Smart Remarks

September 8, 2008

I don’t want you to think this is going to be non-stop rants about other people’s stupidity. I’m no better. In fact, I’m one of the stupidest people I know.

My stupidest move ever (aside from a couple of ill-advised marriages and a K-car) happened when I was about 14 or 15. Some friends and I were riding our bikes around a neighbourhood quite a ways from our ‘turf’ (this was the early 80s, and movies like Outsiders and Rumble Fish had re-established a kind of 50s gang mentality in my town).

We met some girls. One of the guys I was with knew one of the girls in some vague way, and before long we all ended up heading to another girl’s house to listen to the new Def Leppard record in her basement.

It was pretty cool. The girls were cute, the music was excellent, the mood was that ‘maybe I might get a phone number’ vibe that’s such a thrill at that age.

The only problem was the girl’s kid sister. Maybe 10 years old, frizzy red hair, big glasses … Pippi Longstocking meets Ruth Buzzi. She kept barging in and bothering us. ‘You wanna kiss my sister,’ she’d sing, or she’d pull the plug on the record player and run out. The girls kept yelling at her, but she wouldn’t listen.

Finally, I told her to get lost. ‘And lose the glasses,’ I said. ‘You look like a nerd.’

She disappeared upstairs. A few minutes later, heavy footsteps came down the basement stairs, and a loud, very familiar voice said “Which one of you insulted my daughter?”

It was my math teacher, Mr. S.

I fessed up. We left. And I spent the rest of that school year struggling through his class. I was already failing math – the only subject I was worse at was science – and it didn’t help when Mr. S. called on me to answer every question and singled out my lack of math skills all year long. He’d stand there, this huge, dark-haired man holding a metal yardstick like an executioner’s axe, glaring at me day in and day out.

I failed the class. It was mostly my fault. So the next fall, almost a year later, I dreaded the start of school because I just knew I’d get Mr. S. again. But I didn’t. When I got my class schedule, I saw that I had Mrs. P., a notorious softie. So I knew I could make it through that math class and move on.

Then I kept reading and saw: I had Mr. S. for science. And, as I learned over the next several months, the man could hold a grudge.

For how long? Consider this: Years later, while I was working as a jeweller, he came into the store with his wife to pick out some kind of anniversary gift. He didn’t realize who I was. I sold him an expensive bracelet, and as I was wrapping it I got stupid again and said ‘I guess you don’t remember me, Mr. S.’

He looked at me for a moment, blinked, and said ‘Forget about the bracelet.’ And they walked out, and I lost a pretty big commission.

The moral of this story: Shut up and be nice.

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