Friday, January 4, 2008

The politics of adolescence.

Well, the Iowa caucuses were last night, and if I wanted to I could analyze the results for you here. However, as I recently read in Newsweek, only 20% of Americans care about politics whatsoever, and everybody else would rather do or read about anything else. Why alienate 4 of my 5 readers by launching into one of my diatribes when obviously, you know how I feel in particular about the results of the Republican caucus?

I will say that this constant focus on politics has me thinking about Washington, D.C. a lot lately. I have lived there at different times in my life, for a total of about 10 years. I first moved there from Atlanta when I was 10, left for Paris for a couple of years and came back for the first two years of high school before moving to California, then came back later for law school and a few years with my first firm before moving back to London. I’ve always loved Washington, and think it’s a great place to live even if it is completely marinated in politics. That said, my first move to Washington marked the start of a few years of if not being bullied, at least being ostracized by some of my fellow middle schoolers/junior highers.

Except it did start with good, old-fashioned bullying. When we first moved north, it was winter and my mother was unable to secure me a spot in a private school. So she did what any mom would do when faced with one of the worst public school systems going: she sent me to the same public school that the president’s daughter attended. I made friends, but there were still a few girls who decided quickly that they did not like me. Sadly, Amy Carter’s secret service detail didn’t extend to protecting fellow Georgians.

One day, bad luck had it that I was the last one to leave the classroom. As I started toward the door, a girl appeared in the doorway to block my path. I recognized her as the older sister of a girl in my class: lank blonde hair framing a red, tautly plump face with a porcine nose that lifted her top lip so her small, square teeth were perennially exposed. She was a big girl, and she exuded the full authority of a middle school bully as she blocked my exit.

“You’re a dirty redneck,” she announced, reaching toward me. I stepped back, denying her assertion, “I’m not a redneck!” I thought that if this girl knew what a redneck really was, she would know that she fell quite squarely within the definition.

“Oh, you are,” she said, and raked the fingernails of both hands down my cheeks.

The next day, our class had its weekly afternoon of art classes at the Duke Ellington School. When classes were over, I started my walk home the few blocks to our house in Georgetown. It was soon clear I was being followed, as two girls behind me began plucking at the back of my coat and trying to step on the back of my shoes.

Irritated, and unschooled in the niceties of avoiding physical conflict, I whirled around to face them. There stood the equally beefy younger sister of the girl who had scratched my face the day before, and her tough, wiry friend. I spouted off some confrontational comment, spurring the flunky friend to grab my arms and pin then behind me. The red-faced future resident of Cell Block H saw her opportunity and didn’t waste it. She drew her arm back and threw a solid punch to my nose, breaking it.

When my mother reported what had happened the next day, nothing much happened to the girls. They each received an in-school suspension of one day; probably not enough to deter future derelict behavior and just enough that I was terrified of future repercussions.

Thankfully, nothing further ever materialized, and the next year I found myself safely ensconced back in a private school where I would not be beaten up again. Instead began the on-again, off-again emotional abuse reserved by adolescent girls for each other, a phenomenon apparently well-documented in the book “Queen Bees and Wanna-Bes” by one of my girlfriends from those years. But that is a story for another time, and involves my telling you how I wish I were Tina Fey.

1 comment:

David James said...

Great story (well, not great in the outcome sense, but you know what I mean). I hate kids sometimes. One of Brian's schoolmates called him a terrible name (not a racial slur), which really hurt his feelings. I don't think really understand what the kid was saying but he was sad about the encounter and reluctant to talk about it. I swear, it took every ounce of restraint to keep from driving to school the next day and turning into that insane person who confronts a bullying second grader ("hey you fat piece of shit, what's your fucking problem?"). I *know* that's the wrong thing to do but it frustrates me because I also know that school's are ineffective at dealing with stuff like this.

BTW, I love Tina Fey.