Special to The Sun
It’s good to be the winner: To rake in the chips between games; to promenade the walkway in a rhinestone tiara; to leave the county fair with a handful of blue ribbons; to stand on the winner’s block amidst cheers of acclaim. Good, better, best — we are a people of superlatives, where good and better are OK but nothing beats best. Or maybe not. Extremes go both ways, you know, and there always will be those who choose infamy over fame.
Charles Manson proudly described himself as a “bad man who shoots people” when he and his cult followers were convicted in 1971, and his name lives on to this day. In the 17 years between 1978 and 1995, an unrepentant Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber) made history when he mailed pipe bombs that killed three people and wounded 23. Last month 300 drunken teens broke into former NFL star Brian Holloway’s New York mansion, gleefully videotaping their 24-hour, $20,000-plus worth of vandalism. Manson, Kaczynski and those 300 19-year-olds vie with countless others for a place on the bad/worse/worst winner’s block.
So what’s going on here? Even the renowned author Charles Dickens seemed unsure in 1859 when he began his French Revolution novel, “A Tale of Two Cities,” with: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ... [S]ome of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Whether for best or for worst, though, nothing succeeds like success. Junior’s gold starred homework is taped to the refrigerator door. Unless his success is ridiculed by less scholarly classmates, he’s inspired to add other gold starred papers to his collection. All bets are off, though, if he’s shunned by his classmates and made to look foolish. It’s lonely at the top. He wouldn’t be the first to give up on gold starred papers and drop into mediocrity with his peers.
And then there’s the occasional fall from the winner’s block that’s long overdue: For years it was customary for freshman through senior high school students to build floats to compete in the homecoming parade. Students and their beleaguered faculty sponsors spent late hours in cold barns constructing elaborate, rolling tributes to their school in the week preceding the parade. The winning float would glide along the parade route amidst cheers and applause, flying a neatly lettered banner reading, “We’re #1 Because We Try Harder.”
That time honored tradition came to a halt the year the seniors’ unadorned flatbed crippled along behind a muddy tractor bearing a sign reading: “We’re #4 And We Don’t Try At All.” Even mediocrity could have saved the tradition, but that year’s worst-of-the-worst entry put an end to homecoming float competitions forever. I blush to admit the sponsors’ applause was deafening, and that I was one of them.
MARJORIE ANDERSON is an Edmond resident.