Sort of a musing rant about some themes that I’ve returned to often since I was a kid, and my development into my current perspectives- mostly the impact of my earlier experiences on them rather than more adult experiences. random events and people and such, and inspirational-ish things that have caused my growth as a person. some of these are very mythic in nature. any comments will be appreciated.. it doesn’t feel quite finished yet but right now I’m not going back to it just yet, so feedback would help with the next round of going-over. also, the timeline may not be perfect- I did no cross-referencing of it with anyone else; not that i could easily get a hold of the people i’d need to ask anyway.
Growing Up Misanthropic
(c) TAB 2010
Institutions provide structure, rules, ways to act formally, ways to avoid not knowing where you stand. Twenty years after starting on this course and with the benefit of having studied history and politics and society for all that time- since a young age and barely able to recall twenty years as a real unit of time now- has kept some of those structures easy to recognize and others ever more invisible, it would seem. Still being a student, it’s easiest to count according to the timing of children, by school year. One of the first institutions I remember being aware of as such- without that vocabulary yet, was Vista del Valle Elementary School, for some unexplained reason home of the Vikings. There are people inside it, adults with pot bellies or flowery blouses, and neatly trimmed hair, that sit at desks or stand before chalkboards or walk around with grease on their pants and a wrench in their hand fixing the air conditioning, adults who have kids that might be in one of the classrooms with closed doors lining the hallway, under the old steel canopy with its dusty rain gutters that see use twice a year, facing out on the grass that drinks all the water the city will give it, trampled by hundreds of little shoes in the slight smoggy wind- all silently pumping in irritation now under their desks inside somewhere. I have been ejected from the structure because I have been caught breaking the rules; this is only important to me in that I have been caught. I lean on a steel support pole of the canopy and feel the varying depths of dozens of layers of paint through the back of my t-shirt and kick my black sneakers at nothing. I never wore white sneakers, they just got dirty, and my lazy kicks would have scuffed them. I think of all the kids with white sneakers on and their stupid, meaningless days and their endless pulling and pushing against each other, in eddies and ripples of taunts and violence and prestige competitions. I share words like these with the adults, but not with the other kids. It hasn’t really hit me yet that in fact I don’t share them even with many adults. I have been sent outside now for over fifteen minutes and know that the teacher, Mr. Bergen, is occupied with trying to coax unwilling minds to wrap themselves around some useful yet boring concept. When I interrupted the class we were going over some piece of social studies, from the textbook word for word. I finished reading the textbook last month. It is early summer, April perhaps, and the white-flies are dancing in their huge swarm in the lowest part of the ditch between the bungalow-style buildings. I wonder if it would be worth it to sneak off somewhere, maybe the bathroom, maybe into the huge yard or even the park next to it where the invisible mental fence the school puts up in our heads is all that will keep us from wandering away. That and a Saturday in the library or gym, or more likely a free day off where you’re not even allowed to come to school- as if the administrators really had no idea how resiliant a kid can be in the face of being yelled at twice and given a day of free time. I daydream about going all the way out to the old fire truck that sits in sand near the opposite corner of this block, furthest from the school but close enough to several houses across the street, where some well-meaning woman at home will call the school to report that there is a small boy playing on the fire truck in the middle of the day, and my daydreaming leads me to a lazier structure, one with more holes in it, and I decide I should check to see if I need to take a leak maybe. I walk calmly to the bathroom knowing no one will really protest if they catch me at it, knowing what automatic words and phrases to say, what ritual will appease whatever adult might happen to come across me, and go over the memorized act in my head. It doesn’t occur to me to call it an act, it’s just another formality, another structured interaction. These words also don’t occur to me. I only have a ninth grade reading level in third grade. I make it inside the bathroom, the huge steel door closing slowly, buffeted by its own wind, and the smog inside is thicker but wetter with a very different and older pollution, and cooler than the dry hot air beyond this cave. I imagine goblins for a moment, while I realize or decide I don’t actually need to be here. I check my stoneface in the scratched-up steel mirror for a few minutes, testing out possible tics and tells, checking to be sure I’ve gotten rid of them and can see them coming from inside, practice for the next time I talk to someone I want to reveal nothing to. I get bored, pick a spot on the wall, take out my pen and start scratching my tag idly into the grout.
