At Least You’re Not Svetx: The “I’m Okay; You’re Okay” Blog of the Post Nineties Era

The Price of Gas
The Price of Gas

It was the seventh 30-minute recess of the first grade when I began suspecting I was odd. Actually, one of the teachers told me, “You’re odd.” She formulated this assessment just after I confessed that I hated recess. I just wanted to stay inside and play with the Baby Jesus doll in the toy bin. But I always attracted negative attention for being overly possessive of the Christ child. Often, I was forced to surrender him to the powers that be. This was a special trauma since every god-fearing five-year-old knows what happened to the Messiah the last time one of his friends surrendered him to an authority figure.

Still, crucifixion of a loved one could never rival the horrors of the concrete jungle and, of course, the iron jungle gym, a tool clearly engineered by parents of unwanted children. To a homesick, Baby Jesus-stalking-five-year-old wearing corduroy koulots and untied shoelaces, 30- minutes felt like a day-long New England church sermon spoken in Old English.

It’s significant to note that I started school a year early, and I didn’t know how to tie my shoe laces yet. My mother died when I was four and a half; my father often worked as an electrical engineer in a place called “Hollywood, Kentucky,” and my grandmother was in charge of all the safe deposit keys at Valley Fidelity Bank in downtown Knoxville. No one was home during the day, so my dad and grandmother prematurely deported me to a place that strictly enforced recess. There, I learned fast that the concrete jungle is no place for a child with loose laces.

The teacher assigned to guard the prisoners during that dismal half hour of doom, the same teacher who deemed me “odd,” simply did not know this. It wasn’t her fault. What six year old doesn’t know how to tie his/her shoes? How was she to know that I was a barely-five-year-old masquerading as a normal first-grader? So, when I beseeched her assistance with my shoelace predicament, she assumed I was lazy. She accused me of being just another attention-hungry white child trying to get folks to do everything for me.

I felt grossly misunderstood, a perception that was growing increasingly familiar to me. Conversely, she felt unfairly saddled with naive, blonde, koulot be-clad Aryans forcing her hand to shoe tie as a way of upholding a long-entrenched social structure fraught with evil, inequality, sorrow, and subservience. She felt grossly used and underestimated. A perception that had already been long familiar to her.

Ironically enough, recess taught me to be everything but attention-seeking and dictatorially dependent. Survival depended upon keeping a low profile. Attention was never something for which one should strive in a land of posturing jump-rope divas and bullying little boys pretending to be Gene Simmons. And I knew damn well that low profile maintenance requires self-sufficiency. So, I was desperate before I sought help. Naturally clumsy, I needed to eliminate any potential risks, and undone shoelaces were a major liability especially if I found myself in need of a quick bipedal getaway. Which I did. Soon after I got chewed out for being a spoiled, narcissistic whitey. I was just minding my own business, nursing my bruised ego following teacher-rejection when Shannon Green “declared war” on me for no good reason other than allegedly brown-nosing the recess warden.

She charged her blood-thirsty, brainwashed minions to run me down, a herd of salivating hyenas corraling supper. I fled toward the front-most middle swing set pole, which I knew was “base,” that locus of safety considered neutral ground. But I didn’t make it. I tripped over my shoelaces, fell, and skinned both knees and hands. The teacher felt terrible, dispersed the rabid mob, and sought band-aids for me immediately. They had Snoopies on them. I couldn’t fully bend my legs for nearly a week. But my dad taught me to tie my shoes that very night. So, I at least ended the day empowered. Plus, I got to watch the Gong Show & play with Mr. Potato Head before bedtime.

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What’s a girl to do with glitter but no special shoe?

Fighting the Power
Fighting the Power

So, as the blog rolls, you’ll learn that Shannon, Amazon of the first-grade recess war, served a significant role in my life far beyond the tipping see-saw. Sometimes she served as friend rather than foe. Sadly for me, friend and foe weren’t antonyms in her world.

During snack, I confided to her that I wanted to fly, like Wonder Woman or Isis. I carried my Wonder Woman action figure to school every day, and Chip Baker and I were frequently scolded for talking Super Friends during nap time.

Shannon told me that my dream might not be so unattainable as I believed. She had “the Secret.” I just needed to put my desire for flight out there into the ether, and the universe would provide. As long as I poured glitter on my arms. That’s what Wonder Woman and Superman did, she claimed. And she, herself had flown many times. Many times? Many times.

She just seemed so confident about it all.

I couldn’t concentrate on classroom exercises that day. We were to learn to count to 100. I still blame Shannon for the fact that the neighbor’s dog is a better mathematician than I am. Freestyle, open-air aviation offered far more intrigue than learning to regurgitate numerals in a sequence. So, all I could think about was soaring, arms outstretched, body hovering stiff as a board above fountain, stream, and skyscraper. Oh, what freedom — that feeling of wind against skin and the profundity of scoring eye contact with fairy tale bluebirds flying parallel paths with my own crime-fighting trajectory!

My grandmother (the Old Testament one — we’ll get to that in subsequent entries) retrieved me from the schoolhouse at 4:30 pm. Such a long time to wait! I’d never been so grateful to see that green LTD with dark velour seats smelling of musky, musty old Aunt odor.

Back at Grandma’s house, I ransacked my craft drawer for gold glitter. Might as well go with the blingiest batch.  I kicked off my Miss Piggy-themed sneakers and stripped down to my flammable Wonder Woman Underoos before scaling our velvety antique sofa. Barefoot with toes curled over the wide arm of my perch, I doused myself and Grandma’s carpeting with magic sparkle. I drew in a deep breath, squinted my focus on blind ambition, and took the leap. There was to be no gliding airborne through the house, along the underbelly of ceiling, effortlessly rotating my body sideways to squeeze gracefully through doorways. There was a belly flop on bare floor.

The next day, I confronted Shannon with my wounded rib and shattered pride. I felt so betrayed. I thought she was my friend. Incredulous, she stared at me doe-eyed and asked, “Well, did you wear the special shoes?”

What special shoes? She swore that she had mentioned them. And she just seemed so confident . . .

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