I learned quickly in school that I was not a popular kid. I didn’t know what a pecking order was, but I knew what it was like to find myself in one. Welcome to the first grade, USA.
Todd, I know now, saw me as a threat. I was ill equipped to see it in the first grade, but just my mere presence, being the “new kid,” created a $5 reaction to a fifty cent problem – all of which was a delusion in the first place. Todd was a good looking kid. His parents sent him to school in high fashion. He was athletic, strong and fast. He was loud and proud.
From my view point, the whole first grade at that new school was a mob of kids led by Todd, and Todd did not like me.
I was not as gutsy, loud, strong, or fast as Todd. But just my mere presence seemed to set him off.
He threw the ball at me in a game of dodgeball. It came close, but clearly did not hit me. Todd immediately yelled, “You’re OUT!” I looked at him, stunned by the call. That is not how I saw it, but if I have to play dodgeball with him and his mob, then … well… Then was I out or not?
I puzzled on that a moment. In my hesitation, Todd screamed all the more. “You’re OUT! YOU’RE OUT!! YOU’RE OUT!!!”
I learned my place.
I was out.
Who would I appeal this to? What difference would it make?
I was out, but the game continued.
A few minutes later, I had the chance to throw the ball at Todd. I did. It came close, but clearly missed.
We all saw it.
What was going to come of this?
Drama. That’s what.
Again, the pregnant pause, the hesitation. I had literally one or two seconds to declare my reaction. To not decide was to decide. The milliseconds flew by.
Ms. Forrest, my first grade teacher, who had been watching the whole drama stepped forward and declared to Todd, “You’re out!”
Todd protested, but the Judge had ruled. Overruled. Todd protested all the way to the sideline and for several minutes thereafter.
But I had learned my place.
I was out.
Todd was head bird.
I was out.
Public school established this for me in the first grade. This social truth is the stone the builders rejected. It is the cornerstone of my social existence.
I learned to cope.
It did not prove to be one solid monolithic experience making a straight line of rejection and unpopularity for my whole life. But, it is the foundation stone upon which my social life is built.
I want to tell you an uplifting story. I want to tell you about the day all of that changed. I want to end on an up note. And I think you want me to, assuming you are reading here… this far.
Ironically, by the time I graduated high school, I found a taste of popularity. And you wouldn’t know it from this blog, but the avenue by which that happened was writing. I became a writer for my high school paper my senior year. In fact, by the end of the year, they began calling me the “head writer.” I made history there.
Let me tell you a little background on that.
Our school paper was, socially speaking, a mess. It was published once a month, and there were three highlights to it. Only three. It had a horoscope, song dedications, and they passed it out about half way through the final period of the day, meaning it interrupted the droning atmosphere of that last class.
But it only took about three to five minutes to read your horoscope and scan the song dedications to see if some girl had “dedicated” some recent pop song to you (or if your song dedication had been published), and then the paper was useless except for its value in interrupting a boring class.
Twenty minutes later, and the school paper became litter in the school halls and parking lot.
Our paper was a loser too.
The newspaper staff, both faculty and students, would complain bitterly about this. They would scold the student body for not taking more pride in our school paper. But all the scolding in the world did not change it one bit.
I witnessed this for three years. Three years of school history.
But as a senior, I needed an elective class, and I decided to give journalism a chance. It was seriously the least lousy looking option when I signed up, and they allowed me three days to change my mind, so I gave it a whirl.
Not exactly an inspirational moment.
I recall Ms. A, our teacher, asking for volunteers for various positions on that first day. Who wants to sell ads? It afforded a student a lot of freedom to leave the school property to visit businesses around town. But I knew NOTHING of that. I did not raise my hand. But there were a couple of young business minded, Republican types chomping at the bit for it. Who wants to cover special events? There was a loner kid eager for that. Who wants to cover the band? Two nerdy “band fags” (that’s what we used to call them), jumped at the chance. Who wants to cover sports? Two idiot jocks jumped on that one. I watched as the appropriate nerds and jocks – people who already knew there place in this game – enthusiastically raised there hands.
Ms. A’s own daughter had been selected to be the editor, but just as all the options were coming to a close and I had still not raised my hand to volunteer for anything, Ms. A. said she was wanting to try something new, something different this year. She wanted someone to volunteer to write fun things, interesting things, things that did not fit in a category. (She was looking for a way to raise the popularity of her paper, I know now, but then, I was just lost as I could be.)
I looked around the room to see which fool would volunteer for this nonsense, thinking I still had two more days to drop this class, and noticed my own hand up.
Hmmm… I became a miscellaneous writer.
Oh, and she gave me horoscopes too.
I had no idea what I was doing, and I protested the horoscopes. I have no idea how to read the stars and tell people their fortunes. Ms. A told me point blank to “do it like the pros… make it up.”
I sat there looking at blank paper and a boring school, and in my head she had said, “make it up”… you know, “like the pros.”
Fake news was born that day.
