Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fatman's Lament

Third Grade was a banner year of badness for me. I had a horrid teacher who enjoyed humiliating children who dared to be bored with her endless "letter packets", and the friends I had filled my head with dirty jokes.

"Rectum? Dang near killed 'em!"

"Ah, but one of these ladies is a Cannibal!"

"Ma'am, I'm just making sure there ain't no BEES in this one!"

Since all I was learning in the public school seemed to be things better left between the covers of "Totally Gross Jokes #37", my parents decided to send me to a private, Christian school.

Fourth Grade was considered an "adjustment year". Dad had graduated from teaching Grand Canyon College's teaching school with my teacher, and they attributed all of my behavior problems to a need for discipline after so much dismal failure from the public school teachers.

Fifth Grade marked a change, though. I was no longer the freakish, unknown entity (there were several, newer kids to take that title), and since that was the year we were allowed to start band, I began making friends who had a common, wholesome interest for a change.

Of course, life wasn't perfect. Because there was Todd.

Todd C. was an unusually tall, broad, and blond fifth grader. To my short, skinny eyes, he resembled a refrigerator, only one with a sneer and a unibrow where the freezer door should have been. For reasons lost in the mists of 1983, we took an instant dislike to each other. It didn't help that our names were so similar; teachers kept confusing us, and we were both offended by the confusion. We were also both offended that the other was offended... well, you get the idea.

Todd took to taunting me whenever he passed me outside of class; "Tad the Retard" was his favorite refrain. He occasionally varied that with some other rude word he had picked up somewhere, but my skin had been thickened in the Third Grade by all of those "Totally Gross" jokes, and he quickly learned that verbal sparring was usually going to favor my big mouth, and I was quick enough to dodge his lumbering paws.

Teachers tried to intervene, telling us both to cool it, and I remember complaining to my mother about it. "They keep trying to make us act like friends, but he's just a big, fat bully!" Mom tried to tell me that bullies are usually insecure, and just need friends. Sure he was new, but he seemed so large, impenetrably mean, and uninterested in being my friend. Plus, he was constantly surrounded by a gaggle of unapproachable football-throwing neandersmalls; so I took the less Christian, but more satisfying tactic of making Todd's life miserable.

Little pranks - nothing harmful or damaging - began happening to Todd. Things would disappear from his desk and show up somewhere embarrassing (like the girls' bathroom). Drawings of Todd with dragging knuckles or a finger in his nose would fall out of his books. And I swear I didn't start it, but whenever he came near the table of fools I sat with at lunch, we could be heard singing, to the tune of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman theme:

"Fatman! Da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da: Fatman!"

My friend Tony, who seemed so quiet and reserved when I first met him, blossomed into a fine cartoonist later on, thanks to the practice he got from drawing Fatman(tm) comics. The misadventures of Fatman and his rotating cadre of idiotic (usually fatally) sidekicks became an instant underground hit.

I barely noticed that Todd had mostly begun to leave me alone. He would scowl and barrel past me and my lunatic fringes, only occasionally serenading me if I passed his group's game of football as I walked to the bandroom. One or two minutes of Todd singing "Tad is re-tard-ed!" seemed to justify weeks of serialized mischief on the cartoon pages, at least to my mind.

Sure, looking back, I can see that Todd had a pretty harsh year. The conflict was real, at first, but exaggerated in my immature brain. The damage we did to each other was (I hope) small; but it was only years later, when I was reliving all of the fun with Tony, that it occurred to me that I was... wrong.

I'd like to tell you there was some kind of satisfying climax to this conflict, but there never really was. Todd and I never fought... not with fists. Neither one of us attempted suicide, that I know of. There was no single moment when we said anything earth-shatteringly symbolic to each other. It was simply a matter of two idiot kids who didn't like each other jabbing each other with looks and catch-phrases, and wishing the other would drop dead.

So, if there's no point to this story, then why did I tell it? Well, I think maybe there's still something to be learned from this. A lot of my dear friends have made remarks about international issues that remind me quite a bit of the rift between Todd and Tad; one lumbering giant, and one self-important twat - neither one in the right. And yet, I'm supposed to be rooting for one of them to destroy the other just to prove that Evil shall not prevail!

I never destroyed my Big Enemy. Fatman never vanquished his nemesis, the Living Turd. We both imagined the other to be plotting something horrific for the other that never happened. And neither of us really got anything out of that ongoing conflict. I could have had all of my friends and their cartoons, and the laughs WITHOUT humiliating the other guy. He could have ended it all by simply ignoring me and my stupid jokes.

Instead, we made ourselves miserable, both feeling justified because the other was so... Evil.

Maybe we should have just sat down and talked... but we couldn't. We were young and stupid. (Update: we were both bullies.)

So what's YOUR excuse?


SgtBeesWife said...

I grew up listening to my mother's soft west-Texas drawl reminding me that I had the power within me to, "...catch more bees with honey than vinegar," and that I should, "...kill them with kindness." All that kept running through my head was that this fat girl wanted to sit on them and squeeze the air out of their lungs. I tried to never let them see me cry and was successful most of the time, but the tears would come at home. Eventually, I got mine when I became a decent enough athlete, lost about 50 pounds between Freshman and Sophomore years, and started to reallly enjoy myself in school activities. After 18 years of playing the "diplomatic Army wife," I've learned to relish in the joy that comes from not liking someone and knowing that they don't like you either, but you can gently force them into carrying on a lengthy conversation while the husbandly types talk manly-man talk.

I can sit and talk to anyone, but I already know most of the time, it just pisses the other party off worse.

Rob Carlson said...

I can't remember the lead-up to the third punchline, and it's going to bother me all day. :-)

Tad said...

@Rob - catch me next time I'm in the yard, and I'll tell you. :)

@Stacie - I think we all remember feeling that rage over something; and it's hard to ever tell looking back whether we were the ones that "started it" or not. Sometimes, I know I brought other people's anger on myself by being obnoxious; other times, I would swear they provoked me. In the end, I've learned it doesn't really matter which is the "truth"... as long as you can be civil.

And now, I'm sure, we're trying to teach it to the kids. I hope YOUR soft west-Texas drawl is more persuasive than mine. I'm no "bee charmer". ;)