Monday, July 11, 2005

My Gold Star

It seems to me that the world is fairly evenly divided: you’re either the sort of person who gets gold stars or you’re not.

You can call it sour grapes, I suppose, as this observation comes from someone who’s always considered himself to be on the non-gold star side of the fence. In fact, I can recall one time that my parents were called into my school, not for anything I’d actually done, but for what was referred to as “an undesirable attitude.”

Can you imagine anyone having a problem with my attitude? I swear it’s true, though.

My father, never more uncomfortable than when called upon to defend something I said or did, found himself for once in his favorite place: arguing with the guy who runs the joint. This was the sort of thing that always truly delighted him, that got his engine going. There was nothing my father liked better than finding the chink in the armor of whoever “ran the joint” and then driving a stake through his heart, whether it meant arguing over the discount coupon for a box of donuts (these arguments usually ended up with the manager giving him the box for free in the hope that this appeasement would encourage him to leave) or, better still, staring down the principal of his crazy kid’s school.

No doubt he’d dreaded the confrontation and assumed he’d have to sit through a litany of my misdeeds, until the moment that the guy who ran the joint said the magic word “attitude.” I can swear that, no sooner had the word finished being pronounced, my father began to sniff the air as if he now sensed blood in the water. You could almost see his pulse begin to race as adrenalin flooded his now endorphin-infested bloodstream. You see, if the principal had something concrete to complain about, if he’d brought to the table something like vandalism or tardiness, he’d have won my father over. Being intimately familiar with my general behavior on a daily basis, he was only too willing to believe I was capable of anything.

But to drag him out here and make him take time off from work and then deliver a complaint about my “attitude”? I could already see the gears turning in his head. Can you see an “attitude”? Can you hold it in your hands? To my father, an eminently practical man, it was like arguing about the discount coupon for a box of invisible donuts.

Before my father had even had a chance to reply there was a subtle exchange of glances that lasted only a moment, but in that moment the guy who ran the joint had been bested. And he knew it. Somehow, inexplicably, in a turnabout that had happened so fast the principal was probably grasping his desk for balance, the hunter had become the hunted.

Like Clarence Darrow, my father rose from his chair with an air of supreme confidence that I had rarely witnessed in anyone, before or since. “Well, you see,” my father began, the principal already crestfallen behind his now sad and pitiable desk, its veneer of authority having completely evaporated in the face of what was only the beginning of the onslaught, “I could understand it if, you know, my son had done something you could show me…” The principal clearly had no idea who he’d been dealing with. Here he had called in a parent he’d assumed would share his disdain for undesirable attitudes, as the adults he saw on a daily basis surely did. Instead, he’d called his own doom down upon his head in the form of a man who, for some reason, seemed to be arguing with him with a passion that wouldn’t have been out of place at the Scopes trial. As far as my father was concerned, at this moment I was both Leopold and Loeb. At this moment, Plato himself would have been hard pressed to defend the existence of the human soul.

It was the last time either of my parents would ever receive a complaint about my attitude problem. Well, from that school anyway. It was the day that the principal learned that he’d had no idea what an attitude problem really was. And it was the day that my father imparted to me his most valuable lesson: The guy who runs the joint is always wrong, and the donuts of Life are never unattainable, so long as you have passion and are willing to embarrass yourself in public.


Blogger B said...

PUDDINHEAD, you've done it again.
very well written, i enjoy reading stuff you write :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009 8:03:00 PM  

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