By now I have switched schools to (Eleanor Daly) Condit (Elementary) and have had to fit into another set of written and unwritten rules. Written rules are easy to find loopholes in- I have no way to realize it yet but this task will become so second-nature to me that I will someday turn down scholarships at law schools as being too boring. I read novels written for adults at recess; they have sex scenes and detailed accounts of combat in them. I have in the past few years made my peace with death, existentialism, and atheism. I have exhausted the children’s section of the library, the young adults section is full of pulp crap, and I am working my way through the adult books- at least the ones they’ll let me check out. My parents and relatives give me better books to read; I am given one of my uncles’ copies of short stories by Asimov, for example. I contemplate the three laws of robotics and their implications in my head, dispassionately- I do not believe in ethics, only neutrality, survivalism, and reciprocity. I have very specific tastes in reading and am not interested at all in vast sections of the library, whether or not they’re full of pulp crap. I read chinese fairy tales and books with wizards or space ships in them, history textbooks that I have not been assigned, literature I have been told will make me educated, even if I think some of it is rather boring. I spend less time at the public library than before, and bring home larger stacks at a time. At home I use up my outside-or-inside transitions and am exiled and end up wandering around the complex with a rug tied to my back and a wood Louisville Slugger, my cape and sword or sometimes staff, depending on my mood. If I really feel like killing things it’s a sword, and if I feel like altering the laws of physics then it’s a staff. Sometimes I break off a nice stick and it is my wand, with which I can do both, but feels less real than stripping leaves off of low-hanging branches or incanting long strings of words of arcane power. Sometimes I take chemicals from my chemistry set and pour them on unsuspecting insects or try to make them explode- they are designed to never burn or explode- sometimes I bike around the complex with a care towards straying into the usual range of that kid whose name I can’t remember who had his own little band of bike raiders, sworn enemy of our group of pirates, who would beat me to a pulp if he could catch me. Sometimes I go there on purpose to taunt them and bike away before they can chase me. It is good that I am more reckless than the wind, have the reflexes of a centaur, can shout things that will make small boys’ faces red with anger at any time. I know a hundred times as many ways to make someone upset as I do to say hello. Sometimes my friends will be outside, perhaps my annoying little brother who breaks my things tagging along, the elder sister whose parents are called aunt (mother’s sister) and uncle (father’s brother) in a logic I invented as a small child for bengali family friends. Our family goes to religious festivals at old masonic lodges rented out for a night and I mostly make paper airplanes with other kids who are too young to want to sit down, be quiet, and listen to some old man chant in Sanskrit, which most of the adults barely understand much of, let alone us kids. My mother is fluent in Sanskirt and organizes the entire cooking operation for these events with a cadre of other women; I am aware of vast gerontocratic oligarchies at work beyond my years- but not yet of the words gerontocracy and oligarchy. There are also two gujrati families who have a daughter and a son, respectively, both also older than me. Sometimes they are around, more often the other elder sister (younger than the bengali sister). We don’t really use these familial titles among ourselves, but we know they are there and speak to our parents (of each other) with them as appropriate, though I do not make my brother call me ‘elder brother’- it’s not worth the trouble. There is a whole network of family friends and co-religionists (that term would not have occured to me at the time; I was barely aware there was in fact a religion at work here) which includes these other indian kids I know, and others who live further away that I see when our parents visit each other and snack and chat in a characteristic expatriate indian style which I have come to learn exists all around the world. Back home playing outside sometimes I am with the other boy who lives further down the street, whose parents don’t know mine as well and who tolerates me as an audience for his pre-grunge rock tapes and as co-conspirator in plans such as stealing pomegranites from a more distant neighbor’s yard. We have secret languages, myself and these others. With the girls and my brother I play spies and we have code names no one else knows, with the boy we invent code words for things like pomegranites- they are called canisters. I am obsessed with cryptography, with pointless scrambled languages like opish and with substitution cyphers that I find in books. I dream of ways to use a deck of cards to talk to people from a distance, from some frozen city in the Soviet Union, and pretend that I am a double-agent, really a good communist working for the KGB, feeding the capitalist pigs lies and distractions. I have not yet learned what communism really means, but I have found that it is the best government in my favorite computer game, Civilization. I spend hours inside reading or building elaborate cities of legos or playing this game, which I always win, and really play in order to visualize the history of the world as if the mighty People’s Republic of Aztlan has conquered most of the world, or the Zulu Soviet Republic is winning their invasion of Babylon, Russia, and Germany. My battleships shell London and my transports carry tanks to Australia as glorious Aztlan expands to fill the world. Africa sends millions of knights to decimate the phalanxes of Eurasia and its decadent and backward monarchies. I use the washer and dryer for everyone in the family’s clothes and can operate the stove and dishwasher- when it runs- the microwave, VCR, and computer hold few secrets from me. I begin typing all my essays for school and my handwriting freezes at this grade level- and still has. I fear the black widows in the garage and having chemicals from the chemistry set soak through my skin from the many times I spill them on