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Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Afghan Incident

The title might suggest some sort of international disaster in Afghanistan, but it’s really just another in a long line of embarrassing moments in the life of Mongo.

In 1988, I was in trudging along through 8th grade. As anyone who survived adolescence will tell you, those are the dark days of growing up. After leaving the world of safety scissors and recess, that is grade school, you are thrust into the world of Junior High without a safety net. As you try to make that transition between childhood and adulthood, you are constantly being bombarded with the pressures derived from puberty, scholastic expectations and algebra. You’re brain is like a lit firecracker being held, tightly, in a fist.

It’s enough to want to make you crawl into a hold and die the first time you embarrass yourself among your peers. I was already becoming a pro at it. Teenage love and angst went together like chemical fertilizer and a detonator. Shakespeare was way ahead of his time writing Romeo and Juliet. If he were alive today, besides being really old and smelly, he’d probably be a writer for teen dramas like The OC and 90210. Honestly, he’d be the King of The CW.

Now, I tend to use Big Willie as a crutch in adolescent development analogies because he nailed it so well. Romeo and Juliet are the perfect encapsulation of what it is like being a teenager, to a teenager. Everything is life or death. You make one wrong move and you start the Mercutio Curse, setting off a cascading failure of events that eventually destroys your social standing. Sometimes you self destruct because a lack of self awareness and sometimes other people set the ball in motion. Usually, you find yourself digging a deeper hole, trying to rectify the misunderstanding, until the aftermath is the unraveling of an entire sweater thanks to pulling on one loose thread. This has happened to me.

One of my school friends had a Halloween Costume party at his house. Now, I didn’t have a store bought costume at the ready, because I was too old for trick or treating, and it’s not like I just buy costumes for the hell of it. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 had just come out in theaters a couple of months prior so, I decided to go as Freddy Krueger. My costume was cobbled together from an array of unauthentic elements. A red and white striped sweater was used instead of a red and green one. I had built the glove from a tan leather one, attaching sharpened emery boards, covered in foil, for the blades. My grandfather’s old green fedora served as Freddy’s trademark brown one. Still, it was passable considering I spent no money on the costume at all, though I still owe my mom some emery boards.

The guest list included a group of friends from school, all of which I had known for at least a year or more. There was my best friend, as well as a girl I liked, the non conformist punk type that managed to be your friend but still critical of you, and the very smart, yet always in trouble kid who also served as a nemesis/friend figure in my life. I say that because he functions as the sort of person that is friends with you on some days and against you on other days. We once ended being sent to the principal’s office after he lunged across the lunch table at me for knocking off his glasses. Yet, we sat there in hysterical laughter while we waited to be seen by the principal. See what I mean? With all these different personalities attending the party there was bound to be some sort of dramatic cataclysm.

At first everything seemed to be going fine but soon that social thread loosened and was about to be pulled. I don’t remember the exact details but somehow another kid’s shoe was thrown in my direction. I was holding a drink in one hand and did not have the cat like reflexes needed to block the projectile. My drink was knocked from my hand spilling all over my shirt as well as the blanket underneath me. But it wasn’t a blanket, it was an afghan knitted by a relative of kid who threw the party. Just after the shoe made contact with my drink and flew out of view, the kid’s father came into the room. I stood up immediately after feeling wet. The spilled drink that had pooled on my lap, fell onto the afghan in plain sight of the father. He immediately yelled out about the fact that the afghan was handmade. From the tone of his voice I thought he was joking so I nearly doubled over from laughter at his delivery. Apparently, he was serious and rather upset.

The gravity of the situation became worse as the nemesis and non conformist punk kid began adding insult to injury by lobbing supporting arguments at me in the form of “Why would do that?” and “What were you thinking.” Their participation in the situation painted me as a derelict that found pleasure in destroying other people’s personal property. Every step I took towards fixing the misunderstanding resulted in two steps back, in the content of my character, in the eyes of this man and no one else stepped in to help. I think it all just happened to fast to even comprehend what exactly had took place. It was a ping pong ball tossed into a room of mousetraps holding other ping pong balls. Before you even saw the first trap sprung, it was all over.

From that moment on, for the parents, I was labeled as “That Kid” while the best friend, who was the non conformist punk kid, was seen as the angelic friend to whom their son should aspire to be like. Meanwhile, the “angel” was sometimes friend and sometimes friend who used you as the butt of a joke to get laughs. Yes, for years I was known as “That Kid” and the will to overcome that was testament to the strength and resiliency of the teenage psyche. The long lasting effects of Post Traumatic Keds Disorder have finally ceased to hinder my ability to sit on woven materials while holding beverages.

Now, I cannot say with any certainty that this particular event was like the butterfly effect causing me to be cursed with ridiculous epic fail syndrome. I believe that this was a side effect caused by the skipping of “3rd Grade Swimming Lessons” for the class of 1993. That single event caused a rippling of bad juju throughout my entire class that ended up shortchanging us in a lot of things that were a part of every other class’ normal scholastic development and experience. But that is another story.

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