For the first three years of my school life, I had to take the bus, bus #1 in fact, to an elementary school far out of my neighborhood. How fortunate the bus stop existed across the street from my house. After moving to a new house, I could walk to a different school. I liked walking much more than sitting on a rickety bus.
Strangely, between two schools, I had the same gifted instructor. Mrs. Ruggles did not like me, and she displayed those sentiments early. I’m not sure how I ended up in the gifted program in the first place. But it began in kindergarten, and Mrs. Ruggles did not want me there.
Mrs. Ruggles was a young, pale, thin woman who had probably not dealt with children for too many years. Her tight, bony face represented her unwavering ability to make kids do things her way. The gifted program should open channels of creativity, but my earliest memories include extra book reports in addition to our regular studies. Naturally, I developed resentment toward this unnecessary burden. I suppressed the ill feelings toward Mrs. Ruggles irritable attitude for several years. But by the 5th and 6th grades, it became too much.
By this time, she actually introduced role-playing games into the gifted sessions, a real treat. One such game tested our decision-making abilities in a 16th century ship race across the ocean, and the other was an aviation race around the world. Obviously we wanted to win the race. I did not win, or I guess, my group did not win. It was no fault of theirs, of course. Mrs. Ruggles plotted against me like the dungeon master she portrayed. How many times can a person develop scurvy anyway? She continued to attack my shyness and stubborn attitude. But I became an angry little boy. I said some nasty and degrading things to her, and she ordered me to leave, and never to return.
A few weeks later we took a placement test for junior high classes. I’m positive I performed well, but the district did not place me in the gifted program. Thus, I was demoted to the middle-of-the-pack reading and math groups in my current class as well-- no more advanced studying-- at all. Initially I became insecure with the new situation. I had never known the “average” groups before. But with the average kids, I did gain a greater opportunity to flex my intellectual superiority. Another initial advantage was that I felt no need to challenge myself in any class. I didn’t have to do so. I became the prime candidate for partner assignments. This even attracted a few cute girls interested in improving their grades. I could’ve been God if I had known to act that way.
Fortunately, my banishment from the gifted program did not hurt me in any way. I say this now not having accomplished anything, and with nothing on the horizon. Only English had an “honors” system. I maintained honor roll grades, and that satisfied me. The gifted program in junior high and high school provided guest speakers, community service, and another résumé item for college applications. I adopted a positive stance about being intelligent, yet not weighed down with additional work. That’s quite a superiority complex, but I’m worth it.
One of the unnecessary parts of our 6th grade class was a large, gawky wooden box on wheels. We called it the school supplies store. But unlike any ordinary street vendor, this store resembled a courtroom bench. Imagine trying to buy a pencil from a kid who loomed eight feet taller than you. It was also rather dangerous for a barely five-foot 12-year-old to roll this thing down the hall each morning.
Regardless, the 6th grade class operated the store with 5th grade slave labor. Running for a store office position is akin to running for a student senate position. So at the end of the school year, 5th graders lined up to campaign for store president, vice president, treasurer... and possibly a fourth position. It must not have been that important, because I don't remember the name. I'm not sure what benefit I saw in running for office. Looking back, I'd say it was yet another delusion from a kid who thought this would be the back door into popular acceptance. So, I signed up to run for vice president. Why vice president? Perhaps in my early depressive stage, I did not see myself fit to be king. At the time, Dan Quayle was on his way to succeeding George Bush as vice president. Perhaps I secretly saw myself in Quayle-- a terrible public speaker with a knack for embarrassment. Oh how true that would become!
The actual details of the Election Day are not clear anymore. I remember having three opponents, and I clearly remember Matt Russell winning. He's a huge fraud, but that's neither here nor there. The campaign, a limited affair, culminated in a speech by each candidate in front of the entire class. Because I would not win the popular vote by agreeing with the socially popular candidates, I had to take a different stance on the issues. The issues were not very important either. I think one might have regarded a separate pencil vending machine and another dwelled on operation hours. Well, I'm not George Costanza. Doing the opposite did not work. In the question and answer session, the class proceeded to drill me with accusatory questions on my odd stance. I had no reasonable explanation. I became confused, disoriented, and tearful. In my incessant blabbering, I may have said something about my mother requiring me to take my brothers home directly after school. Everyone had his or her turn, of course. Watching Rob squirm is quite a pastime. Eventually, Mr. Christie, who I had a good rapport with, decided to put a stop to it. Mr. Corcoran congratulated me on absorbing so much abuse. He secretly enjoyed it. But perhaps he felt a twinge of abuse at what the teachers had unleashed upon me.