my hands. Pollution worries me and I try to take the book 50 Ways to Save the World seriously. My mother’s smoking annoys me, and I talk back to the coaches at school when they tell us we have to play some sport during a smog warning; I then proceed to stubbornly explain to the principal how this is illegal and bad for our health. I sneak up to groups of other kids at school and leave abruptly when I have finished my business with them. My two good friends there and perhaps one or two others and I pretend we are customized superheroes on the playground. We describe our powers and one-up the last until one day I become bored and declare that I have used my cosmic powers of being to make myself dead and unrevivable. I never pretend to be a superhero again, and never speak to the other kids aside from my two friends again much after that; they continue the game. In every activity, I escape from the places I have been told I must be, and reach the outer edges of humanity and the cosmos. My mind spans stars, seeing places like Asimov’s Foundation sparkling in the futuristic night skies of countless worlds, filled with aliens and the diversity of cultures and peoples. Worlds with elves in magically-shaped tree-cities and worlds with gas-powered dune buggies racing along leaving behind clouds of smoke and desert dust. Somehow in all these worlds of pain and struggle, of the rise and fall of empires, I am unharmed and competent enough to escape anything. In my dreams at night I fall asleep to oldies I have memorized the words to and imagine being a hacker, an astronaut, a spy, a magician, a mad scientist, a drummer in a rock band. In my nightmares I imagine being surrounded by endless hordes of bullies, chased by demons, having my teeth fall out- the school psychologist told me two years ago that represents death- or being sucked into the ocean by teleportation from a swimming pool and getting eaten by sea monsters and whales, or unable to escape the wrath of some real adult, who it never occurs to me is right then dreaming of their own dreams and nightmares. I have no understanding of their fears, only that they too have and are ruled through them. That much is obvious; I have not yet learned to value the positive things in life as well as prepare for the negative. My worst recurring nightmare is being trapped on an endless Golden Gate Bridge, in a car with my parents and brother, having to roll up the windows for air and roll them down to keep out water as the endless bridge dips down below into an ocean filled with monsters and whales and out of them. Whales are my greatest fear of all, and I tell no one this.
I bike home from El Roble Intermediate Junior High School some time after school lets out every day. Sometimes I bike to the public library on the way home, even though it’s really not on the way at all, through eucalyptus and rush hour traffic on sidewalks with few people on them, mostly to waste time. I travel the vast distance to the much larger public library in Pomona- the largest in the valley- when I get the chance, but it really is too far to carry a stack of books home in my backpack from on a bike. I have exhausted the school library of fiction I care to read long before the year is over; in my other year at El Roble I will revisit it and exhaust the books on old computer programming languages, learning three versions of BASIC, some COBOL and some FORTRAN, and will push the limits of Logo, but before that happens the libraries stop having much hold on me. If there’s a smog warning I bike directly home, unless it’s particularly bad and my mother drives out to get me in her parental worry. But most of the day is spent at El Roble, with my fellow panthers, with boys always ready to start fights, except the ones in gangs whose fights are more long-term and never involve anyone as cut off from people as I am, and with girls who have been caught in the fishing nets of glossy-paged consumerism. The school is a prison camp but it has easy rules, the barbed wire on some fences is really just a joke, there are so many gaps and unfenced places, and the real walls are the guards or the cop car parked in the parking lot, watching for people to try and leave between bells. Maybe not everyone feels this way, but I have read enough descriptions of World War II and Soviet Russia to know one when I see it. We just get better food- I make lunch at home and bring it anyway and have for years- and the workload won’t kill you. But try telling that to my academic peers. The kids around me are caught up in their world of scraping by with grades- whatever level they feel they must get- the nerds study hard and the athletes give it a hundred percent and everyone else passing notes about whatever inanities they can think of today. I sit in the back and listen to quiet conversations such as a kid I never talked to bragging about erections or seeing breasts or both. Maybe someone’s older relative stole something cool. I doze in and out of reality, and my favorite class is Silent Sustained Reading (aka Sit Down, Shut Up, and Read). I read The Hunt for Red October while kids complain about having finished their magazine already. I ignore the social butterflies, the guards and the cops, the tough guy bullies, the prying deans, everyone but the other outliers, and pay more attention to the buildings themselves, watching for places where I might be cornered by someone inclined to kick my ass for no real reason. I dread Physical Education when they make us play sports and in the spring someone decides to prank me during a boring jog and trips me, I fall and break two fingers on my left hand because I landed on them and get a cast that holds my forearm and hand in place except for my thumb and first finger. I then proceed to habitualize being exempted from just about every activity until the next year when the cast is almost off and it dawns on a coach that all this time, I’ve been perfectly able to run. Afterwards I will miss meandering around the edge of the fields by myself as a fond and unexpected extension of doing the same in elementary school. Between classes I walk fast among thick cement halls with my heavy backpack, every textbook inside, and a couple of novels, fantasy or science fiction, and maybe a couple more books if they’ll fit. The halls are filled with lockers we’re not allowed to use sitting empty without locks, sometimes hiding something from the school guards and