I would rather my kid have a scoliotic back for the rest of his life from carrying heavy textbooks as a tween than for him to have to carry the internal shame of having been the kid with the rolling backpack, because that shit is way heavier. Once I saw a kid with a rolling backpack fall head-first down a flight of stairs, and let me tell you, that backpack was close to lethal when it landed on top of him. I’ll never forget the tableau of the poor guy as he lay in a crumpled heap at the foot of the stairs, his cuffed sweatpants exposing his skinny ankles in all of their tube-sock-clad glory, the fallen backpack open next to him with papers falling out. This truly depressing sight crystallized my opinion that the rolling backpack is more a form of cruel and unusual punishment than a helpful tool to prevent your child from slipping a disc.
I first joined OkCupid back in December of 2009. Back then, I was working full time, I had my own apartment, and I was more of a developed adult than I am now. The only thing that was missing from my grown-up life was a boyfriend – so one night, I created an online dating profile, and the hits started coming in.
By ‘hits,’ I definitely mean ‘weird messages from dudes who were clearly single for a reason.’ Every girl on OkCupid attracts a different sort of unsavory suitor. Mine can be described only as ‘gym-rat muscle heads with disproportionately shrunken heads,’ and there were definitely a bunch of messages from them, but there were also lots of cute guys to meet, so I started booking dates.
I went out with around 10 guys the first month I was on the site. The first one seemed like a laugh riot online, but when we met up in person, I was startled by the fact that he had an unnaturally shiny, red face and an incredibly high-pitched lady’s voice. Seeing how I have a deep voice for a woman, it was deeply unnerving to be on a date with a guy who spoke in a higher octave than me. We went to McSorley’s, where I was forced to squeeze into a seat right next to the wood-burning stove or whatever that thing is. Predictably, I managed to lean against said maybe-stove and give myself a third degree burn on my tender, fleshy bicep. Date foul, for sure. We said goodbye on the subway and I’m pretty sure he gave me a high-five to end the night, which suited me just fine, except for the fact that his hand was simultaneously clammy, cold and smaller than mine.
An old friend reminded me tonight of a rather disturbing thing that happened to me in a Starbucks when I was a teenager. I had been waiting innocently at the bar for my coffee, and I’d asked the barista for whipped cream on top of my drink. Overhearing my request, an older man who was also waiting for his drink leaned over to me and said, with a lecherous arch of his eyebrow and a twinkle in his eye, “So, you like your fat whipped?”
That’s right: he was trying to confirm whether or not I did, indeed, “like my fat whipped.” I’m pretty sure that the reason I had blocked this memory out until tonight was because WHAT WHO SAYS THAT. I mean, think about it. In one measly little sentence, this peculiar creep managed to be sexually inappropriate, socially inappropriate AND to make a reference to my FAT, for Christ’s sake! I’m pretty sure the words, “Well, I never!” came out of my mouth in response, mostly because I talk like an old-timey schoolmarm when I feel threatened.
Retrospectively, though? Thanks for the laugh, you greasy pervert, you. Thanks for the laugh.
I’ve always been pathologically self-conscious. I don’t really know why – it’s not like I was born without a nose or anything – but I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I think maybe the neurosis stems from having looked so much like a boy when I was a baby that I’d be in my carriage wearing a pink dress and pink hair clips and people would STILL come over and ask, “Aww, how old is he?!” (This might have had something to do with the fact that my ‘hair’ consisted of three wispy strands of nothing, but I digress.)
The self-consciousness wasn’t SO bad when I was a kid, though I do remember being six years old and so deeply ashamed of a tiny mole on my left hand that I would hold it to my body in a palsy-ish kind of way. It only really got bad when I hit twelve years old – that’s when I first put on a knee-length, black, puffy winter coat, and I pretty much didn’t take the fucking thing off for the next six years.
You may think I’m exaggerating. I wish that were the case, but you could ask any one of the 120 kids I went to school with back then, and every single person would tell you, “Yeah, Caroline definitely did spend 6th grade through 12th grade comfortably swaddled in a crazy person puffer coat.” I’d break out Old Faithful as soon as the temperature dipped below 65 degrees in October, and I wouldn’t take it off until it was so hot outside that other people were wearing sundresses and shorts to school.
It was pretty nutty behavior, retrospectively, and GOOD GOD was it BOILING HOT in there. Multiple times a week, some other student, most likely clad only in a thin, short-sleeved shirt, would turn to me and say, “Hey, Caroline, it’s super hot in here, aren’t you hot in that coat?” And even though my hair would be plastered to my red, sweaty face and I’d be feeling like I could slump over from heat stroke at virtually any moment, I’d reply, “Oh, man, I’m FREEZING! I can’t believe you’re hot! I’m so glad I have my coat to keep me toasty!” Then I’d spend the rest of the class simultaneously fuming at their nerve and envying them for the fact that they weren’t totally insane like me.
