Peer pressure, they say, is a powerful force when you're young, and I don't have any reason to think otherwise. Still, I think I managed to escape most of it during my own adolescence, for the most obvious reason: I didn't actually have any peers.

This is explained by two historical curiosities. When I started my senior year in high school, just before Labor Day 1968, I was fourteen years and nine months old. What's more, that was the year that this particular two-school system was desegregated, and while ideally you'd want everyone on the same campus, space was tighter than tight, snd so the old separate-but-not-really-equal facility was used that year to house the freshmen, the students who were actually around my age. So I found myself in the oddest of places: my classmates, for the most part, viewed me as occupying a spot on the continuum somewhere between "unworthy of attention" and "freak of nature," and the students with whom I had more in common socially were stashed away two-thirds of a mile up the road. It is no accident that when I finally got a girlfriend, it was one of the frosh whom I'd met at a weekend activity, though her older — and arguably prettier — sister was a classmate. And lucky me, it was a whole five weeks before my graduation.

At least, college was marginally more hospitable to us misfits, if only because we had somewhat greater opportunity to find one another. While dating was obviously out of the question, I did meet up with a few folks who were proudly orthogonal to their peers. While the rest of the place resounded with what we now disparagingly call "classic rock," there was a small core upstairs with stereo headphones, which I considered miraculous in their own right, and open-reel tapes of Dionne Warwick and the Mystic Moods Orchestra.

Eventually, Uncle Sam came calling, and I comforted myself with the thought of sweet, unthinking conformity. It worked for a while. But then it didn't, and reintegrating myself back into society proved to be a bit more difficult than I'd imagined. I did all the conventional things — got a job, got married, got a couple of kids — but it all would unravel, and I wandered in the wilderness, hoping for, if not the best, at least for something better than the worst. Ultimately, I decided that maybe the worst was the best I could hope for. And when the worst somehow failed to materialize, I started clawing my way back. By the middle 1990s, I was a vague simulacrum of a solid citizen.

But I didn't feel like it, and it took me another decade or so to realize that I really didn't care: I'd been disconnected for so long that I couldn't tell where the wires went anymore. Besides, creeping old age, it turns out, has one salutary effect: it tells you how little current, or power, or whatever, those wires actually delivered in the first place. As The End, whatever it may be, approaches, the less of a damn I have to give about living up to other people's expectations. I figure I'm doing well to live up to my own.

Oh, and that nine-year stint in school? It was actually more like eight years. I missed the end of 1960 and the first few weeks of 1961 with the insufficiently deadly combination of pneumonia and scarlet fever, and there was a gap between fifth and sixth grades that wasn't explainable by summer. To this day I am not sure what happened, except that I started that school year (1962-63) in fifth grade in one school and finished it in sixth grade in another, with about a six-week gap. I'd like to think that School A simply washed its hands of me. Unfortunately, parental units and adjacent siblings are long gone and unavailable for comment, and anyone I attended classes with — well, why would they remember me?

The Vent

  22 June 2014

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