their dog but never for long if the kid who hid whatever it is knows what they’re doing. Every couple months you hear about how they found some marijuana or a forbidden Raiders football bandanna or two- classified as a gang symbol and therefore contraband- so plenty of my fellow inmates must not know what they’re doing. A fence is between the halls and the space outside near the cafeteria with the aluminum picnic tables where I try in vain to find something witty to say, knowing only insults and verbiage, because there’s a girl who has an attitude ten feet tall that wears short jean shorts that I find fascinating for reasons I haven’t understood yet. The whole eating area is divided up into enclaves, all accounted for, territories that cannot be violated and are ruled by their petty dictators, and in my tangled imagination this feels like what a real prison sounds like it’s like. I could easily get stabbed if I mouth off one too many times to the wrong person. The main difference is that I only have to be there during specific times of the day, under specific sets of rules of interaction. Formality and structure impose as they will and I bend rather than break, but never feel obligated, only grudgingly compliant. If I encounter someone I didn’t want to, I deal with them and they leave, and I leave, and mutter amazingly complicated curses I would never dare to say out loud. While my intellectual snobbery and arrogance know few bounds, I am at the mercy of everyone, at best I am tolerated by a few people, I am sometimes (but not easily) accepted as a member of the Y B Normal Club at school. We have officers and I will never be one; this will stop meaning anything to me in two years but I don’t know that yet. The eating area with its tables and one shade tree, older than any of us, older even than most of the teachers, is next to the sports field (between which spaces- though I don’t know it yet- they will put up another fence next year), the sports field is itself fenced off from the street next to it, and all the classrooms are surrounded by the rest of that first fence I mentioned, which wraps around and then mocks itself by disappearing between the classes in the standalone bungalows at the north end of the school and the track and two outdoor asphalt courts marked for basketball. The gym building back at the south end of the school is by the parking lot, and holds the band room where I slide in or out the door and directly right to the percussion section, where we practice twirling sticks while flautists go over and over their boring melodies, badly at first and then better but full of things that we don’t care about like scales or chords, or a trombonist is made to slide and blow in search of some invisible mark on their slide until they find it. Twirling is an essential skill for a drummer, it makes you look cool when you do it while playing, and it requires as much practice as being able to play in any one of seven volume levels precisely and perfectly on demand, which is more like what we do when the director focuses on us. On days without band practice I walk along the fence by the band room and on under the cement canopy of the front of one of the main school buildings, its heavy fingers blocking off the space between each hallway and the next, a drainage ditch between each finger, each reaching out to the fence that divides this space from the field, which was put up in mid-semester. The walls, the fences, the lockers, the kids everywhere, the adults, I have learned how to avoid them all. I am looking forward to next year when I can take the computer literacy class, which- with the benefit of hindsight I mention- I will basically end up teaching half of. At this age my parents’ randomly declared road trips range further than ever, though we still go out to the desert in Eastern Southern California to my parents’ old friend’s house, where their son- a friend a couple years older than me and in high school already- and I staked out Santa Claus once just to give the idea of his existing a fair chance at being tested (we had to sit around the corner in the hall, asleep but ready to pop awake the second he showed, if he did, since we couldn’t be awake and catch him). We would wander off into the desert- which began right outside their fence- and break beer bottles left by construction workers out near half-abandoned half-finished streets and house foundations with pieces of piping we found lying around, and try to convince both sets of parents to let us stay out on the roof at night to sleep under stars despite the cold night wind. These visits happened for several years, until we left there, but as I became old enough to be able to find my own way around public spaces better we would visit Las Vegas, to eat at the cheap buffets of endless greasily delicious food, and see the lights and free tourist attractions; my parents would set a limit like ten or twenty dollars to spend at a casino sometimes on these trips and I remember standing outside a bathroom waiting for my mother watching people sip free drinks while feeding the slot machines or sitting at a table game. I learned the rules to a dozen ways to gamble and at the same time learned that statistics are usually stacked in favor of the house. To this day Las Vegas to me is a place with plenty of nearby sights- natural and artificial- and cheap living costs (if also badly paying jobs), but above all a place where the most advertised activities are the ones that are the best to stay away from. I would just as gladly live near the Grand Canyon, or Zion National Park, or Death Valley, if it didn’t cost much more. Though I did learn plenty of ways to find water in the desert and manage body heat, at the time The Road Warrior made as much of a realistic picture of that part of the world as anything. As kids my age began to learn more about brand name clothing, I also began to try to keep survival tools- what few I could manage to justify having- in my pockets and backpack as much as I could. Before this time I maybe had something to write with and some string or something in my pockets. Lighters and knives were too much trouble during routine searches at school- and being a smartmouth means a lot of entirely routine searches- but then I started always carrying a pen at least, and all kinds of random other things I felt might be needed. Of course, sometimes I was convinced I really needed a piece of string.
