Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Letter to Falcon

I have never told anyone about this. Not even my wife.

When I was in first grade, for whatever reason, we had some down time in the classroom. For reasons that escape all logic, our desks had been removed from the room, so the teacher told the students to arrange their chairs in a big circle. (It was 1969. Adults did weird things all the time.) And then we just sat there, talking and acting up while the teacher seemed to be doing nothing.

Now as it happened, my chair ended up separated from the kids I usually hung out with, so I was just kind of sitting there watching all this babble. And I got bored. And you know what happens when people get bored.

I don't know why I did it. It all seems so stupid, now. But for some reason, pushed on by boredom that had been brought on by adults creating a new way to waste time, I stood up, held out my arms, and not too loudly but loud enough went, "Tah-Dah!" You know. Like, "And now, on with the show." Well, it did look like we were in a big circus ring. And then I sat back down. And that was it.

What happened next probably really shouldn't have happened. I wonder if I had told my parents about it if there would have been one less teacher employed at my school after that. These days this sort of thing gets caught on video, makes the news, fuels an outrage, and causes people to hire lawyers. I'm sure you can relate.

The teacher silenced the room and told me to stand up. "OK, put on a show," she said.

Now remember, just seconds before the room was buzzing with the chatter, laughter, and messing around of about 30 kids. I knew, right then and there, I had been singled out. Up to this point, I had trusted her, felt like I could confide in her, and even drew pictures for her. I even felt like she had helped me overcome my playground fear of climbing the ladder to the slide. And now this. What was the deal? Why was she doing this?

But, right then and there, I decided to go with it. Make this work. I reached in my pocket, and took out the only prop I had. A tissue. It escaped my hand and fluttered to the floor. The kids laughed.


I picked it up and dropped it again. Laughs.

I picked it up, manged to hold on to it, held it for just the right amount of time, and then dropped it again, watching it fall every inch of the way. Big Laughs.

The teacher told me to sit down.

I learned to few things from that, apart from improvisational acting and comedy. I learned that it takes little or even no talent to draw attention to yourself. It's easy. Anyone can do it. But once you get the spotlight, you might not like the results. If you want attention, be prepared.

I also learned what it feels like to follow instructions, do what you're told, and trust in an authority figure only to be betrayed and embarrassed. I never trusted another teacher for the rest of my school life. "Steve, if you don't understand something, why don't you raise your hand and ask?" said many other teachers in the years that followed. You just read why. I learned to look it up for myself and figure it out. And to this day, with the exception of my wife and a few others who have long since died, I find it hard to trust an adult. Any adult.

You don't have to be like me. It's hard to understand the chain of command sometimes, but if a teacher makes you feel bad, tell the principal, or the councilor, or a teacher you like. If an adult... any adult... tells you to do something that just doesn't seem right, tell an adult who isn't a narcissistic dillhole. Sorry. Tell an adult who shows better judgment.

And finally, avoid the media. These people aren't journalists wanting to tell your story as only you understand it. They want to make money off of you. There's a word for this. Learn it. Exploitation.

It's not going to be easy for you. You'll have to live with that "Balloon Boy" thing for the rest of your life. But eventually, you'll get past it. You can even make it work for you. You'll grow up, even if the news media doesn't, and you can make something of your life. I know you can. You've already blown the lid off a scam, and that takes courage. Be strong. Listen beyond the words. Think with your mind as well as your heart. Trust those who earn your trust. And love those who make you a better person. And may you become all that you dream.

And I hope you get to really fly in a balloon. It's actually pretty cool.