I even had a math teacher, Doc, who would literally beg me to take the coat off in front of the whole class. “Caroline, you’re beautiful,” he’d say, “and for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, could you take the goddamn coat OFF?” I’d just smile knowingly and say, “Oh, Doc. You know that’ll never happen.” And it didn’t – not until after I’d graduated from high school. I’m surprised my superlative in the yearbook wasn’t, “Most Likely To End Up Wearing a Tin Foil Hat to Match Her Paranoid Schizophrenic’s Outfit.”
Finally, I got to college and decided that there wasn’t much of a point to schvitzing like a pudding at a picnic all the time. Don’t get me wrong, though – I still wear a long, black, puffy coat every winter, and the first time each season that I get to put it on, I think to myself, “Hello, old friend. We meet again.”
Once upon a time, I went to a university in Scotland for three years. I hated it so much that I applied for a transfer to The New School here in NYC after my third year. What I’m ashamed to admit is that my admission portfolio consisted of the basic application plus the following two gems:
1. A piece of ‘art,’ which was an incredibly shitty drawing of a human heart with the different parts labeled after the neighborhoods of Manhattan and the caption, “I left my heart in New York City,”
2. An audio recording of me singing the Glasvegas song “Daddy’s Gone” in a Scottish accent. I attached a note that said, “This is the only thing I learned how to do in Scotland.”
Shock of all shocks – they didn’t take me.
When I was a senior in High School, most of my grade went to the Bahamas for Spring Break. It was awesome; everyone in the city you could possibly want to see or interact with in a tropical locale was there. What wasn’t so awesome was the night that I drank an entire Yard at Senor Frog’s. I sort of remember dancing wildly and feeling great until we got in a cab to go to the next club, a place (ironically) called Cocktails & Dreams. When we arrived, I staggered over to a swinging bench on the beach and threw myself onto it, only to pitch forward face-first into the sand. It occurred to me then, as I lay on the ground in a semi-comatose state, that the night was not going to improve from there.
I finally got up and made my way to the bathroom, which I soon learned was a problematic place to be for two reasons. There was a bathroom attendant stationed by the sinks, which would’ve been fine, except for the fact that the bathroom doors were so short that she could see me as I rested on the dirty, dirty floor in the fetal position.
I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you something I learned that night: there are few things more degrading than hearing other drunk bitches talk about you while you’re basically catatonic and unable to defend yourself. They kept saying things like, “OMG, holy SHIT, do you see that GIRL?? She’s, like, TOTALLY PASSED OUT on the FLOOR! And she’s wearing a DRESS! Do you think she’s OK?! LOLZHAHAHA”), and I could form sentences in my mind, but I couldn’t make the words come out of my mouth. It was like being in hell. Finally, the bathroom attendant summoned some of my friends, and they took me home in a cab while I clutched a cup of water and tried not to die.
Man…those sure were the days.
It was Halloween. I was dressed as The Wicked Witch of the East – you know, the one the house fell on or something. (NB: the only reason I was the assed-out, dead witch instead of the pretty, fun one is because I had the ruby red slippers but nothing else.) Anyway, we went out to a packed bar, I was macking it to all sorts of characters, and then, on my way down a flight of stairs and in full view of the entire establishment, my feet slipped out from under me. I proceeded to hit every stair on my ass in what felt like slow motion until I finally reached the floor. Let me tell you, if a house could’ve fallen on me right then, I would’ve taken the option and said sayonara, world.
When I was 8 years old, I became obsessed with going to sleepaway camp. I don’t know what the hell was so miserable about being nice, safe and loved at home, but I became insistent on going away to camp as soon as 3rd grade was over.
We looked at a bunch of camps, but finally settled on one all the way up in Maine. The campers, said the place’s promotional video, slept in rustic canvas tents. There were arts and crafts, a scenic lake for us to sail on, and sometimes the whole camp would go blueberry picking together. Since everyone they taped was having THE BEST SUMMER OF HER LIFE, my mother decided that I would go there. For 8 weeks. The month after I turned 9. Regardless of the fact that I’d insisted on being picked up from every sleepover I’d ever been on to date.
And so, that June, we packed up all of the UNIFORMS that we’d had to buy (UNIFORMS!), wrote my name on a shit ton of socks, and got ready for my departure. Of course, around two weeks before I left, it finally kicked in that I was about to be away from my parents and baby sister for mad long and I became inconsolable. I can remember crying so hard that I was silent as the bus pulled away from the kerb that first day and my family waved goodbye to me. Even then, as I sat weeping into my pillow, I knew that nothing good was waiting for me in Maine.
First of all, I was in a different bunk than the friend I’d gone to camp with, so I was totally screwed on the social front. Clearly, nobody wants to befriend the miserable twit who won’t stop running to the bathroom cabin (!!!) to cry hysterically and write nutty letters home, so I was pretty much on my own for 8 whole weeks. Add to this the fact that we weren’t allowed to call home even ONCE, and also the fact that I had a borderline abusive English counselor who would scream at me to clean the tent while I lay on my cot and sobbed, and you’re starting to get an idea for how this summer played out. I have a vivid memory of finding a bright orange slug on one of our many camping trips (oh, the indignity) and bringing it back to campus because it was the best friend I’d made in five weeks. I was not having a good time.
