Friday, September 28, 2007

High School's Revenge

Have a confession to make.

Maybe it's more of a boast.

Nobody ever done done me wrong.

Oh, I've had my heart broken. Friends I counted on have failed to come through. There are a few things I'd still like to talk to my parents about. And I'll never understand why when we were ten Tommy Hawkins devoted an entire year to making the game in the neighborhood Let's make fun of Lance. But he couldn't get enough kids to play along and then he took up smoking cigarettes which got him in big trouble with his parents and they grounded him for a month and after that his family moved to Cincinnati so I felt he'd gotten his comeuppance and shrugged it all off.

My first grade nun hated me and emotionally tortured me, but she hated and emotionally tortured just about every kid in our class and what she did to me now and then was nothing next to what she did to Frankie McClintock and Virginia Lamb every day.

She was my first encounter with a crazy person that few supposedly sane adults realized was crazy. Prepared me for Dick Cheney, I guess. Some philosopher or psychologist or novelist must have written about this. Crazy people who are allowed to roam free as if they aren't crazy are as common and as obviously screwy as chipmunks but it's mostly children who recognize them. Adults not only don't seem to notice these crazy people are crazy, they actually go out of their way to give these crazy people power and responsibilities.

Don't know why that is.

At any rate, people have hurt my feelings, they've caused me all kinds of trouble, a few have gone out of their way to do both. But I've never taken it personally. I've either been able to forgive them or excuse them or get over them and chalk up what they did to experience. Mostly this has been because from the time I was three and told my first lie I've always felt a desperate need to live by the Golden Rule. I treat other people the way I want to be treated because I need them to forgive me or excuse me or get over me far more often than I've needed to forgive, excuse, or get over them.

But it's also the case that, while I claim to think people stink and they are stupid, I actually know we are all weak and thoughtless and trapped inside ourselves in a way that makes it difficult to remember that there are other people in the world whose needs and hopes and desires are not the same as our needs and hopes and desires.

Finally, though, the real reason for my saintly forbearance is the truth that I've always been my own worst enemy. Nothing anybody's ever done to me has ever hurt me as badly as I've hurt myself.

Which makes me a very lucky guy.

And probably explains why I don't have much sympathy for people over the age of eighteen who can't get over what happened to them in high school.

I'm not talking about people for whom high school was literally four years of living hell, people who were bullied relentlessly and unmercifully, people who were abused physically and emotionally by adults they trusted, people with undiagnosed learning disabilities that got treated like behavior problems or dismissed as simply proof they were stupid, people whose home lives were nightmares for any number of reasons, people who were suffering from mental illnesses that nobody, not even they themselves, knew they had.

I'm talking about the apparently vast numbers of people who are still smarting because they weren't popular with the kids they wanted to be popular with.

Comment thread regular and blogger, and my source for all things related to climate change, Kit Stolz left a link on my Kerouac post yesterday to an article in the LA Times rounding up a bunch of contemporary writers' reactions to On the Road. Worth reading for what it is, although I was dismayed to find that the writer who best shared my opinion of On the Road was Cynthia Ozick. I respect Ozick as a critic and essayist, but as a novelist she's a writer whose works leave me far, far, far colder than anything Kerouac typed out on his most automatic and self-indulgent day. Nevermind. My reason fro bringing up the article here---my reason for writing this post---is this quote from one of the other writers:

I read it in 1965, as a high school senior, expecting to be hit by the weight of this cool Beat book. I wasn't. I read it in the decade of Dylan and the Beatles, and in its boozy, self-conscious, priapic posturing it seemed a boy's book, as it does to this day. Its central conceit, Sal's adoration of Dean, means that if you don't dig Dean, the book is lost on you, and, frankly, Dean is very hard to dig if you're a woman. He and Sal were supposed to be veterans of life and war, but even then they seemed like the same jerky males I knew in high school. That's what "On the Road" taught me: You don't leave the boys you went to high school with. You go through life with them.

You don't leave the boys you went to high school with. You go through life with them.

Really? You do? That's very sad.

Forty-two years later and she's still annoyed at On the Road because it reminded her of some twerp who knocked the books out of her hands in the hallway?

I stopped counting the number of people I've known over the years, smart, sensitive, sophisticated, supposedly grown-up people, who have let their pleasures in life be dictated and limited by how much or how little something reminds them of kids they didn't hang out with in high school.

Like I said, I know high school was a combination of jail and boot camp for some people, and I know that for others it was heartbreaking, soul-crushing, and physically painful, even deadly, for others. But unless there was something my friends and acquaintances weren't admitting to, what was bothering most of these people is the fact that there were kids back in high school who didn't like them and never suffered for not liking them.

These people now have their own auteur. Judd Apatow seems to be set on making his career's work cinematic revenge on the cheerleaders who went to the junior prom with football players instead of with nice but schlubby guys like himself.

Am I missing something? Is there something more going on here than that ten, twenty, thirty, and more years later they haven't gotten over the fact that the guy they hoped would ask them to a movie called them four-eyes instead or the girl they wanted to laugh at their jokes laughed at their pimples instead?

Is it symbolic of a larger societal rejection? The mean girls and jocks who rejected them and marginalized them in high school went on to run the world are in many ways still rejecting and marginalizing them?

Or is the case that it's true what they say about all of life being high school continued and that no matter what happens to us we never really stop being seventeen?

| | Comments (22) | TrackBack (0)


Post a Comment

<< Home