I was driving through the main street of a pretty suburban town a few years back. It was one of those sunny days when you could picture blue birds singing to each other, a gentle breeze kissing each tree. I slowed down to stop at a light and this woman walked by the side of my truck; she had this dazed, distant, somewhat vacant look in her eye; her gait was a zombie-like shuffle. I watched her and thought, “Man, what is this world coming to? So many people just look half-alive, they’ve got no life in them at all. This lady looks like she’s never seen a goddamn flower open or a blood orange sunrise.” Disgusted, I started driving and glanced in my side mirror for one last look at today’s example of how lackluster the world was.
She had a cane and a seeing eye dog.
I fell apart with laughter; at myself, at every bit of my high-and-mighty oh-Ingrid-LOVES-to-smell-the-fucking-roses bullshit that I spin in my head.
The universe can make such a fool of us, can’t it? Just when you feel so confident, so sure of yourself, in that split second can the gods slip their giant feet in front of you, and laugh in rolls of thunder, while you trip and fall in your mortal humiliation, somehow made worse by being the only living witness. Maybe life really is one big joke; and like all the best ones, it’s an inside joke, shared only between ourselves and our faulty beliefs.
Some of my fondest memories come from “making my own bed” but finding myself lying in a pile of cow shit. One of my very favorite examples of this is when I was in high school and I was voted female class non-conformist.
I never participated in anything in high school. Well, that’s not entirely true; I did run for student council treasurer one year. I even made a poster of a giant dollar sign with $15 worth of emerald-green glitter I stole from Woolworth’s. I think I won too; but this tiny prick of a teacher who ran the student council said this other kid, all pimples, with a slack jaw whose mouth never closed fully, had won. I knew for sure I’d won, but that teacher had the hots for that other kid and messed with the ballot (I was always really aware of which teachers wanted to sleep with which students. My keen sense of innuendo and stolen glances tipped me off; plus, I watched everyone like a hawk, whether they knew it or not). This tiny, homosexual teacher loved that kid, and hated me for being a female with five inches and 30 pounds on him, and for being such a smart-ass and a nuisance. In any case, I only wanted to be treasurer to steal the money, like I did the weekly homeroom donations made to the Catholic Charities. At 16, I believed that if somebody was dumb enough to give the Vatican money for more 24k gold toilet seats, then they deserved my stealing their money. So, as I strolled down to the main office each week, I pocketed the cash money, but never the coins. Then I would go and smoke a cigarette in the girl’s bathroom or use the pay phone to call my boyfriend or my mom.
At some point during senior year, my class, the class of 94, was asked to create a list of all those goofy awards, like Nicest Legs or Most Likely to Whatever. I’d tell you what all the awards were but I didn’t fill it out so I don’t know. I had a policy—I still do—that I would never fill out anything when asked. For example, there was an incident at a Pearle Vision a few years back; I was asked by a piece of paper if I had AIDS or had ever slept with someone who had. I was already in a mood and couldn’t for the life of me understand why Pearle Vision wanted to know if I had AIDS. I was under the impression there would be no sexual encounter between me and their employees that day, so when the receptionist came in the waiting area and said, “Ingrid? Are you ready to come back and see the doctor?” I looked at her quizzingly and asked, “I don’t know, am I? Do YOU have AIDS? Does Dr. Singer HAVE AIDS?” It really was a scene.
Back to the awards… somehow I ended up winning Female Class Non-Conformist my senior year. I was actually stunned, both that it was a category and that all those people, to whom I never gave the time of day, even knew what a non-conformist was. I don’t think I even knew what a non-conformist was. I wasn’t trying to, on purpose, not conform. Suddenly, this tiny moment of attention started to swell my almost non-existent ego. The fact that I won a category that was so much more exotic than great legs or prom queen was making me feel exactly how I envisioned the popular girls feeling, the ones who won greatest smile, the ones I tortured so ruthlessly, the ones I made cry when acne appeared and I loudly pointed it out by calling them things like pizza face. I watched myself go against my very nature and agreed to be photographed for the yearbook!
Our yearbook photo-op was scheduled after school on a Thursday. The male non-conformist, true to his newly assumed title, never showed up. I, on the other hand, went ahead and let them take my photo, seething inside at the embarrassing pleasure I took in receiving this ego-stroking, faux honor.
Seasons passed and the yearbook finally came out. I scoured through it looking for my picture, quickly passing by our senior portraits and cutesy remarks, stupid words like “I love LBI and golden retrievers and want to be forever young!” I had left mine blank. I wasn’t going to share my dreams with people I despised so deeply and have it published for all of eternity, any more than I’d get a tattoo and live to regret the lifetime reminder of something I liked for five minutes of my life.
I kept leafing through the pages and, without warning, there it was, the greatest inside joke of all: my photo, alone, under the heading “Most Likely To Be Late To Graduation!” What!!? What happened to Female Non-Conformist!? Had sitting for that photo-op ripped me of my true given title? I had no way to defend my non-conformist honor or make any correction without becoming even LESS of a non-conformist!
I knew nobody would ever care or even notice, certainly not all the people who intended to live forever young! Yet, I was forced to see that, despite being SO intent on differentiating myself from my peers and doing the opposite of whatever they did, I had, this one time, let my smug, dark guard down; the gods had tripped me and I fell right into a published pile of cow shit, an eternal, humble reminder that the jokes I make and the games I play, even the ones in earnest, will always turn on me, and that it is I who is the biggest ass of all.
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