May 22, 2008

The Jabberwocky Incident

















One thing I enjoy doing most is talking with the Esq: he knows way more than I do and has perfect comedic timing. I keep trying to coax this out in social situations, yet he remains reticent--or he probably thinks he's above performing like a monkey for my friends, but I strongly disagree. I noticed this week that we have very tangential conversations, often with mixed results, and I believe it's mostly my fault. If the conversation begins with the Esq talking about the Olympics and the political ramifications behind it, I will somehow steer the topic towards something more personal ("China is scary!" or "I want a panda!" is how it usually begins), and then we'll be on a tangent about celebrity Olympians I've known (so very many), and then suddenly we're discussing our favorite meals involving chicken and how I'm hungryyyy. It's great that we cover a lot of ground in our exchanges, but find that the 'tangential' part is probably me and ADHD. I also appreciate that the Esq just goes there with me, wherever 'there' is, with a resigned but optimistic shrug.

This information is relevant only because of a similar conversation we had the other night. We started discussing mixed martial arts, and ended up talking about my Sex Education class with Mrs. Jackson in the sixth grade. We were talking about Josh and his brother doing MMA training, and I observed that the Esq would inevitably train again, too. I wondered out loud what the Esq would use for a name, if he were a famous MMA fighter; my big ideas were The Norwegian Something-or-Other, and The Swedish Stick. He didn't like those. He suggested The Jabberwocky, which made me laugh because I've seen the MMA crowds with my own two eyes: not quite the Lewis Carroll types. I said, "There's no way anyone would get it--I would be the only person in the stadium who had read Lewis Carroll." He still thought it was a good name; I secretly agreed.

The Jabberwocky is the esteemed Lewis Caroll's nonsensical poem that brought about some of my favorite made-up words: Jubjub, which is a desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion (I know a few girls like that), and mimsy, a combination of 'miserable' and 'flimsy'. I knew this poem--and everything about its' author and inception--by heart, because I loved it and had chosen it for my poem presentation in Mrs. Jackson's 6th-grade reading class. Everyone had to choose something, and I wanted something spectacular. I memorized the entire thing, and practiced it for hours. I walked into my classroom the next day with total confidence, because I knew no one else would have chosen something so difficult. As I wrote in my journal, 15 years later, 'I wanted to rock before I even knew what that meant.' The A-crowd sat in the middle, and I was in the back; I looked over their shoulders and saw the book of poetry they had all selected from. They put the book down on the desk next to mine and forgot about it. Curious, I opened it up and was unimpressed; most of the poems rhymed, and not in a smart way ('chocolate' and 'thought of' do not rhyme), and the accompanying pictures were juvenile. We were about six kids in when I realized that 90% of the classroom had chosen poems out of the same book; I could tell from the inside jokes that they had all studied together. Each poem was short, delivered without emotion, and drowned out by giggles; each person walked back to their desks and got high-fived by someone else. It was like a poetry-for-retards club that I wasn't invited to; that is when I started to panic.

I immediately felt that red-hot flush of pre-teen self-awareness, from the realization that I was excluded to the more awful realization that my isolation would show the minute I gave my presentation. I knew how it would all go down, and had already decided to describe it as 'The Jabberwocky Incident' in my memoirs. My panic rose as my sense of self faded, my brown skin blending in with brown walls, brown carpeting, and a scratched brown desk. My name was called. I grabbed the 'cool kid' book--flipped to a short poem--and retained nothing. I thought reading from the same book would soften the blow; I thought it would make me look like I'd at least had the same idea. I didn't want to look too smart. I mean, what sixth grader reads fucked-up Lewis Carroll poems for fun? Why didn't my parents insist on Judy Blume instead of Tom Robbins? Why wasn't I reading straight from Sweet Valley High? Those knuckle-dragging morons would never understand The Jabberwocky; I'd be doing them a service by dumbing it down a bit. So that's what I did. I read the shortest, most obtuse poem that ever barely lived; if the poem was on life support before I read it, that thing was dead by the time I finished. My face was bright red the whole time, and there were no high-fives afterwards. I had a brief moment of hope that my teacher would grade me on picking the most popular book of poetry--see how unremarkable I can be?--but I saw she was just confused. She knew what poem I had originally picked, and also knew how smart I was; I could tell she was disappointed, which paled in comparison to my internal shrieking shame. I got a C on the presentation, and then lied to my parents about it.

Mrs. Jackson also taught the dreaded Sex Education; she was a great teacher, though, because she taught the class with an eyeroll. We knew she didn't want to be there, either, teaching us about body parts we couldn't even find, much less care about. She would say stuff like, "PEOPLE--IT. IS. NOT. A. BONE. YOU CAN EITHER CALL IT A 'PENIS' *pause for giggles* OR JUST GIGGLE EVERY TIME I SAY IT." The Esq and I couldn't stop laughing, thinking about how absolutely heinous Sex Ed had been.

