Thursday, May 5, 2011

How I got a Free Gift Card to my Book Fair using Humiliation

My mother was chairman (Chairwoman? Chairperson? There was a chair involved, I think.) of the Book Fair at my elementary school. This was slightly inconvenient, since it meant I spent a lot of time after school for a week out of every year sitting around reading.
Come to think of it, it wasn’t that inconvenient. It was actually pretty awesome. But, as mentioned before, I was a weird kid.
It was either fourth or fifth grade that a box appeared with the usual book fair things. Inside the box was a costume.
I shall do my best to describe this costume from memory as closely as I can.
It had an alligator head roughly the size of a VW Bus. What alligators have to do with reading books, I have no idea, but some marketing director had managed to come up with some sort of connection. I like to think he was on heavy hallucinogens at the time.
The alligator was wearing glasses and had lipstick on.
Seriously. An alligator with lipstick.
It was terrifying.
The rest of the outfit looked like what you would get if you put a fabric store in a really big food processor, tossed the remains in the Cave of Nuclear Mutated Moths and then gathered even what they refused to devour and sewed it into a mascot costume.
It had a wire hoop in the shirt to simulate obesity, although the only reason I can come up with for an alligator wearing (horrible) human clothing, glasses, and lipstick to be fat would be due to the incredibly large amounts of screaming human children and souls it had devoured. You know what? I don’t LIKE to think the marketing executive was on heavy hallucinogens… I WANT to think he was on heavy hallucinogens, because if a human being came up with this horror in a normal frame of mind, I no longer want to be human.
Naturally, the first thing through my head when the box gets opened is along the lines of “I want to wear that.”
Weird kid.
My mother turns to me and says “How would you like to drum up some business for the book fair?”
“Sounds good to me!” I reply, knowing exactly where this is going.
I only get into the top half of the costume, because this isn’t a costume made for a child. Come to think of it, it’s not a costume made for a human, but it’s meant even less for a child. I remember wondering if merely the fact that I was inside it meant that it had won, and that I was now a freak human-crocodile hybrid thing, doomed to walk the earth with no hope of love or-
And then they tossed me outside with no chaperone to dance outside in the school’s parking lot trying to either attract visitors to the book fair or devour the bones of the earth and cause an untimely apocalypse.
This was maybe five minutes before school got out.
I danced around a bit, feeling both silly and terrified.
The bell rang.
It is essential at this point in the story for me to reiterate the fact that children are evil. Especially in large groups. The sight presented to them at this point in time was a skinny, clearly not adult thing in half a ridiculous costume, alone, dancing around in a parking lot. The first thought that entered their mind was “attack.”
Due to the layout of the school, the first wave that reached me were kindergarteners and, and posed little threat to my well being other than the fact that they were difficult to wade through and therefore an effective trap. They surrounded me almost immediately and began poking and prodding, asking questions which I refused to answer, because mascots don’t talk.
The second wave was first and second graders. I got a few pushes and tugs and heard a few shouts, but I managed to maintain composure, trying desperately to swim back to the safety of the front office.
The third wave was third and fourth graders, and I knew I was dead. The crowd around me was massive, and here came people who were actually my size, many of whom knew me by name but weren’t sure that the thing in the parking lot was me. At this point, I wasn’t either. They didn’t close in for the kill just yet, preferring to circle and enjoy themselves while the littler ones picked at me some more, but eventually one of the more aggressive ones stepped in and grabbed for the mask.
I still hadn’t made a peep, and I continued to suffer in silence, but I reached up and grabbed the fabric horror and held it on my head as though it were a novelty beer can hat dispensing a vital antidote. Or, I dunno, a space helmet. Basically, I didn’t let anybody take my mask off.
The fifth and sixth graders began arriving, just as somebody threw the first punch that hurt. I think I went down on a knee.
And suddenly, they were gone. Everybody. As though they were never there. I was completely alone, except for a single flustered secretary bustling out the door. She picked me up, brushed me off, and ushered me back inside.
I think I called her Don Quixote or something, because he was the first knight in shining armor that popped into my head, demonstrating clearly that kids in fourth grade can’t understand collegiate level satire. Or at least I couldn’t. I didn’t even pronounce it right.
The costume went back in the box, and I never saw it again.
A week later, a representative from the company who did the book fair asked me a few questions and gave me a fifteen dollar gift card.
I bought a finger scooter you could build and customize yourself.
I think I still have it somewhere.

