Tuesday, January 24, 2017

January 24: Smelled Like Bacon, Basketball Game, Hester Prynne

Roland Weary was only eighteen, was at the end of an unhappy childhood spent mostly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He had been unpopular in Pittsburgh.  He had been unpopular because he was stupid and fat and mean, and smelled like bacon no matter how much he washed.  He was always being ditched in Pittsburgh by people who did not want him with them.

It made Weary sick to be ditched.  When Weary was ditched, he would find somebody who was even more unpopular than himself, and he would horse around with that person for a while, pretending to be friendly.  And then he would find some pretext for beating the shit out of him.  

That's a frightening little description of Roland Weary, but it could probably be applied to a whole lot of kids in our public school system.  Alienated and weird and alone.  Vonnegut doesn't cut Weary any slack, though--he's "stupid and fat and mean."  Of course, Roland's dealing with some family stuff that pushes him in the direction of meanness, but his story is pretty common, I think.  He's weak, so he victimizes people who seem weaker than he is, including Billy Pilgrim.

I think that, at one time or another in our lives, we've all been a little bit like Roland Weary.  I know I have.  Even as an adult, I find myself in situations where I feel like I don't quite fit in.  For example, tonight I am going to attend a basketball game at my daughter's high school.  I'm going because my daughter plays in the pep band.  Whenever I walk into a gymnasium where a sporting even is taking place, I get a little panicked.  It has to do with the fact that I was always picked last for games of kickball and touch football when I was a kid.  Gym class was an exercise in humiliation.

Those feelings just don't go away.  As I sit in the bleachers tonight, I will be constantly fighting the urge to look over my shoulder to see if anyone is staring at me.  Like I'm some erstwhile Hester Prynne with a scarlet "D" for "dork" emblazoned on my back.  Of course, I can rationalize that I'm an adult now.  I teach at a university.  I've published a book.  To all outward appearances, I've got my shit together. 

However, as soon as I hear those sneakers squeaking on the gym floor this evening, I know the sweaty Roland Weary in the back of my mind will wake up, and I will have to spend a few minutes convincing him to fall back asleep.  I may have to bribe him with some popcorn from the concession stand.

Tonight, Saint Marty is grateful that he is NOT in high school.

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