Another busy day at work, and some fun volleyball tonight. After volleyball, I went for a few drinks with some of the folks I played with this evening. A woman that works as a project manager for an internet division of a company, (great passes and sets), a L.A. native who works as a financial analyst (great blocks), and a guy in glasses that Rebecca hit it off with (awesome serves that he attributed to the PopTart® he had before playing).
The project manager was nice, and works with a former coworker of mine, Gabe. She’s quitting smoking though, and could only hack being in a bar without a cigarette for so long, and left after a bit. So it was mostly me and the L.A. guy rapping over a couple of beers. Interesting conversation. He’s a philosophical guy, something I don’t expect when i think stocks and bonds. We talked about God. I pulled out Richard Feynman’s theories of atheism, [see also Feynmania] which seemed to challenge him quite a bit. We also talked about hypnosis, volleyball, California, New Yorkers, women, the East Village, and various other topics. A good conversation.
He commented that I had good energy about me (I told you, he’s from L.A.) and that I smile a lot. So I told him the story of the month that I stopped smiling, which I don’t think I’ve ever written down. So here’s a goodnight story…
Summertime. I was in fourth grade or so, may be summer between fourth and fifth grade. Mom sent us to the YMCA day camp that summer. It was probably pretty inexpensive. It was also sort of shitty, as you’ll see.
Our all-boys group had two counselors. At the time they seemed old and large. Thinking about it now, they were probably scrawny fifteen year-old boys.
There was one kid in the group that was the coolest and the toughest. I only remember his nickname. “Rolls.” We called him that because, even at that age, he was a little chubby (That somehow contributed to his toughness, maybe in a preadolescent Hell’s Angel-ish kind of way?).
One day, we’re walking to the swimming pool for lessons. We’re in our bathing suits with towels hanging over our shoulders.
I’m smiling. Why? I don’t have a reason. I’ve always smiled. I grew up smiling as a baby and I’d smiled all the way through my short life to that point. I liked life. I liked smiling. And everyone seemed to like seeing me smile.
Everyone, that is, except Rolls. That day. on the way to the pool, Rolls told me smiling wasn’t cool and that I smiled too much.
So I stopped.
I’ve always been eager to please, perhaps to a fault. Rolls was cool. If he thought it wasn’t cool to smile, it wasn’t cool to smile. And I wanted to be cool. That skinny, spiked-haired vegetarian formerly smiling kid really wanted to cool.
I didn’t smile at camp for about a month. Rolls seemed to respect me more. I felt cool. I can’t remember if I smiled at home during that time. I imagine that I must have.
Then one day, one of my camp counselors dared me to trip Rolls. Yep, you read that right. He dared me to trip one of the other kids in the group. The toughest kid in the group, in fact, which I guess was the point. Maybe he figured I wouldn’t do it.
The counselor was cooler than Rolls though, in my mind and so, I went down a trail into the woods where Rolls was, stuck my foot out and pushed him over my outstretched leg onto the ground.
I headed back to the clearing where the counselors were, and after a minute, Rolls came tearing after me. He accused me of knowing judo, and claimed that I flipped him.
He put up his fists.
I looked to the counselor for help. A way out.
The counselor yelled, “Fight!”
Kids circled up, and I didn’t know what to do. I’d been raised in a hippie household and knew that fighting was wrong, that it didn’t accomplish anything. I had some instinct, though, that said that getting your ass kicked didn’t accomplish much either.
So I blocked his first swing and swept his legs. And then I did it again. And again, until he gave up. Fat kids get winded easy, I guess.
There were only two weeks left in camp. For those two short weeks, I was the new tough kid. I was called “Spike”.
I don’t what happened to Rolls. Rumors had it that he was transferred into the older kids’ group, and they tied him up in a lawn chair and roasted him next to the fire.
I do know this, though. I’ve been smiling ever since.