Why I am not a Hobbyist

Or “an hobbyist,” if you happen to be British. Or pretentious.
Or both?
I was twelve when I first had a real threat to my future social life. That isn’t to say that I had a social life. If you looked on the chart of “introvert caterpillar” to “social butterfly,” I was stuck at “prehistoric mollusk.” I had exactly two friends at this point in time, and they were only friends by default since I refused to associate with anybody cooler than me and these were the ONLY TWO PEOPLE IN THE SCHOOL that weren’t.
But, in spite of the fact that I was so far in my shell I needed a complex system of mirrors and magnifying lenses just to tell whether it was day or night, somebody was determined to make me even more of a pariah, and they were going to do it like this:
They were going to force me into a hobby. Or an hobby, if you’re… yeah.
I don’t remember who it was, but on my twelfth birthday, my most expensive present was a remote control model airplane. Not one of those ones that you can buy from a toy store that you can put together in ten minutes, either. No, the box advertised (IT ADVERTISED! AS IN, PUT IN BIG BLOCK LETTERS!) “Ready to Fly in Less than Five Hours!”
I was twelve. The only thing that could hold my attention for five hours were nipple clamps covered in super glue. Although that’s just a hypothetical, since I never super glued nipple clamps to myself when I was that age. If I had, it would have made an excellent story, but it is not at all plausible and so it would not fit with the theme.
So, my father decided that he’d “help me” build it by buying all of the materials that didn’t come with the package (as I recall, we needed to get servos, engines, and the remote control.) and then assembling it himself.
This took him months. He was in the garage several times a week, trying to put this thing together according to the meticulous instructions. I was riding my bike or flying a kite outside while he was sitting in the dark, holding pieces of the thing together, waiting for the glue to set.
It took him more than five hours.
My father is a handy fellow. He has built more than one remote controlled airplane in his lifetime. I used to go out and watch him fly them, when I was really, really little. So he was either so out of practice he had somehow ended up having negative experience, or this thing was so stupidly complicated that the only way it could possibly be meant for a child my age was if it sporadically turned into a puppy.
He finally got the thing assembled, and we took it out to a park to fly it. Naturally, having spent all of this time on the thing, he didn’t really feel comfortable handing the remote to a dumb kid with his finger in his nose, and I was perfectly fine to let him have the first flight. I wanted to go and play on the swings anyways. After the first flight.
He turned it on and launched it into the air, then began manipulating the remote.
I asked him why he had nosedived it. He muttered something about a cross breeze and shut up. So we went over, brushed it off, and launched it again. The same thing happened.
After some experimentation, we realized that he had put the engines in backwards, and, when we threw it forward, it was trying it’s damndest to make its way back into our faces and slice off as many bits as possible for the creation of such an abomination.
Dad gave up and bought me a much simpler remote control airplane which I put together (correctly! Hah!) myself.
I took it to the park by myself and sent it flying. I spent a bit of time getting the hang of the flight, and then decided to buzz a mother pushing a stroller around the perimeter of the park.
The remote control had a range of 300 feet.
The lady was roughly 350 feet away.
I’m pretty sure I didn’t hit the baby with a (light! Very light! That’s important!) remote control plane traveling at perhaps 35 miles per hour, but I didn’t stick around to find out. When the plane stopped following my directions the moment it was aimed directly at the stroller, I left.
At home. Dinnertime. Dad. “Hey, how was the maiden flight?”
Me. “Hm? Oh. Terrible. Just awful. Flew it into a tree. Off a cliff. Into a river. Or fire, maybe. I don’t remember. But there’s nothing left of it. Or I couldn’t get to the remains. Boy, this is good spaghetti!”
“Really? Oh. I’m sorry to hear that. I should have been there with you. If you want, we can get another one. It wasn’t that expensive.”
“No! No! No! That’s okay! I think I’ll stick to… um… writing! It is difficult to kill a baby while writing!”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“Nothing! Um. Nothing.”
I have been deathly, irrationally afraid of hobby stores ever since. I picture a woman, holding a mangled remote control airplane in one hand with the other on her hip, tapping her foot as she scans the customers entering and exiting the store. Watching. Waiting.
For me.

