I am about to take you on a different trip now with the eventual emphasis on the word “trip’ itself. But or now, let’s ease into the math of the crowd.
For now, allow your mind to vision the politics of the crowd and the features of varying popularity. Think of the cool kids – or at least, the so-called cool kids. Think of the absolute faceless or the unremarkable.
Now, think about the bad kids. Think about the crazy ones and the subtle initiations we endure to survive in the social surroundings. In a moment, we are going to take a trip “around the world” so-to-speak.
Why I say this is because we are going to visit all the different stations of our social constructs
We will see the different crowds but more, we will witness the juries, judges, and the process of selection when it comes to where we sit, who we sit with, and who we either envy or admire.
We travel distances to find ourselves and yet; all the while, we are always right here – exactly where we should be and yet, we can walk, drive, fly or sail around the world until realizing the person we are is always the person we are going to be.
Now, to be honest, I have never been much of a world traveler. However, I must have walked across my town at least a thousand times. Then again, what else can you do when you’re a kid?
We were less protected then and less sheltered. We roamed a bit more freely than say, the youth of today. I can say this because while growing up, I never passed a park that was absolutely or totally empty. However, at my current age, kids are shuffled into play dates and seldom free to roam their town or go to the corner store without being tracked by a GPS or an overly concerned parent.
But me . .
I’d walk to the stores. I’d walk to the places where my friends hung out.
I’d walk to school and then I’d walk home. I’d walk to prospect Park.
I’d walk up to the stores on Newbridge and sometimes to Speno park.
I used to walk to an arcade known as The Wiz, which was short for The Wizard of Oz but to us in the town, we just called this place The Wiz.
I walked to pizza king.
I walked to Taco Bell all the time. And I walked to McDonald’s a few times but never to Burger King or Kentucky Fried Chicken, which were all in the same vicinity.
I walked to the deli. I walked to 7-Eleven all the time and to some of the other schools in our town.
I’d walk to my friend’s house (or houses) and I’d walk to a girl’s house from time to time.
I used to walk around in the vacant lot across from my house; and I did this all the time too.
I’d spend time here, hiding away from the typical crowds and yes, there is something to be said about the suburban gatherings in parking lots and empty alleys and the places like say, the side of the bowling alley or on the roof of schools or at the back of fields, away from the authorities or prying eyes.
I remember the first time I ever walked to the record store.
This was a different time. I swear it was.
Our loyalty to music was an equal as the patriotism when regarding the flag r standing for our national Anthem.
I can remember how the rain was light but me, I was on a mission. I had my trusty little Walkman, which was not as little as the musical devices we use today.
I put my jacket on and pulled my hood up over my head. I was determined to buy a cassette tape from at least one of the bands, which seemed popular within my circle of influence – and for the record.
My mission was successful.
There was something freeing about this walk. There was something rebellious too because at the time, I chose to break away from the crowd. I chose not to conform to cut my hair short, or to walk the line.
At the time, I chose to dive into a sound or a melody that was able to speak for me in ways that words could not convey.
Keep in mind, music is relative and so are the genres; in which case, my choices of music at the time were fitting of my personal rebellion. I admit to my fascination with the louder and aggressive rock and roll sounds.
I admit to my fascination for classic rock and yes, of course I found myself into the fast-paced, “tear your head off,” heavy metal music.
As a matter of fact, the first cassette tape that I ever bought with my own money and without any parental supervision or interruption was an album by the name Black Sabbath, which was performed by the band, Black Sabbath.
I can remember the intro to the first song, which was ominous and dark. I can remember the sound of rain and thunder along with the gong of a church bell.
I remember the rage that pumped through my system when the guitars chimed in with a dangerous approach and bam, it was like my blood sped faster through my body.
I walked home, listening to the album and by the time I was home, I went up into my room and then I laid down on my bed.
I listened to the album some more – I kept going until I memorized the words and the musical changes.
I kept this like a musical mantra or an anthem of my own, to defy the world and to sing out loud or to abandon fears or worries that hey, someone else might not like it.
There was something about this to me. There was something fitting and in fact; by now, my room began to undergo a transformation from pre-teen to a teenager’s life.
I started to hang posters on the walls. I put up little swirling lights to add the trippy fringe and psychedelic mood for when it was nighttime and the music could play on – and admittedly, this installment of my life began to coincide with various changes that were taking place at the time.
I was failing in school. I had learning disabilities that went unaddressed and unattended. I had personal struggles and physical challenges. I couldn’t find a comfortable spot in my skin because there were so many different social influences that I didn’t know which way to turn.
Admittedly, I began to shed some layers of skin and cover them up with a more callous appeal. I began to make changes in my schedule as well as the people I chose to hang around with.
And I always laugh when people ask, “What were you thinking,” or “What happened that led you to your choices?”
I suppose one could say this is part of teenage life. I suppose one could argue that I was looking to find something to hide behind. Or maybe I liked the brand or the idea of finding my own rebellion and finding strength in being crazy.
Maybe I wanted to be more than some short, skinny little kid and for the moment, the options I was faced with were as follows:
I could try and integrate myself with the pretty crowd and the athletes and pretend to find myself with an elitist attitude and try my hand at being popular in this crowd.
Or, I can be a social pariah, unnoticed, unrecognized, unincluded and uninvited and in this case; I could throw myself into the books and become a bookworm and a student, which was equally as impossible as me becoming an instant athlete.
I say this because I didn’t have any athletic ability but more than this; I was small. What position could I play without getting crushed or laughed at?
Not to mention, my experience with organized team sports was less than fortunate –
For example, I wanted to play basketball.
I wanted to have fun, right?
Because else do people play sports, if not to have fun?