Claremont High School has an open campus policy and the eleventh- and twelfth-graders are allowed to leave campus in their cars and go where they please, so long as they come back, so long as their parents sign the permission form at the start of school. There is a park across the parking lot, up a short flight of stairs cut into a wall holding back the soil of a park, where kids go to smoke and prove how cool and rebellious they are. The fence is only twenty feet from the last school building near it, so they don’t need to be all that cool to get there. I stay away from them, away from everybody except the few people I focus on, mostly other band nerds, some orchestra geeks, the kids at the computer lab. Time not spent in and around the huge octagonal band building is spent at the computer lab. It is 1992 and I have a unix account. I am learning HTML version 1, email, and basic scripting. I no longer bother going to the library; I read everything there I consider worth reading a couple years ago, and no school library seems to have any better a selection, though the school library here is full of people I have no wish to speak to or see. The overachievers and the underachievers both distrust my lazy good grades and lack of enthusiasm for anything social. I have never been to a school dance; though I have basically already decided this will be the case, four years later I will find that I have still never been to one. There are two lunches at the school and most of the people I’d want to talk to at lunch have the other one both semesters. It’s a good thing we’re allowed to eat lunch anywhere, because I like to wander around alone or play the most cacophonous discords managable on the drums when only drummers are around. If the seniors are there they immediately yell about this, as do the woodwinds or brass that might be trying to practice. At some point or another I harbor secret crushes I will never reveal on some woodwind or brass player, and therefore I don’t antagonize them. The seniors also would eject any of us freshmen from the percussion section couch; whose idea it was to provide us with a couch I don’t know, but we guard it with pride from all other instruments, and fight over who can sit on it, and where. The pecking order is rigid, but we know that one of these days we’ll be seniors and it’ll be our turn to rule with an wooden stick over the younger kids. This seems natural, the school is almost a hundred years old, there are traditions here, and they should be respected. It gives us a feeling of continuity, and lets us know that in our isolated bubble world of late childhood we are part of some greater body. This is a feeling I have seldom felt; society is not something I feel a part of, and I can’t think of how that might change yet. I won’t find out until the last week of summer school that my family is moving across the country a week after that, with a weekend’s worth of time before the start of the new school year on an easterner’s yearly schedule. I won’t realize how open this place is until I sit inside the fortress walls of a southern school built five years before I attended it, without any connection to a before and after such as I feel now. When I get there I will live four hundred yards from my school and my bike will become worthless in post-rural patchy suburbia among orange groves and phosphate mines. I sleep in Geometry and get a B because I read the book at home instead. I can’t stand the pace of the lectures. The overachievers- I know most of them, we’ve been nerds together since we were kids- are far more concerned with being the smartest. I just arrogantly assume I am. The underachievers have long since realized that I’m not going along with their more daring plans, am not trustworthy of their secrets, and am too mercenary to take them seriously in the face of any threat. I’m not a rat, but I have been known to cave under light torture if I don’t see anything in it for me to resist. I have spent the last three years worth of lunches trading Magic the Gathering cards, just as I previously traded sports cards, Marvel Comics cards, and pogs. I have built a deck starting with three worthless donated land cards and change I found on the sidewalk. My prize possession is a Hypnotic Specter that will in a few years be banned from tournament play. I prefer to play my shoddy deck against people who don’t have the money to buy cards by the case- such as the relatively friendly kid who gave me that first land- and whose decks are therefore more on par with mine. There are very few people I can actually provide a challenge to. I slowly lose interest in the game and become aware of the futility of keeping up with the Joneses in anything that costs money- something that has seeped into me with more awareness over the last few years. Instead I hone my skills and dream of getting an internet connection at home so I can become a real hacker and pirate, and not just trade floppy disks and cassette tapes’ worth of programs or media. This is a dream I will never accomplish after moving away from the high infrastructure level of Los Angeles County. Before we leave, I am able to say goodbye to my neighbor friends- the eldest of which has just finished her senior year at CHS, and the two or three other people who I’m on relatively good terms with at school and see outside it. Other than that, I ask someone whose name and face I have forgotten to tell the other drummers where I went.
