Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The New Kid

I moved a lot as a kid.  People often ask me if that was because one of my parents was in the military and the answer is no, even though my dad did spend a few years in the Navy before I was born.  No, we just moved a lot.  Honestly the reasons are numerous, some are fairly personal, and frankly none of them involve me specifically so I don't care to detail them here.  Let's just say my dad always had his eye out for the next place he could live, the next place we could all start over again, and later again.

I've been the "New Kid" many times in my life.  By the time I hit high school, including the move from elementary to middle and from middle school to high school, I had attended seven different schools, which made high school my eighth.  In fact I never attended the same school twice from Kindergarten all the way until 4th and 5th grades, the first time I stayed in one school for more than one year.  So each year was new, with new kids, new teachers, a new school to learn and many times a slightly new me for people to get to know.

I've noticed some people in my life that have trouble talking to strangers in public, especially in California where I spent the majority of my life since high school.  They feel distance, they feel tension or awkwardness, and in short they have a resistance to getting to know a stranger they may never see again.  I guess it doesn't seem worth the effort to them, the "single serving friend" effect, to borrow a term from the film Fight Club.  But I guess I've looked at the world a bit differently after a childhood full of strangers who were often recycled year after year.  After all, whatever friends I made in first grade were gone by second, and my second grade friends were gone by third and so on.  One might think if I didn't learn to simply make do with the friends I had while I had them, I may have gone through school as some sort of friendless stranger who was there for a while and then left at some point.

I suppose circumstance combines with personality, and I'm a natural extrovert so I guess it's no surprise that I have an ability, and at times a desire, to strike up conversations with random people in public.  Sometimes it comes in handy or allows you to meet interesting folks.  I sat next to director Gregory Nava on a plane once, and we discussed the movie Selena for a little while.  How did I find out he was a film director even though I had no idea what he looked like or who he was when I sat down?  I talked to him.  A quieter person may never have been able to say they discussed a major motion picture and its ending with its director off the cuff like that but I guess I can.  I like memories like that.

So what is "the new kid" like, you may ask?  Well, maybe you lived the same place for most of your life like some people I know.  Maybe you still have friends you made in the first grade.  I don't know what that's like.  But, anyway, being the "new kid" basically means you're a blank slate.  No one knows you.  In theory, you could put on a different "act" at each school, being the jock in one school, a brainy nerd in the next, a crazy spaz in the next and so on.  Perhaps it makes me boring that I was mostly just "me" in every school, but I was always just me, to varying degrees of success.  I remember fitting in better in some places than I did others, too.  The redneck school I attended in Georgia didn't suit me well and I don't remember enjoying my time there much, but the private Baptist school I attended the year after that suited me much better.  I'm not even a Baptist.

I was always the brainy type.  I'm sorry if this sounds like bragging, but it's true.  I got bored in class a lot, even at a young age, because I seemed to absorb and retain information quicker than most.  I would often finish my work in class, or my tests, quicker than most people and would sit idly and draw, or read, or write nonsense (sort of like now, right?) to pass the time.  As I got older I started to be pulled out of "regular" class to "advanced" classes in the center of school with the other brains they cobbled together from the other classes.  This was in the sixth grade, which in Arizona was still grade school for some reason.  So since I was placed in my school's "Mensa" I was labelled as different, like the opposite of a "special education" kid.  I was branded, and normal kids never looked at me the same again.  But then again, I had a ditzy, goofy side that didn't sit well with some of the other brains, even though I could usually go tit for tat with them on raw academics.  Besides, in the sixth grade I was the "new kid" again so people were still sizing me up, still judging my every move so they could form an opinion.  I spent two more years with many of these people in middle school, and of course they were in all my honors classes there too.  Maybe that's why most of my better friends in that school were either normal kids or the types of kids who took remedial math.  Sometimes kids can be so smart they're assholes to be around, you know?  Besides, "smart" isn't just being able to solve algebra equations.  I had a friend who could rebuild engines in sixth grade, something I still can't do to this day.  Maybe he's really the smart one?

"New Kid" means you always have something to prove.  It means you learn to be comfortable being alone, it means you hang by the periphery in big groups, but approach people that are nearby one at a time to see if they'd make good friends.  In high school I knew nobody, and by my third week there a girl I knew from some honors classes walked by and saw me eating by myself, again, sitting on a bench near the quad.  You'll note I was alone, but right in close proximity to the most crowded lunch spot on campus.  Anyway, she forced me to get up and join her, declaring, "I won't look at you eating by yourself anymore."  I ate with her group of theater techie types and band geeks that afternoon, and these folks formed my general nucleus of friends for most of my time in high school.  All of my friends were sophomores to boot, so for most of my time in high school people thought I was a year older than I was.  As a bonus, I skipped a lot of that "Freshman" bullshit too.

That's a funny thing, how some folks are compelled to seek out the certain kind of loner, that's either so pathetic looking or so unjustly alone in that person's mind that they feel compelled to take them into their group.  I've even been pulled into random groups of folks at rock concerts before.  Yeah, sometimes I'm the "new kid" at a concert just by being there by myself.  I've taken whole vacations by myself.  I don't mind it.  Sometimes I like to just explore a city by myself, to see a show by myself, to sit and hear my own thoughts.  It's my "new kid" side, and sometimes it needs to express itself.

So if you know a "new kid," if you see him by himself, don't feel sad.  But if you want to talk or hang out, come on over.  We're always game to meet some new folks.  We know, sometimes the best friends you make are the ones you make by accident.