The Real Title is at the Bottom of this Post

I was a member of the Gifted and Talented Education program in elementary school. The Gifted and Talented Education program (or GATE, for short. I bet some bureaucratic hack felt pretty clever coming up with that, although, because I’m a jerk, I’d like to point out that it should have been GATEP, since it doesn’t make sense without “program” tacked onto the end, and GATEP is significantly less clever.) was a thing where they took the smart kids out of a class and let them go on field trips and stuff, because we managed to pass some sort of arbitrary IQ test.
Don’t get me wrong, it was awesome. I was grateful for the attention, and if it got me out of class for a day to go and look at dinosaurs at the Natural History museum, I would take fifty tests. I just had some strange residual guilt from the fact that a lot of kids were sitting in class learning useless crap like how to read while I was sliding down the neck of a Bronto-pardon me-Apatosaurus wearing only my tighty whiteys because I was eight and had something against pants.
There’s probably still security footage of that, somewhere. I like to think it’s part of the training video for new employees at the Natural History museum. Or at least part of the blooper reel after the credits.
Okay, that didn’t actually happen. I mean… I went to the natural history museum, but the largest shenanigan I got up to was somehow managing to snag a second desert when lunch rolled around. I would have liked to climb the Bronto-dangit-Apatosaurus’ skeleton, though.
Anyway, the aforementioned residual guilt, coupled with an unusually early surge of hormones in the late fourth grade, caused me to do something phenomenally stupid for somebody who was supposed to be “gifted and talented.”
There was a girl in my fourth grade class named Elizabeth or Emily or something of the sort. Tall, dark, also beginning an early development, and totally, completely obnoxious. She was my arch nemesis, and she knew it. Between the two of us, no fewer than three teachers committed seppuku. Or made us sit in the hall. I don’t remember which. I’m leaning toward seppuku, though.
She, too, was in GATE. One of the events that year was a trip to an Egyptian museum. It sounded like it was going to be pretty incredible, and I had it in my mind that I was going to avoid her like she were a plague of locusts and I was a field of wheat in order to get the most out of the trip.
My best friend had other plans. He was not a member of the GATE program, but he pulled me aside the day before we were to leave, looked me in the eye, and said “You must ruin her. You must drive her mind past the breaking point and crush the pieces under your bare feet, laughing as they break the skin and reveal the colour (I remember him being slightly British, but that’s probably inaccurate) of your bone to her shattered persona. You must make her family grieve her as though she were dead as she rocks back and forth in a corner clutching her knees in solitary confinement in a mental institution. Pledge this to me.”
At least he would have said that, if he were nearly as articulate as I remember him being. It was probably along the lines of “Hey, do me a favor and scare her tomorrow, will ya? She spat on my sandwich at lunch today.” I looked him in the eye and solemnly gave him my word that I would.
I never found out why she had spat in his sandwich. I suspect it was because of a particularly vocal and lengthy argument she and I had engaged in that morning, the duration of which the teacher spun in his rolly chair at the front of the room, giggling like a schoolgirl. We had a substitute the next few weeks while Mr. Bouland was “recuperating.”
Regardless of the reason, I came up with a plan of revenge that, to this day, I shudder at. Elementary school children are perhaps the cruelest people I have ever met, with their severely underdeveloped superegos and devious minds capable of such twists that make me believe that the process of growing up, as distasteful as it is, is the only thing keeping the human race from total obliteration.
The next day we left directly from school. I hadn’t even needed to pack materials.
I enjoyed the museum until lunchtime, at which point I filled my pockets with ketchup packets from the museum cafe and asked to be excused to the bathroom.
Ten minutes and two rolls of toilet paper later, I was a bloody mummy.
I was just agile enough to dodge past the chaperone who had accompanied me to the bathroom, and just fast enough to make it to the designated lunch room where Elizabemily was eating, where I let out a single unearthly moan before a flying tackle by the aforementioned chaperone took me out. I wriggled free once, shedding toilet paper like I had a bad case of diarrhea and the ensuing scene is one I shall never forget.
Half of the children in the lunch room were screaming and the other half were laughing. I regret to admit that Emibeth was one of the laughing ones, but that barely diminishes the image of a short kid, half covered in ketchup stained toilet paper and trailing the other half behind him, sprinting down the hallway of a solemn, serious and established museum of archeology, getting chased by docents, curators, teachers, and parent chaperones, letting out shrieks he honestly assumed a mummy would sound like, and having the time of his life.
Which brings us to the title of this post:
How I Got Thrown Out Of The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum In San Jose.