Dale and I were going to be the only people in our group that day

on

I was going to be
the only visitor to the rest and eat area of President James K. Polk Memorial
Rest Area. So far, only a few of us had been allowed into the facility.
Dale and I had sat down to lunch in the building’s cafeteria with a gaggle of
older guys in khakis and golf jackets, and no one else. I had been watching the
group of young black students who had been working at the office buildings a
couple of blocks south, and I had noticed them sitting in the cafeteria in
front of us. “You all look like you need a nap,” I had said, and
Dale had replied, “We’ve got to get in the office buildings.
We’ve got to check out the school.”

This was going to be a test,
that day. Like many of my friends, I had been taught that you do anything you
can to prevent being caught by a security guard. That’s what I had told the
FBI agent in my office that afternoon. It had been a test, in the way that the
first test I had ever completed involved a game of poker on the afternoon of
the day of the test. I had had to bluff my way through the game, playing low
stakes against a guy with a hundred thousand dollars, but without a gun or a
knife. This had been a test, in a way, because I had been able to bluff my way
through it: I had used every trick in the book. And then I won at poker. It had
been a test, because I had played an incredibly good game of poker, and I
would have come out ahead, had I been playing by the rules. The FBI agent had
told me that he couldn’t allow anyone to go to the office buildings, until
after the first test. Then he could have taken the second test later that day,
but he wanted me away from his office for a while.

The second test was for
Dale. He had gone into the office buildings after work. He had had to see the
principal of the school, and then meet with the parents. He had met them in a
black community forum building, and had been told by the principal that this
was a small high school with a good, but not very large, enrollment, and there
were never any more students than there were parents. Dale hadn’t been invited
to the school. He hadn’t been asked to speak to the parents. To him, what the
principal had said seemed to mean that they didn’t care about the school, and
they didn’t care about him.

It was going to be a
frightful confrontation. Dale had been scared and angry, but he had kept his
voice level, he had kept it under control, and he had kept it in his head. He
had been polite to the parents, but he had been firm, and he had been
reasonable. What they had said to him to justify the way they were
functioning, he had never understood. All they saw were parents pushing
their children forward, and they had no idea what it cost. They had gone to
the principal for help, and instead, they were being asked to go away. What
were they asking for? Help? He was told to go away. So he had gone away, but
they had made him stay away.

It had been an
encounter just like the one with the FBI agent’s assistant that afternoon,
three years before in Cincinnati. I had been sitting in the cafeteria, eating my
coffee and reading about the government. We had talked about how much we were
leaking into every aspect of our lives, and I had been surprised by the way
Dale had turned to me and said, “All we want is to be treated as we
should. We don’t mean anything by it.” That’s when I had realized
that the principal was looking at me, too, and waiting for me to say something.

All they saw was
parents pushing their children forward. The kids were the problem, and I had
been their solution. He said this because he had come into contact with me,
and he could see that I could explain his situation. I had been a student
attorney in the school district for almost six months, and I could explain the
situation. I could explain why he wanted to do this, that he wanted to do it,
but he couldn’t do it because the parents had won.

On his first night
there, Dale and his parents had been invited to spend the night at the
principal’s. Dale had been excited, at first. His parents couldn’t afford
more than three nights, so he had said he would go. He had offered to drive
them to the school.

“No,” the
principal had said. “You’ll be staying here.”

“But—”

So he had gone and
spent the night.

I had told Dale that
one thing should be clear to him, and he had looked at me for help, thinking I
would have some kind of solution. Then, I had said that this principal was
wounded, but he was also right to want to be treated as he should.

Dale had been nervous
to sleep on his own, because he had heard that the students of the school had
been expelled for no reason. He had heard that the teachers didn’t care about
this school, and he had heard that the parents did, but they were all so
busy pushing their kids ahead that they had no time for the school. He had
wanted to get out of there, but then his mother had found him on the floor,
crying, and she had dragged him to the principal’s office. “I know that
I can make your stay here go away,” the principal had said, “if
you’ll help me.”

“No,” Dale had
said. “No. And I think I’ll be leaving.”

“But—”

He had then had to
go with his mother to speak to the parents, but one of the parents had called
the state police, and the police had found Dale’s parents in the parking
lot, standing with a police captain, staring at his car. By then, the police
were waiting for the principal, and he had said, “All right, here’s
your son now. Let’s go.” They had looked at him, and Dale had
said, “We don’t want to go anywhere with you. We’re going to the
school.”

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