Volume CXXXII, Number 2
September 20, 2002
Growing up "Mooch" . . .
I've never been a cool kid. From kindergarten to senior
year of college, my coolness has been minimal, ranging, some would say,
on the lukewarm side of things. Maybe it's even the reason why I chose
to go to school in the cold state of Maine.
By now, I'm comfortable with my lack of coolness, even as I realize that
Bowdoin, as Ritalin so correctly assessed, is riddled with cliques. But
as I think about my school years of past, I can't help but think that
being "cool," that being a part of the "right" thing,
has been an intrinsic factor of my education. This is ironic, perhaps,
in an American culture that preaches individualism. Yet "fitting
in" is so formative, so influential, that even as a senior in college,
the question of being "cool" still rings relevant.
Perhaps my educational endeavor is beginning to come full circle, and
thoughts of years in grade school creep up as I potentially face my last.
Sometimes it seems like ages ago when I roamed the halls of grade school,
but other times it seems quite recently, perhaps because memories of my
very uncool years are so prominent even today. Let's just say fifth grade
was not a great year for me.
I was not hip, I was not with it, let alone jiggy with it. My back-to-school
outfit in fifth grade consisted of tight black "riding" pants
and a tie-dyed shirt. Not the best of outfits for your first day of school
in a town to which you just moved. I didn't know how to peg my pants and
I didn't know it was "cool" to tie your shirt in a knot. But
fashion aside, I was a shy grade schooler. And let me just say that "shy"
is an understatement, considering my internal monologue became an internal
dialogue because I was too quiet to talk to anyone but myself.
Needless to say, daily school activities equaled disaster, and the bus
ride to school was anything but the highlight of my day. I would get on
the bus every morning and choose a seat near the relative front, an uncool
place-even now-to sit. I would "squish in" all the way to the
window, and stare at the hand turkeys blazoned on the window that the
previous uncool kid had left behind. I would sit and peer at the roadside,
anxiously gripping my school bag as if my books and my lunch were the
only things I had. It was not before long that I became the target of
jeers and taunts of the older, cooler eighth-grade boys.
I earned my first nickname in fifth grade. Perhaps it was because I did
not talk, or because I was alone in a school system that demanded friends,
that I piqued their interest. And sure enough, day after day, they would
come sit with me on the bus. I refused to talk to them, refused to respond
to their teasing, even after they demanded to know my name. I thought
my silence would make them all go away, make the bus ride magically shorter,
make my fifth-grade year magically cooler. But I never did speak to them,
and I never told them my name. So they gave me a name. And like me, it
was not very cool. They called me Mooch. God knows why.
Not many people can come up with a name like that, but Dan did. I can
picture his eighth-grade face as clear as day, his preadolescent visage
jeering at me like I was his lesser. Maybe I was, but only in age. And
so, I was the fifth grader, Mooch, and all the eighth-grade boys loved
it. They made my life so uncool. There was no fashion that could amend
that one, no freeze tag game I could win at recess to make up for a silly
name like that. Mooch was my name, like it or not.
Of course, I laugh at all of this now. Laugh at the teasing, the uncoolness,
because, after all, when you're 21 you can finally be comfortable with
who you are. But it's obvious, even at a place like Bowdoin, that belonging
to the right group, to the cool kids, is an all too prominent, if not
implicit, part of being a Bowdoin student. Some would hope that intellect,
or even a greater sense of right and wrong, would break down the necessity
to be a certain way. But being with peers breeds cliques, and cliques
breed peer pressure. But at this point in my education, I realize that
whether you're with the cool kids or not, it's okay to be lukewarm.