Drooling on the Pillow

Monday, May 09, 2005

Making Room For A New One 

Yesterday I got into a jam with a partner. It was his fault, really, but as anyone knows, that's about as meaningful as Bill Clinton feeling your pain.

He called me three separate times to scream, curse and vent. I took it, yessired him and, by the third time, I got the impression he was starting to process the possibility that the error might have been his. We went into the 'let's put this behind us' mode. That kind of thing happens in any hierarchal organization. Getting shirty with a partner, even when he's wrong, especially when he's wrong, is your ticket to the streets. You feel a little small, you're pissed, but you take it and go on. It really doesn't get to you.

I was never in the military so I never got reamed by one of the pros with the stripes. I don't count football coaches as none of them ever got personal with me except in a transparently motivational way. The only time I ever got dressed down so far it hurt was in the tenth grade. I had a history teacher named Mr. Scheidt who was a gifted, brilliant teacher. He'd been a Marine in Korea, had a basket full of degrees and had studied at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. What he was doing teaching history at Brick Township High was probably a sad story and I'd love to know it. But he gave me my first taste of mental rigor and excited me intellectually for the first time in my life.

In my sophomore year he convinced the powers that were to let him begin a Chinese language program. I signed up and did great the first year. He started to talk to me about the programs that would open up for me if I kept it up.

But I didn't. My grades started slipping again in my junior year. I began to feel his baleful eye, but was far more invested in being cool than in finding out if I could be anything more than a carpet installer. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

So. One day he catches me passing a note. In Chinese, of course. It was a smutty, stupid remark on a young woman in the class. He gains possession of the note, reads it. He looks at me with a potent combination of rage, shock and profound disappointment. He takes it to his desk, reads it again. He puts it down and leans back in his chair, deep in thought. Total silence in the room. Five minutes. He picks up the note again and reads through it again quickly. He puts it down, stands up, takes off his jacket, rolls up his sleeves and looks at me.

For the next half an hour he investigated the fact of my assholery in detail. He raised his voice a couple of times, but only when he was unsatisfied with the comprehensiveness of my answers to his questions. He asked a lot of questions. Who was I? What did I want? Did I want to be a jerkoff the rest of my life? Questions like that. He wanted specific answers. After I was broken down enough to try to answer his questions honestly he told me I was a liar, a fool and a cheat. And he told me who I was and who I was not. I think I can honestly say that I learned more about my self that day than I had the previous fifteen years of my life. Because everything he said was true and every word of it was bad. Nothing that I didn't know, really, but nothing that I would have admitted until that day.

I could barely walk out of that room and it took me awhile to stop shaking. It took me a couple of years to make any use out of what I learned that day, but I have a good idea that if Mr. Scheidt hadn't taken the trouble to rip me a new one that day I might very well be laying carpet in central Jersey today. I also have a feeling that if a teacher said the things to a student today that Mr. Scheidt said to me he'd probably be fired.

So the partner today didn't bother me much. I knew I was right.

Somebody mention John Bolton? The one thing I haven't heard discussed is the possibility that whoever he might have hammered deserved it. And might have benefited from it if they'd just sucked it up and listened.
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