teacher for our section of Osterberg Junior High was closer to our parents’ age than to ours, and he had the combover and matching walrus mustache to prove it. However, he hadn’t forgotten what it was like to be a kid, and the things that matter most to kids our age. He listened to us and took us seriously. While he never talked about his own political beliefs, I sensed that he may have been a former countercultural activist, based on his sympathies with the outsiders and some of the statements he made in passing.
One soggy winter Friday, he buttonholed me after class. “You broke the curve,” he said of the quiz he’d just given back to us. “How did you do that?”
Mr. Rawls knew me as a good student who took her schoolwork seriously and followed current events. He also knew that I tended to freeze up and underperform on quizzes and tests. This test on civics, however, included some very pointed questions about a certain Southern senator.
Instinctively I reached for my walkman and handed it over to him. He adjusted the foam headphones over his oval-shaped head and hit play. I could hear some of the music leak out – the high whine of a sarcastic violin and a thick, consistent drum machine beat. Mr. Rawls rested his head in his hand and absently started to groom his mustache, nodding to the beat. When the vocals kicked in, a smile crept across his face.
I stood in front of his desk for the full three minutes it took the song to unspool. When it faded out, he hit stop, then looked at the tape deck in his hand before giving it back to me.
“I have hope for today’s youth,” he finally said.