Enter my first lesson of Darwinism’s survival of the fittest. Enter my lessons into the pack mentality and how the weaker of the herd (or in this case, the weakest of the team) can in fact degrade the strength and value of the herd.
I never quit though, which is not to say that I didn’t want to.
I was bullied. I was picked on.
But The Old Man told me this – if you keep quitting, it becomes a habit. And, if you quit, they’ll know that they got the best of you.
So, I didn’t quit the basketball team.
I endured and took the punishment.
I never played much but there were a few occasions where glory was able to beam through with a semi-glazed version of life and triumph.
However, the lessons of being able to have fun both equally and happily was proven to be a falsehood. You can’t be the worst on the team or ride the bench and except to see the same attention as say, the stars or the first-string teammates Hence, this was my last effort at any organized team sport and hence; it was through this process of elimination that I chose my crowd. And as for the educational piece of being a good kid or a student or bookworm; I could hardly read or comprehend what I was reading. I was awful in math and terrible in schoolwork – so, how could I fit in here?
If not here then where?
This became my question
I chose the rebels. I chose the crazy kids. I chose the tough kids and the kids who acted out in class. I chose the consequences and yes, there were plenty but ah, the price for popularity is not inexpensive by any means. No, I might not have been liked by my teachers but last I checked, none of my teachers were involved with my social cliques; nor did they seem to care about my life or my feelings – because if they did, maybe they wouldn’t have chastised me so publicly in classes
People seem to think that our social decisions come with huge epiphanies or some kind of conscious decision – But no.
We somehow slide into position and find ourselves in our perspective places and with our perspective cliques.
This is not an accident
We look to see what makes sense to us as thus; we look around at the people in our surrounding. We listen to the different shades of charisma and hear the different sense of humor in our hearing to see what might help us.
You look around and think to yourself, I‘ll take a little of this and a little of that.
Everyone likes “Mike,” so I’ll take on some of his characteristics
People like Myles, so I can add some of his snarkiness.
People seem to be afraid of Carlos and then there was Rico, his kid brother.
And everyone loved Chris and Dorian too.
Some people liked John and very few people liked Jeff and yet, somehow, Jeff still hangs around.
Let’s not be like him.
And we see these things around us.
We see people and how they act or dress; and we gain inspiration which is neither positive or negative but in fact – inspiration is only energy and like any source of electricity; energy is in need of direction – and it’s our choice of direction that dictates where we go from here.
Also, this is how we choose our friends and how we choose to dress our personality.
I like this . . .
I like that . . .
I don’t like this (or that) so I can drop them from my roster and propose myself as a new human being.
Oh, and in comes the drinking and the drugs. This is not something that goes away throughout the years and the influence and urges to be wild might change some and so will the fashions, but still – all of this is real and constant; and it will be until we see an end to ideas like, insecurity, exclusivity, or elitism
There was a buzz to the choice of being a rebel; this was an attraction, which comes along with the crazy, rebellious need to shout out loud and show just how crazy I am willing to be – and of course, exactly how far I am willing to take it.
These politics are age-old; however, not everyone finds themselves on the same end or at the same tables.
Was there a committee on this?
Or was there some kind of teenage, governmental society who deemed which is cool and what is uncool?
In a sense, the answer is yes. In a sense, the cultures of a neighborhood might not match the cultures of a neighboring or distant neighborhood – but rest assured, culture is present and so is pressure; so are the needs to be wanted and included. So is the right or the drive to fight back when it seems like no matter how hard a person tries to fit, there is something unfitting about them.
That’s me, over there in the crowd.
Someone stole a pack of cigarettes and we were trying to act the part. And it’s not what you smoked; it’s how you smoked – it’s how you held your cigarette – it’s how you exhaled and how you stood or sat or found yourself into a position that made you look cool; or if at all possible, the bear minimum was to not seem uncool.
See me trying to pull it off?
Awkwardly coughing, and trying hard not to act as if I care what anyone thought.
This is all very real and true. And to me, this was the separation between myself and previous friends who found themselves, dying to their weakness in the crowd.
This was the separation and the jockeying for position because the term “survival of the fittest,” also indicates the social demise of the weakest.
I couldn’t be the strongest.
I didn’t want to be the weakest.
So, I had to endure, which meant that I had to rush the fences and charge the world – to be the craziest and wildest to survive with the fittest.
By the way, there was no big conversation when drugs came along.
It was more like, “hey, do you want some?”
It was more a matter of factly than some big conscious decision.
Besides, every warning you hear goes out the window because if it’s that bad for you and everyone keeps doing it, there must be something really good about it – and there was.
The devil doesn’t tempt you by saying come here.
No, he tells you that this might not be a good fit for you –
And there you have it, the greatest trick the devil ever pulled.
To me, it was more of an attraction to the rebellious fit, which in turn; this provided a distraction, like the anthems of my rebellion – to sound of and to fight back or act as a shield that refused to submit or surrender to the qualities of my inequality – and sure, it felt good. This felt really good.
Sure, there was something wild and outrageous about the parties, if you learned the rules, that is.
There was something altogether inclusive and welcoming about being absolutely untamable – until you threw up on someone, which wasn’t exactly the cool thing to do.
But in the interest of rightfulness of the teenage mind; having an epic time or being so wild that in fact – you did throw up on someone’s leg, it made for a laugh and interesting conversation on Monday at school.
Hey, did you see Benny on Saturday night?
He was a wreck . . .
And just like that, a hero in my own mind was born.
My first cassette was Britney Spears 😂
Or was it the Spice Girls 🤔
I will admit to this and to you only
I had a tape for, Huey Lewis and The News
But shh…don’t tell anyone
I might lose my “cool kid” card