Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Ethics

I sometimes wonder whatever happened to George, a disabled guy I knew in high school, who was missing an eye (he had a glass eye), and other problems, flat feet, which required him to walk with an unusual gait, and maybe some other stuff I never knew about. George would sometimes plant himself in the hallway, at Franklin High, here in Portland, and there he would remove his glass eye for girls and others who might be interested, and they would stand around him squealing and exclaiming the first known usage of the word “gross”, in 1964. George would sometimes bear the brunt of disability jokes, because kids can be so completely unconscious and cruel, and I must say that he did tend to bring it on himself too, with his loud and needy personality. I can still hear his ghoulish laughter, reverberating in the halls, as he removed that eye. Kicking a guy when he is down, though, has never been something I can relate to.

I had a few classes with George, and he was mostly quiet, in class, and a decent student. Few paid him much attention, and I felt sorry for him. Occasionally, we would converse about something, and I found him to be a nice person.

My desk was right next to George’s in Creative Writing, senior year, which was taught by one of my favourite teachers of all time, Mrs. Avshalomov, who was the wife of famous composer and conductor, Jacob Avshalomov. Mrs. Avshalomov was kind to me, yet honest, and critical, as she was the time I brought in my guitar and sang and played for her, at her desk, a gruesome and trite ditty I had titled “Time Heals Many Wounds”, which droned on about a failed relationship, a theme I have tended to embrace throughout my life.
“I don’t understand it” I remember her saying.

On one occasion, Mrs. Avshalomov gave us an assignment, which included a very Modern Peer Grading Procedure, whereby each student, at the end of the week, would turn his or her writing over to another student for review and critique. When the day arrived, I ended up with George’s sheaf of papers, and set about reading them, such that I could analyze and make some comments.

But when George turned his poetry over to me, in his own handwriting, I could immediately see that it was all plagarized material. Believe it or not, and I swear this actually happened, as I read the poems, I realized that George had copied, verbatim, an entire side of an LP that I myself owned, titled “The Two Sides Of The Smothers Brothers”, where they had done schtick on one side, and all nice songs on the other. Unfortuately for George, he had handed over his work to a guy who already knew all the words he had claimed to write, by heart!

The first song, for example, was a number titled “Stella’s Got A Brand New Dress” (go ahead, check on it!) and the lyric went....

“Stella got a brand new dress today,
Everywhere she goes the people say
“Who’s that walking down the street,
Pretty little shoes all dainty and petite?
With a brand new way to wear her hair and a
Brand new bright new dress to wear”
Who could imagine a sight so fair as
Stella in a brand new dress?”

I was shocked. George had copied every song on that LP, and had turned it in as his own writing. After class, I waited until the other students left, and shared the news with Mrs. Avshalomov. She took my words seriously, with a frown, and thanked me.

In a couple of days, Mrs. Avshalomov had decided what to do, and basically, she called George on his plagarism in front of the class. George just sat there with his head down, next to me, saying nothing. When it was over, and she had made all of her comments about plagarism, ethics, and life, I waited for the right moment, and said, “Sorry George”.

George and I didn’t have much to say to each other after that, but on the last day of school, he handed me his yearbook to sign, and I happily handed mine over to him. I can remember being pleased at what George had written, given my role in the ethics bust, but all these years later, I regard George’s inscription with deep and heartfelt gratitude. He wrote........

Ric

We’ve known each other for four years and I have enjoyed them very much. You never knocked me for my deformities. You only looked for the good. That is why I like and admire you so well. Good luck and best wishes in the future.

George 1966


George....That’s one of the finest pieces of writing I have ever read. Having your inscription, all these years, sitting there on my bookshelf, for me to read anytime I wish, has helped remind me how important it is to be kind, that I am capable of having an impact on someone by being kind, and it has meant more to me than you will ever know.


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