After 25 years in the storytelling biz, we at Story District have learned a lot and want to share our stories and insights with you. As we approach Election Day, we are featuring the written version of a story Adam Ruben performed back when we were known as SpeakeasyDC.
In 1988, everyone was watching the big contest between George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. So, my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Claverie thought it would be a great idea for us to have class elections to learn a little bit about politics. She came up with all kinds of great offices we could run for. Really important things like plant waterer, eraser clapper and everyone wanted to be line leader. No one wanted to be the board washer. So, I decided I was going to run for the office that I thought was secretly the most powerful – messenger. It was the messenger’s job to ferry official communications from our classroom to the main office. So in a sense, messenger was just one step away from principal.
I was not a popular kid at all. I was scrawny, bad at sports, and I didn’t have any friends. In fourth grade, you start learning what it might take to become popular and you start experimenting to see what could work. There’s really no way to have a numerical, official readout of your popularity, quite like a class election. It’s horribly cruel that way. So, I decided for this election, I was going to go all out. I was going to stand out from the crowd. I went home, made posters, and I blanketed my classroom walls with them. This was 1988 so I couldn’t make them using Microsoft Word or Kinkos. I drew them and it took me hours but I did it.
On the day of the election, we planned to do speeches in the morning and then after lunch, have the election. Everybody’s speeches sounded the same. They get up and they’d say something like, “Hi, I’m Matthew. I want to be the line leader. I think I’d be good at it.” And that was it. I decided I was going to have a different speech from everybody else. I was going to make a multimedia extravaganza. In 1988, a multimedia extravaganza meant audio tape. So at home, I recorded an audio tape. It started with a big flourish on the piano before I was introduced by my six-year-old sister. She said, in her most convincing little voice, “Look, here comes Adam Rubin, the world’s best messenger.” Then, I gave a little speech followed by testimonials. The testimonials were just me making different voices while I talked about what a great messenger I was. I did the voice of a little kid saying, “When I was sick, Adam brought me my teddy bear.” Then, I did the voice of a businessman talking about how I had brought an important briefcase to his work. This went on and on and there were more and more voices before it finally closed with another big flourish on the piano.
I sat in class and I played this tape on Mrs. Claverie’s little cassette deck. It sounded kind of tinny coming out of there and the class were laughing. I thought that was good. They thought I was funny! Then I took out the props. Two Hot Wheels cars. I said, “If you vote for Adam Ruben, this is how the year is gonna go.” And I drove the car in a straight line. Then, I took out the second car and said, “If you vote for the competition, it’s going to be like this” and I made the car crash. You can’t argue with that logic. After that, I decided to close with a joke. But I was nine. I didn’t know how to write a joke. So I brought in a stack of unsharpened pencils and said, “In conclusion, vote for Adam Ruben because my messenger standards are figured with a sharp pencil.” And I took out one of the unsharpened pencils and pretended to be surprised. I said again, “With a sharp pencil,” pulled out another unsharpened pencil and kept going until I got through the whole stack of pencils. I don’t think that phrase actually meant anything – “My messenger standards are figured with a sharp pencil.” I just wanted to come up with a sentence that sounded official and ended with the word “sharp pencils.” This was how I thought I would become popular. Then we went to lunch.
I may not have had popularity, but at lunch, I had one thing the other kids did not have. I had fruit snacks. Kids would come up to me – even though it’d be sitting – by myself and say, “Hey, can I give you a dime for one of your fruit snacks?” I had this whole little business going. On this day, a kid came up and he said, “Hey, if you give me one of your fruit snacks, I’ll vote for you.”
I said, “All right, sure” and gave him a fruit snack. Another kid overheard and he said, “Yeah, I’ll vote for you too…if you give me a fruit snack.” Next thing I knew, I’d given away the whole packet of fruit snacks. You gotta make sacrifices in politics. I started thinking, “Is this bribery? Do I really want to win like this?” Hell yes, I want to win like this. This is the only way I will win.
We got back to class and it was time for the election. We all put our heads down on the desks, went through the different offices, until Mrs. Claverie got to messenger. She said, “Okay, raise your hand if you vote for…” and she named whoever my opponent was and people put their hands up. Then she said, “Raise your hand if you vote for Adam Ruben.” I put my hand up. She said, “Okay, you can raise your heads.” We did and I looked at the blackboard for the results. My opponent had twenty votes. I had four. There were more than four fruit snacks and that goddamn packet. Let me tell you. Mrs. Claverie went around the classroom and asked each of us to name one thing we learned from the experience. I put my hand up and I said, “I learned you can’t trust anybody.”
A few months later, she had another series of elections for the kids who had not yet held the office. I ran for messenger again, but this time I decided I was not going to stand out. I was just going to do the same thing everyone else did. I got up to make my speech. “Hi, I’m Adam Ruben. I’d really like to be messenger. I think I’ll do a good job at it,” and I sat down. I lost twenty two votes to two. Politics is cruel. Finally before the year ended, we had one last election and I came in with a new strategy. And I won.
I was elected board washer because that’s how the underdog succeeds in reality. It’s not like they show you on TV all the time. The unpopular kid is not going to put on sunglasses and suddenly become cool. He’s not going to make an impassioned speech and make everyone change their minds. No, he’s going to wait until everybody else has already had a chance and then he’s going to run for an unpopular office unopposed. Those were the cleanest god damn blackboards ever.
About Story District: In 1997, The Speakeasy was born, an open mic series for storytelling. Over time, we evolved into Story District and now we host dozens of shows and classes every year, as well as leading trainings and creating custom performances for businesses, government agencies, colleges, and nonprofits. Visit StoryDistrict.org, subscribe to our podcast, Story District Presents, our YouTube channel StoryDistrictLive and follow us on Instagram @storydistrict.
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