Each morning, she slithered onto her throne at the front of the lab and fixed us with her imperious gaze as we cowered behind rows of beakers, which trembled and tinkled like wind chimes at the mere suggestion of her. What strange potions today, my little pretties? I knew she didn’t like me. She didn’t seem to like anybody, really, but she had a peculiar way of making me feel like I would never amount to anything, especially on days when our test results were to be returned.
“Son, you are never going to amount to anything,” she would say, thrusting my folded up test toward me as if it were a dagger. “I don’t know who you think you’re kidding or why you bother showing up for class.”
I am humbled enough by this award that I should admit, in all fairness to Mrs. Godwin, that it would have taken quite some leap of faith on someone’s part to believe that I, as a high school sophomore, would someday become Time magazine’s “Person of the Year.” I wasn’t a good student, or even a fair one. I was, at best, a mediocre athlete, a marginal starter on the junior varsity basketball team — what today we call a “role player” in those days was defined more simply as a player whose principle task it is to give the ball to a better player if and when he should find himself in possession of the basketball.
“For Pete’s sake, son, throw the ball to Big Red!” the coach screamed, every time I touched the ball.
So I threw it to Big Red, a rangy, good-natured redheaded boy who must have come out of the womb at about 5’11”. He would smile at me for throwing him the ball, then pivot and shoot it over the opposing team’s tallest player, who usually could not see much higher than his nipples.
“Good play, Cox,” yelled the coach, causing my chest to puff out a little. “Way to throw it to Big Red.”
But there were other accomplishments. I once took home a second place ribbon for drawing in the county library’s annual art contest for my jarring depiction of a dragster cruising past a farm. In the background, you could see the placid faces of the cows, apparently not as startled as one might think to see a dragster in such close proximity. What had I been going for thematically? The juxtaposition of the urban and rural? A commentary on the industrialization of the agrarian South? A feeling that my childhood was racing by too fast and that no one, not even cows, seemed to notice?
Emmy Lu Godwin, philistine that she is, would probably say that it had more to do with the fact that I enjoyed drawing dragsters and cows and that I was intellectually too lazy to keep them in their proper contexts. She would say that I ought to be pretty good at drawing dragsters and cows, since I spent all my time in class sketching them out instead of paying attention. She would say that a person who spends all his time drawing dragsters and cows will never amount to anything.
Tell it to Time magazine, Mrs. Godwin.
Now I know what Mrs. Godwin would say, which is probably one reason I haven’t actually called her. She would say something like, “Son, the dang foolish magazine named EVERYONE person of the year. That’s why there is a mirror on the cover. Any fool that picks it up can see himself in it. It’s a perfect emblem of the sheer stupidity and worthlessness of popular culture — You Tube, myspace, bloggers popping up like damn dandelions everywhere you look, everybody famous! Everything broadcast! What a crock, if you ask me. Ninety-nine point nine percent of you ‘Person of the Year’ award recipients will never amount to anything. Every last one of you would be better off throwing it to Big Red.”
Not this year, Mrs. Godwin. Big Red is Time magazine’s “Person of the Year,” and so are you, and so I am. Here’s to Big Red. Here’s to you. And here’s to me.
Our Time has come.