Saturday, November 28, 2015

Melting Pot, Part Two

What follows will make more sense if you read part one.

On the first day of eighth grade, I was randomly assigned to the smart class. Had I been placed in the dumb class (which we weren't supposed to call the dumb class), as I should have, I would've probably had a whole different life. While the smart class was indeed made up of smart kids, the dumb class was just everyone else, the ordinary kids -- with the exception of a few aggressively-stupid boys. Testosterone poisoning + stupidity = aggressively-stupid.

When I was 13 I thought this phenomenon was limited to boys. Turns out that girls are so much smarter than boys -- and women so much smarter than men -- that boys and men are often too stupid to spot an aggressively-stupid female. Men should be grateful that the feminist movement has made it socially acceptable for women to openly be as aggressively-stupid as men -- if they choose to reveal it to us. Makes 'em slightly less dangerous.

So, it's the first day of school, eighth grade, and I show up as required. I'm not a happy camper. I'm introverted, somewhat shy, and this is a new school. I don't know anyone, and though I love to read -- I'm willing to check out anything and everything for at least a minute -- I'm no scholar. I'm living in suburbia for the first time in my life and the school building seems huge.

Interesting paradox in that the densely packed, densely Catholic inner city neighborhood I came from had small Catholic grade schools, several of them. My new school drew from a much larger geographic area that wasn't nearly as densely populated and a given family was just as likely to be Protestant (or Satanists for all I knew at the time) as Catholic. Where I came from there were (mostly) Catholics, Protestants, and heathens. We Catholics were right, and assured a place in heaven, as long we followed all the rules. The many, many rules. Everyone else was wrong and probably going to hell, but it wasn't polite to tell them. We loved them anyway, and that's why one of our seemingly endless fund-raising drives each year was devoted to saving Pagan Babies.

Many of the many, many rules have radically changed, or vanished, since I was a kid. I can't help but wonder if there's a get out of hell free card available for anyone that died in sin before a priest could get there to punch their ticket to paradise.

Now, though it may seem as though I'm digressing my butt off what I'm actually doing is trying to paint a picture with words, to contrast my life before eighth grade with what came next. Though officially a typical, conservative Catholic grade school, run by a nun that had the sensibilities of a USMC Drill Instructor, there was music in the cafes (church social hall) at night and revolution in the air. And I was randomly placed in the "smart" class of eighth graders because though I had been properly registered by my mum, no one had decided which eighth grade I should be in and added my name to the appropriate list. Instead, two nuns had a brief conversation and it was decided on the spot to put me in with the smart kids and see what happened. They could always dumb me down later if necessary.

Well, I managed to hold my own, in spite of Algebra. For the first time in my life, I had more than one teacher for the entire day. We didn't change classes, we changed teachers. We had a very cool nun come in to teach us Algebra, which took the edge off of that particular nightmare. We had a male lay teacher come in for Science, my first experience with a teacher that wasn't a woman. He wasn't nearly as cool as our Algebra nun, but the girls thought he was a cutie. Curiously, I can't remember either of their names or the name of the nun we had for all of our other classes. I can recall the names of almost all the other nuns and teachers I had up until this point, and most of my high school teachers as well. This puzzles me because it was the  best year of school I ever had. I can't remember the name of the nun I had in first grade, but I've probably blocked it out because I was so traumatized (GRIN). There's a vicious rumor that claims one of my older sisters once had to unclench my fists from a wrought iron fence that I had latched onto in a futile attempt to keep from going to school that I refuse to either confirm or deny. However, it serves as a perfect illustration of how I felt about formal schooling as a child.

Returning to the fall of ' was the kids that made eighth grade my favorite school year. I was triply disadvantaged because they were, first, as a group, much more worldly, sophisticated and downright cooler than I was. They had older siblings in high school and college that were in the thick of the late sixties. My older sibs were out of high school and living, working and making babies in the real world. Not a one of them even lived in a commune. Also, many had parents that were professionals of some sort that made a lot more money than my blue collar dad and stay at home mom. And most of them were smarter than me. But I got lucky.

They were nice. They liked me. I liked them. They, the Algebra nun, a rebellious young priest,  and my mum, who had subscriptions to Look, Life, and The Saturday Evening Post, opened my eyes to a whole new world. And next week I will finally explain what all this has to do with melting pots and mosaics.

Have an OK day.                                                                                      

©Mark Mehlmauer 2015

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