Thursday, December 29, 2011

Behold! The Power of Weird!

"'I'm not the person to ask about what's normal," Denise answered. 'I've mainly seen normal in the rearview mirror.'"
--Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections

"It took me a long time to realize that normal is in the eye of the beholder."
--Whoopi Goldberg, in an '80s stand-up special

Civics class in the fall of my freshman year was taught by Mr. Scovner, who was a long-term substitute for Mr. Ely, who was running for some local office.

Mr. Ely was an older man who wore corduroy suits (with corduroy bowties!) in colors that could charitably be described as earth tones, but were less charitably (albeit more often) described as shades of baby poop or vomit--mustard yellow, olive green, a couple of unfortunate selections from the brown spectrum. In addition to his dubious sartorial selections, Mr. Ely believed in teaching by rote--which means that for the few weeks at the beginning of the semester when we actually had him, his entire lesson plan was to make us write out the definitions of 20 words that were relevant to the topic of civics ("the study of government and citizenship") and then recite them aloud as a group every day.

Mr. Scovner, on the other hand, let us know on the first day what he thought of rote learning--he held up the list of definitions and told us he had faith in our ability to memorize them on our own and had no intention of mentioning them again until the scheduled day of the test. He was, of course, younger than Mr. Ely and bore a striking resemblance to a semi-spiffed-up John Belushi, who had died that spring of an accidental drug overdose--a resemblance, incidentally, which we were forbidden to mention.

Other than that prohibition, though, Scovner ran a pretty loose classroom and many, many afternoons were taken up by conversation related to civics only tangentially, if at all.

One of those conversations was about how we thought the Tylenol poisonings might--or should--affect Halloween trick-or-treating that year. Scovner went around the room asking us whether or not we would hypothetically let our hypothetical children trick-or-treat this year. Some people said they would let their kids go, but just be extra thorough in checking the candy. Some people said they would only let their kids go to the houses of people they knew very well.

When Scovner came to me, I said, "You know, I don't think I'd let my kids go at all."

And Scovner said, "Not even to people you know?"

"Just because you know someone doesn't mean they're not weird," I explained.

And Todd Smith* piped up from across the room, "Yeah, like, we know you--and you're weird."

Heh. What do you suppose it means that that moment makes me giggle to this day?

*It's rather convenient when someone's given name is anonymous enough to play the part of a plausible pseudonym.


  1. Ha! That's great! Well, I'm proud to be weird and it's nice to be special. :-)

  2. To have had that level of aplomb at the high school level. Sigh. When the same comment was delivered to me, from the other side of the class, I am sure I responded with something pithy, but I am equally sure that humor was not on my mind so much as survival. My problem was that my mouth and my sense of timing, were horribly askew, leaving me with my foot too frequently imbedded so deeply in my mouth, that modern technology, such as it was in the sixties, was incapable of extracting it until June of each year.

  3. Embrace the weirdness! For what it's worth, that's most likely what draws me to your writing, as people think I'm weird too:)

  4. I'm with cdnkaro - weird - though I prefer to use the words quirky or unconventional.....
    Some years back an intern with whom I worked gave me the most appropriate gift when her semester was up - a photograph of little feet poking out of the ground with the comment that masquerading as a normal person day after day is exhausting. That's why I end up in this intimate relationship with the couch....

  5. Love this story. An incredibly weird girl in high school, I have "matured" into an incredibly weird middle-aged woman. The label seems to chafe less these days, perhaps because my age puts me in the realm of eccentric?
    Once I went to a literary conference on misfits, and felt as if I'd come home!
    Who would ever strive to be normal? Only the truly psychotic-- as a smokescreen. :-)

  6. P.S. ADORE the quotes-- normal in the rear view window is priceless.

  7. I prefer to call myself "quirky"! But that's weird by just a fancy name. I'm totally cool with that, and do not mind at all when my kids shake their heads and say, "Mom, you are so weird." Thanks, kids! I try!

  8. i'm not a huge fan of whoopi (except in Ghost), but I agree - - weird/normal IS in the eye of the beholder! And I behold a lot of weirdness! Or, as Michelle put it, quirkiness!

  9. I love both those quotes!
    And I admire your good humor. I guess, in a way, we're each a little weird, which makes us us, and that is priceless. I agree with cdnkaro, lets embrace it! :D

  10. I suppose it means that you developed your delightful perspective on life at a young age!

  11. I've finally accepted that I'm probably plus or minus 2 standard deviations away from normal. (Blame that on a psych degree and too much emphasis on the bell curve. . . ) The problem comes when I scrutinise my life and wonder if I should "be" more normal compared to my peers . . . I blame Facebook

  12. Weird and proud here too!

    Also, I'm convinced you and I were watching the exact same television throughout the 80's. I have that Whoopi Goldberg comedy special practically memorized and quote it often to this day.