I didn't win... not even close. I voted for myself and finished last. A younger child would have cried, or perhaps ran home to mother. I harbored rage, even more rage that had consumed me on earlier incidents. I had hated many of my classmates for a long time. Now I seriously considered crushing Matt's skull with a sharp rock; and not just for this but for years of verbal abuse and destroying my fragile psyche to further his cause. Hopefully, he got nowhere in life, and currently receives regular rectal rapes from his cellmate.
I made a point never to purchase anything from the school store that next year. I resorted to slight-of-hand tricks in order to pick up stray supplies... perhaps from the floor, or someone else's desk.
This experience clearly soured my taste for public office. I never campaigned for anything, and I do mean anything, ever again. That includes both class and club offices. In fact, during my later years, I turned toward sabotaging campaigns if I disliked the person. It just goes to show that politics is not for outsiders.
My Feuds With Music Teachers
Great musicians broke the rules and set new standards, right? Music is not my strength. But, I still felt like I never applied to the rules those music teachers laid down. Usually, they laid down rules with asinine logic that resulted in no kid wanting to learn. Eventually, one teacher would confront me on such insurrection.
One would think there would be many small incidents leading up to the big meltdown, correct? I don't recall much apprehension in my early days. I sang the songs and dreamed of playing the big xylophone (the one with the wooden bars). I hated the glockenspiel-- too feminine, you see.
Music teachers did not stay long for some reason. At my first school, I had two in three years. And at my second school, I had two during the next four. The third grade music teacher had a peculiar style of dancing that did not win respect from any of the kids. It wasn't quite like the Time Warp. But, it contained several unnatural gyrations, and it was already tough to get me to put any effort into music class without making me laugh. The next teacher was never in the mood to make me laugh.
Mrs. L'Ecuyer, and then Miss Ballard after a divorce (understandable), strategically plotted against me as though I needed an attitude adjustment. This is not the "hidden talent" kind of adjustment, but rather the one filled with hatred. I'm not sure what drew her ire. I consider myself to be unremarkable, almost non-existent, and certainly not a boisterous attention-getter. During one lecture, where she made a point about "not screwing up," she accused me of rolling my eyes. Thirty people surrounded me and I get identified? When she yelled at me, I stood there expressionless with my arms crossed as I purposely rolled my eyes again. She spotted it. "Into my office!" she yelled. I believe she set me up, and tried to provoke me in order to get me in trouble. So I took the bait and marched into her "office." You see, her office doubled as an instrument storage closet. That's the kind of respect she deserved. Speaking of which, she did launch into a speech about respect, in which I acknowledged by nodding methodically. For some reason, she did not intimidate me. I would usually cave at this point, as I did many times before and after. Perhaps being randomly branded as a troublemaker increased my confidence in rallying against authority of which I did not approve.
The ultimate confrontation came a couple years later. It occurred during a session in which we were listening to a scratchy record of African slave songs. No one expressed interest in this record, despite its historical importance. One thing the reader should know about the elementary school music room: it was a sunken room. There were no chairs usually, just carpeted levels for sitting. So as we procured the record, I sat, and I yawned. I stretched my limbs. I felt a cold hand wrench my upper arm. Miss Ballard proceeded to forcefully drag me to the instrument storage closet (office). It was there where I spent the rest of class and several minutes afterwards. In those minutes, she unleashed the biggest verbal abuse a teacher ever directed at me. Once again, the issue of respect arose. She queried me as to my disrespect towards the record. I said I had none, but rather I was tired. She accused me of lying. She trapped with me with her next question: What importance do these songs have to me today? I replied these recordings did not apply to me. With some sort of Sherlock Holmes flourish, she concluded I was a racist. What was her motive? I have no idea. There was no way to lynch me for such a thing. I assured her I only discriminate by intelligence, which was much more applicable in a school environment. She became increasingly furious with my apparent lack of respect for others. The punishment consisted of a 500-word essay on slavery, which I had to write during recess time. What miffed me was that she never asked for the essay once I finished. I threw it away after a few weeks. For once, she had relented, and I don't know why. I should say that it felt nice to be an outlaw for once, even if it seemed random. I thought that was the last confrontation, so I considered myself the victor. But when I thought she backed down, she really had not.
