24 October 2011

lettuce be kind

He may have gone to Middle School with us in 6th grade, but the first time I met him was in 7th grade. He was hard to miss, even in our class of about 350 students. 

I want to make it clear that I was no fashionista in 1995. I was completely unaware of how to dress my (quickly) budding curves. I do remember wearing my fair share of homemade vests, preciously curated by my mother that often helpfully reflected the season. This is the result of having a mother who worked part time at the local fabric store. My pants consisted mostly of hand-me-down Gloria Vanderbilt jeans from my various aunts, and I do recall that little backpacks and loafers had come into style as a result of Clueless. However, despite my hardcore look, to be fashionable in my little middle school at that time you had to rock Tommy Hilfiger tshirts with designer jeans or anything from Abercrombie and Fitch. These duds were paired with white Nike tennis shoes over long white athletic socks. Clearly our town was the center of southern American fashion. 

Regardless it didn't much matter what he wore. In fact, I don't remember at all what he wore. It was probably the same as all the other boys- oversized tshirts and jeans. His name was Jeffrey and he was the most awkward looking person I had ever come across. He wasn't particularly tall, but he was very thin; his thinness was accented by his pale white skin. As he sat in his plastic chair with attached old desk boney knees poked out from under mesh athletic shorts, and boney elbows rested on the vandalized wood of the desktop. I won't say his last name here, but believe me that it was rife with potential for torturous teasing. 

Jeffrey was a little blond boy with constantly ruffled hair. He probably had a cute face but it was covered more than 3/4 of the way by thick, plastic glasses that would slide down his nose. The only part of his face left visible were two thin lips, and when he smiled he revealed a massive set of buck teeth. 

Looking back now it was almost too perfect of a stereotype. I know plenty of nerdy guys today, many of whom rock thick rim glasses and are proud of their anti-fashion stance. But 12 and completely unaware of how the outside world really sees you is when true geeks are born. This poor boy didn't stand a chance against middle school. When he spoke his voice was high and squeaky. He twitched and moved in his chair, constantly uncomfortable. I can only imagine how the boys treated him. I didn't make fun of him, but then again I didn't not make fun of him. 

But the real kicker to this story is when, one day, I don't know how, someone discovered Jeffrey's kryptonite: This boy was afraid of lettuce. 

Got that? This boy was afraid of lettuce

It is a mystery to me how someone figured this out, but once it was out the rest of the year became a battle of Jeffrey vs the lettuce wielders. They would pocket the shredded iceberg from the cafeteria and leave it on his chair, sprinkle it in his hair, or tuck it into his backpack. Each time Jeffrey would jump, shriek  and squeal. Sometimes he would shake. We would all laugh and the teacher would yell. Then it would be over, the battle won once again by the iceberg mafia. 

I don't remember seeing Jeffrey at all after that year. He may have finished middle school with us in 8th grade but he wasn't in any of my classes. He didn't go on to the high school where the majority of us were funneled, either. I assumed he had been taken out and home schooled. 

I don't know what got me thinking about Jeffrey. Maybe because my little cousin is in middle school now and his lanky body and metal filled mouth make me giggle. Maybe it is this new campaign that makes bullying the biggest buzzword. Maybe it was my brother's 30th birthday party last weekend that brought me face to face with some people I knew at that time and haven't seen in 10 or more years. But I started thinking about him, and wondering where he had ended up. 

The media tells us what happened to poor Jeffrey. Just look at any teen movie or young adult novel. If popular culture is to be believed Jeffrey has ended up in one of two places:

Jeffrey of 2011 could be a master of technological innovation, rolling in the dough and laughing at the rest of us in this sad economy. Of course he would still be wearing something ridiculous like a leisure suit, but it would be with irony and a firm 'fuck you' to whomever doesn't like it.
On the other hand, Jeffrey of 2011 could have decided, once puberty hit, that he didn't have to live that way anymore. He may have channeled all his anger at 12 year old boys and dentists and lettuce into the gym, where he pumped enough weight to double in size. Of course, this physique would make him irresistible to the ladies. 

The power of the internet can reveal all mysteries. So I typed in his name and let google do the magic. 

The first thing that I found was a facebook page, revealing that Jeffrey still lives near where we went to school. He got a masters in Information Systems at the local college. His picture shows a man with thinning blond hair, and yes, thick glasses. But he looked positively average. He was neither super geek millionaire nor body builder with a chip on his shoulder. It was pretty anti-climactic. I clicked back to the google search to just give one more glance and that is where I found it: a youtube video of Jeffrey added three months ago. 

I opened it to see the inside of an Applebees. Jeffrey strolls up to a microphone connected to a small machine. He is as he was in his facebook picture but we can see his large black Ke$ha t-shirt. He speaks briefly and I immediately hear that old voice from all those years ago. It is so high and peculiar, so difficult to place. He now has no front teeth. His arms still skinny, though now he has a round beer belly above his jeans. He then dives into a passionate rendition of Ke$ha's song "blow" for the captive beer guzzling, mozzarella stick nibbling audience. 
Go, go, go, go insane 
Go insane
Throw some glitter
Make it rain on him
Let me see them Hanes
Let me, let me see them Hanes

I cringed. Who would put this video up online ? I felt immediately like I was again the girl three seats over, seeing all this mockery and keeping my mouth shut. However, it wasn't the same. This video was posted by Jeffrey himself, from an account proudly stating his full real name. 

So I guess that is all that matters, right? So he's still a weirdo. But he's embracing it; it seems like he is getting along just fine. And that is all any of us can really do, right? 

16 October 2011


You know how some people say they can only write when they are sad?
I'm the opposite of that. When I am sad I get a writer's block the size of Wisconsin.
Everything I have written lately is awful. I'm more inspired by blue skies than rain.