These stories have to do with two highly formative events which happened to me in preschool. A psychologist would likely say that both laid the foundation for the person I am today. Granted, these memories are of the hazy, 16-mm film variety from when I was four, but the important details are still vivid.
I don’t remember his name, but one of my preschool teachers was this mountainous, imposing black guy. He could have been 5 foot nothing and as meek as the black Mr. Rogers for all I know…but little me and the rest of the kids were terrified of him.
Whenever one of the kids started acting like the defiant, obstinate, “NO!”-loving cunts four-year-olds can be, he would threaten to take them to “Mr. Whippins”. Usually this involved some initial persistence on the kid’s part, but without fail, the child would be reduced to a blubbering, docile lamb by the time the teacher had led them out the classroom door.
This was 1980. Threats of violence from a teacher or his imaginary, sadistic subordinate didn’t result in a flurry of ACLU lawsuits or media reports back in those days. His method worked, and that was all there was to it.
We had naptime [boy…talk about not appreciating a good thing until it’s too late] after lunch and recess, and all of the kids would lay on little mats on the classroom floor. One day, I was refusing to lay down and disturbing my classmates as the aforementioned four year old cunts are wont to do. Of course, this resulted in the usual threat to deliver me to some punishment from the business end of a belt, or reed, or paddle, or acromegalic Andre-The-Giant-hand in whatever dank, sub-basement boiler room Mr. Whippins called home.
However, on this occasion, I was unmoved. I remember calmly walking with the teacher as he led me to the door and out of the classroom filled with napping preschoolers. We started slowly walking down the empty hallway. Five paces. Then ten. Little me, walking along with the teacher, cool as Mr. Hand Luke. No sobbing or attempts to escape his tight grasp around my wrist.
We were approaching the front entrance of the school when I looked up at the teacher and said, matter-of-factly, “There is no Mr. Whippins, is there?”
My most graphic memory of the entire incident is the worried look on his face changing to disbelief, then resignation. All of the icy demeanor and stern words had left him. Turning around to walk back to the classroom, he looked down at me and said, “No, there isn’t. Now get back in the classroom and take your nap.”
And I did.
The Invisible Triumph
In addition to the swingsets, slides, and four square courts on the school’s playground, there was a raised platform, maybe about 4 feet high, with a slender base at the center. All of the older kids would climb and play on it during recess. It was more or less off-limits for the preschoolers and kindergartners. I’m guessing it was because of the potential hazard of falling and spilling the contents of our fragile, egg shell skulls all over the asphalt.
For weeks I’d be playing with the rest of the preschoolers, but I would watch the older kids playing on the platform as it loomed large in the middle of the playground. I would occasionally try to climb it, and the preschool teachers would come grab me and gently remind me that I shouldn’t. This was followed by the inevitable heckling I’d receive from the older kids for trying to get up there in the first place. It was my Everest, and their warnings only succeeded in amplifying my desire to master it.
I’m not sure why I wasn’t subject to the teachers’ usual attempts to deter me during this particular recess, but I was free to do as I pleased and decided that this day was THE DAY.
The problem was, it was too high. I was probably all of three feet tall, and my tiny arms weren’t capable of pulling me up on their own. So, I devised a plan to shimmy up the diagonal metal struts which attached the platform to the base with my arms AND legs.
I worked diligently for most of the recess. Taunts rained down on me from the older kids above. I would get most of the way up one of the struts and expend all of my stamina only to drop down when I got tired near the top.
Finally, after what seemed like hours, I reached the platform, put my armpits on the ledge, and with the last vestiges of my remaining strength pulled myself all of the way on top of it.
But the platform was empty. So was the playground.
Lost in the vacuum of my own determination, I had neglected to realize that recess had ended. All of the teachers and students were already back in the school and I was alone. In addition, the platform now seemed as if it was 12 feet off of the ground instead of 4.
I yelled for help, but since the platform was about a hundred yards from the school, nobody could hear me. Not to mention, WHY THE FUCK WAS THERE AN UNATTENDED FOUR-YEAR-OLD IN THE PLAYGROUND? But I digress…
After a few minutes of puzzling over my predicament, I decided to get down the same way I got up. I laid down on the edge of the platform, swung my legs over the side and promptly fell, skinning my elbow in the process.
After that, I don’t remember what happened. I don’t know if I got yelled at for overstaying my recess, or if I ever told my parents about the incident. The one thing I will always remember is the feeling I had up there, after the initial wave of triumph subsided.
Why did I bother?
After using two mountain metaphors, this song just popped into my head. Maybe I just figured out why I like it. Here’s the lyrics if you give a shit.