I grew up shy and self-conscious. Chalk most of that up to the fact that I entertained two older siblings–it bears mentioning that both were and are gingers–who made damned-sure that I felt as fat as I was. But, I admit, at least part of my disposition was natural. I was a shy kid with a bit of a body-image issue, one exacerbated exponentially by two older siblings who, it bears repeating, were and are unrepentant gingers. This prepubescent shyness caused sundry problems for the young me; problems that continue to haunt me in the same way vestigial organs haunt their old stomping grounds–always there, never useful.
One of the byproducts of shyness is friendlessness. One of the byproducts of friendlessness is never getting invited over to other people’s houses. Truth is, I never learned how to interact with people. I grew up wild, untouched by etiquette. I was not rude, merely raw–something of a savage. Now I don’t mean to exaggerate my plight, but clearly there is a subtext to social interaction–a set of unspoken expectations–and failure to learn them makes things, well, awkward.
To other kids, I was entertaining. I had wildly aberrant views on religion, sex, and feces. Take feces, for example: When I was younger, my siblings and I got rewarded, in the form of candy, for pooping. Call it incentive. We called it pooter treats. Our paradigm for bathroom etiquette and expectation–poop for treats, quid pro quo–unprepared us for the real world of school bathrooms. See, my brother plopped one out in the school bathroom. Undoubtedly, he was satisfied with himself for the good job he had done. The only hiccup was how on earth he was supposed to collect his reward, his pooter treat, as it were. See, kids are conniving bastards when candy is involved, so our parents needed to inspect the evidence before doling out a reward–no goods, no candy. My brother, knowing this, decided that the only logical thing to do was to scoop his deed into a brown toilet-paper roll, wrap it in toilet paper, stow it in his lunchbox until he got home, plop the contents into the toilet at home, and demand his pooter treats for a job well done. It was logical. Yet, what would you think if you confiscated a piece of shit wrapped in toilet paper in a first-grader’s lunchbox? Yeah, I thought so.
It is all about perspective. You can never judge something in isolation, you need a frame of reference. Example: My brother and I used to nurture the yellow film on our teeth by neglecting to brush. We would scrape it off with our fingernails and compare the amount. We called it imperial scum. We thought we were normal. And why not? We had no frame of reference. I can hear some of my readers scoffing at what they consider poor parenting. Scoff if you like at the laissez-faire formula, but it allowed me to make my own mistakes and it allowed me to be weird. As Robert Frost would say: That has made all the difference. But I digress. Poor parenting notwithstanding, the fact that my brother and I mistook abnormal for normal has caused many social missteps for the both of us (see: pooter treats).
I am not trying to demonize my upbringing. It is the reason I am the way I am. I appreciate it. However, there are certain consequences for being a former savage. When I have to converse with people in situations where normalcy is expected, I still find it difficult. I grew up, by and large, with one personality. Most people tend to at least two; one for business and one for private. It is the business settings that throw me for a loop. Job interviews are tough. During one such interview a few years ago, I asked a Sears manager if being a Sears manager was what he had wanted to do when he grew up and, if not, what was. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. In fact, he told me this: You don’t have to be intelligent to get this job. You just need common sense. I honestly did not know I was being a condescending little prick.
Meeting other peoples’ parents is another business situation. You can’t act like yourself, especially if yourself is like myself. See, I can’t very well strike up a conversation about the implications of pooter treats on a child’s maturation; it is decidedly not dinner table acceptable. Instead, I flounder around with banal answers to banal questions. It is truly a skill to spice-up answers to stock questions. And so, it’s tough to relate over mashed potatoes and butternut squash when all I can think of is what I used to have to do for dessert. If I was being too delicate, let me be blunt: I used to have to take a shit for dessert. This is about pooter treats, remember?
In conclusion: I was chubby; afraid to ask my dad for deodorant, so I stunk up fifth grade; and toting bad breath until high school because I did not know I was supposed to brush my tongue, too. Even now, I can only effectively use a beard-trimmer because the time to ask my father how to manage a close-shave is five years old. I still feel like an animal at posh restaurants because I’ve hardly learned regular etiquette, let alone high-highfalutin etiquette. But, at least I’ve learned to drop a deuce without expecting a treat in return. Though, it would be nice once in a while…for old times’ sake.