I remembered the Question Box Day, and that Amy Cooper sat in front of me; she was a popular blond, but our moms were friends. She turned around and asked me how to spell the word 'orgasm'--she wanted to know the proper spelling, so she could properly misspell the word, therefore hiding her identity. I distinctly recall thinking, if you want anonymity, ditch the neon orange Post-Its that no one else has, and forget about spelling. I also remember she was left-handed, because when she showed me her question, I laughed out loud; she'd used her right hand for obscurity, so it looked like she had written with a special vibrating pen: "Whut es an fake orgasim?" said the unrecognizable scrawl. I found her question ridiculous, for a number of reasons:

1) Why misspell anything? How does that masquerade you in any way?
2) 'Es'? Why ask the question in anything other than English?
3) 'An' fake orgasm? Is there a purpose to butchering indefinite articles when no one really cares?

What made me laugh the hardest was the F in FAKE and the G in ORGASM were turned backwards, as though some wayward 4-year old with pressing questions about sexuality had infiltrated our sixth-grade classroom. Amy asked for my advice--should she pass the question up, or just drop it? Honestly, I felt at the time like she could have gone home, looked up orgasm in the dictionary, and just assumed it was a fake one of those--but not having a clear understanding of what an orgasm was, myself, I was kind of curious. So I threw her under the bus.

"Should you? Of course you should! No one will even know--I can't even tell it's your handwriting, it looks more like Kari's handwriting, and I think Kari actually writes some of her letters backwards, which is convenient... here, let me pass it for you, then you won't look like the culprit--oh, you're welcome, you are so brave." Mrs. Jackson opened Amy's Day-Glo orange Post-It, stifled a laugh, and said something about a fake orgasm being inevitable. Then she laughed and left the room to compose herself; when she came back, red-faced and watery-eyed (I think she went next door and had a laugh with Mr. Speaker), she said, "Well, I guess a fake orgasm is the opposite of an orgasm. And if you want to know what an orgasm is, I invite you to look it up in the dictionary--it's difficult to explain, since it's different for everyone, but I assure you that stuff will be covered in eighth grade Health." Eighth grade?! Since I didn't want to look it up, I couldn't believe it would be two more years until I would find out what an orgasm was; ironically, it was anti-climactic.

It was this memory that jogged another one, which was of our fourth/fifth grade Sex Education class. It wasn't that educational, since everyone avoided looking at the see-through humans on the overhead projector, as well as each other. It was more of a Body Parts Show- and-Tell combined with "And Baby Makes Three!", served with a steaming side of abstinence. It wasn't about SEX, whatever the hell that was. I understood body part functions, how babies were made, and that a girl with braces + a guy with braces =fun that morphs into disaster. What I was less certain of was, why would anyone--like our teachers and parents--want to do that with anyone else? It sounded sweaty, hot, and dirty. Unbeknownst to me, that was the actual answer I was looking for, but I was too young (and uninterested) to really care. I remember my disappointment in my teacher at the time--his name was Mr. Storkman. I felt--and I think I speak for all of us, really--like he let us down in a way, with his name being Mr. Storkman and all. I assumed he had the inside scoop on all the Sex Ed stuff, and would know how to make it less painful or embarrassing. When he started talking earnestly, and in great detail, about his children being born (out of his wife's you-know-what), I realized my mistake. The rapturous look he had while talking about his son bursting forth into the world via vaginal slip-and-slide was too much for me to handle. I was sent out of the classroom because I could not stop giggling; I had an image in my mind of his wife's enormous vagina, pushing out these giant white eggs, and Stork the Dorkman catching them in his beak and flying away. He told me later that I would understand the beautiful gift of childbirth, if I decided to go that route, and I would see that he was right. I decided I wanted nothing to do with my ladyparts from then on. That lasted six years, until high school; and sadly, I didn't get the real definition of an 'orgasm' until a few years after THAT, ifyouknowwhatImean.

Mrs. Jackson was right about inevitability; Mr. Storkman was right, too--childbirth was a bitch, but it was also really beautiful. And yes, this awesome trip down memory lane was brought on by a conversation about mixed martial arts with the Esq. As I said, that's the great thing about him--he goes there with me, and facilitates the memory. He adds laughter where laughter is lacking, and asks the right questions; he helps me make my memories into stories. I'm sure he'll come up with some meta-cool fighter name someday, something snazzy and marketable--but to me, he'll always be my adorable Norwegian Something-or-Other.


3 comments:

FreNeTic said...

Do they still call it Sex Ed? When I did my coop, it was 'Life & Family Education', implying all the most feared consequences of sex in a cumbersome title.

And I wasn't ready for the day the boys and girls were seperated and I found myself on a panel of adult 'experts' fielding the same kind of questions you kids were posing.

LilRed said...

Oh, Ms. Jackson and sixth grade Health! What a trip down memory lane! I had her for 8th grade too.

Doubtful she shared the joke with Mr. Spieker-that guy used to be a priest and had zero sense of humor. He was the one who told me I was evil and going to hell for uncontrollably laughing at him when he was singing folk songs and playing guitar. What an ass.

And Amy sure learned where babies came from-didn't her older sister get pg in high school? Do you see their mom anymore?

Snotty McSnotterson said...

Mom sees Jane every once in a while--I don't know that her sister got preggers, I think they were just "troubled" after their dad left. He was a first-class DICK, I remember THAT much. I hated going to her house, because he was always such an asshole to us. I was secretly glad when he took off and left his family like a fucking coward.

I liked Mr. Speaker, but he never called me 'evil'. Maybe I don't like him so much anymore!