Then Hurricane Bertha hit. Those charming, rustic, canvas tents we slept in? Turns out they shrunk in hurricanes. I guess it got pretty dangerous at one point, because the whole camp had to be ushered into the Theater Cabin, where some moron read us “The Velveteen Rabbit” while we waited for the storm to subside. Here’s a note to anyone who owns a camp: there are literally A MILLION better stories to read a bunch of terrified children than one about a depressive rabbit who almost gets burned in a fire when his sickly owner stops loving/forgets about him. Who thought that was a good idea? Seriously, people. This is what I was dealing with.
I still count the day that I left that godforsaken place as one of the happiest days of my life. I have a vague recollection of wetting my bed for the first – and only – time in my life the night before we left and thinking to myself, “I’m glad that someone is going to have to deal with this,” instead of “ZOMG I just wet the bed and I’m kind of old and this is sort of embarrassing and gross.”
Here’s the message of the story: if you send a child who already has separation anxiety to semi-boot camp when she’s 9, she will still live at home when she is 24.
When I was in tenth grade, I became consumed with the idea that I looked sickly all the time. My skin had always been vaguely yellow, like an unripe banana or a gender-neutral nursery, but for some reason, the minute I hit 15 I decided that I looked like Tiny Tim (both the Dickens character and the ukulele-playing weirdo).
What, I wondered, could I do to make myself look healthier? I tried self-tanning; it made me the color of a satsuma. I tried powder blush – that didn’t do much to help. So I began to carry a little jar of incredibly heavily pigmented hot pink cream blush around with me and took to applying it compulsively to both cheeks every hour or so. I was under the impression that I looked banging – that is, until the day our yearbook photos were scheduled to be taken.
I had spent a good twenty minutes in the basement bathroom of my school applying and reapplying my trusty blush until I was satisfied that I looked both fresh and sophisticated. I emerged into the sunlight to have my photo taken, and when one of my classmates saw me, she audibly gasped. “Oh my GOD, are you okay? Your face is, like, NEON!” Just the words you want to hear right before you’re photographed for a yearbook that everyone in your school will have for the rest of their lives.
Retrospectively, she was right. I look back at old photos now and my cheeks are so pink in them that it looks like someone had thrown hydrochloric acid in my face a month earlier. Aren’t you glad that you never have to be a teenager again?
I just found my Moleskine from my last year at St. Andrews. The following entries were made on my last full day in Scotland and on the day I moved home to NYC.
Leaving Scotland For Good
Tesco, St. A: An alcoholic in front of me was buying a pack of 10 cigarettes and a bottle of cheap red wine at 1:30pm. Shaking uncontrollably, he said, “My day is getting better by the minute!” as he stuffed the cheap red wine into his little backpack. Talk about DEPRESSING!!
Edinburgh Airport: A boy who looked perfectly ‘normal,’ save for an eyebrow piercing, sat down and pulled out an actual little crystal ball that he proceeded to stand up and do tricks with like he was a member of the Harlem fucking Globetrotters. He was completely unashamed, even when the crystal ball fell loudly to the ground and when a Scottish man in a kilt said, “that was fucking brilliant, mate, but your flight left ages ago!” and his friend laughed. In between practice sessions, the boy sat down and read from what appeared to be a Penguin Classic.
Lack of Shame in Scotland
There are many kids at St. Andrews who are already peripheral members of society and still decide to break out sticks lit on fire at parties on the beach and twirl them while knee-deep in the North Sea. During these fire-twirling sessions, they wear their breathable cargo pants rolled up so they won’t get wet. My questions: where does one practice that skill? And who looks at someone twirling fire in wide-legged cargo pants and decides that they want to be just like that person? Most importantly, why doesn’t this fire twirling ever go awry? Because THAT would be entertaining: “Help me, mate! Me fockin’ favourite trousers are melted to me fockin’ legs! An’ I rolled ’em up an’ everythin’!”
Generally, I’ve noticed that the Scots are weird about the personas they create for themselves. I think it has to do with the question of how you go about individualizing yourself when you live in a completely homogenous, class-based society. Once you’ve aligned yourself with a group over here, you are not changing your mind about it. And if you went with becoming a “goth,” which means you decided to only wear knee-length pleather coats and listen to mainstream rock music from the late 1980s for the rest of your life, then you’d best have developed a thick skin and a nasty attitude – because, well, look at you, for God’s sake. I remember one time when I was going for a drink with some kids that I did Classics with – I’d had a mishap with self-tanner and had an orange face with color concentrated mostly on my upper lip. I looked like hell – like an Oompa Loompa who was in the middle of hormone replacement therapy. So when I showed up at the bar, I said casually, “Don’t judge me – I made a bad choice!” and then laughed. One of the girls, who happened to be wearing neon green mesh arm-warmers and had a lip ring and filthy hair, said to me, “We’re not judgemental,” as she rolled her beady eyes. That about sums up my experience here.
PS: In airport now- I keep seeing a man everywhere who has slicked-back hair and emotionless reptile eyes. Having a slight stress about the likelihood of this flight turning into something like the movie “Red Eye.”
PPS – Now he is sitting across from me on the plane!!!
Ahhh…those were the days. PSYCH!