Monday, February 04, 2008

Name Calling for Fun and Profit

Name Callling for Fun and Proffit

Growing up I had a pretty good image of myself. Until one day, in first grade I realized that there are cool kids and dorky kids, and I was way at the lower end of the dork spectrum. The ramifications of that still plague me to this day.

The biggest thing was the name calling. After about ten years of being verbally trod upon my fellow dorks and I came to a realization. We had pretty much been called everything in the book, and we were a lot smarter than the guys that wrote the book.

Slowly over the years, we dorks developed a game wherein we came up with ever more creative ways to deride each other. Spiteful at first, we were looking for an easy target for our football player induced rage. My close friends and I evolved it into a game where we rode each other even harder than our tormentors. No rules were ever laid out, it just happened. And the benefit was, we were sharing material and honing it to razor sharp perfection.

By tenth grade we found that we could really get under the skin of the bullies that loved to get our goats. Quite often we could get theirs instead, which would often lead to a more severe wedgie, but hey… we absorbed the abuse to our briefs and smirked while we picked up our spilled books at the knowledge that some day in the not too distant future we’d be putting our much maligned intellects to use, and the guys handing out the wedgies would be fat, bald alcoholic wife abusers stuck in the ruts of their miserable lives.

Touche!

By eleventh grade I found that not only could I strike back verbally while getting tossed in a dumpster, I could actually avert the attack altogether just by shouting down the aggressor with a few well chosen lines from my repertoire.

Sometime in college I was surprised to find myself largely unassailed and yet still playing the game. Surrounded by intelligent folks of like mind and experience, we continued to work on our material, much to the amusement of all. Many a happy moment was had at someone else’s expense, except it wasn’t really at their expense because they mostly had a good comeback to keep the good natured laughs going.

The only down side was when our venom spilled over on someone who had not yet developed the leathery hide required to participate in our twisted little pastime. A freshman or two definitely felt the sting and went away moping when they strayed too close to the mele. And once I totally scored a triple whammy, in-your-face, sent them packing point on a girl that was so good I almost called my buddies to tell them about it. Except that she was seven, the niece of a friend who was watching a movie at our place and floated out a perfect setup. She was reduced to tears and it took me weeks of apologizing before it was finally smoothed over. About that same time I had a friend who claimed he could make a complete stranger cry in six sentences or less. I believe him.

Despite the occasional collateral damage I think the game been more or less a good thing. I’m all but impervious to verbal abuse, ask anyone who knows me, I’m pretty much un-gettable. The interesting thing is that what started out as a totally degrading experience developed into a practice that armored me, and continues to sharpen my intellect and sense of humor as the years pass.

At the risk of setting off all the political correctness alarms, I’m just going to dive into this. Dorks growing up to be millionaires led to the advent of “geek sheik” with fashion statements like Drew Carey glasses and t-shirts that say I Heart Dorks. (My personal favorite is one that says “Classically Trained” with the Atari logo on it.) We geeks have turned the epithet around much the same way that the black community has pulled the teeth out of some of the racial epithets that have plagued them. It’s why gangstas call each other “nigga”. It pulls the teeth out of the serpent. “You can’t insult me with a term if it’s the term I use to call my friends.” (That one obviously isn’t totally de-fanged yet, just ask any white rapper if they use the term with impunity.)

So, watch how you deride people. If you’re in the habit of doing it maliciously (as opposed to jokingly, there’s a fine line there for most) you may find that what you’re really doing is creating a monster that will someday tongue lash you into submission and walk away, self esteem firmly re-established. And for any parents, keep in mind that while “Ignore The Bully” is still the time tested correct response, having a better response may lead to some damaged underpants in the short term, but if used properly the proverbial pen is certainly mightier than the sword.

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