Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Little Mastermind (Warning: details may be inaccurate)

" I framed a kindergartner once."

That... is the kind of line that instantly grabs the attention of a whole dinner party.  I was at my parents' anniversary dinner listening to my sister tell tales of my young nephew's various misadventures in school. His most recent, getting the nurse to give him a day off by saying that he was asthmatic and had forgotten his inhaler, provoked a "Can you believe a eight year old kid would do that?" from the table.

It was as that point that I stopped chuckling, sipped my wine and said "I framed a kindergartner once" answering the collective "You did what?" from my siblings and our spouses with "I was in kindergarten, too. It's not like it  was last week."

Naturally,  I was immediately pressed for details which I shared with my best evil grin.  It's a 33 year old story, and so is like a copy of a copy of copy, with my memories xeroxing and reediting the specifics into something semi-apocryphal. The key ideas are still accurate, but the identity of the players are no longer consistent. The actual act and the fallout are still as clear as if they happened yesterday. I'll leave out the names of the other kids to, uh, protect the innocent.

Let's start by saying something that should be pretty obvious. Our education system is fairly miserable experience for all involved and if one has the misfortune to be the runtiest kid (and a dorky, oddly verbose one at that), school tends to be veritable hell.  You'll be picked on by most kids who are larger than you are, for the simplest of reasons.  They're bigger than you.  One of our great myths is that of "Standing up to the bully!"  This may have worked for Ralphie Parker against Scut Farcus, but in real life, it tends to work out in one of two ways.   The perpetual victim either gets his ass handed to him, or gets in trouble for beating up a well-liked "good kid". I can only imagine how much worse it is for today's crop of small kids.

To the point of the story at hand, I knew even at five years old that beating up the kid who was picking on me was not likely to be in the cards. Luckily, I had some guile on my side.  This was the story as I shared with my stunned siblings (who think of me as the gentle eldest brother).

I don't remember this kid's name, only that he was a prick. We'll call him X.  I can't remember anything specific about him except that he excluded me from playing with Star Wars figures and Connect Four, etc. Anyone who hasn't sat at the top of the food chain knows the sorts of wretched "part of the group/not part of the group"things kids do when they form hierarchies on the first day of school.

One day, I was watching as he and a few other boys played with Lego-esque toys. (They weren't quite Legos or Tinkers Toys, but a generic combination that aspired to both.  They could have been both or either and my brain has simply muddied it) After they were done, inspiration struck the tiny David.  Grabbing as many generic building toys as my puny hands could hold, I skulked over to the cubbies where we kept our things and filled X's lunchbox to brim with them.   I then went over to Ms Malone, our teacher, tugged on her pant leg and shyly said "Miss Malone,  I think X is stealing the Lego-Tinkertoy amalgams." *possibly not my exact words

She went over to X and asked him about my accusation, which he obviously denied.  "But I saw his put them in his lunchbox!" was my response. She had X open his lunchbox, and out fell an appalling amount of stolen toys. He was sent to the principal's office (wonderfully adjacent to the Kindergarten classroom)where I could hear the normally jovial Mr Berkowitz bellowing at X about the consequences of stealing and the possibility of prison.

I could hear X bawling that he hadn't done anything, sobbing harder as Mr Berkowitz yelled that lying made it worse (My brain has added a bit about Richard Nixon to the lecture in post).  I imagined the salty tears streaming down his face. I felt that mix of guilt and elation that vengeance brings. Victory was mine!

Only it wasn't.  Now, normally by this point in story like this one, the guilt would overwhelm the perpetrator in a "Tell-Tale Heart" fashion.  It may have gotten me, too.  But I never got to find out if I was more Montresor than the Tell-Tale Heart narrator.   One of the girls in our class had seen me frame X, and since  "Quit Snitchin' " had not yet become a thing, spilled the beans on my scheme.

Now I was the one who'd face an near apoplectic Mr Berkowitz, with my enraged parents in tow to find out exactly how diabolical their young boy was and what to do about it.   I don't remember the punishment, just a lot of yelling and pretending that felt I worse about my actions than I did.

My sister chimed in asked whether I'd learned my lesson that day.  I said that I had,  "Always look both ways when framing someone'.


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