Tag Archives: Growing Up

The Ballad of Poor Richard

I once appealed to the universe, beseeching it to take my father’s life so that I might, in return, receive a holographic Blastoise Pokemon card (If you do not recall the story, read about it here).  That plea I made, unforgivable as it was, did not mark the end of my pocket-monster-inspired antics.  The forthcoming story acts as a pseudo-sequel, and it picks up roughly a year after the events of Pokemon Patricide:

It was 5th grade.  The Pokemon fetishism that rapt the 4th grade consciousness had inexplicably dwindled, no doubt supplanted by gel pens, Old Navy sweater-vests, Tomagatchis, hair-bleach for white-boys, and, of course, a growing sense of maturation.  Indeed, most of the kids in 5th grade, fickle creatures incapable of anything but fleeting adoration, had no qualms about treating their pocket-monsters like lint and abandoning them forever.  But it wasn’t a simple disenchantment with Pokemon; no, there was a collective backlash against it.  Pokemon became stigmatized as unsophisticated and infantile.  And so, unable to divorce myself from my Pokemaniac impulses, and equally unfit to embrace a pariah’s existence, Pokemon became my mistress.

I made sweet, shameful love to my mistress in the back-corners of classrooms.  I forewent the urinals on bathroom breaks, opting instead to take my mistress into the stalls with me and shuffle her delicately.  At home, I adored her in my bedroom.  However, love her as I did, I grew bored of her.  She needed an injection of something new.  She needed to be traded.

I needn’t tell you the inherent difficulty of trading Pokemon cards in school.  It had always been a black-market and clandestine affair, appropriate only in huddles during recess or at crowded tables during lunch.  But 5th grade saw a new hurdle.  No one can be trusted.  There was no longer solidarity among the kids, yet the administration was still as suppressive as ever.  How, then, in that environment was I going to negotiate a Pokemon trade?

The answer came in the form of a new kid.  For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call him Poor Richard Lotruck.  Poor Richard, a Tom Cruise doppelganger if I ever saw one, immediately warmed-up to me.  We became fast friends.  I told him everything, even about my mistress and how embarrassed I was about her…how I had never, and would never, tell anyone else about her.  For my candor, he returned in kind.

He told me about all the tigers he had at home.  When we learned about colorblindness, I was enamored with the idea, and he confided to me that he was, in fact, colorblind.  He told me about a spaceship he and his dad were making.  And, most importantly of all, he told me about the exhaustive collection of Pokemon cards he had.  I was bewitched:  He owned a copy, often duplicate copies, of seemingly every card I was interested in!  And there was one card I was particularly interested in…a Dark Raichu.ImageWell, Poor Richard and I got to haggling about what I could give him in return for one of his countless Dark Raichu cards.  I was a bit confused as to why he would want any of my cards, seeing as he already had copies of them all, but I wasn’t in a mood to ask questions, fearing that I would lose my Pokemon confidant.  And so, as per Poor Richard’s request, I brought to school a collection of my ten best Pokemon cards.

Poor Richard and I did not have every class together, but we did share a classroom, albeit at different times during the day.  And so, Poor Richard devised an ingenious plan:  He would look over my cards during his class, and then, in true covert fashion, he would nestle the cards on a specific page in the book beneath his seat.  Then, when I entered the class directly after he left, I could surreptitiously retrieve my cards by flipping to that page and removing them.  Sure, the plan seemed a bit intricate, but I dug it.

And so, I handed him my collection of cards.  He gave them a quick study, pocketed them, then told me they would be on page 497 when he was done.  I asked if I could see the Dark Raichu card.  You’ll never believe it, but he had forgotten to bring the card!  I said it was okay and that he could just bring it tomorrow.  We went our separate ways.

When my class was over, I hustled to Poor Richard’s classroom.  I saw him as he walked out.  We made eye contact, and he winked at me.  I entered the room, located Poor Richard’s chair, snatched the book, opened it to page 497, and gasped.  The cards were not there.  Perhaps Poor Richard mistakenly put the cards on a different page?  I held the spine of the book, and then shook it violently.  Nothing fell out.

Later that day, I confronted Poor Richard.  I told him that my cards weren’t there.  A caricature of shock and empathy looked back at me as he explained how he had put the cards on page 497, how he had no idea what happened to them, and how, regrettably, he could not give me the Dark Raichu card because I had no cards to trade for it.  I told him I understood and he seemed relieved.

I did understand.  I understood that I had been played like a goddamn fiddle.  I understood that Poor Richard was a Tom-Cruise-looking little shit who took advantage of my vulnerable combination of trust and fear.  I understood that he knew that I wouldn’t tell on him because he knew how embarrassed I was to still like Pokemon.  I did understand…that Poor Richard Lotruck had to die.

But since I wasn’t in the murdering mood, I settled for a healthy, festering, consuming appetite for revenge.  Yes, I devoted the rest of 5th grade to biding my time until I could strike back at Poor Richard.  The waiting was not easy, nor was pretending to still be his friend.  I had to listen to his lies, act as if I was enthralled by his grandeur, and hold my tongue and fist as I saw his self-satisfied smugness.  Luckily for me, Poor Richard was an idiot.  An admirable con-artist?  Maybe.  An unbelievably daft student?  Most certainly.  Every time his idiocy was reaffirmed by his report card, my revenge hunger-pangs quelled a bit.  It was delightful to see him fail.

Time went by and it was almost the end of the year.  The summer was approaching quickly, and Poor Richard was tip-toeing towards a precarious impasse:  Would he become next year’s stupidest 6th grader?  Or would he delay that inevitability for one year in order to double-down as 5th grade’s oldest idiot?

I saw my chance to make that decision for him.  See, we had a group project.  The group was Poor Richard, two friends of mine, and me.  We finished the project.  Naturally, Poor Richard contributed nothing.  There is, however, a gentleman’s rule that, when it comes to evaluating group members for a project, one should always give full credit.  I broke that gentleman’s rule and, behind Poor Richard’s back, convinced the other two group members to break it as well.  We all gave Poor Richard zeros.  When the teacher asked to see us after class in order to affirm that what we wrote was true, we did not back down.  Poor Richard Lotruck got held back and I…I was the straw that broke that camel’s back.

Moral:  Don’t mess with my Pokemon, asshole.

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Trading Candy for Poop: The Story of my Life

From left to right: Me, two slices of gingerbread.

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.

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