Halloween is supposed to be scary, but nothing will ever top the Halloween that came a few days after the Cuban missile crisis in 1962. That October convinced me never to run for President of the United States.
And I have not changed my mind since then.
Mr. Greenwood, our sixth-grade teacher at Pleasant Lane Elementary School, told us to put our heads on our desks and contemplate the end of the world, which might happen before we went home that day. That year, the Three R's were Readin', Ritin', and 'Rmageddon.
While the adults were wound tight enough to snap at any moment, my fellow sixth graders and I tried to focus on our daily lives, one step after another.
For whatever reason, the powers-that-be had selected me as Captain of the Patrol Boys that year. I was tall, and I hadn't been a problem child in fifth grade, and I guess that was all it took. They didn't have Patrol Girls in those days, otherwise someone a lot smarter surely would have gotten the job.
My main duty was to get to school early, wear a special sash and badge in keeping with my position, and walk around the school's little campus, checking that the other Patrol Boys were doing their job. They had the real work, which consisted of blowing a whistle to stop oncoming traffic so that the younger kids could cross the street safely and get to school in one piece.
My pal Ducky was in charge of the Pleasant Lane crossing, from which the school took its name. Each time I came by his station we'd have a brief conversation that went like this:
"Everything okay here, Mr. Ducky?"
"Very well, carry on."
Sometimes he'd throw in a salute or a raspberry or pick his nose, but regardless, we would always crack up. We probably should have been more serious, but no kids ever got run over on Ducky's watch, so there is that. The way it turned out, Ducky's record of service was better than mine.
In good weather, most of the kids headed for the swings or monkey bars, or tossed balls around when they arrived on the school grounds, until the five-minute bell called them to class. But a handful of second- or third-graders usually followed me around on my route. Like I say, I was tall.
On Halloween each year, kids wore their costumes to school, and there would be a little parade down Pleasant Lane, to Main Street, and back up the driveway along the softball field to the school. Leading the procession would be the King and Queen -- sixth graders selected by the popular vote of the three hundred or so students at Pleasant Lane.
As a joke, Ducky nominated me and suddenly I had a chance to be King! But no matter what the old adage says about how any American child might grow up to be President, I was about to yield that possibility.
The night before the vote, I had a brainstorm. My nickname at school, based on my surname, was "Goldilocks." That was the least egregious nickname, anyway. So I wrote, "Be A Smart Fox, Vote For Goldilocks" along with a cartoonish fox on a piece of poster board and taped it to a stick from my dad's workshop.
As I made my Patrol Boy rounds the next morning, I carried my sign.
"You've got my vote, Captain!" Ducky said, and we both broke up. Those were simpler times.
But pretty soon, my usual entourage of two or three second-graders began to grow. Dozens of kids were following me, and they started chanting, "Be a smart fox, vote for Goldilocks!" And of course that looked like more fun than hanging upside down on the monkey bars, so before long I found myself in front of a pre-teen mob chanting my slogan over and over. I was in more danger of getting run over than any of the kids Ducky ushered across the street.
When the five-minute bell rang, my supporters threw their arms in the air, shouting wildly, and dispersed to their respective classrooms. I was almost alone again.
But Mickey, a hard-edged sixth-grader, had a message for me on his way to class. His girlfriend, we'll call her Denise to protect her innocence after all these years, was in the running for Queen of the School.
"If you and Denise win this thing, I swear I'll knock your teeth in," he told me. "You better watch your butt."
The best perk of my job as Captain of the Patrol Boys was that I got to come into class a couple minutes late, when everyone else was seated and the teacher was going over this and that before the Pledge of Allegiance. I had to make sure all the other kids had heard the bell and gone to their respective class rooms. Then I reported to Mr. Greenwood's sixth-grade class.
Now, my parents thought an implicit code of do-the-right thing was better than after-the-fact corporal punishment, but it was still better to take a spanking from mom than from dad on those times my morals strayed. My brothers and sister will attest to this.
After years of mostly wonderful, caring female teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade, Pleasant Lane introduced us to male teachers in the form of Mr. Greenwood. Same deal on who you want spanking you.
I knew something was up when I caught Ducky's eye as I came in the class room, and he immediately dropped his head to study the age-old graffiti on his desk.
I took my seat and leaned my sign against my desk. This was the first time there was no chatter going on when I got to the room.
"Mr. Gold, would you please come up here," Mr. Greenwood said, in a voice that made it clear that it was not a question.
I started towards the front of the class when he stopped me. "Bring that, too," he said, raising his chin at my little campaign sign.
So I brought my sign to the front of the class. He took it from me and broke the stick over his lifted knee with a grunt. He threw the pieces on the floor and stomped on them.
"Put that in the trash, Mr. Gold," he said, and I saw that his spittle just missed me.
I might have been glad that teachers didn't have a vote in the election, but that wasn't really top of mind at that moment. I picked up the debris and put it in the waste basket by his desk.
"In all my years of teaching," Mr. Greenwood said, and that couldn't have been more than two or three at that point in his career, "I've never seen anything like this. We trusted you with responsibility, Mr. Gold, and you gave us chaos and danger. I'm going to recommend that you be stripped of your commission as Captain of the Patrol Boys."
That afternoon, when the votes were tallied, Denise was Queen of the School by a comfortable margin. There were rumors that Mickey had been persuasive on her behalf with some of the younger kids.
But I won in a landslide. Mickey hadn't been on the ballot himself, and he never bothered to knock in my teeth. Denise and I rode in the convertible at the head of the parade. My base, the second-, third-, and fourth-graders, still loved me.
"Everything okay here, Mr. Ducky?" I asked as I made my rounds, with maybe twenty youngsters tagging along the next day.
"Very well, carry on."
But politics was not worth the aggravation. That's when I decided to let someone else be President of the United States. And good luck to them.