Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Stealing Is A Mitzvah

When I was in third grade everyone who was anyone had a Tomagotchi. It was an egg shaped toy with features meant to mimic the demanding needs of a baby and scare high school students into abstinence. Its efficacy was questionable but its appeal was obvious. While teenagers may have been thoroughly uninterested in caring for a two inch faux offspring, eight, nine and ten year olds were very enthusiastic to do so. Thus the not-so-clever scare tactic swiftly turned into the must-have toy of the season.

I use the term ‘must-have’ loosely, since I didn’t have a Tomagotchi. My parents didn't share my belief that I needed an electronic baby who cried a lot, asked to be fed and needed its diaper changed an unnatural amount of times throughout the day; especially when I already had a little sister who demanded this stuff for free.

Finally, after weeks of begging, I got one. Although, I didn’t so much ‘get’ one as I did hide in the closet and steal it off the backpack of a college student. The fact that a person who was old enough-and presumably mature enough- to be in college had a Tomagotchi hanging off a key chain was unsettling to me. This helped justify why stealing it was probably a mitzvah.

Apparently the joke was on me. I soon learned that this thing was an obnoxious pile of colic. And I began to suspect that the guy had set me up to "steal" his bratty pocket-baby just to get it off his hands. Thanks to this irresponsible frat boy I now had to slave away to care for a whiny piece of plastic that had a nasty habit of dying and resurrecting itself.

As my tenth birthday approached, I began to lose interest in the oddly shaped toy. This gave me more time to invest my curiosity in a little gadget they were calling ‘Gameboy’.It looked ah-mazing. But since I couldn’t lift something this expensive I had to take drastic measures to acquire this glorious toy. It was obvious what I’d have to do. Yes. I would have to demand money from my friends and family in the name of my upcoming birthday.

In retrospect, I realize fund-raising for your own birthday is sad. But I knew, as the tenth child in my family, if I didn’t advocate for presents I would simply not get them. My parents were not religious gift-givers, most likely because they didn’t care much for receiving them. Whenever I would ask my mother what she wanted for Mother’s Day she would respond “nachas” even though I’d patiently explained to her on multiple occasions that nachas was not an actual thing. She would also say “We don’t believe in Mother’s Day; every day is Mother’s Day.” This was obviously her subtle way of inviting us to be decent, well-behaved children every day of the year. Pretty unfair. You didn't see me going around telling people every day was my birthday, did you? No. You did not. Although that is a crazy good idea and I must make a mental note to consider doing that at another juncture.

It occurred to me as she continued to speak of this "nachas" with stars in her eyes, that if I didn’t take action-and quick- I would be unwrapping a great big heap of "hug" for my birthday.

Sad, I know. But true. Let's look at the facts. She grew up in France in the Olden Days where they probably didn't have gifts. It wasn't her fault but this was 1998. And in 1998 we gave gifts. And we received gifts.

After much deliberation I determined that just because she appreciated intangible presents did not mean that I had to. I immediately got to work crafting a donation bucket from an empty coffee canister and colored construction paper and began trolling for donations.

When I had my Gameboy, I reassured myself, it would all be worth it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tales of a Fifth Grade Nothing

Mrs. E used to carry around a clipboard of recycled paper which she would use to tally up the points we earned for good behavior. Once we reached one hundred she would give us a penny with a single splat of red nail polish. Later we could use these pennies to purchase prizes from a file cabinet that was filled with the kind of stuff you'd find in a homeless man's shopping cart. Things that, under different circumstances, would have been remarkably unexciting to us but that had magically accrued in value simply because she was "selling" them. There were foreign coins in there, iron on patches, soap, and random odds and ends she found in the garbage on the way to school.

Ordinarily, it might have been incredibly offensive to be rewarded for hard earned academic achievement with an iron on patch in the shape of Louisiana but it was easy to see that these things really meant something to her. And even if we laughed at her eccentric teaching methods, we secretly shared this inexplicable longing for those red dotted pennies. Of course we could just as easily buy nail polish from the dollar store and paint some pennies as we could steal goods from peoples’ trash. But we did neither. Receiving crap in exchange for answering a question correctly was called fifth grade; going out of your way to gain set of “previously owned” pool balls, however, was just plain sad...This is how you teach children to be honest.

Twice a day she would stop teaching and announce it was time for a “bathroom break”. Wasting class time as a rule was fantastic, so this might have been a glorious tradition, had she not insisted on lining us up in single file and walking us there together. To be seen walking single file behind your teacher in fifth grade, alone, is incredibly mortifying. To be seen trailing behind your teacher for a “bathroom break” was on whole other level of mortification. The store of crap was one thing but this was another and it was becoming increasingly apparent that she needed to be taught a lesson.