My life has never been the same since my first week as an freshman at Beverly Hills High School in Los Angeles.
As a new student, I had to figure out what I wanted from the four years I faced in this school. I knew I wanted to be popular, to be accepted and liked, and to be welcomed inside the charmed, elite circles that seemed to have been invented to keep everyone else out.
But when I made a quick inventory of my assets that first week, I found myself lacking in two major areas. Nope, I'd never be a great athlete; I was built like a young pear. And I had dull brown hair and boring brown eyes, so I'd never be a campus Romeo - the ones who had blond hair, blue eyes, and carried a comb in their back pocket.
I was going to be a political science major in college, I decided; political science had a nice ring to it. But I had no idea what the term meant. Oh, I could discuss the Congress of Vienna, the Zimmerman Letter, and stuff like that. But who would teach me the true science of politics? Was there a science to it at all? The answer to the first question turned out to be my classmate Ruth Rosenfelder. The answer to the second was yes.
It wasn't long before my lofty aspirations intersected with my love of going out on weekend nights with ''the gang.'' The problem was that the gang I wanted to be affiliated with - the top campus elite - was not dialing my phone number on Friday evenings. What to do?
I decided to run for some school office and treat it like a lab experiment. I checked the list on the school bulletin board. You could sign up to run for a lot of offices. I picked the one I thought no one else would choose: freshman class treasurer. It had a nice low status so I might win, but I'd still be a class officer, which would be a good first step.
After I'd signed up and it was too late to withdraw my name as a candidate, I found out that Bob Sherman was also running for frosh treasurer.
The election was in five days. I was sunk already, I thought. Bob Sherman was handsome, popular, a three-sport athlete, and a member of the best social club in our class. My cousin Patty June was going steady with him, no less. I was doomed.
In a full-dress rehearsal of defeat, I crept down the main hallway one morning. Coming toward me was Ruth Rosenfelder. The critical core of all I learned at Beverly High was condensed into this 10-minute accidental meeting.
Ruth was the class mouse: skinny, short, and, if possible, even more boring looking than I. She was also shy. For Ruth, saying hello was a major effort.
''Hi, Ruth,'' I said, looking despondent. She stopped and actually asked me why I looked so sad. I told her my devastating news.
She looked at me in her inquisitive way. ''What's so terrible about all that?'' she said. ''You can beat him easily.''
I lost my temper. ''Ruth, don't you know anything? Who will vote for me against Bob Sherman?''
I listed his winning assets in great detail. Ruth listened patiently. Then she said quietly: ''What you're saying is that you think you're a nerd and he's a hero, so he's sure to win, right?''
''Well, I don't know if I'd put it just that way,'' I retorted, feeling a little wounded. ''But I guess you've got the point, anyway.''
That's when Ruth chose to teach me one of life's great truths, if you're going to be a poly sci major someday.
''Don't you know,'' she said with a smile, ''that there's more of us than there are of them?''
''You mean, Nerds United?'' I replied with ample frost.
''Well, not exactly,'' Ruth shot back. ''It's just that most people don't have the great looks or the ability to throw a ball that the few have, but that doesn't mean we don't matter. You'd make a good treasurer. You can count and you're honest, and everyone knows you are. I'm not sure about Sherman on either count. I'll vote for you. So will the rest of us. All you have to do....''
''Yes?'' Now I was really listening.
''Well,'' said Miss Rosenfelder, ''all you have to do is ask. Everyone likes to be asked, of course. Want me to make some posters for you?''
Ruth and her friends in Art 100A made posters, and these same friends hung them all over campus. The posters weren't bad, either - sort of artistic, very classy.
I started asking everyone I knew if they'd vote for me, just as Ruth told me to do. At first, I only asked people who didn't catch baseballs well or didn't have blue eyes. Later, I asked everyone.
On election day, I won in a walk. Even people with blue eyes said they had voted for me. And Bob Sherman, well people say he never got over it. How could he lose ... to me? Don't worry, Bob. I never got over it, either.
I kept the Rosenfelder doctrine close to my heart and never lost an election in high school or college thereafter. Brown eyes are not so bad, after all. People will still vote for you. If you ask.