Although my B.S. college degree technically has the word Science in it, since I spent most of my time at Florida State lurking about the Colleges Of Communication, Business School, English department and nearby beaches, its assumed that the B.S. stands for something quite different. The bachelor part of my personal life ended years ago and my lack of Science study, even during my brief time as a Psychology Major, might explain why I claim, biologically speaking, that I am a member of the ‘ homo-dorkius supremus’ family.
To prove this theory I site as example pre-teen Dan. My 8th grade photos could be used as an educational tool to teach children exactly how to get teased, picked on and bullied. I might have wanted to be like Gallant but I was Goofus. If there was a mega-schmegga homo-dorkius supremus, that would have been me. Luckily in a sort of Darwinistic method of survival, as I grew up I adapted and learned how to hide it better but being a clueless dork is not something you simply outgrow. These days you can pretty easily change your religion, nation and even sex but it is pretty near impossible to change how you self evaluate. That little voice is pretty damn persistent.
Along with a mouth full of shiny metal braces, Junior High Dan wore black ‘Buddy Holly’ glasses the one decade they were mega-unhip. My sneakers looked more like suede Hush Puppies laced up loosely over clashing socks. My ill-fitting clothing draped atop my uncoordinated body appeared to be rejects from The Brady Bunch wardrobe that sat in storage while fashions changed two or three times before my Mother purchased them for me from the sale bins at a Ridgewood Five and Dime. My hair looked like a weird cross between Dutch-boy bowl-on-the-head and bum living under a bridge. I was a clueless mess living in an odd bubble.
Just by looking at me, my much older sister knew I was a freak-show. In an attempt to save my dorky butt from repeated New York schoolyard beatings, she gave me a ‘dungaree’ jeans jacket like the cool kids wore, but quickly afterwards I hit a growth spurt and suddenly it was obviously tight with the length too high and arms too short creating a real-life Chris Farley ‘big man in a little coat’ situation. It never would have occurred to me to solve the problem by cutting off the sleeves and painting the cover of the Led Zeppelin IV gatefold cover on the jacket-back like the tough in-the-know kids did.
Although at first I was even more miserable, moving to Miami before 9th grade gave me a fresh start and eventually made my life infinitely better. But as much as I have tried to mentally rewrite my life story making my cluelessness a badge of honor celebrating my uniqueness and individuality, my brain argues otherwise. Those insecure self-images never go away and tend to pop into my head at the worst possible times like when i am about to step into a big-wig business meeting. My wife still teases me about the mixed signals I sent by sitting so far from her on our first date proving even an experienced older Dan was oblivious to the situation’s correct etiquette and the best way to present myself. I still frequently ask my wife if I look ‘too embarrassing’ before I leave the house.
The difference is, these days I understand that most people walking the earth grow-up with some sort of heavy baggage that they drag around their entire life. Self-image issues are just one of a myriad of mind-games that plague us all. Once you realize everyone is a bit crazy in their own personal way and everyone sometimes feels like they are just getting by, the world becomes far less isolating. It’s become okay in my brain that I am who and what I am.
A weird side effect of this growing into my own skin is that I am more comfortable knowing I do not have to be perfect. As over-compensation for what I perceived as my own shortcomings, I used to get mad if I made mistakes. My wife hates when I still occasionally do it, but for the most part I’ve finally learned I don’t have to know everything. With that comfort, instead of angry, I now become fascinated by things that come along that seem to be common knowledge that somehow have eluded me.
For example, with the recent unfortunate passing of my Mother-In Law, I have watched my Wife tirelessly navigate the piles of estate paperwork sending out more certified copies of the Death Certificate then we do Holiday cards. It is all still very fresh and with the handling of each form-of-finality her broken heart is harshly poked but we are moving forward. Soon after the obituary was published we started getting sympathy and condolence cards. My wife let them sit on the table for a day or so until she was in the right frame of mind to open and answer them. Dreading the reminder of her loss, with great trepidation she tore open the first envelope. As she slipped out the generic-looking off-white flowery script printed poem laden card a $20 bill slipped out and fell to the floor.
What was that, we both looked at each other. Did someone mix up their grandkid’s birthday card? It’s not graduation season. She got the card open and it was a sympathy card. We looked at each wondering is this appropriate? Neither of us had heard or ever seen a ‘death of your mother’ card with cash in it before. But then again, neither of us had ever had a death of a mother before.
She opened the next card and it too had a small amount of cash in it. Another had a check. I had heard of memorials and ‘make donations in the name of stuff’ but this still seemed odd. I’ve been walking the Earth a lot of years. I’ve experienced the death of close friends and relatives before but this was new to me. Have I been a rude-ass with every cash-less condolence card I have sent before? I mean, I’m not crazy, I’ve agonized in that section of the Hallmark store before looking for a card that had the right emotion but did not look like it was picked by a 75 year-old religious grandmother and I have never seen a sympathy card with a check slot.
I logged onto the old Googly-Googleizer to see if I had to add callous lout to all my Clueless Dan inner self-descriptive terms. Apparently this cash in condolence card thing is fairly regional and religion specific but I had never of it. Sure, you bring a covered dish to the house or have a tree planted for someone but this now will bring up a whole new mental debate next time I have to send a sad card. You know I now have to slip a $20 bill in. Online it said people do it to help the bereaved with the expenses but I am assuming mostly I will be passing on some confusion which might just briefly help take someone’s mind off the somber situation at hand. That’s what it did for us.