There is an old blues song that goes “Things that I used to do, I don’t do no more.” I don’t remember the lyrics well, but it feels like a song about a man who can’t go out clubbing or dating or perform sexually anymore because he is old and decrepit. But, the lyric applies when I think of all the things I used to do — weird things that definitely, I think, made me unique.
I [acted like I] Was a Teenage Werewolf
For instance, I used to wish that I was a werewolf. That I could transform like Teen Wolf, a character played by Michael J. Fox (of “Back to the Future” fame) from an ordinary, powerless, un-known, un-popular kid, to somebody who was cool and had special powers. So, at a certain point, in junior high, I began exploring who I was. Who “Eric” was.
The first day of school, I ran around the race track 3 times then collapsed in the fetal position on the grass. I didn’t know ANYONE at that school (Waterloo West Intermediate) and didn’t have ANY friends. I had made friends at times, but my mom had moved many times (about every 2-3 years) because she could no longer pay rent or she got kicked out for one reason or another. All I know is got very experienced with moving. I never had a chance to form real lasting friendships. There was Jeremy Grimm, who I considered my best friend when I was ten and my mom used to deal his mom prescriptions drugs for food stamps. Shortly therafter, I starting howling like a wolf, for I had learned the howl well from many werefolf movies. Whether it was Steven King’s “Silver Bullet”, “Teen Wolf”, or “The Company of Wolves”, I watched many such movies about humans that transform into wolf-like creatures and learned to howl right along with them. Even when not watching a movie, I began to howl because it was something special about my identity that I chose to make my own. Nobody else I knew howled at the moon. Just me.
Strangely though, that move that would be highly embarrassing to most people actually gave me a sort of courage. After that, I asked some kid I had never met if he wanted to be friends and he said yes.
Whiplash Ratchet Head
When I was in high school, I discovered that I could whip my head to the right very fast and my neck would make a cracking, ratcheting sound. I remember pulling that trick on people who were riding with me for the first time as a passenger in my car. Some thought it was cool, but most just were afraid I was going to hurt myself. Never did. But, one day that ability just disappeared.
Pre-Clerks Silent Bob
When I was in high school I wasn’t aware of the character “Silent Bob” and the irony is the first “Clerks” movie that introduced the character wouldn’t debut until the year after I graduated (1994). But, I guess I behaved kinda like Silent Bob in school. I knew I was super-smart, but I stayed quiet most of the time so that when I finally did speak, people would be amazed. They were sometimes, but it was never as satisfying of a reaction from them as I’d hoped.
Because I didn’t have great social skills, I was always calibrating how to be liked/admired/accepted, though at the same time deciding that I didn’t care if I was popular or not. I got a sort of power out of the feeling of social angst, like “Hard Harry” played by Christian Slater in the movie “Pump Up The Volume”, which encouraged all teenagers to start their own radio station and basically predicted YouTube and podcasting. He showed that the loner/outcast is often a misunderstood genius hero. Once again, affirming my believe that individuality and staying true to who you were was preferable to trying to be “popular”.
In high school, the popular kids were usually from upper-middle working class families. I was poor on both sides of my family. My mom was on welfare all her life (except a brief stint as a bakery worker), and my dad, though he worked a good job as maintenance at a hog factory, invested all his money in building projects that never seemed to be worth it in the end, so he never really had a lot of extra money. On the other hand, I never asked him for much either. Therefore, poor + poor = not gonna be accepted in the “popular” crowd so I never bothered trying to make people like me.
“Why bother”, I thought. Plus, all the movies (Can’t Buy Me Love, Teen Wolf, and even Pinocchio) exhorted one that it was better to be oneself than to try to be “cool” or “popular”.
So, here’s the deal. Growing up, I was surrounded by idiots and criminals. Some people who lived with me when I was may take offense at this, but it is the best description of how I felt.
Since everything they talked about was drugs, crime, or sex, I never really had anything to contribute. So, at a certain point, I developed this “sit-com-esque” habit of blurting out some either off the wall non sequitur or a highly intelligent phrase to try to gain entrance into a conversation.
For example, somebody would be talking to somebody else about a tattoo, gun, or woman he had sex with and I’d blurt out “Blue Smurf!”, “E = MC squared!”, or “Yes, but can you divide that by the infinitessimal root of a billion solar suns???”
It was kinda like a “genius Tourette’s”.
It was not conscious, at first, I don’t think. Nor was it very effective at doing anything but making the people I was around thing I was a big “weirdo”.
But, it gave me a sort of power in a situation where I felt powerless. It confirmed my understanding that I was a victim of the low-minded, and solidified my stance of the eternal outsider. I knew the story of the ugly duckling well, and I knew that in the end I would become a beautiful swan.