We put on a musical in the 6th grade, called “Steamboatin’.” The point of a musical is a lot of singing, something for which I had no talent. I could sing a little. I thought I could. I signed up to try out for something other than the chorus. I had chosen 4:00 p.m. as a try-out time. But when I arrived at 3:50, everyone was leaving. I pushed for my try-out, at my scheduled time, however they tried to swindle me out of a part in the play. I sang, and Miss Ballard nodded methodically. She awarded a part beyond the chorus, a ragamuffin, or something like that, but refused to assign me a speaking role. Every other ragamuffin received lines, and some even sang, but not me. I guess I became the mute of the bunch. I complained much to the dismay of Miss Ballard. She gave me a second part as a roustabout, where I could sing “Muddy Water” with three others. I consider it another victory for me, due to my stubborn nature. I dreamt of smacking Ballard so hard to disfigure her appearance. She deserved it.
Of course, the feuds did not end with the end of elementary school. Mr. Brookshire, my junior high band instructor, had the nerve to award me a “C” for my work on the trombone my 7th grade year. No, I’m not the greatest player. And I had a distinct disadvantage. Some of the most talented musicians in our band chose to play the trombone. Furthermore, I never learned until years later my trombone measured shorter than regulation, making my slide positions inaccurate. I blame the man who sold it to us.
In high school, I took up marching band. That required the oversight of several superiors, all of which manipulated the facts in an attempt to force me out. The band contained more than 250 members, and I had the unfortunate luck of being singled out on numerous occasions. In particular, Darrell Cox, the percussion instructor, often wandered into the brass section to criticize my marching. Mr. Cox had no business telling me I was the worst marcher he’d ever seen. His business is keeping the inanimate marimba player on the sidelines in step. Cox lived very close to me, so I strongly considered some course of revenge. Cox’s own attitude problem ultimately provided my revenge. Then there was Jonathan Glauner. At the time he was the head drum major for the University of Kansas marching band. On a side note, that task required some unnatural abilities involving bending over backward while running forward. But Glauner trotted (in normal fashion) over to the high school every day, stood on the sidelines, marked time, stuffed blue plugs in his ears, and proceeded to tell us what we were doing wrong. This came from a man who would date the first-chair trumpet player, an all-stater, get her pregnant, and then disappear. Clearly his abuse of power will catch up with him, if it hasn’t already. Perhaps he is repulsed by his own musical prowess, and feels he needs to compensate elsewhere to restore his manhood. None of the instructors, even head honcho Jeff Smith, trusted me in any way. I kept on marching to spite them, though I dropped concert band so I could take art classes. Before my senior year, they tried their best to kick me out. Because my family vacationed at a time-share condo in August (during summer rehearsals), they assumed I had dropped the class. But I had not, and I petitioned hard to correct their thinking. I’m certain they were not glad to see me.
I determined college would be the start of a new identity. Of course, people can see right through that. All of a sudden, I encountered the same depression I had in junior high. I’m not sure where it began, because I thought I was better than everyone else. Even with my inability to socialize, I could still find solace in this new medium called the internet.
All of my problems started with my roommate, Paul Warren. It didn’t take long to learn he could do no wrong. He graduated high school early and simultaneously earned an associates degree before entering college. He finished a double major in three years. Who can compete with that? My inadequacies certainly overtook my ego. Who places a senior with a freshman in a dorm room anyway? Eli Lilly hired Paul (I know, because I took the phone call) in something that crossed between systems analyst and marketing.
It was much more obvious that I had a supreme level of sophistication than the country boys that seemed to dominate my floor. I made subtle hints at that from the start. But of course, I remained as withdrawn as possible. I had decided that academics and a thirst for knowledge would be primary. I felt the administration plotted against me because I came from another Big XII town. Though I was placed in the advanced English classes, I was told to take Calculus I again. I had passes Calculus I and II in high school. My math scores on the SAT and ACT were higher than my other categories. I should’ve challenged, but did not know how. In the English classes, I was God. Everywhere else, I was nobody. I failed the calculus class, despite that I possessed more advanced knowledge than my classmates. The teacher probably didn’t comprehend my better ways of solving problems because it wasn’t in the relevant text. I was terrible at chemistry in high school, and aced calculus. But the roles reversed in college. My college chemistry grades easily topped my math grades. I considered myself to be losing intelligence, because I found concepts more difficult to grasp than ever before. I’m certain these were false teachings designed to overthrow my massive ego.
