Monday, January 23, 2006

Identity

I don't know what I enjoy most about this photo-booth portrait. Is it the Hawaiian print shirt with the plunging V-collar, or the pencil lead-thin moustache, trimmed off the Cupid's bow to match the fashion of my Hispanic high schoool friends? Is it the stoner eyelids (I've never been able to keep my eyes open for a flash), the full head of hair? No, man. It's the 'tude. July, 1977: you're catching me between my Sophomore and Junior years. I had not yet hooked up with GFv1.0, which means you're looking at one very depressed, lonely adolescent. Yeah, yeah. Aren't they all. You're also looking at a chameleon. Here I am in stoner mode. I could also be a brainiac among brainiacs, a cholo among cholos, a stoner among stoners. Many of the stoners I hung with had more wits about them than the brainiacs. They were well fumigated wits, but still. I didn't smoke much pot in high school. My best friend Sophomore year, he smoked a bushel, and I chose to learn from his example. Besides. I didn't enjoy smoking pot, and if I could fit in with the stoners without doing so, I did. They didn't mind if I passed -- more for them -- and they never challenged my credentials for hanging with them. Sure, they knew I took Advanced Placement classes, but they didn't care. They didn't pay attention to social status; they didn't pay attention to much of anything. I think that's why I liked them so much. It felt good to belong, and they made it easy. What made me unique, I think, was my ability to shift from one group to another. In P.E.*, I learned how to blend in with the Hispanic gangstas and the Asian ninja-wannabes. Having the right friends made bully-avoidance much easier. (And yes, Sis, the fact that Marvin had a crush on you helped, too.) But don't get the idea that self-preservation was my primary goal. I liked these guys. As far as I was concerned, for the 55 minutes we spent together in the weight room every day, they were my people. And then the bell would ring, and I would find myself in Trig with the smart kids who were supposed to be my peers but wanted nothing to do with me . . . with one exception. I sat behind a Junior, a Japanese girl who didn't seem to mind if I slid forward in my chair and gouged my knee into her ever-cushy butt cheek. Ah, forbidden love. I was a Sophomore, she was a Junior, and a cheerleader to boot. We never said a single word to each other. No matter how many times I revisit these memories, I can't get over it. Trig, Calculus, AP English and American History, Chemistry and Physics -- that's when I felt truly discombobulated. I looked at the other bright kids as though they were extraterrestrials. Sure, I had a few friends in those classes, but it was difficult. I was their competition, and they were my competition. But even that is too simplistic. My chameleon skills failed me. Somehow, the only type of kid I couldn't imitate was the kind I actually was. You would think, wouldn't you, that adulthood had frozen my mutability; but it hasn't. I see it happening with every patient who enters my exam room. My vocal inflections, diction, and mannerisms change. I suppose this makes me a more effective clinician, but it is far from intentional. There are times when I would dearly love to suppress it. Just ask my staff how I get when some needy depressive darkens my office. (We call 'em brainsuckers.) Like any photo-booth picture, the one you see above is part of a trio. Wouldn't you know it? I'm someone different in all three.
It's Borges, the other one, that things happen to. -- Jorge Luis Borges, "Borges and I"
D. *Physical education -- do non-Americans call it P.E.?

14 Comments:

Blogger Anduin said...

What a great post. I really enjoyed reading about your teen years. Your ability to mingle with all of those different groups is pretty cool.

1/23/2006 08:08:00 PM  
Blogger mm said...

It's true, Doug - you look different in all the pics I've seen of you. Definitely a hottie in this one.

This one most resembles the original photo you had of yourself on this site. You look older (note - I said older, not old) in that picture, but the 'tude is the same.

I got P.E. - though here we're more likely to call it phys.ed., or sometimes we just call it gym class. But what does cholo mean?

1/23/2006 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks, anduin ;o)

Funny, Maureen, but I hadn't noticed that resemblance until you mentioned it. Creepy. Cholo = Mexican gangster. According to Wikipedia, it's derogatory, but I never thought so in high school. Hell, they called each other cholo all the time, and it seemed more a term of affection. On the other hand, certain black people use the N word for each other in the same way, but no one would use that to argue that it is a benign term.

So . . . maybe I was just that clueless as a kid (and as an adult, for that matter) that I never realized it was a bad word.

1/23/2006 09:18:00 PM  
Blogger Abby Taylor said...

I enjoyed this essay very much. Thanks.

1/23/2006 10:36:00 PM  
Blogger Jona said...

You look so cool! It was PE or games when I was at school, now it's athletics or gym (depending whether you're inside or out)

1/24/2006 02:32:00 AM  
Blogger Robot Buddha said...

"Backwards, Oh backwards,Time in thy flight..."

I had a shirt just like that.

1/24/2006 03:37:00 AM  
Blogger Darla said...

Oh, that sounds familiar, Doug. I wrote some truly horrendous poetry at that age about the same phenomenon.

1/24/2006 05:30:00 AM  
Blogger Pat said...

Physical education -- do non-Americans call it P.E.?

'Round these parts, it's Phys Ed, but at Cadet Camp there was a jogging song that went

P.E., P.E.,
We like it, we love it,
We want more of it


Later!

1/24/2006 05:41:00 AM  
Blogger Kate R said...

Of course -- You're an actor! I mean a good one. Laurence Olivier not Sly Stone.

1/24/2006 06:03:00 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

Personally I like the dimple on the chin.
(and the shirt)

1/24/2006 06:53:00 AM  
Blogger Pat Kirby said...

Hee. I was the same way, a social cameleon. I was one of the Hispanic kids via genetics, but could pass as Anglo when necessary (still do.) To this day, I still pick up the accent and syntax of whoever I'm speaking with. (Can be embarrassing.)

Because of a head injury, I lost most of my math ability by freshman year, but was still good at all other academics. I flunked algebra, which gave me "cool" creds, but still got A's in everything else and thus brainiac creds.

High School. You could not pay me enough money to got through that again. Hated it.

In my day, cholo wasn't derogatory. But then, I'm Mexican, so maybe it was like using the N-word.

1/24/2006 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Thanks for the feedback, folks! Never ceases to amaze me how y'all like hearing about childhood stuff -- or, as I like to call it, "my memoirist bullshit."

Darla, I don't have any poetry from that era, but I did save my journals. Some time into my relationship with GFv1.0, my mom found my journal, and then had the nerve to complain to me that I never wrote about the sex!

Grrr.

1/24/2006 08:15:00 AM  
Blogger Shelbi said...

I like your "memoirist bullshit," too.

There's something fascinating about reading another person's memories from their childhood, so thanks for sharing.

I pick up accents and attitudes, too, which sucks when I'm with a really negative person. It's like I absorb their energy and get all weird [well, weirder than usual] for a while. Some people have called it being 'highly sensitive,' or empathic. Sounds a little freaky, but it really does happen.

It makes sense that you would be that way since you're all doctor-y and stuff;-)

1/24/2006 10:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Stamper in CA said...

I'm a memoirist bullshit lover too. Enjoyed this one a lot.

1/26/2006 04:36:00 AM  

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