16 February 2009

Presidents Day

This President's Day, I want to take a little time to pay homage to one of the true founding fathers. No, not those guys on the money. There are a million places on the web you can go to hear about those guys. I'm talking about someone you may not have heard of. His name was Frank Warrington, and he was the first--and maybe the best--student council president Forest Hills Middle School ever had.

Frank's story starts at the beginning of my fifth grade year. If you went to one of the other (something, something, thousand) middle schools in the country in 1987, you may not remember this, but times were tough for students at Forest Hills that fall. We had recently merged with a competing middle school, and the merger had been less than successful on our end. The new kids were older, on account of the other school's surprisingly low graduation rate, and they were none too pleased to be sharing facilities with a "bunch of snot nosed babies". Because of this displeasure, their student council president, John Cella, had outfitted his school with jackets that showed their solidarity. Their solidarity in hating us. We groaned whenever we saw a mustached fifth grader striding our way with one of those jackets on, knowing only too well that a trip into the nearest locker was a distinct possibility. We began referring to the red jackets as "Cella-wear". I don't know. I guess it was the closest our addled, snot-nosed baby minds could come to an insult.

Forest Hills, prior to this year, had been a nice school. Laid back. As such, we had never had the need for a student council, and certainly no president to lead them. But with the dawning of this new threat, we knew things had to change. If we were to have any hope of winning the war of oppression, we would need the kind of strong, determined leadership that allowed a fledgling country called America do the same. We formed a student council from volunteers and went in search of a president. When Frank Warrington threw his name into the ring, we knew it could be no other.

Was it because he was the coolest kid we knew? Perhaps. He was ahead of his time when it came to setting fashion trends. That was a year when everyone who was anyone was walking around with jelly bracelets and Swatch watches that glowed in the dark. But not Frank. He had a simple necklace of imitation shark's teeth he had carved out of pine. Before the year was over, everyone had a similar necklace.

Was it because he taught us new ways to use and abuse the English language? Perhaps. While everyone else was using words like "bodacious" and "radical", he was making up new words like "drossing". To "dross something" meant to tear it down.

Was it because he was so full of energy? Perhaps. We had known Frank since Kindergarten and he was the only one of the kids who refused to take a nap. It was as if he was completely unable to lie down. Instead, he would go outside with the PE coach and run laps around the building, improving the physical fitness (and spectacularly malformed calves) he would later become so renowned for.

Actually, I think it might have had most to do with his cooking skills. Food is the way to a man's heart, and it is also the way to win a student council presidency (take note, up and comers). Frank presided over three school-wide breakfasts that year, introducing the student body to his delicacy, the Jollywig. It was a cross between a pancake and a bacon sandwich, all smothered in peanut butter and sprinkled with powdered sugar.

So when Frank Warrington, with his wooden teeth and his powdered 'wigs and his inability to lie, announced his candidacy for student council president, we knew we had found our man. We did not regret our choice. The first day of his presidency, he marched into the opposing end of the school and tore down three red jackets that hung over the auditorium doors. Tore them right down. Things changed after that. We started getting the respect we desired from our 17 year old fifth grade companions. If locker stuffing didn't end that day, it certainly eased up.

Later, a powerful portrait of the incident was hung in the main hallway of the school. It was titled "Warrington Drossing the Cella-Wear", and it hangs there to this day. Here's to you, Frank Warrington. May you dross all obstacles in your path.