As Stephen Colbert contemplates his run for the presidency (I know, I know, it’s a joke), I keep coming back to Peter Baker. Baker was an old classmate who wore a t-shirt with Jim Morrison’s face on it just about every day of junior high. He was huge for eighth grade, probably six foot, and the classic class clown.
It was the eighth grade elections at our little middle school, and well-scrubbed, well-spoken and well-prepared young candidates stepped to the podium to explain to the student populace why they’d make a good class president.
After three or four had stated their case, the teacher overseeing our little lesson in democracy told the crowd something to the effect of, if anyone else wants to run, now was the time to do it. There was a minor commotion around Peter Baker, as his friends jostled him and encouraged him to get on stage. It didn’t take a lot of encouragement; within seconds, Baker was at the podium, drawing roars of approval from the student body.
Baker of course had no speech prepared. It’s been 25 years, but I remember it going something like this: "If I’m president, we’ll have two lunch periods a day." (Applause). "We’ll have no school on Mondays." (Louder applause). "We’ll even get rid of a few teachers." (Still louder applause.)
As it turns out, Baker ended up winning the election. But, foreshadowing Bush-Gore in 2000, the teachers got together and found a technicality to oust him, giving the presidency to some overachiever type who’d actually taken the time to hang glittery campaign posters in the hallways.
The last time I saw Peter Baker was about 10 years ago, in some Upper East Side bar. Maybe I’ll see him at our high school reunion later this month. If I do, I’ll be sure to ask him if he’s voting for Stephen Colbert.