I promise you, I became the most censored writer in school history. Probably in state history. It may not be covered in any history books, but I made history with all the work left on the editing room floor!
Make it up.
It had only been a year or two since the hit movie A Nightmare On Elm Street had come out. There was that scene where the girl gets on the phone with her boyfriend and says, “Whatever you do… DON’T FALL ASLEEP.”
I put that down for Libra.
Soon, I had read the stars and turned in the fortunes of my schoolmates.
They took horoscopes away from me.
Ms. A said, “YOU CAN’T WRITE THAT!” and then in hushed tones, “by the way, I loved it.” But she insisted that the kids take that stuff seriously, and someone is apt to commit suicide based on what I write. She had to be careful.
But I didn’t. We had editors to keep me careful, so I did not worry myself with that again.
I think she published maybe 10% of the stuff I wrote. But after a couple of months, we began getting letters to the editor requesting more of [Agent X]’s stories! Why do we need all these ads? We already know who won the football games. But those [Agent X] stories… that’s fun!
Before long, I was spending weekends sitting in hot tubs with jocks and cheerleaders passing the hooch. I was IN baby! Didn’t even like these people a month ago, but now? Shoot… it’s a hot tub!
I can’t stop thinking of that fantastic scene in the movie, Eddie The Eagle. The one where Eddie is riding the lift at the climax moment of the movie with the greatest ski jumper in the world. It’s just the two of them: The very best and the very amazingly worst. Eddie is going to die trying, but he does not belong in this competition. No way. Eddie did not learn his place. And as the lift rises, so does the dramatic tension.
Then this other skier, basically a flat character in the over all drama, delivers a line which changes everything. He tells Eddie that they both have something in common. Really? The best and the worst have something in common? Please go on. Yes, says the best in the world. He and Eddie have something very important in common that changes everything. All the other ski jumpers came to the Olympics to compete, he says, but he and Eddie came to make history.
Hmmm… Just when I thought this was a movie about ski jumping.
The very best and the very worst both had one thing in common. They did not actually come here to compete. They came to make history.
That line reframes everything. It makes sense of everything while recasting it all in a whole other drama. Suddenly Eddie is not so low on the pecking order. It turns out, there is another way of looking at life.
So back to me a moment. I was in that hot tube with the jocks and cheerleaders. I was “a popular kid” in a sense. I was not on the team. I did not have the letter jacket. I didn’t even want that stuff. But here I was with a ticket to ride anyway. A hero of my school. A hero with a pen!
Three years later, I came back to my hometown and was going through the checkout stand at one of the local grocery stores. The young lady behind me, a cute looking high school girl, spoke up and ask me, “Are you [Agent X]?” And of course I was. She then told me that she was a senior that year and had been named editor of the school paper. She said I had been the “head writer” when she was a Freshman, and that I had inspired her to take journalism which she then did every year after that.
How’s that for an uplifting ending?
Except, none of that is my point.
Well, maybe it plays a part in the point.
But I want you to think more about learning your place. There are these exceptions to the rules. There are. Some people show up to the ski jump competition to compete. They want to win, get a medal, build a career.. whatever. But only Eddie.. . Only Eddie the Eagle – oh… and that other guy, the greatest ski jumper in the world… whatever his name was… came to “make history.”
The rest of us show up at the first grade and learn very quickly that there is a pecking order in this life, and only the alpha male is at the top. You ain’t him. You’re out!
It becomes the building block. The foundation stone. You might even have this glorious moment your high school senior year, but if it ain’t on the field, then there won’t be any songs about it. And even if it is, the songs will get old.
If you meet a bum living on the streets and think he is just lazy or liberal or whatever ugly thing you can think just to keep him in his place, remember this. He learned his place.
Among all the factors that go into putting people out … on the streets – a down economy, job loss, inflation, war, wild fires, addiction, lack of education, and all the rest – there is this other factor too. He learned his place.
If you want to say something helpful, change the narrative. Change everything. Cuz by these rules, we are all here to compete, and competition may have it’s bright side, but it also, by definition, produces losers. It puts people on the sidelines claiming they’re out. And if you are building a life on that foundation… and if WE ARE BUILDING a society on that foundation… then down and out people are going to learn their place.
I can tell you a fascinating story about a young Jew-boy from a small back water town called Naz. A place nothing good ever came from, by the way. This young man fancied himself a prophet, and more than that, king of his people.
He ran around making friends of all the losers and down -n- outers all over the countryside telling them to turn away from the rule(s) they had been living by and to come follow him.
He created quite a stir.
It didn’t work though.
He failed to get the message that he was OUT. So… they put him out. And they spared no effort to drive home the point that this uppity, little, Jew-boy with his little following of bums and beggars, was anything but important. They even tried, ironically, to mock him as king in every sense of the word.
And he made no history either.
Unless he really did change everything.
Did he change everything?
He really did change EVERYTHING… or else he changed nothing.
If you want an uplifting ending to this post, maybe find your place in repenting from these rules.
And maybe… let’s find our place in history.