Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Why you gotta be like that?

I hear it a lot. Why you gotta be like that? Why are you so mean? Well, I wasn’t always mean. It’s an evolution; or de-evolution. I don’t like to write a lot about myself because it’s like speaking about yourself in the third person, which I really hate. Mike is arrogant like that. I do like to share my thoughts, but not all about me. But blogs are all about personal thoughts, and sometimes personal stories. This is my personal story.

So why do I gotta be like that? I’m gonna go with humor is my defense mechanism. I’m pretty quick with my words. It’s not that I don’t think before I speak. I just don’t censor the flow. I love to speak whatever comes to mind because it’s honest, and sometimes it’s funny. The words are also sharp, and sometimes cruel. Why? Well, many reasons.

Growing up, I was, to be honest here, fairly unattractive. I knew it. Wasn’t my fault. It just was. I wasn’t Quasimodo. Children didn’t turn in terror, but I never got the double-take. Not once.

I was 5’1” until I was 13. Then I had my growth spurt. Made it all the way up to 5’5”. I weighed 112 pounds in high school. So I wasn’t much of an intimidator. Couldn’t fight and had no interest in pretending that I could. Guys picked on me because I was an easy target, in both appearance and size. But, if I could keep them laughing, I wouldn’t get my ass kicked. I wasn’t a wimp either. Everyone has their pain threshold. I learned the bigger guys lacked self-confidence, too. So mine began to grow, not when it came to girls, but with my wit. See, these same guys who thought they could kick my ass, would start out with the insults. I learned I was quicker. And if I completely humiliated them the further the back and forth went, the less confident they became. And they ended up walking away. Usually. I wasn’t wearing Kevlar, just verbal confidence. No one wants to look stupid in front of everyone else. It’s like kryptonite for bullies.

That kind of defensiveness doesn’t turn off. People aren’t looking to kick my ass today. In the world of karma, my past insults mean I’ve got it coming back to me three-fold. And I welcome it. The difference is I’m no longer insecure, it’s almost always in fun and it’s usually coming from people who like me.

But everyone was self-conscious growing up right? Absolutely. But it was more than getting picked on, or picked last in every pick-your-team situation. I also had to deal with the humiliation of rejection from girls.

We’ve established I was a short dude. I had curly/wiry hair that had no real style. Mom told me I should let it grow naturally into an afro. When I was a kid, the only image I had of a white guy with an afro was from the show Room 222 (see picture above).

I guess I thought it would turn red too, so I ended up blow-drying it straight, trying to look like everyone else. Trust me, it didn’t. I also had braces for four years, nearly all of high school (and we’re talking the metal clamp style that surrounds the entire tooth…Jaws from the Bond flicks…original railroad tracks) that also pushed out already oversized lips. I had the prerequisite glasses (can’t see more than six inches past my nose). Oh yeah, and because of a tube in my ear, I had to wear a bathing cap whenever I went in the water. I also couldn’t swim. Took lessons twice but they never really took. Take a breath. Compose yourself. Then I’ll continue.

So, I think we’ve established why I had zero self-esteem.

I still made friends. I wasn’t a total introvert. Actually, I loved to make people laugh. And self-deprecating humor prevents real embarrassment. If I made fun of myself before someone else got the chance, I had the upper hand. And I was laughing with you at me, instead of just you at me. Do it long enough and you start to get pretty good stripping other people down.

I had plenty of friends, and many were female. Not girlfriends; friends that were girls. They would say “Oh, I like you as a friend. You’re like a brother to me.” Looking back, if I was like a brother I would have pounded on them constantly, ignored everything they said, and embarrassed them at every opportunity. But they didn’t really mean as a sibling. They meant not interested. Until I got to college, I rarely put myself out there because I was a realist and I was petrified of rejection. So on that rare occasion I would mistake kindness or laughter as a potential romantic reaction, once in a great while I would pursue it, timidly, with disastrous results.

Jeannie Z
Jeannie Z was my first foray into dating, or attempting to communicate romantically with the opposite sex. 8th Grade. Middle School. I was 13 years old. With the description above, you should have a fairly humorous picture of me in your mind. When I get a scanner, I’ll post real pictures through the years. It’s great fun.

Jeannie was a sweetheart and a friend. We talked, we joked, we had the same teachers, and living near each other, we also rode the same bus, often together. We really were friends. One Friday afternoon we were having a very pleasant conversation on the bus ride home and in a moment of insanity I went for it. Not physically. With low self-esteem comes absolute fear of physical contact with anything other than a pillow. I regretted it as soon as the words left my big-ass braces-enhanced lips, but I asked her to go with me – the 1970s teen version of going steady. She froze, then asked to have the weekend to think about it. I was dying inside. The weekend was going to totally suck.

