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West Side Stories: The Squeaky Wheel

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WEST SIDE STORIES

This true story by Jon Lehre was recorded live on May 2 at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s popular monthly showcase of spoken word performances, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, volunteer storytellers are randomly selected from the audience to tell a tale based on a theme – this month’s theme was “The Squeaky Wheel” – and after all stories have been told, the audiences selects their favorite. The theme for next month’s West Side Stories show, to be held on June 6, is “Ignorance is Bliss.” For tickets and information, visit WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com.

Inspired as I was by Juliet’s story — and what high school kids all across this country have been doing to stand up for themselves — it reminded me of a time when I too fought for our freedom, when I was 17 years old.

And it was also about the right to bear arms.

It was about the dress code.

So it was a ‘b-a-r-e’ kind of situation.

When I was 17, for some reason, I had decided that I would wear a tie to school every day. This was a public school. A small high school in San Ramon called, interestingly enough, California High School. And I just thought, to be different, I would do that. So I would be the last person you would expect to rebel against the school’s new proposed dress code, which would take away tank tops. And shorts.

But I was born in San Francisco, in 1967, the Summer of Love, to hippies, by god! And my DNA would not let that rest.

I knew the first thing that you needed to do if you were going to protest The Man, is you needed a support group — a team of people who would stand behind you and embrace those values you share … to the end. So I got my best friend Tim.

And together we formed an organization that we called S.H.O.R.T.S. — Students Hate Orders Requiring Trousers and Sleeves.

And I made a flyer. I drew a picture of a grizzly bear — that was our mascot — in a tank top. And I said something like, “Only You Can Wear Your Bear Arms.” I forget exactly what it said, but at the time it felt powerful. I felt like Thomas Payne, you know, or a good sun screen ad. I wasn’t sure which.

I made a couple of copies on my stepdad’s home office copier. And I got on my bike, and I took them over to Tim’s house. He wasn’t there, so I gave them to his mom, and I rode back to my house. That night, my mother came into my room, and she said, “Hey. I just got a call from Tim’s mom. And she told me about the mischief you and he are up to, and he’s grounded.”

And then she said, “I’ve never been so proud of you in my entire life.”

‘Cause, you know, she was a hippie.

So, the next day I plastered those fliers all over the school, like six or seven of them. And someone must have seen me because the next day the Vice Principal called me into his office. Well, armed with the confidence of knowing that the power of right was on my side, I marched into his office. And with that growl in his voice that only people who know how to put people down can speak with, he said, “This yours?” And he handed me my flyer.

And I said (in a high-pitched, slightly terrified voice), “Yes sir,” with all the confidence I could muster.

He said, “Nice bear.”

(Same voice) “Thank you sir.”

Then he said, “You know, it’s funny. Nobody’s said anything about the dress code, like, at all, and then we saw your flyer, and we said, ‘Hey. Maybe we should talk about this.’ So, we’re going to talk to the student leadership, and we’ll see if maybe we shouldn’t do something about it. Okay, go back to class.”

WEST SIDE STORIES

This true story by Jon Lehre was recorded live on May 2 at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s popular monthly showcase of spoken word performances, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, volunteer storytellers are randomly selected from the audience to tell a tale based on a theme – this month’s theme was “The Squeaky Wheel” – and after all stories have been told, the audiences selects their favorite. The theme for next month’s West Side Stories show, to be held on June 6, is “Ignorance is Bliss.” For tickets and information, visit WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com.

(A long pause)

It just goes to show you the power you can have. Because they never did hold a meeting. So it was me, and my passion, and the indifference of busy people, that made it so that when I graduated that year, there was no dress code in effect.

Okay, maybe I’m not changing the world. Maybe I didn’t really affect anything. But I learned that, sometimes, you just have to say something.

And that’s what always makes a difference.

Thank you.