Saturday, May 8, 2010

Floating Fish

I had the weirdest kindergarten experience ever.

I started at age four, a year younger than most of my classmates. I guess it made sense; I could already read on my own at the time whereas the older students had yet to completely learn their ABCs. People saw this as a sign of genius. But people are idiots. I could do this one thing well and that was it. My oldest brother believes this happened because my mother started reading to me the day I came home from the hospital after being born and never let up. He might be right. I don't remember being taught anything; I just remember picking up books and somehow knowing what the arrangement of letters was supposed to mean. Mom read the same books over and over, I watched and followed along and through repetition got that certain funny shapes related to specific words and it all kind of sank in through osmosis. Somehow my four-year-old mind was able to break it down so that this combination of letters resulted in this sound, and that another, and somehow I learned to read. The more I read, the better spoken I became. In other words, as a toddler, I interviewed well. So I got to attend kindergarten a year early.

This was hardly a state-supported entity, but rather a self defined institution some woman ran in a garage-like structure in back of her house. It was West Virginia in the sixties, so this sort of shit could fly.

The kindergarten teacher had no idea I could read. I would spring that one on her later. Her primary concern was the fact that when it came to Art time, all I would do was scribble. Other kids were doing stick figures and block houses but I only seemed interested in grabbing a handful of crayons and running them across the page. One of the few sense memories I retain of the time is that I liked the way it looked. I remember how much fun I thought it was to see six different-colored lines streaking across the page at the same time. But no, the teacher wanted to see me draw Mommy and Daddy and Me, so when I kept scribbling she sent home a strongly-worded note, in the language of the time, voicing her suspicion that I might be retarded.

Hell, in the art world everyone's a critic.

But my Mom went to bat for me and essentially said, "Oh yeah? Why don't you give him a candy bar wrapper and ask him to read the ingredients?"

The next day the kindergarten teacher thrust a wrapper in my hands and asked me what it said.

"Sugar, Corn Syrup, Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter Chocolate, Milk, Dextrose, Emulsifiers (Lecithin), Butter Fat, Salt, with Vanillin and Ethyl Vanillin, Artificial Flavorings), Sweetened Condensed Skim Milk (Sugar, Skim Milk)
CONTAINS LESS THAN .05% OF THE FOLLOWING: Partially Hydrogenated Blend of Vegetable Oils, (CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLWING: Cottonseed, Peanut, Soybean), Soy Protein, Artificial and Natural Flavors, Maple Syrup, Delactosed Whey, Invertase, Tapioca, Flour, Salt, Citric Acid, Artificial Color (Blue #1, Red #3)"

She nearly fainted before I reached Milk Chocolate. But she revived enough to realize that I could be her kindergarten star and recreate the turn of events so that it was SHE who taught me how to read ahead of my time. What fucking wonderful advertising! A four-year-old attends Miss Hick's backyard babysitting and comes away a prodigy! Good luck backing that one up when Ma and Pa Toothless finds their kid still can't count to three.

Thing was, before she hit on the fact that my advanced reading skills could mean advertising gold, something really creepy went down. By total accident I opened the bathroom door and walked in on a female kindergarten classmate, being assisted by the student intern who was probably all of 17 or 18. But the woman who ran the kindergarten got wind of this and decided to go for an eye for an eye approach to punishment.

Here is where things get sketchy, fragmented and perhaps hidden under a few layers of denial. But this definitely happened: I was made to stand on top of a table and pull my pants down in full view of my kindergarten class, so that they could all see me in a vulnerable state, to atone for the unconscionable sin of opening an unlocked restroom door.

Was it just pulling down my pants and seeing me in my underwear, or was my four-year-old peen exposed before everyone? I don't know. I remember the ordeal, just not the details. And really, if you're a supposed "teacher" making a kid do this does it make a fucking difference?

It has taken years to piece one part of the puzzle with another. I did something shortly later, that perhaps began a lifetime of passive-agression. Now, I'm grown up enough to prefer outright aggression, calling things the way you see them, to this, but still: I'm very proud of my four-year-old, kindergarten self for having the balls to react instead of just sucking it up.

My kindergarten teacher had a fish tank full of what she called her "prize" fish.

I dumped half a can of Ajax into it and killed them all.

Ten years ago I set this experience to music as a Spookshow In Your Pants song. Click on the title if you want to listen.

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