The time I didn’t sing along to “Dixie” in P.E. An ancient Chinese saying goes, “There is no fate worse than co-ed ninth grade P.E.” But seeing as how I was a rhythmically-challenged klutz and therefore unable to (proudly, at least) join marching band, sports, or drill team, but still had to meet the state-mandated requirement for P.E. credits in order to graduate high school/ avoid becoming a childhood obesity statistic, there I was. We dressed out, and Coach Ballew, which is of course less a last name and more the sound a frustrated American hick repeatedly makes while trying to communicate the color of water and Smurfs to a concierge in Paris, told us to sit down and quiet down. He sat in a chair, looking down on us. He told us it was his birthday. “And for my birthday,” he said, “I would like you all to do something very special for me.” He then taught us the words to “Dixie,” line by line. I glanced up at the clock periodically, hoping that Dixie would take up the whole class so we wouldn’t have to play crab soccer again. Then Coach goes, “Three, two, one… Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton!” and everyone began to sing. I mouthed the words so it would look like I was singing along. Choosing not to sing a vaguely racist song made me feel superior to the other students. I already felt superior to Coach because he looked like a stretched-out Mr. Potato Head, and, in hindsight, also kind of like a penis, but I didn’t have a good grasp on what a penis looked like then, so. Anyhow, my moment of glory, like that of the South, was relatively short-lived. In the middle of the song, Coach stopped everyone and said, “Carly. Why aren’t you singing?“ I said, “I am. Coach.” He said, “Well, I can’t hear you.” He made everyone start over. This time, I sort of hummed the song with my mouth open, which was apparently more convincing, but also made me feel defeated. We finished the song with thirty-five minutes left, and Coach made us play crab soccer.
The time someone got stabbed in the swimming pool at my old apartment complex. Because I was neither the victim nor the stabber. Avoid either fate, and life is a winning game. However, got out of bed six times that night to check the deadbolt on the front door. Couldn’t sleep. Watched Sex and the City reruns on TBS. Finally fell asleep. Dreamed about going somewhere exotic and teaching poor people how to dance. Woke up and remembered that I couldn’t dance, and also that dancing is for free. Remembered that I hadn’t stabbed or been stabbed. Felt OK. Made toast. Stayed inside.
Any time I’ve studied/ lived/ traveled abroad. Tiananmen Square. Thought-postcard to my enemies: Ha ha, bitches! You are in America, and I’m not! Inner voice was all, “Uh, the majority of people in this world are also not in America.” Thought-postcard to my inner voice: Yeah, okay, whose side are you on here, Inner Voice? And then I walked toward the street and somebody on a bike got hit by a car.
Every time I get on Facebook. Status Update: I may not be living The American Dream like you, but I do have a degree from a private liberal arts university, and that is where I learned that while the possibilities granted by freedom may not always lead to a Successful Life, they do often result in a satisfying sense of superiority. Unlike nearly everyone I graduated high school with, I remain unencumbered by children, a spouse, or the e-moans of e-animal-husbandry on Farmville. Therefore, feelings of superiority arise from knowledge of the following freedoms: I am not forced to explain to anyone why looking at politician/ celebrity dick pics online is not the same as cheating; I can travel to developing countries plagued with women’s rights/ human trafficking problems without worrying that my inevitable kidnapping will devastate anyone and/ or become the basis for a sappy Lifetime movie; etc.
The time I saw a guy’s testicle at Whole Foods. Minding my business, eating couscous at the café in Whole Foods, and then I saw it. After the initial waves of nausea passed, I started to feel superior to the Michael Moore-dead-ringer and his exposed testicle. For one, I never would have stepped out of the house in such risqué khaki booty shorts, and especially not without proper underthings. For two, I’d never myself have to worry about such a slip, as I did not, and would never–barring of course a particularly agonizing mid-life crisis, gender identity crisis, and subsequent sex change, or a Gorilla Glue accident–have attached to my body any form of a testicle. I also felt superior in a sad way to the future-person/ people who would unwittingly sit and enjoy an organic meal in that very chair that a Michael Moore unwittingly tea-bagged.
Every time I go to the gym and everyone else is fatter than I am. As I currently live in one of the tubbiest states in the nation and work out at a very small gym, this is the primary source of superiority feelings at this particular point in my life.
The times in which I was at a party and felt uncool/ uncomfortable there but also excited about relaying the events of, and my presence at, said party to uncool people in the future. Me, to myself, “Yes, you might be the only person here who bought her clothes at Ross Dress for Less, and the only person who doesn’t work for a big MNC and/ or have a book published. But that’s okay, right? Because later you can rub your attendance at this awesome party in the faces of your loser friends/ acquaintances who would never manage to get invited to a party this cool, amirite?” No. It only took me, oh, nearly a quarter of a century to figure out that the overwhelming majority of people don’t give a hoot that I once ate Cooler Ranch Doritos while a recognizable character actor cracked “Yo mama” jokes like two feet away from me, or that a best-selling author glared at me by a swimming pool. Mostly, people just go, “Oh. Cool.” Mostly, people just think, “Shut up already, snobby snob-face.” Mostly, people just gradually stop inviting me to their uncool-people parties, parties where I might actually fit in, but who will ever know now. Mostly, as it turns out, people just kind of care about their families and friends and boyfriends and real human connections and equality and Farmville and Sex and the City, and recycling bottles and watching funny videos on YouTube and nurturing the self-esteem of others and singing nostalgic songs on their birthdays and drinking McCafes, and posting all of this on Facebook.