January 24, 2003

Shaming Mr. Shameless The other

Shaming Mr. Shameless

The other day, Mel asked if anything embarrased me. I had to think about that one, because I couldn't honestly remember the last time I felt embarrassed, about anything. There could be a crowd of 10,000 people pointing and laughing at me, for whatever reason, and I'd simply try to make even more of an ass of myself, just so they keep laughing at me. It's hard for me to feel shame.

A blog reader once asked whether I was afraid Mel, or my parents, would ever stumble across my blog. Well, my mother did find it, and she tried to scold me for being so honest and for being (get ready) "a potty mouth." All I could do was laugh at her. My mother's solution? She doesn't read me any more. And Mel reads me all the time, but the only thing she gets upset about is that I don't blog about her enough. Whatever.

I didn't always have such a thick skin. There was a time when I was terrified of making a mistake, or making a clown of myself in crowds, or just pissing people off. For a foolish stretch of time in high school, I genuinely believed it was possible to go through life making everybody happy. If I just didn't rock the boat, and got good grades, and kissed the appropriate number of asses, I could go through life unnoticed and unshamed. Starting sometime in college, however, I just started not caring any more. So long as goofing off and being an occasional prick doesn't translate into a gun in my face, I realized, it doesn't really matter.

Not so in elementary school. No, back in those formative years, teachers and classmates used shame as a powerfully effective tool. In a time when you were supposed to snap into line and do as you're told, being singled out was the equivalent of facing a firing squad.

I really wasted no time getting my first taste of genuine grade school shame. I was in kindergarten, and all the students sat, in alphabetical order according to name, on a big green rug in the middle of the classroom. Just for the record, I should admit that I had no idea what alphabetical order meant at the time. I just knew there was a certain spot on the green rug I usually sat.

Well, back in my kindergarten days, we had what was referred to as milk monitors, or children specifically chosen to walk down the hall to retrieve milk for the other students. This required counting skills, which I hadn't quite mastered yet, so I was not qualified to be a milk monitor.

However, one day, the milk monitors were taking a long time retrieving the milk, so our teacher quickly selected a "milk monitor monitor" to go to the door to see what was taking so long. I wasn't paying particular attention at the time, because I was busy looking out the window daydreaming. When I came back to reality, I noticed that the person usually seated next to me was gone. Where did he go? My eyes scanned frantically until I found him standing outside the door, looking down the hall at something.

"What is he looking at?" I wondered. "Why was he chosen to go look? Am I next? What if I'm next? Oh no! I better do something! Anything!"

So, I stood up and walked over to the door, my legs shaking because I was taking a HUGE gamble here, assuming that I was next for whatever it was that was going on. All the other kids looked at me in stunned disbelief. What was I doing? I looked back at my little spot of green rug, and there was no other place I wanted to be. But, I had committed myself to whatever it was I was doing, and there was no going back. Then, it happened. . .

"Ryan Rhodes!" barked Mrs. Klauss, the teacher. "What do you think you're doing?!"

Well, obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. I just thought I was next for whatever it was I next for, and that it mysteriously involved standing outside the door and staring down the hall. Therefore, I had no answer for Mrs. Klauss.

"Come over here, Ryan," she said, pointing to the floor in front of her desk.

I did as I was told, and I stood there in front of Mrs. Klauss for what seemed like an eternity, so terrified I was considering peeing my pants. I couldn't see the kids behind me, but I knew they were there, happily seated on their assigned spots of green rug, all of them wondering if Mrs. Klauss was going to kill me or not.

"Okay, Ryan. Go sit in the Naughty Chair."

Not the "Naughty Chair!" Anything but the "Naughty Chair!" Couldn't she just drive colored chalk into my eyes? Surely that would be better than enduring the "Naughty Chair!"

The Naughty Chair was nothing more than a simple tot-sized desk, actually. It was positioned right next to Mrs. Klauss's big person desk, and it faced the rest of the class. Therein was its true evil. Facing the rest of the class, and in turn the rest of the class facing you, laid bare the inescapable fact that you got in trouble. It was a shame device of the highest order, and I was the first to sit in it.

I remember when Mrs. Klauss first introduced us to the Naughty Chair, and I remember thinking that I, good little boy Ryan Rhodes, would never have to place my bottom on its shame ridden seat. And yet, there I was, not only sitting in it, but breaking it in. How could I be the first?! This can't be happening! Oh, cruel, cruel world!

"Now, put your head down, Ryan," said Mrs. Klauss, and I did as instructed.

So there I sat, my head resting on the unforgiving formica, while my unseen classmates giggled and played and drank their milk on the shaggy green rug. I wanted to die.

Nowadays, it's quite a trick for me to feel shame or to be embarrased, but if I ever again bump into Mrs. Klauss, and she instructs me to sit in the Naughty Chair with my head down, I could very well burst into tears.

Posted by Ryan at January 24, 2003 11:57 AM

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