Overcoming Normality

“You’re so weird” the little girl said to me. And stealing a line from Lion King, which I think stole it from Reversal of Fortune, I replied; “You have no idea.” I sometimes feel like an small island of bohemia in an ocean of suburban mundanity. I live in one of the richest, most conservative […]

“You’re so weird” the little girl said to me.

And stealing a line from Lion King, which I think stole it from Reversal of Fortune, I replied;

“You have no idea.”

I sometimes feel like an small island of bohemia in an ocean of suburban mundanity.

I live in one of the richest, most conservative areas of Silicon Valley (why is a long story involving inheritance and location of in-laws, but I’ve lived here a long time.) This is Suburbia with a capital S.

My kids go to a small private school. Not a big name prestige school; we tried that and found that the educational dollar spent bought politics and the image of social prestige, but not actual education. Instead, we chose to move to a school that prioritized educating children over black-tie fund-raisers and status parking places for the mercedes and hummers. I’m willing to make sacrifices for education; I believe in education. I’m not willing to spend a plugged fucking nickel for some concept of status.

I stick out in these places, my town, my block, my kids school, like the proverbial sore thumb. If you’ve seen my picture, you’ll understand. Shaved head, tattoos to the wrist, kilts, motorcycle leathers, earrings, combat boots. All this might not attract a lot of notice in a seventeen year old kid, but I’m on the far side of forty.

People simply don’t know what to make of me. Even here in Silicon Valley, south end of the San Francisco bay area where oddness isn’t really unusual, they’re not used to People Like Me in a PLace Like This.

Today was a back to school carnival. Usually I’ve tried to downplay the whole thing just to be polite. But there’s a certain point where I just get bored. So rather than baggy, long shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, which is what I’d normally have worn if I’m in “you behave” mode, I went with a night-watch camo Utilikilt and a black Calico Jack Rackham tank top; and my favorite retro combat boots.

The kids, of course, pretty much all love me. They can’t figure me out, but they love me. These are suburban kids; they’ve seen tattoos. Lots of their moms have cute lil’ flowers or unicorns or somesuch, a few of their dads have one or two. But tattoos all over, full sleeves to the wrist, multiple earrings; they can’t figure out what’s up with that. And the kilt crosses me over into “what the heck is with that” territory. But to kids, that’s cool.

The parents seems to have a few basic reactions. One is “I can’t see you, I can’t see you”, the same polite reaction people turn on an obvious handicap; odd because it’s clearly a choice I’ve made so it always amuses me when people pretend they don’t notice. Another is a sort of a visible discomfort; the kind of people who tend to shoe their kids out from in front of me or pull them in close when I say hello. There are also the ones who like to adopt us; the art-collector types. The rich housewife who talks about her gay friends or her ‘little fling with women’ in college. The people who collect what they cannot make or be.

My favorite, though, is the “oh, god, I’m not the weird one now”. The parents who feel like they have to behave. The old stoners; the ones who used to be rockers, heavy partiers. The ones who have pictures of themselves ten, twenty years ago in sky-high or mile-long hair and weird clothes. The ones who feel vaguely out of place in the average, conservative, suburban crowd, even if they’re alike in lifestyle now. These people gravitate toward us. It’s obvious our freak flag flies high, and while a lot of these folks have chosen to blend in, some of them have a baggie of weed at home, or handcuffs in the bedside table, or know the number of the local swing club by heart. These are the people I like, the people I can talk to, the people who won’t get uncomfortable if they ever google me up and find out what I’m like when I’m not wearing jockies under the kilt (kids, you know, they peek), if they find out what I mean when I say “yeah I do a little writing.”

The most entertaining thing in this whole scene though, is when I get a kid who just can’t figure the whole deal out. The one who told me I was weird was one such. A pretty, pretty little girl who’s clearly someone’s little princess; who isn’t afraid to look at a big, tattooed freak of a man in kilt and combat boots and say “Why do you have too many tattoos?”. Who isn’t afraid to roll her eyes and sneer at me when I correct her and say “no, I have too few – see, I still have room”. Come back in fifteen years, I want to tell this little girl, and I’ll have a little lesson to teach you.

But it’s always so much fun to mess with some kid’s head, see if I can get them to think, or to question what they’ve been told. As a parent, teaching my kids to think and question is one of my most important tasks, and when I can poke a hole in some child’s assumptions about the world, I always feel like I’ve done something useful.

Later, when this same little girl was in the face paining booth, I put a hand on her shoulder to move her aside as I brushed past, and she teasingly said “Don’t me!”. I got a very good laugh out of several school moms by replying “Oh, I usually hear that from much older girls – much, much older”. Some of the moms get it. A few may even have heard stories.

I don’t fit in well with this crowd. But I always wonder, when I’m there and on my best behavior, which one of the moms out there is thinking about what I have on under the kilt but is afraid to ask. I wonder which one of the couples are the swingers, which ones of the dads are secretly screwing the nanny or the secretary, which ones of the moms wishes she could find a man to treat he rough in bed. You know they’re there. You know it lies under the surface. That’s really what I don’t like about hanging out with a crowd focused around school. It’s too hard to crack that surface when we all know each other’s kids.

I prefer people who are not afraid to talk about what they like, what they want. People who are not afraid to try something, not afraid to experiment, not afraid to be challenged. There’s too much hiding, too much politeness, too much pretense of normality. Maybe that’s what I don’t like in this scene, the assumption that normality is something to aspire to, rather than something to overcome.

0 thoughts on “Overcoming Normality”

  1. heh, you live about a mile from my mom’s house… its funky there isn’t it?
    I’d love to take you home to my mom’s house for a visit and see her freak out a little bit.
    She’d adore you, of course.

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