For the good of the permanent public record, and expose the unreliability of human memories that aren't mine, I will be presenting a series of "How We Met" tales about various prominent figures in my life. The third in this series is about Dan Small. (Read How We Met, Part One: Kristen Larson, and How We Met, Part Two: Dustin Reed)
In the spring of our freshman year, Kristen brought a tall freshman to the Tree Group during lunch. He had glasses, a shock of auburn hair cut in classic mid-90's "floppy" style, and paler skin than even I had. He told us his name was Danny, which we immediately ignored.
Our friend Dan B. had recently waged an extended battle with his parents and peers over his nickname. After twelve years of "Danny", he decided he wanted the more mature "Dan". After two years of this struggle, we'd been conditioned to expect a brusque, "My name is Dan!" if anyone were to use the childish moniker "Danny".
Dan lost his nickname immediately, even before Kristen could invent an alternative name for him, but he and I didn't bond just yet. That came later, in World Civilization. That class was taught by a balding hippie who was later immortalized in the classic Keane-Vigil detective tale, "The Bald-Headed League". He believed in long class discussions instead of lecture, writing letters to political prisoners, and spending weeks memorizing the countries of the world in lieu of opening a textbook or writing. During class time we watched "Cry Freedom", "Gandhi", "Schindler's List", and, bizarrely, "Medicine Man". Each quarter, our hippie teacher would ask us what grade we felt we deserved, and then we would write a short essay defending the award. (Note to younger Zembla readers: the answer to that question is, "An 'A'.")
The practical result of this approach to teaching was that class was usually about 90% discussion. Not discussion about world civilizations, or the rain forest, just talking amongst ourselves all day. One such day, Dan-n�e-Danny came to sit at our table. Our ostensible assignment to make "art projects addressing a South American environmental problem" had predictably devolved into the usual unregulated chatter, so it was a free day.
I had finished my project a day earlier, which would have been quite impressive if said project wasn't a musical about cattle ranching and deforestation in Argentina. I had no qualms about talking since the libretto for "The Sound of Moo-sick" was totally done. Dan's respect for the teacher, and this project specifically, had been done even longer. So, while Katie tried find a worthy closing line for her poem about wistful rain forest parrots, Dan and I began talking classic sitcoms. Our rapport was such that within five minutes, we were belting out a heartfelt duet on "Love Is All Around", the Mary Tyler Moore Show's theme song, interrupted only when the hippie teacher sat down to explain how, with a little editing, he was pretty sure "The Sound of Moo-sick" could become a very tight, powerful one-act for the Drama Department.
Dan rolled his eyes behind the teacher's back, and it was like he'd turned the world on with a smirk, taking a nothing class and suddenly making fun of a jerk. It was enough to make me want to joyfully toss my baseball cap in the air, but instead we waited for the teacher to leave and then did "The Facts of Life".