Making Friends, Influencing People, and “Cool”

Chaos in Print

I had an experience recently that made me look back on my varied past. It was at the big midnight screening/premiere of X-Men at the Silver City cinemas. I was there a good hour early to get a good place in line, and I was just kicking back, waiting for the others to show up, and delving into my new book. It wasn’t before long before my friend Dexx showed up (as always, names altered to cute handles to protect the innocent), and he brought with him some of his friends from the big city. As the introductions were going out, Dexx introduced me to his friends as “the coolest guy on the planet.” So, with that high praise ringing in my ears, my mind started wandering, and I couldn’t help but ask, how did I grow into everything I hate?

Let me let you in on my high school experience. You know how every high school seems to have that one guy who still picks his nose, watches way too much Star Trek, and never leaves the library? Well, even he made fun of me. While everyone else in the school would head on down to the Pier for lunch, or just sit in the hallway and neck, I’d plug in the TV in the lab and watch The Flintstones. During spares, others would sit in the hallway and neck, while I’d work at getting some homework done and freeing up the evening. I consistently won awards for being the top student in the fields of English, Social Studies, Mathematics, and the Sciences, but that didn’t mean squat unless you were brining home the school division championship in volleyball. I was an academic, a philosopher and thinker. And that made me a freak.

I had great resilience, though. If there’s one thing that I learned out of all this, it was independence. There are many times in your life when you will be forced to stand alone. While the wolves are circling it is you alone who will have to fight them off. Other people would rather make fun of your situation than help you, and self-reliance is what will get you to the top. That is true independence.

Another thing I learned (that would be two things, then) is you have to take pride in who you are. People out there are actually making a living as “image consultants.” You pay them a ridiculous amount of money, and they change your public persona to make you popular. This world is full of people who would rather conceal who they are than show it. The best defense to insults and people who hate you is to learn how to not care what others think. When you don’t care about what others think anymore, it’s like a release.

And that’s how I survived high school. At graduation, I was going to walk down the aisle escort-less, with those I had grown to hate staring at me, as a symbol of how all the accomplishments I had made in high school were done by me alone. But, some girl whose name completely escapes me wanted good seats at the ceremony, and asked if she could be my escort so she could sit in the escort section. Regrettably, I’m a nice person, and I said she could. And high school drew to a close.

Soon, it was off to college, and I prepared for the whole process to start all over again. Cliques would form, and once again I would be booted off to the sidelines. But college was weird. I’d watch The Flintstones in the floor lounge, and others would sit and join me. During free time, I’d go to the study lounge to get some homework done, and there would be others there doing homework. And I was no longer the best in all my subjects, as were a lot of other people. For the first time in my life, I realized I was normal. There were others like me in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, independence is great. But you don’t have to be lonely to be independent. You can stand alone on some things, but it’s good to know that friends will be there when it’s time to quit standing. And when you don’t care about what your friends think, it’s great! When you screw up, they know why. And they won’t make fun of you. It was great!

So for the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be with “the in crowd.” Actually, at a place such as university, I guess you could say there were several in crowds. University is a place large enough where they can all co-exist in peace and harmony. You can have what high school would call “geeks” over in one crowd, “jocks” in another, and all those that defy categorization. Whichever one you happen to be in is “the in crowd.” To be more specific, your in crowd.

I was fortunate. I don’t know why, but somehow I figured out a way to float between crowds. For most of my freshman year, I seemed to be with the drama geeks. Second year came, and I moved onto computer geeks. In third year, I stuck with the computer geeks, but managed to branch out to a few artists, and even the most restricted of groups, Brad Goertz and his Dag-ledites. If it weren’t for that final group, the column would probably never have been published. Now, was there any special skill to this drifting from group-to-group? Did I have to change who I was in order to fit in? Not at all. All I did was hang back and be myself.

In the back of my mind, I’m still that kid watching Flintstones in the lab that no one would hang out with. That always leads me to sub-consciously ask this question of my friends: “Why do you like me?” Obviously, the strategy of being myself in high school did nothing for me. So why is it now working later in life? Have I really grown into everything I hated?

One of the few friends I had in high school once made the comment that I must have matured at a young age. He could think of no other explanation as to why I hadn’t forsaken my studies and joined in the non-stop partying. Perhaps there was some grain of truth to what he said. I matured at a young age, and now finally my maturity matches my age. With that, I can blend in with the crowd and finally be “cool.” I’m not everything I hate. Everything I hated grew up, and now we get along. Of course, I think calling me the coolest guy on the planet is a bit of a stretch. That title still belongs to “Weird Al” Yankovic.