I don’t think anyone has exceedingly great memories of middle school. At that age, everyone seemed desperate to carve out an identity. I struggled too because I didn’t think I had a memorable personality. People told me to “just be yourself” but it turns out short, skinny and docile wasn’t a recipe for success. I needed to stick out. So I went through about a 2 year phase where I would try out different gimmicks. My first gimmick was flipping a coin. I thought that’d make me seem bad-ass. Like I was Two-Face. People would be looking at me saying, “Ooh he’s such a brooding intellect that he needs a coin to make decisions for him.” Heads: I’d get chicken nuggets for lunch, Tails: Mexican pizza.
I learned one cardinal rule of being a nerd. Don’t flash your cash. All the bullies at school knew I had quarters. That year I spent a lot of time upside down.
After that there was about a two-week span where I would always have licorice. You’d see me in the hallway and I’d just be chomping on some Twizzlers. Little chunks of licorice would always be getting stuck in my braces. I really have no idea what the purpose of that was. In retrospect it was kind of a creepy way to get people to talk to me. “I’ve got candy. Want to play tether-ball?” Good thing I couldn’t grow a mustache back then or I’d probably be on a watch list by now.
None of those gimmicks worked so I thought I needed to do a drastic turnaround. I had so much rage, but I felt trapped…like a rat in a cage. So one day I came into school wearing a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt. It was that black one Billy Corgan used to wear that said “Zero.”
It’s amazing how much really can be expressed in a T-shirt. That t-shirt summed up how I felt about the world then. That we’re all just cogs in this suburban machine, man! I wore the shirt proudly for exactly 47 minutes. Then some eighth grader was walking down the hall, saw me and said, “Zero? Is that the number of push-ups you can do?” That shirt never saw the light of day again. It still somewhere in the bowels of my dresser drawer along with an Austin 3:16 t-shirt and an Amos Zeroue jersey.
I’m still looking for that gimmick, that thing that makes me unique. My new thing is using old-timey metaphors. I watched True Grit about a month ago and now I say stuff like cowboys used to say. I’ll be at work and someone’s telling me about some report:
Co-Worker: These numbers seem to indicate that gross margin is up for the quarter.
Me: Well if a cat has kittens in the oven, that don’t make ‘em biscuits!
Me: You know what son? Talking to you’s like hollerin’ in a sawmill.
Co-Worker: Are you looking at the same excel sheet as me?
Me: Con sarn it! You best be as silent as watersnake ‘for I give ya’ a bunch of five to yer jabberbox! (spittoon ding)