Jenkins- that is, George Washington Jenkins High School- is built with what look like spare construction materials from Publix Supermarkets, the chain whose founder it is named after, whose money paid for it to be built through the foundation his will left much of it to. The tiles are pastel green and peach colored and the bright red bricks look fresh until rain darkens them. The Jenkins family runs the ubiquitous chain of groceries which dominate the economy of Lakeland, Florida, which is the biggest city- if you can call it that after coming from Los Angeles- in Imperial Polk County. Imperial because at one point the Imperial Wizard of the KKK lived there. When we moved to town we had a brick thrown through our front window addressed to my mother, calling her a race traitor. In a running joke I come up with and remember for years to come, there are two churches for every person in Lakeland. The school itself is so new that our mascot doesn’t have a name yet; next year I will find out that it nearly got named FUBAR until some teacher revealed what that meant to the principal- and ended up being called Louie. Louie the Eagle was often worn by a nice enough kid, but inevitably lacked any significance to me or to most of the student body. This was one of the few things I felt in common with them- a total lack of school spirit. Football games were times for the bands to face off and play the crowd’s emotions, to march a better field show than the other side, and for us drummers to be the heartbeat of a crowd of hormone-fueled exuberance. It felt good to know that they were all cheering in time to your cymbals, your mallots on the bass drum, your cowbell, your sticks. We played classic rock and oldies that our band director liked. We went through two and a half band directors in three years, and only a fifth of the band cared about competitions. A lot of the kids at Jenkins had the money not to care. The place was sharply divided, unlike anywhere I’d been in Southern California. Black kids talked to no one else, Jesus-praising bright-eyed missionaries would gush about their god, goths would gush about their conformity, nerds would take Latin and brag about it, the band, orchestra, or drama crowds kept largely to ourselves. Kids danced the macarena and the train at band lock-ins while a few of us drank far too much Mountain Dew and stayed up all night killing each other over and over in bleak dungeons on someone’s console, trying to get fleeting accolades from the Golden Eye cartridge. I often won Most Cowardly and Most Opportunistic and became adept with proximity mines and the rocket launcher. I play a lot of StarCraft or Fallout and design ridiculously complicated architecture in the Duke Nukem Level Editor in Computer Graphics class after finishing my entire project the day it’s assigned and in between being on call to help tutor other kids with theirs when they have problems. I trade audio cassette tapes with people, pirating music. I burn bootleg copies of computer game CDs. I have no internet access except in the school library- which I refused to call a media center. I show up late or barely on time for every morning’s first class; I have timed it perfectly to roll out of bed, put on pants, and walk to school. Jenkins had three lunches and block scheduling, but junior year I shared classes or lunch with most of my friends. We would sit at a table no one else wanted, people no one else wanted. We would invent amusing pseudo-intellectual games like incestograms- family tree diagrams designed to find out if a single person can be a ‘sister-mother-aunt’ or ‘brother-father-grandfather’. We would go over to each other’s houses along with a couple of people from other schools- Lakeland had a half dozen high schools- and play strategy games like Axis and Allies or Samurai Swords (aka Shogun). By the end of high school we would more often play Monopoly because otherwise I would win too easily, and no one trusted me with dice and industrial capacity. I wasn’t bad at Monopoly but I wasn’t as good at it either; the dice wouldn’t do as I said, or maybe it was more that I cared less, there were no great armies colliding or provinces or regions to hold. We considered Risk too simple to bother with. In all these settings, I was adept at turning negative energies away from me. As always I could speak my way out of trouble or into it easily, as always I could barely connect to another human my age. My friends I cared about, everyone else was some kind of asshole. My mother had gotten alarms put on the house and I couldn’t open a door without one going off. The windows had permanent screens to keep out mosquitos. I often lay in bed and thought about the meaning of life, about what Laozi or Buddha would do, about the nature of the cosmos and where I might fit into it. I slept through every math class, unable to stay awake, and spent hours doing the homework, solely from the book, because I had to make at least a B. In the first semester I almost failed trigonometry; I could never memorize anything much and that applied to radial measures. Pi over something. Something with a sine in it. My parents spoke to the math teacher and extracted a promise to stop sleeping in class, which I kept out of fear of actually failing a class- My lowest grade ever had been a C, and there had been only one of them. I ended up going over the lists again and again until I passed the make-up test and therefore the class. Our teacher, Mr. Anspaugh, was the girl’s basketball coach and had a sarcastic sense of humor. Once he tripped over my feet while lecturing because I was sleeping in the front row with them sticking out of the front of the desk, and said “Oh, I’m sorry, did I wake you?”