Meanwhile, the social situation grew worse. Paul’s girlfriend stayed over frequently. Once, I walked in on them having sex. That’s an awkward moment. Plus, no one on the floor liked me. I’ll explain in more detail later how I found my place online, where I could create a new identity among other misfits. Interaction in reality accelerated my pulse rate and shortened my breath. Unfortunately, this happened more than I wanted to because our floor was dead-set on doing things together. We did get the best tables in the cafeteria this way. We also had a sister floor. Seven male floors competed for the right to associate with three female floors. Despite my presence, we got the same sister floor both years. I ended the first semester on academic probation and with a possible criminal record, which I’ll explain in detail as well. I threatened suicide, even though I knew I could just keep re-inventing myself in another location until I found one that worked. But I didn’t know if that would ever come to fruition.
I knew very well the pictures I took were to be used illegally. They were for fake IDs. Josh Montgomery told me from the start. The story about a private party was our official alibi. But the police probably hadn’t bought it.
Sure enough, a few days later, Josh ran into my room and promptly destroyed the film we used. He seemed exceedingly tense, as if he had been on a cocaine binge. He tossed the film in my trash can and said the police raided his room. They took his computer and file cabinet. He indicated they would probably visit me next. What a comfort. He told me to surrender my camera since the evidence had been destroyed. I reasoned if I cooperated, I wouldn’t be arrested as an accessory.
I fell asleep before the police came at 1:00 a.m. Fortunately, my roommate spent the night at his girlfriend’s room. He would’ve been in for a surprise. I locked my door, as I usually did, which became a headache for the police. I couldn’t hear their pounding, so they had to wake the resident assistant who carried the master key. They entered, and shined a flashlight in my face. The search warrant listed my height incorrectly. They also had the previous day’s date since they entered past midnight. I chose not to challenge them on this issue, which seemed wise. Both officers were female, and one could’ve challenged a linebacker for his starting job. Neither were in a good mood. They asked for the camera and film immediately. I relented like the weakling I had become so many times before. They weren’t satisfied with my cooperativeness. So they searched every square inch of my room, as well as my computer. They took some unopened film. After thirty minutes, they left with their precious evidence, my possessions.
I never heard from them again, and I guess they didn’t have a case. There was no finished product. I never asked for my camera back either. They would’ve denied me anyway. It probably sold for two dollars at a police auction. But of course, I still had to face the consequences of my floor mates. Those who knew what happened expressed shock. My resident assistant held deep resentment towards me, probably for waking him up in the middle of the night. He was right to do so. My roommate dared to question my activities in a motherly manner. I conquered his remark with some disparaging comments about his hypocrisy. He didn’t seem to understand even though I clearly won the argument. Josh apologized for getting me involved. But it was no fault of his. I chose to associate with him in high school and continued to associate with him in college, despite his excess. I knew the risks. It seems his floor had an informant who reported the “crime in progress.” I felt the way the police broke it up was too severe. So Rob is branded a troublemaker. But the police raid didn’t give me any allure of danger. Just another victory against the people who plot against me.
When I failed at my attempt to master the atmospheric sciences (I still felt the school plotted to remove me), I found myself in academic limbo. At the very least, I would have to add on an extra semester due to the grades the faculty assigned me. I considered several options. The first: quit school, and make my life among the blue-collar worker or transient. The second involved finding a new course of study. It would have to be easy, and require no problem-solving skills whatsoever. Hello, journalism. My academic savior appeared. Although the possibilities for employment with a journalism degree are limited, I felt I could at least finish college without relying on medication. I completed the entire journalism program (broadcast sequence) in five semesters. Now journalism does have its difficulties, but at the time, the good side outweighed the bad. For example, journalism does not require any of the following skills:
In other words, if you’re a thief, pimp, conniving son of a bitch, or just a complete airhead with no comprehensive motor skills, you can survive in journalism. And I did just that. Now, to get by those reporting classes I required for graduation, I had to take a few liberties with stories to trump my social panic skills. Where no story existed, I invented one. I didn’t need to have a point or convey relevancy. The story needed to have one or two interviews, some cutaway shots, and there you go.
One might point out that number six does not belong on the above list. Of course a journalist needs to have a basic vocabulary, just not a large one. Journalists are not trained to use big words on television, and in radio. They’re hard to pronounce, and the average American probably does not know their meaning anyway. In the industry’s unofficial terminology, it’s called “being conversational.” It ruined my ability to write academically. However, I would not have survived in any other major. I graduated in 1999 with the appropriate B.S. in Journalism, my life of $40,000 salaries set in stone.