28 May 2013

On being a member of the jerk club.

A month or two after I moved back to Vacaville, I was out front clearing some branches from the forest that is Mom’s front yard. She likes to prune the heck out of every tree on her property, then leaves all the branches for me to saw up and shove, awkwardly, into her yard waste bins. She has the nerve to think I have the easy part of the job. But I digress… wait, no I don’t; this is the introduction.

One of the neighbors, out on a power walk, decided to pause for a moment, ignore my rather obvious red earphones, and strike up a conversation with me. Not that I mind. Okay, sometimes I do, and will wear my headphones even though the iPod isn’t on, just so people won’t interrupt my train of thought. But that’s rare. I’m not that introverted.

Once he found out how old I was, he realized I was the same age as his son. “So you must’ve gone to Vanden,” he said. “Do you know Evan?” Which is not his son’s name, but I don’t care to give his name. It took me a few seconds to recall him. “Yes,” I told him, “I know of him. We weren’t in the same circles.”

There’s a story behind that, of course. Isn’t there always? This is a blog, after all.

In high school I was not popular. I know that’s hard to imagine for anyone who knew me in college, or in the workplace, or any of the places where I was very popular. It wasn’t because I was a late bloomer or anything. It was because I figured if you got to know me, you’d eventually get to see my truly awful home life, and that was best left hidden.

It was also because I was hypocritically trying to disconnect my school life and my church life. At church, I could play the pious Christian. At school, I could swear wonderfully. But I didn’t open up to anyone, and stayed in the middle rung of kids who weren’t involved in every school activity, but neither were they the burnouts or dropouts or freaks. (Though I got along just fine with the freaks.) I didn’t bother with sports till college, but I did the school paper and one of the school plays. I sporadically attended the Spanish club, and was Student of the Month once. I did the Academic Decathlon—despite never attending any of the after-school meetings. They gave me a varsity letter for it, but I (like most kids) considered letters something you get for sports, not taking tests for fun, and never wore the ridiculous thing.

I knew most of the popular kids. Contrary to most ’80s teen movies (or any teen movies or TV shows) you’ve seen, the popular kids were not jerks, ruling the school through fear and intimidation, desperate to cling to their popularity by any means necessary. I’m entirely certain those movies were written by bitter, vengeful nerds. I knew some such nerds in high school too: They were convinced the popular kids were a--holes, simply because the popular kids never sought them out and asked them to be their bestest friends. Of course, I noticed how the popular kids would occasionally say hello to them and be civil… and the nerds would get snide, as if to say, “Oh now you wish to acknowledge my existence.” Which would confuse the popular kids, who had no idea how they’d given offense. All they knew was these angry nerds didn’t like them for some reason. So of course they didn’t hang together.

…Yeah, I never understood these nerds. They were just as angry in college; they were always trying to smack down anyone they perceived as the Man, whether they were the Man or not. They just weren’t happy unless they had an enemy. Then they grew up and joined the Tea Party. But now I digress.

As for church, I “opened up” only to a point: My friends and I had long, detailed, drawn-out talks about Saturday Night Live and ’80s rock. Although, within earshot of the youth pastor and certain Christian kids, you were only supposed to like Christian rock… and I didn’t, but kept my mouth shut. I was all kinds of a hypocrite.

So my main extracurricular activities were the youth group, playing video games on my Commodore 64, and writing bad science fiction… and terrible, tasteless punk rock songs.

I didn’t spend a lot of time out-of-doors in my neighborhood. There was this one boy who lived across the street, whom I’ll call Doug. When my family first moved in, during the summer before my freshman year, Doug decided—for no reason I could figure—that I was his sworn enemy. Still don’t know why. Probably for the same reason I irritated frat boys: I was mouthy and opinionated, and probably said something that rubbed him the wrong way, so he decided to be hostile.

There were about seven or eight kids in my neighborhood who went to my high school at that time. Mostly boys. Doug knew most of them, having lived in the neighborhood longer. When we waited for the bus in the mornings, the boys would just bunch together, and I would just stand off a bit from them, avoiding any stupid confrontations Doug might start. Which he’d start anyway, from time to time.

Evan was a year behind me, and when he started at Vanden, he joined Doug’s bus-stop clique. I never developed my own clique. The girls, and two or three boys, picked no side. My friend Akbar would usually get a ride to school with his sister, but the few times he didn’t, he’d hang out with me; and that was all. The rest of my friends lived elsewhere, or went to Vacaville High School. And on campus—which is odd, ’cause Vanden’s a really small school—I never saw Doug. So I never had to deal with him anywhere but the bus stop. Maybe he was one of the dropouts. I didn’t care to investigate.

Doug moved away in my sophomore year. Once he left, two of the boys in his clique were still mildly antagonistic towards me—old habits die hard, I guess. But those who were left ignored me, I ignored them, and that’s how we rolled. Even though we shared some of the same friends, or our paths crossed in various extracurricular activities: We never bothered to bridge the divide. I’d run into Evan at various parties, and we’d acknowledge one another, but we just didn’t talk. Not that I felt anything hostile towards him—I had nothing against him, and I had no idea what he felt about me. But I just didn’t care.

And after I graduated high school, Evan totally left my mind. I moved away that summer. Haven’t seen him since. Haven’t thought about him till his dad brought him up.

I didn’t bring up any of this stuff to Evan’s dad. I doubt he’d have enjoyed to hear it: “Your son used to hang out with this one jerk, but I don’t recall he was any jerk, so, you know, good for him.” Besides, it’s not like I was any prize in high school. I could be mighty jerk-like sometimes.

But since high school I’ve been doing the whole moral-inventory thing. (Blame the 12-step groups.) I’m always asking myself whether I unnecessarily alienated other people because I chose the wrong crowds, or because I was dismissive to one person or another. I should have been the bigger person and tried to bridge the gap after Doug left… but I didn’t, ’cause I was an immature kid, and that’s what immature kids do. And Evan (’cause, according to his dad, he was a Christian too) should have tried it himself… but he didn’t, ’cause he was an immature kid, and it’d be stupid to hold him to a higher standard than I do myself. Instead, we just passed one another by. Like immature kids.

Well. I sometimes wonder about any other people I didn’t give the time of day to, whether my intentions were good or bad or dismissive or hostile or whatever. I’d hate to think I contributed to their growing up and turning into left-wing or right-wing paranoiacs. But one never knows. I can only make sure I don’t do so now.

And if I treated you dismissively for any reason—and particularly if it was because I was a member of the jerk club—let me know, and let me preemptively apologize.