. In English class I would look out the window bored and write poems in a little notebook I had. Most of them were pointless, morbid, or depressing for no good reason, but they were better than the ones from two years ago when I’d decided to start writing poems without actually having anything worth writing them about; a friend at the time called them “uninspired” and they were. These were barely inspired instead, but some of them maybe made it that far if not any further. I still practiced twirling in downtime in band and developed an addiction to Mountain Dew that I bought from the soda machines, which were located in a few places close to the band room and the must-stay-inside-during-lunch cafeteria hall. I paid for these with a combination of a couple dollars a month on average from my parents which I felt grateful for, and change I found- I have never lost the ability to detect change on the ground when I try to- and Jenkins seemed to be full of kids who didn’t seem to match that ability. I hated the wet weather and the bugs and wished I were still in California. I missed the desert, missed road trips to the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas, missed my old friends. Most of them I still haven’t seen since 1996. I hated the constant references to a god that wasn’t mine, whose worshippers were detestable clones, blatantly placing their comments everywhere from their everyday conversations to- in contradiction of the law, though it went unenforced- our loudspeaker announcements. I believed in state socialism and felt little antipathy for authorities but still felt they were incompetent at best in their rule-making and -enforcing, leaving me with no reason to pay them more attention than forced to. I still thought of society largely in terms of violent force. I still daydreamed about space ships. They locked the bathrooms during classes to prevent kids from smoking in them and sometimes if I had to go and found them locked I would make sure no one was around and piss all over the lock and handle of the door. The adults were strict people and I stayed the hell out of their way, the kids were either spoiled or spoiling and I went back and forth between pushing them away and trying to feel connected to their miniature societies. I never knew that I was placed with a really good view of a wide variety of people. The year before I had decided while sitting alone by myself in my room- at least here I finally had my own room with a door, even if I couldn’t close it- that I wanted to have social skills. I tried to acquire them by saying and doing the most outrageous things I could think of, because that seemed to be what was working for the more popular kids. I walked up to prim christian schoolgirls and said stupid things that only teenage boys will say seriously like “nice shoes, want to fuck?” to their horror and justified indignation- which I found vaguely amusing half the time, not knowing what any of it meant- and wrote a couple of heartfelt and sensual love letters, one to a girl that left the lunch table immediately and avoided me for weeks, another to a girl who was a friend of a friend, both of who went to another school (the art high school). We once went to McDonald’s and I awkwardly watched her eat fries; I wasn’t hungry enough to spend a couple dollars on them at all and didn’t see the point in doing it anyway- I still sit with friends while they eat at restaurants with no intention of joining in. My friend and a few others including this girl put out a literary zine. I found out about ten years later that she just couldn’t think of anything to say back to my letter, and felt intimidated by my diction, and we read over old copies of the zine that she’d saved and laughed about it. My junior year half my friends were seniors- many of my friends were from band and so transcended the seniority divide- and I got a yearbook so they could sign it. I had growth spurts and got stretch marks on my arms that I still have from going from stick-thin and short to what I now know is my more natural tall and thick-boned body type. It wouldn’t be for another four years almost after this, though, that my arms showed themselves to be wiry rather than just frail. I still have never learned to keep in mind how large I am, since then, though I have learned long since how to avoid breaking doors and things from using too much force on them. I graduated in the top ten percent of my class the next year, without trying, and instead spent my time dreaming of the movements of people through real and fake histories and political ideologies, across the real globe and false earths, or spectacular interstellar spans. Through all this time I felt like space travel was the closest thing to human interaction that made sense to me.
