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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

"Metal papers.
Metal pens.
Metal hearts.
Metal hands.
Memorize the rules and learn to behave.
But when I got to school I forgot, I forgot.
So they put me in a special classroom.
Where everybody is a robot."

-'Robot High School' by My Robot Friend from the album Soft-Core (2009)

So, like many people, I went to a private prep school with a class size of around 130. I started going to this school from the age of five, back in the late 80's. As I reflect on my experience now, I realize how much shit I used to put up with. My school was very traditional in the prep school sense. The guys had to wear sport coats and ties; the girls wore skirts that went below the knee. Everyone had to wear leather shoes (no sneakers). Our school, as you might guess, had many long lasting traditions and rites. This is especially the case since my school was once a separate girls' and boys' campus, now merged. So, both the guys and girls had their own traditions that they kept going after the merger happened.

One of these traditions, of the testosterone kind that is, included having a big hootenanny when we played our rival school in football. Each fall, we would have a giant bonfire for this version of our homecoming. All for the sake of football. We would play against our rival school, also private, but a little less 'snooty', or so the kids at that school believed. An effigy would get burned in the fire, donning the 'regalia' of the other team and its associated colors. This tradition of the effigy, however, was halted around the time I graduated due to African American families feeling that there was a tie to the KKK burning crosses and hanging black people from trees. So that tradition was modified and changed so that it no longer resembled what it once was. Fine with me!

Our school also had a tradition of girls dressing up in white wedding dresses and dancing around a May Pole with ribbons. This May Day festival, as it was called, was a BIG deal. All of the old blue blood alumni of the girls' school came out in their pastel St. John Knits' suits and big beehive hair. I would always joke about putting a motor into the pole and having it suddenly spin out of control making a spectacle of the whole thing. My sister participated in this tradition and I should add that she looked very respectable and ladylike in her poofy white dress. So, I came to respect it after that point.

I guess what bothered me more than these traditions is the way of my school's culture. Everyone seemed to be cut of the same cookie mold. And, from day one, as a six year old in my tucked in polo shirt and Bermuda khaki shorts, I rebelled as much as I could. I remember distinctly looking around at the arrogant and snobby culture that consumed a lot of my peers; I decided to go down a different path. Why act like an asshole; life is too short, man.

So by high school, I was letting my freak flag fly way high. I started dying my hair all types of different colors: black, blond, orange, red. At one point I even put Elmer's clear glue into my hair to form 'Crust' punk spikes (thanks, Leah). I also used to sit in study hall and cut my arm with a protractor or pretend to pierce myself. I painted my fingernails black, let my hair grow long and greasy, and wore clothes from Goodwill and Salvation Army. I WAS in dress code, but for me dress code was a snapping Cowboy shirt, Dickie's work pants, steel toed black boots, and vintage bowling shirts. I didn't really give a shit at this point. I had detention virtually every week my Sophomore and Junior year just because I was always late. Late to school, late to class, late to assembly (more like ditching it completely). I would leave campus when I wasn't supposed to and give money to older kids to buy me cigarettes. I was a rebel! There's a reason why I didn't care.

See, I'm what you call a victim of societal bullying. I was never popular, at least not until halfway through high school when I became 'popular' amongst the unpopular and artsy kids. It took me a while to find that clique though. Up until that point, I thought everyone was a Republican, everyone dressed preppy, and everyone believed in the same ideals. Just because I didn't, made me different. I got teased and bullied for everything under the sun. I hung out with the nerdy, outcast kids, which automatically made me a pariah. I also wasn't at the top of the heap in terms of smarts, just average. I got B's, some A's. Since I wasn't super hyper smart, people treated me like I was garbage. That and the fact that I didn't live in a multi-million dollar house five minutes from our campus. I was average, not extraordinary in any way. Not athletically, academically nor did my parents run with high society.

As a result, I was never invited to the big parties where parents paid off the local police to send a cruiser as a decoy to daunt the possibility of other policemen showing up (who were actually doing their jobs, might I add). These parents were of an attitude that as long as their son or daughter was drinking under their roof in their eyesight (more the former than the latter) then everything was just hunky dory, peaches n' cream. It kind of made me sick, and I'm glad that I never went to many of these parties. I did attend one, once.

It was eventually broken up by the cops, and they found some parochial school kids with cocaine. Not my friends. My friends were just drinking beer, smoking cigs, and passing an occasional joint. Nothing too risque. At this point, my friends who had these 'hotel' or 'parents are out of town' parties were just like me. They just wanted to have fun, which didn't always include alcohol and drugs. I look back, though, and would not have changed a thing.

I eventually found my way into this theater artsy clique, and became quite comfortable there. Everyone was weird, but also themselves. I suddenly was surrounded by people with similar views and who didn't fit into the Stepford mentality of our school. An example of what I mean is a fond memory from middle school. At one point, around sixth grade, I was approached by a fellow peer and told that 'I could be popular if I wanted'. The only thing that held me back was my 'nerdy, dorky' friends who were way 'uncool'. I, however, was much cooler and people liked me. They just didn't like who I hung around with. I was like, f- that. Even at age 11, I realized the hypocrisy involved. I didn't want to be an episode of DeGrassi Junior High where I ditched my nerdy friends for more popular ones. I think they based television shows like 'Suburgatory' on my high and middle school experiences.

All the crap I took for being different and uncool made me a stronger person. I'm better able to deal with bullies and people who try to push me around. I smell their shit from a mile away. I do what I want (within reason), and I'm proud of my identity. I want my son to grow up the same way too. He should never let other people tell him who he is and define him. It is each of us, as individuals who decide where we belong in society.

I just never understood gawking at a person because they have pink hair, a nose ring, or wore 'peculiar' clothing. If we were all the same, the world would be bland, it would be very 'unseasoned' indeed. This is what I LOVE about NYC. You get on the subway and see different hairstyles, fashion trends, and personas. That's a large part of why I live here now. Everyone here can be who he or she wants to be. If you want to wear a giant panda suit, do it. If you want to dress like Superman, fine. No one bats an eyelash at any particular oddity. People here realize that everyone is eccentric and has his or her own idiosyncrasies.

"“I don't judge others. I say if you feel good with what you're doing, let your freak flag fly.” -Sarah Jessica Parker (My wife LOVES 'Sex in the City', so that one is for her)

Peace and eccentricity,


Don't let others define you; BE YOURSELF!


Anjelica said...

Just curious- You say "many people" went to prep school. What are the statistics for public vs. private school enrollment in America? I've always thought that the vast majority of people attend public school, but now that I really think about it I actually don't know that to be true at all. Did you ever hypothesize what it would be like for you in the public school system?

fireonthemountain said...

According to that data above, there were 28,220 private schools in the 2007-08 school year. 87,190 of the schools were public and 3,560 were charter (public). So that means that more kids go to public school. Though, in some areas like where I grew up, there are an inordinate amount of parochial schools included in the mix of private, independent schools because a lot of people don't want to send their kids to public school. I went to private school because when I was little, I had advanced vocubulary, language, and reading skills. When my mom called the nearby public district and asked what they would do the answer was 'nothing'. This is a large reason why my parents worked hard to send me to private school. My mom even went back to school so we could be sure to have enough to send both me and my sister to private school. I'm very thankful for that chance. I'm pretty sure I would have fallen through the cracks at a public school. It works for some people, but it would not have worked in mine or my sister's case.