The year was 1967. I was a junior at Lyman High School in Longwood, Florida, and it was time to elect class officers for our senior year. “Who better than I to be class president?” I thought (and I tended to put my thoughts in quotations back then). “If not me---who? If not now---when?” The reason I decided to throw my proverbial hat into the proverbial ring, was not because I had any serious thoughts about how to improve our proverbial school, or benefit my proverbial classmates. My sole thought was decidedly non-serious and un-proverbial. “Wouldn’t it be cool to be class president?”
So I filed the proper paperwork, no doubt to the chagrin of the powers-that-were, and posters reading Sukhia for President, Class of ’68, began appearing in appropriate and inappropriate places. My friend and classmate Tim Layman, not to be confused with the aforementioned name of our high school, Lyman (Hey, it just occurred to me; why didn’t Tim run for president? “Lyman needs a Layman.” “Choose Layman for Lyman.” “It’s no Lie, Man, It’s Lay Man for President.” (I could go on like this until I’ve lost the remaining 4 readers.) Anyhoo…my friend Tim had a pilot’s license, and was a member of some version of the Civil Air Patrol. He was one of those guys in high school who actually learned and did stuff, as opposed to the ones who sat around dreaming of the potential coolness of high office.
One of us (I suspect it was me) had the following bright idea. “Suppose we fly over the school one afternoon at the end of the school day, and drop flyers printed with the words, ‘Sukhia for President’ as everyone leaves for home?” That sounded quite reasonable to me. Now here’s the most amazing part of the story: First you must understand that as Frodo, not Sam, was the keeper of the ring; even so, among the two of us, Tim, not Russ, was the keeper of the brain----National Honor Society, four point-something GPA, etc. Yet somehow, for some reason, Tim did not immediately reject this idea. Now that I think about it, I suspect that he realized that even though he might get into some trouble, this would be one sure way to ensure that an idiot like me would never hold any public office. In a sense, you could say he took one for the team----the smart people team. I don’t remember how much time elapsed between the hatching of the plot and the perpetration, but over the next few weeks, as all plots tend to do, ours thickened.
Tim had convinced me that paper flyers, dropped from several thousand feet, would end up all over Seminole County. So we had purchased a few yards of material in the school colors of blue and gold. The design was simple; two pieces of blue cloth, sewn together, weighted inside with rags, with long gold strips of fabric attached (picture the tail of a kite). On the blue fabric, we had written, probably just with a black permanent marker, the words Sukhia for President. I think we made about six or eight of these before we ran out of fabric and/or time. My saintly mother played the role of Mary Surratt in this conspiracy. If not a full-fledged co-conspirator, she was certainly an enabler. She assisted us in at least two ways: She helped sew the packets or pillows or propaganda, and she signed an excuse form for me to bring to school. It read, as I recall, “Please excuse Russell after fourth period today, he has an appointment in Orlando.” We didn’t think it prudent to mention that the appointment was at the airport, where Russy was to board a Cessna piloted by his friend Timmy with the intention of flying over the school when they should have been in Algebra class.
The plan came off without a hitch. Our excuses were not questioned. We drove the fifteen or twenty miles to the airport, rented the small plane, strapped ourselves in, and Tim took off. This was my first flight (if you don’t count my boyhood mimicking of Superman by jumping from a chair to the crossbar of our backyard clothesline in Baltimore---and you shouldn’t count that). I suppose we followed Route 436 from Orlando toward Altamonte Springs, and then angled north toward Longwood. The fact that I don’t remember suggests that, for that part of the flight, I may have been cowering in fear on the floor, crying out for Mary Surratt. Eventually we were circling the campus, which looked quite different from that perspective. This was long before you could click a few buttons on a computer and see satellite images of planets like Earth.
We waited for the 3 PM dismissal, and I saw what looked like little ants walking on the football field. There was a snack bar there that was opened after school, and activity on the field was a clear sign that the last class had ended. I remember Tim banking the plane to give me a clear shot. I opened the window, and threw out the presidential promotional pillows, or, as our Algebra teacher, Mr. Button (who probably, by this time, had overheard talk about Layman and Sukhia skipping his class to fly over the school) would have put it. Out the window they went, in rapid succession, and I tried to focus on the streamers as long as I could as they drifted out of sight. It didn’t help that Tim kept the plane moving forward, which made it hard for me to follow them. I understand why he did it, but still. I remember thinking “There’s no way any of these are going to land on the campus. This whole thing is going to be a royal waste of time. And when, 45 years from now, I type this story on the personal computer that will surely be invented by then, and I post it on my blob (I almost got that right) it will be a royal waste of time for my several thousands of readers (wrong by several thousands, but right about the waste of time).
As implied above, the word was out among our friends that we were going to do this, so they were watching the skies for falling objects. This was to prevent the tree falling in the forest quandary-----if a pillow with the words Sukhia for President falls on the school grounds and no one sees or hears it, does it make any buzz? (What we never bothered to ask was, if said pillow does fall on the school grounds, and it is both seen and heard, will it affect anyone’s vote?)
As soon as the plane was safely on the ground, I called Donna. (Since midway through our junior year, I have made it a point to know her phone number). She told me that at least one of the pillows landed on the campus, and she was in possession of it. The caper, in other words, had been successful---or so we thought. But alas, Ica-Russ had flown too high, and within 24 hours he would come crashing down, as you will read in the next thrilling episode.
As I look back, I realize I wasn’t particularly anxious to serve my classmates as their president; I just wanted to be class president. I liked the idea of being president. There was no electoral college. The winner of the popular vote would be the class president. I was interested to see if I was popular enough to be chosen. I was having fun running, and looking forward to the day when the votes would be counted. When I look at it that way, I was a lot like the religious leaders rebuked by Jesus.