There is no nineteenth grade, no nineteenth-graders, only fellow graduate students with their varying research interests and fields or subfields of study and levels of scholarly devotion. Fellow nerds and geeks and dorks who probably felt similarly cast out as kids, to greater or lesser extents, who learned to bite with their tongues and punch with their pens, who flew away to castles made of ink and towers of high sorcery with plastic pipets and microscopes. There are still overachievers and underachievers but the demographics are skewed radically now and my friends in each group probably don’t even go to the other friends’ part of town. The kid who swore like a sailor AWOL from San Diego before he could tie shoelaces walks to the dive bar when he’s sick of people wearing business casual and the kid who learned how to be human only after he made Expert Grenade with no war to be fought and leg bones that would’ve killed him if there’d been one gets tired of keeping all the big words in the closet of his mind and seeks out a likely stranger at a coffee shop with a trendy novel to try and discuss philosophy with. He looks at the people working at the coffee shop and thinks about making rent in a much smaller town, where it’s warmer, and how many people he left there to escape to the big city, as if an individual life goes through cycles as vast as the cycles of history. As if my life passed from village to city to small town to city to small town to city, and is yearning for the next small town or maybe village, maybe nowhere at all. It’s been seven years since I last saw the California desert and realized that there was no reason to ever want to go past it to the land of plastic and smog again, but there are a lot of places in between. People describe trips to Europe or South Asia or Africa, Latin America or West Asia or Australia, but I feel content not burning jet fuel and in the certainty of living in a vast country, one I have driven across and been driven across repeatedly, with still so much more to see of. In the winter I curse whatever lying spirits brought me to this frozen land, so far from the sunbelt of my earlier life, and miss both the deserts and the swamps. Getting along with others comes more naturally now, and the kind of kids whose violence I feared before have learned as adults to be more careful in their targets, enough that I can sit and talk to them without that fear. Learning how to offend people is easier than learning how to get along with them; learning how to scare them, to worry them, to make them doubt and disbelieve or believe, these seem like useless skills of a less trusting past. One with more dangerous penalties. Breaking laws for the joy of seeing their structure fall apart has lost much of its fun without the justifications of bored hormonal overdose and pseudo-revolutions that never happen outside of an alley, a building, a deserted side street. Reading more and more political theory, sociology, psychology, anthropology, history- of all the studies of human existence- and doing so formally, especially, has left me with tools to understand the bigger picture. The only worry left is somehow becoming as isolated as I once was, somehow forgetting to be human, to join humanity and take part in human activities. It’s been eight years since my conversion to anarchism, since I found a faith in humanity and human potential to match the horrors of human history and the fears of my childhood. Anger has been replaced in large part with a resignation that it will take more lifetimes than I may be reincarnated into to get there, but with the understanding that all of them will be worth it if I use them to help to get there. Society has acquired a meaning, but individually all the people around me have stayed closed off by fences, invisible and tangible. It doesn’t seem enough to know the demographic categories people fall into; there is no way to get to know the huge amount of people around me without them or outside them, however. At times, I am still standing outside class in ad hoc detention exile, still tangentially floating on the edges of cliques, still finding small joy in taunting ever-more-distant and complacent bullies- though now they carry weapons and taunting them is more and more a bad idea- and sometimes I am still wondering how to actually compliment someone on their shoes, without making a joke of it, without sounding or feeling like I’m just desperate for someone to talk to at all. I haven’t been the entire time but often enough have been inside plenty of structures. After the earlier schools, the army, after that jobs and more schools and other jobs and other schools, a couple of psych wards, this last school I’m still in, which may well not be my last school at all. There’s more of a point to it all now, more reasons to not just lay in bed and ask where the meaning is, what the right thing to do is, and I’ve certainly spent enough time trying to find those things, and had help from plenty of ghostly giants and their coded lexicons. There are also just as many strangers to talk to, people with stories I’d otherwise never hear if I didn’t just start a conversation with them. There are hidden wisdoms in places where knowledge isn’t even believed in. There is still mystery to be solved, there always is, still dreams, sometimes even ones with space ships, still ideas to fuel wonder and a mind that breaks out of laziness only when motivated by secrets to uncover and stories and thoughts to share. The biggest difference is the feeling that now, I’m not some floating plankton on the outer edge of society, driftwood on the beach, there are people with their own ideas, people who also still know wonder, and that means I have people to share mine with.