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Monday, May 10, 2004

Anatomy of a Wise-Ass

I never thought much about writing back when I was in high school. I found English to be incredibly boring thanks to an incredibly boring teacher who was forced to teach something if he wanted to live out his dream of coaching a really lousy high school football team. I can also blame my teenage ignorance of writing on the fact that class was right after lunch. I don’t know about you but that has always been my nap time. I don’t remember but I probably beat up the kids in the creative writing club so I didn’t learn anything about it from my peers.

Most of the time in writing class—when not asleep—I spent constructing elaborate fantasy scenarios for the downfall of my high school, complete with sketches. The young Leftbanker entertained ideas so disturbing (funny as hell to me, disturbing to child psychologists) that in this post-Columbine era would surely earn me a few months in juvie. We didn’t have the internet back then so I kept my disturbed thoughts to myself, thank God. And I dreamed.

I dreamed of the day when I would posses a fortune large enough to allow me to purchase my high school and turn it into a huge public toilet for bums. More of a public outhouse if you want to get technical as I was going to do it on the cheap and just cut holes in the roof. I imagined a bunch of bums with diarrhea sitting above the auditorium during a pep rally. Not very sophisticated as far as humor goes, but hey, I was in high school and didn’t I already mention what a lousy student I was? If you want sophistication go find the class valedictorian.

I sketched out an exhaustive array of natural disasters that would destroy my school including tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, and even a meteor impact. A meteor is even more unlikely than a hurricane in the Midwest, but a kid has to have hope. The absence of hope is despair. I suppose that I fit in fairly well back then. I didn’t hold any malice towards students or teachers; I just hated the physical structure and confinement of school.

If I had to define my social status and identity in high school I would have to say “A little wise-ass who, if you mess with him, will either start swinging or totally humiliate you with sarcasm in front of your friends.” I know what you are thinking and you are absolutely right: I was a terrible kid—think of a mix of a young Groucho Marx and Joe Pesci from Goodfellas, part class clown part sociopath.

At the huge state university I attended I was able to find the anonymity that I felt was so lacking in high school. I found privacy in my anonymity. The big college campus allowed such diversity, and my own eccentricities, that I was finally freed from the prison- yard atmosphere of high school, an atmosphere where I was forced to use my wit like a home-made shiv to insure my survival. I didn’t need the protection of my class clown status.

I remember taking a required freshman writing class. The professor was old and tired and boring. About the third day of class he gave us an assignment for an in-class essay to evaluate our writing skills. Being the not-very-original guy that he was he used something from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a book I had read. He wanted us to describe a penny in minute physical detail. Yawn. Our Zen-inspired professor thought this would purge us of the preconceived notions we had about writing and we would burst forth with a whole new concept of what the written word was all about.

I wrote a completely smart-ass essay having to do with what a lame statement it was for people to donate pennies at those charity jars near the cash registers. The professor said I didn’t follow his directions and gave me a C. I dropped the class. I gave up writing and being a wise-ass for a long time after that. I did pretty well in college but I hated academia just as much as when I was in high school.

to be continued...

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