Sunday, January 9, 2011

Where I Work Out My Childhood Issues, One Sandwich at a Time

So I am at a restaurant ordering food to go, when a weird exchange happens. The server at the counter is being exceptionally pushy the whole time, with everyone. But in particular these two guys ahead of me. I had seen them pull up in a work truck, but I can see how someone could mistake them for father and son. The older guy goes first, orders and Mr. Exuberant rings him up. The older guy goes to pay and the Mr. Exuberant says “shhh, wait, I’m going to get the other guy to pay.”

So the older guy is like “what?” just as Mr. Exuberant shouts to the younger guy, who is mid-order, “you’re paying for this, right?”

And the younger guy looks totally uncomfortable and I can see him put away some cash he had in his hands and reach in his wallet for a debit card. He mutters “sure.”

It brought me back to this super awkward moment about 10 years ago when I was at Fenway Park. A little league team was sitting behind me, and I noticed one kid right away. He was gawky and wore glasses, and just looking at him you knew he was the unpopular one. If he played at all, he played right field. Badly.

But he wanted so much to belong that he was willing to play badly, willing to be part of a team that obviously didn’t want him.

He had tried to strategically place himself between the cool kids, the ones whose parents coach the team and who are star pitchers and hitters, who probably attended the clinics with past baseball stars that the nerdier kid couldn’t afford. The cool kids are all jockeying to avoid him, and when they can’t, they speak around him, as if he is not there.

But the nerdy kid doesn’t care, he just basks in the attention that floats by him.

Until the peanut guy comes around and one of the cool kids whistles at him, to get him to throw the bags of peanuts. He throws a few down to the adults at the end of the aisle, who are so clearly wishing they could throw back beer instead of peanuts on this gorgeous summer evening. And the cool kids keep signaling for more and finally the nerdy kid catches one. He clearly doesn’t know why one was thrown to him, he can’t see the kids giggling and whispering around him.

His face goes white, then red as he stammers “I…I didn’t order this.”

The kids mess with him, telling him he has to pay. There were threats that he would get in trouble. And all the while this kid looks like he might pass out. He tries to pull out a crumpled dollar bill and count some change and the peanut guy is starting to get a little miffed and snaps his fingers.

Near tears myself, I reach down in my purse to pay for the peanuts. But when I turn around, bills in hand, the kid no longer has the bag and the cool kids have moved on.

But the nerdy kid hasn’t moved on, not really, though he’s trying to smile along with the cooler kids.

It’s hard for me to pay attention to the game now, I am constantly aware of this kid moving further and further down the social pecking order.

It’s because I was this kid.

Constantly starving for attention, not always understanding that the attention I was getting was at my expense, or not caring. I took everything so seriously, I never got the jokes.

It’s possible, of course, the cool kids were just screwing around, meant no malice. Just having fun at a kid they knew would rise to the occasion.

And of course, the man at the restaurant was an adult. He could have said no, he wasn’t paying. He could have laughed it off. And probably did later, sitting at the table with the older guy.

I know he’s not going home, hat in hand, telling his wife about his day, leaving this one part out the way I did with my parents. “Yes, Girl Scouts was great. We made bread.” Not discussing the fact that the girls were planning a sleepover right in front of me, with no intention of inviting me. Strategic omissions of things that at the time were so filled with shame and confusion. He probably just went home and told his wife about the jerk server who made him cough up another $10.

But for a moment that look on his face was the same as that little leaguers, the same as mine was a thousand times growing up.

Not knowing if you were part of the joke, or the butt of it.


kathryn said...

Oh, God. I think we've all been there at one time or another. That horrible, awkward moment when some idiot makes fun at our expense.

There are still passive/aggressive people out there doing the same thing as adults...just like that stupid cashier, who is undoubtedly envious of everyone else's lives and is overcompensating. (That's my take, anyway.) I don't understand people like this. It must be awful to be them. Seriously...

Kristen said...

god I know this feeling... my husband always says that he'd love to go back in time again... not me, absolutely NOT. Kids are mean, absolutely brutal. I feel so sad when I see a child being picked on. I know as a kid I picked on kids, but I'm glad that I grew out of that phase fairly quickly. And I know that I was picked on. Heck I was just with a group of girls yesterday doing bridal fair stuff and the 3 of them sat their and planned their night without once asking if I wanted to go. Granted I couldn't or wouldn't have, but they didn't know that!

Miss Pancakes said...

It's always good to deal with issues from when we are young but not when it comes at you out of left field! (baseball term!)

Hungrigyrl said...

What a sad feeling. It's a type of bullying. I hate feeling like that. :(

Kristy said...

It always makes me wonder what makes those mean kids that way? What's wrong with THEM?

Stephanie in Suburbia said...

I always think about Wee 'Burb, whether I would rather her be the cool girl and have it easier, knowing she'd participate in this kind of behavior. I think I would rather her be like me, picked on occasionally, but not tormented. It made me a stronger and more compassionate person. But it was a rough ride.

Anonymous said...

Lady, I teared-up reading this post. We have all been there, with the peanuts. Thank you for sharing this.

Bonnie@TheFragileXFiles said...

this was real, and painful, and real painful. Apparently I was also that kid.

The Girl Next Door Grows Up said...

What an honest post. Kids can be so mean. Grr.

LambAround said...

Poor guy (and poor you!) I had my mean kid moments growing up, but I like to think that I wasn't really that bad. Hmmm, something to think about...

Kristy said...

I was that kid, too, and it made me determined that I was going to raise my daughter to be sensitive to others' feelings. She is, but she's also really sensitive when she's in those kinds of situations. I'm just glad that we're close enough that she feels comfortable talking to me about it.