Over the weekend, I was

Nov 06 2001 Kelly Norton
Over the weekend, I was sitting on a bench in the mall trying to act disinterested when a little boy of about 6 hoisted himself up beside me. The kid looked as if he had been dressed by a family of clowns in the 70's; he had a red sports jacket and black checkered pants. A silver tie bowed out from the top of his jacket and sat crookedly clipped over his top button. His feet stuck almost straight off the bench and his hands were palm down as if experience told him he was likely to slide back off of the bench. He had hardly settled onto the bench, when he launched into a story.

Kids are exempt from the conventions of social interaction, so it wasn't so strange that he began with, "my new teacher says that I don't have to go outside any more." He stared up as he paused briefly, but as soon as I glanced over he stared at his shoes and continued with his rather peculiar story. After the intriguing introduction, if I remember correctly, he described a day in class where as part of an assignment to describe a heroic person he had written a paragraph about his mom. He had gone as far as to compare her to a superhero and admit with pride that she gave him a kiss every morning as she dropped him off beside the Berkeley Library. He used the proper noun as if it were of the utmost importance so I feel compelled to include it though I'm not sure if such a place exists. While the heartfelt confession had immediately won over his teacher and surely secured him one of the highest marks, it had also aroused the other boys into a frenzy of "ribbing." Again, I use his words.

Their abuses were callous and persistent; they began calling him "lacey drawers" and suggesting that his mother might kiss everything and make it better whenever he struck out in kickball. One kid, Wells, had even gone so far as to shoulder him into a "square ditch" one afternoon when he was trying to run to first base. He spent the rest of they day in muddy clothes sitting near the heater and refused to call home for a change of clothes. On this point I am not mistaken, because I broke my silence to ask why he had not gone home for the day. He said that Moonan, another boy involved in the ribbing, had said that he would surely go home for a kiss and a bath and he didn't want Moonan to have another laugh at him. He refused the teacher's pleas that he go home, and I suspect she must have known what was at stake because she let him stay so long as he sat beside the heater until his coveralls dried. The kid said that it was that day that he "had a plan to make the other boys look like jack-asses." I wanted to correct him, but I couldn't since I remember as a youngster I always argued that the word "ass" could not be a dirty word since it appears in the Bible. I'm sure that I overheard some older kid using that argument to try to get himself out of timeout, but it had seemed logical. Anyway, I let the kid continue describing his strange plan which consisted of reading ahead in the class reading book so that he could answer all of the questions in class before anyone else and so that he could call the other kids names of bad characters in the stories without them knowing whether it was insulting or not. He said that he now called Wells the name of a dumb cat who is catapulted into the river in a story where dogs and cats fight a calculated battle against each other. Of course he didn't use the word, calculated, but it's impossible to remember his exact words. It should be quite obvious by now that I'm paraphrasing anyway. The teacher, noticing that he had outpaced the class, had him take some tests and then sent him to a special class that met in a class room with posters of Hercules and other ancient heroes on the walls. He said that the kids in the special class were much nicer to him and knew nothing about him kissing his mother beside Berkeley Library. Then he repeated again, "My new teacher says I don't have to go outside any more." With that, he slid off the bench and ran towards Macy's where I assume his mother was looking for him.

I laughed to myself and turned to a woman who had just leaned against the railing to eat her pretzel and said, "Maturity really is a curse you know." She picked up her stuff and moved down to another set of benches; I felt as if my point was proven.