But it passed and I found myself sitting in homeroom on Monday morning, freaking. I pretended to forget about everything but didn’t play off cool very well, so I became engrossed with the desk, or my papers, or the clock or something. I wouldn’t look at Jeannie. There’s no freakin’ way I was looking at Jeannie. Would she let me down easy? Would she make it quick and painless? Would she toy with the idea for a day, then dump me? Well it wouldn’t be a great story if she was kind, would it? Our seats were in a squared U with my seat directly across the room from hers. When I finally got the courage to look up, I saw she was talking with three of her friends, all girls. All were giggling. All were looking at me. Great! Charlie Brown was Hugh Hefner compared to me. This went on for probably two minutes but it felt like years.

I’m now completely flushed and horrified. I’m never putting myself out there again. It gets better. One of the girls she’s talking to walks across the room and stops right in front of my desk. I don’t remember her name, but she was the shortest girl in the entire school. Let’s call her Witchie Poo. I lift my head and without missing a beat, Witchie Poo says “Jeannie says no!” She laughs out loud. Jeannie and her friends laugh out loud. In my head, the entire world is laughing out loud. She goes back to the coven and I’m shell shocked. Why I’m not a misogynist to this day escapes me. I guess I’m a romantic at heart and didn’t assume all women are like Jeannie. Of course others would be; luckily most would not.

I’m not going to bore you with more stories. Let’s just say I dated very few girls through high school; any I did were either friends or bored of me quickly. Plus, little self confidence isn’t very appealing. I wouldn’t have dated me in high school. I smoked too. Loser.

I get to college. I fill out a little bit. I lose the blow dryer and let the curly hair grow naturally, not into a gimongous afro but more like a rock star (think Roger Daltrey). I lose the glasses and get some contacts. I'm by no means a stud, but I finally build some confidence. College was good. Knowledge is good - Faber University Motto. I'm rambling again. So it wasn't all bad but it took forever to get there.

Looking back, hey, what can you do? Learn from it. Laugh at it. Or be bitter. I'll take a little of all three. I’ve lost a lot of my hair and it ain’t coming back. I’ll never be 6’ tall. I won’t even be 5’7”. I could wear boots but I’d look like a kid clomping around in Dad's shoes or Mom's heels. Yep, sounds like another blog story...

But the defensiveness never leaves you. And the pre-emptive strikes of sarcasm, cynicism and humor continue on. These days they’re good natured, and not meant to cut to the quick. Unless you truly are an ass, or evil, or think you’re entitled to something and others are not simply because you’re you. Then you get what you deserve, though you may not be in the room when I slam you. I’m kind of a coward like that. Oh yeah, I talk about people when they’re not in the room, but if you’re reading this I can guarantee it’s not you.


jessie newburn said...

Hi, Mike,

What honesty you display.

Here's some back at you.

Yes, I knew you then, when your hair was frizzy and you never got a second-look from a girl. Actually, it's more accurate to state that I knew OF you.

(By the way, didn't we all have bad hair in the late '70s?)

But years later, when your hair was less-frizzy, though still way-curly and long, I came to know you. It has been a pleasure and an honor watching you mature into your adult self. And to become very handsome and confident. (Way to go Ellen for seeing a diamond in the rough! You got yourself quite a dude now.)

Love the posts. It's interesting that I feel my friendship with you deepened and strengthened by reading your blog. I remember all the reasons I like being your friend when I read your thoughts and perspectives.

Keep blogging.

My best,

PS -- Hah! Life is grand. I LITERALLY -- yes, literally* -- just wrote to you a thank-you /"glad to see you again"** note yesterday and then your blog announcement arrived in my inbox hours later.

PPS - I tried using the HTML code to italicize words, but couldn't get the function to work. Any suggestions?

* Accurate use of the word "literally" (reference the Words blog).

** Fairly legitimate use of "air quotes" in lieu of a hyper-hyphenated string of words :-) (reference Death to Air Quotes blog).

Mike Morucci said...

Lovely compliments. A bit unexpected. I've received separate emails as well. Two things I need to add: 1)The intent was not to fish for compliments or validation, at least with this blog, though they're quite nice and 2) Jeannie Z was also only 13 - we were kids, it was a long time ago, and I've already forgiven her. Mike