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Ashley Jo Bagnall
The Ashley Jo Show (Windows Media Video)
Ashley Jo Bagnall -age 7
Ashley Jo Bagnall
Speech and Debate
A few years ago, Apple Computers borrowed the rights to use the images of a few famous crusaders for Justice: Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Cesar Chavez, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their advertisements would feature one of these famous portraits next to a modest Apple logo and the pithy slogan, "think different." The message almost seemed to capitalize on the brand's unpopularity. It was as if, by using Apple Computers, the average Joe Blow places himself above the mediocrity of the PC mainstream. He becomes capable of challenging the status quo with his sophisticated choice in technology. Like Gandhi, the Apple consumer is capable of achieving great things; of becoming a legend.
In the summer of 2000, Apple created a huge mural on the side of the Hotel Figueroa in Los Angeles, bearing all five of those famous faces. The Democratic National Convention was nominating Al Gore at the Staples Center just a few blocks away, and Rage Against the Machine was about to hold a concert protesting the two-party system somewhere in the streets in between the two. I was fifteen.
Maybe it was an excuse to be near all that political tension in the air, or maybe it's just because the mural was so larger-than-life, but my dad, a history professor by occupation and by birth, wanted to drive up to L.A. for an afternoon to see it. When I told a friend where we were going, there was dead silence on the phone for a beat. "You're driving to Los Angeles... to see an ad for Apple Computers?"
We bought a disposable camera at a dark, cramped drugstore. Walking the streets, it was apparent that there was something big going on. There were reporters buzzing around to interview the drugstore owner, huge cameras weighing down one shoulder or the other, and there were barricades on all the streets, channeling the chaotic flow of traffic around The Event. In preparation for the concert and other protests, there was information for citizens providing instructions on how to stay safe in the event that police should need to use tear gas. We walked down to the Staples center to observe the whirr of activity outside of it. My dad nearly gushed enthusiasm to the campaign workers, asking if there was anything he could do to help.
I don't remember any of the specific questions I asked him that day, but I'm sure my curious mind was intrigued by the things that were going on in that chaotic five-block radius. And I distinctly remember that my dad had answers and explanations to all my curious inquiries. Suddenly, politics seemed a little more interesting, a little more tangible.
We took pictures of the Staples Center, and of the Apple ad. I took pictures of my father standing in front of the hotel, hands on hips, with the broad, confident smile of one who is in his element; one with conviction. It's my favorite picture of my dad. In the photograph, his head almost covers up the Apple logo, so that he appears to be pictured alongside Kennedy, Roosevelt, Chavez, King, Gandhi. In my heart of hearts, I feel that he deserves to be among them.
He has retired from teaching twice, but he has never actually quit. He is seventy-five years old and he sometimes accepts a 150% assignment. At the end of one teaching year he exceeded his earnings limitation and could not be paid for much of his work. He reported that news to my mother and me with the same amount of disappointment he might show if he had broken a dish or missed a green light. It's always been obvious to us that his work is its own reward.
The last time I saw my dad, he ranted and raved about the Bush administration for a few minutes before he started in on a story about a Utah farm boy named Philo T. Farnsworth, the inventor of television. Farnsworth, my dad tells me, came up with the idea of TV when he was 14, and had actually built one before he was my age. The idea for the television was stolen by RCA, and Farnsworth never received compensation or credit for his idea. Farnsworth grew up so bitter that he refused to ever own a television.
My dad explained all of this to my mother and I, who sat, elbows on the table, chins in hands, glazed looks in our eyes. "Is there a reason you always choose depressing things to talk about?" I asked, trying to lighten the mood. You can't be as passionate as my father is about history, politics, and teaching without also being deeply hurt when those things disappoint you, and I've seen my father become enraged or even depressed when he is discouraged politically, or when the occasional student flakes out on his classes.
My dad has the ability to energize and inspire many students. I've lost track of how many times my dad has shared letters or emails with me from former students, thanking him profusely for his help, thanking him for making history relevant and interesting, thanking him for going out of his way to help the students to succeed in the course. I can't tell you how many times I've heard things like "your class was my first college A, and now I'm studying for the Bar exam," or "before your class I had a 2.0 grade point average, but you showed me I was capable of doing a lot better." Former students talk about him like this all the time.
Driving home from L.A. that afternoon, my questions led into a lecture about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Suddenly, all the John F. Kennedy campaign posters that my dad used to collect and display in his den made so much sense. I could understand, really understand, the dilemma that Kennedy was facing. It's not an exaggeration to say that the fate of the world rested in his hands, and there was no way of knowing the possible outcome of his actions. Kennedy was blessed with skill, intelligence, and luck in averting nuclear war. As my dad related his personal memories of the incident, I understood how monumental the situation was. There he was, a high school teacher at the time, and the whole world was tuned to the news to see what would happen when The Confrontation came. The principal of the school decided to be safe by sounding the alarm, so that everyone could get under their desks, just in case. Children were crying. Teachers didn't know what to do. Everyone thought that they were being attacked with nuclear weapons. Suddenly I understood that the Cuban Missile Crisis was called a crisis for a reason, and I remember gazing out the car window as the freeway scenery rolled by, literally seeing the world in a whole new light, shaped by an incipient appreciation for history. It was so amazing to me that the "tyrant" who just didn't understand anything, suddenly did understand, and know, so much.
I never have any idea what to get my dad for Father's Day. The gifts pushed onto me as a consumer every year never seem to fit. My dad doesn't golf, he's far from a fix-it man, and he doesn't drink beer. He's just not a stereotypical father. But really, he's much better.
But even buying him something related to his interests seems inadequate. Somehow, buying a hardcover biography of JFK just seems insufficient to present to a man who has a framed card signed by Kennedy when he served in the Senate, thanking my father for encouraging him to run for President. A portrait of RFK just isn't an adequate gift for a man who cried for three days straight after the man was assassinated.
My mom and I usually end up taking my dad out to dinner on Father's Day, and he usually selects a humble restaurant and is grateful for the gesture and the time spent with us. Every year on Father's Day, I try to explain to my dad just how much he means to me, just how proud of him am, how I want to be like him, because I figure these things are more important than gifts, but my words are so inadequate over the clinking of glasses and clanging of silverware.
In describing this one afternoon that I shared with my father, I hope maybe I can give him a glimpse of the person I see in him. When I think about him as a father, I will always remember the summers he drove me all the way to Utah for BYU summer camps, and I will always remember the long rides home from school when I thought I hated him for lecturing me for my own good. There were the basketball games every January at SDSU, and I'll always remember him taking me out to eat and making me drink milk, even in high school. I'll always remember his strictness about my music, clothes, and friends, and then there were the times that he would take me to get my hair done right before we took a daddy/daughter picture together. I'll always remember him walking me down the aisle at my wedding, and the overnight stops in Las Vegas where we would catch shows at Circus Circus and have our portraits drawn by airbrush artists on the street.
But for some reason, that one dusty summer afternoon in Los Angeles will always stand out in my mind.
Happy Father's Day, Teed.