Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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Documentary Evidence

I was going through my drawer of all the interviews I've taped this evening, labeling inserts for the cases that lacked them -- I always make sure to affix a label to the tape itself -- and came across a few random tapes. One looked a lot older than others. I had no recollection of it. So I put it on. On one side I heard a Hall & Oates song. Could this be my partner's tape? I don't ever recall taping any of their music, which was never high on my list.

I flipped the tape over and pressed play. Instead of music, I heard talking. I recognized the voice too. The man was talking about civil disobedience in the 1960s. He was clearly teaching. Where did I know him from? And then it hit me. I was listening to my favorite teacher from high school, Al Van Thornout. Although the tape is not high quality, his words were very distinct.

I'll need to listen to the whole tape to be sure, but I'm reasonably certain, after having thought long and hard about it, that the tape probably dates from the latter portion of my ninth grade history class, right after he'd presented us with excerpts from Sophocles's Antigone. Since his lecture focuses -- with extreme lucidity, I should add -- on the question of when, if ever, it is appropriate to break the law, my conjecture makes sense.

Besides, I have fond memories of the intensity of that lecture and the discussion he went on to lead in the Socratic mode he brilliantly deployed. I don't remember taping anything in his class, mind you, so perhaps my recollections are not to be trusted. More likely, though, the tape was made by someone else.

Just now I came to a point in the tape after he has paused to allow a student to speak. The student's voice is extremely faint, far from the microphone. But with the volume turned up all the way and acute concentration, I was able to make out most of the words being spoken. I didn't recognize the student in question, however.

I rewound a little ways to see if my teacher had called on the student by name. He had: "Mr. Bertsch." It was me! I listened again. Initially, I hadn't been able to determine the student's gender. Now I sounded like a boy. Given the tribulations of my time at Queen Anne School, however, my initial confusion was remarkably apt.

I desperately want to extract my fourteen-year-old voice from the tape. I'm not sure whether the technology at my disposal will do the trick or not, but I'm going to do whatever I can. At present, the most striking aspect of my comment -- I'm not asking a question -- is my accent. My pronunciation of the word "law" in particular marks me as the product of a mother raised near Philadelphia and a father from New York City. I still bear traces of my linguistic origins today, but they are fairly muted. Back then, there was no doubting where I came from.
Tags: autobiography, history, memory, nostalgia

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