The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The W Biz

“I promise
To love my Ws,
To honor them every day,
To never say ‘hate’ to a W,
And to never, ever write
‘I hate Ws.’’”

--The W Club pledge, c. 1973

I’m taking a big risk with this entry. It’s liable to stir up a lot of old ghosts which should have remained in their crypts. I can hear them rattling their chains already.

I decided to write this entry because of a conversation I’ve been having on Facebook with someone who attended the same elementary school as I did. This person began asking me questions about events that took place almost 35 years ago, and I suddenly realized that even I wasn’t sure what had exactly went down. I contacted (via Facebook) three people who had been there for the long haul and asked them what they remembered and what the hell happened. With a few (sometimes painful) reminders, I managed to cobble this together.

The whole thing started in 1972, and it started in my living room.

I was five, and, like most children at that age, I watched Sesame Street forty times a day. My mother used to get me up a full hour before I had to go to school just so I could get my daily fix of Oscar, Big Bird, the Count, and Gordon and Susan (haven’t you always wondered what really went on there?). As you know, each episode was “brought to you” by a certain number and letter.

It was an ordinary day (in winter, I believe), and I was up early watching muppets caper about, when suddenly a sketch began that took place in a dark alley with a full moon, illuminated only by a streetlight. Out of the darkness came a giant green W, a muppet policeman hot in pursuit—apparently the W had broken a very important law. The W, which was a lot smarter than the cop, disguised itself by turning upside down to make an M, and then tilting on its side to make an E. The sketch ended with the felt-covered police officer blowing his whistle and yelling, “Hey! Somebody stop that letter!”

In case you don't believe me, you can see it for yourself here:  My totally awesome friend Jason actually did the legwork and found it!  Rock on, Jason. (Come on, isn't the W kind of cute?).

I didn’t know then, and I certainly don’t know now, why that particular sketch impacted me so powerfully. I had seen hundreds of Sesame Street sketches that were funnier and more clever, but for reasons beyond every inch of sanity, I became obsessed with the letter W.

And so, I was off to the races.

If you went to elementary school and junior high with me, you will no doubt remember the W Biz (as I called it), and also remember how I was treated. I have often wondered if I would have still been the school pariah if I had not shoved W down everyone’s throat, and I’m forced to admit that yes, I would have been—there was just too much else “wrong” with me to overshadow the whole W Biz.

So much has been written on the subject of bullying that I didn’t intend on mentioning it here, but as I thought about it I realized that, at age 43, I’m still very damaged from the constant teasing, ridicule, “jokes,” jeering and mockery. It is very much a part of my adult makeup. I can’t pass two people laughing at a private joke without the knee-jerk reaction of they’re laughing at me. Absolutely everything I said or did was looked upon with shame, derision, and scorn. I didn’t like the “right” music. I didn’t wear the “right” clothes. I didn’t watch the “right” television show. I was clumsy, awkward, and very bad at sports.

It did, however, prepare me for a life alone.

But my biggest crime, I think, was simply this: I didn’t give in. Not once. I’m weirdly proud of that now.

I realized very early that I was the school chump, so I figured as long as every person I came into contact with thought I was “corroded” (remember that? And the “anti-corrosion spray?” Don’t worry…I do. That was really mature, wasn’t it? Did it make you feel important to single out the weak and destroy any chance they have at any kind of self-esteem? You should be proud of yourself, and at least I know now where to send the hospital bills), I would at least give everyone a good reason to treat me like a leper.

So I formed the W Club.

It was, apparently, very easy to get a membership to the W Club—all you had to do was recite the insipid pledge at the top of the page, and learn the “secret signal.” To make the secret symbol, simply make the Peace sign with both hands. Now bring the hands together so that your fingers are making a W. Yeah, I know. Rocket science.

Of course, the W Club had its own language, which consisted of simply putting a W in front of every word. Wit was wuley wembarrassing, and not likely to give Pig Latin a run for its money.

Contingent on membership, everyone had to write “The W Book.” It wasn’t hard—just take a piece of manila paper, fold it in half, and fill it with bright colored Ws. Keep adding pages until you get caught wasting art supplies.

While all this was going on, my parents were really, really worried about me. They tried to humor me, thinking that I was going through a “phase” and would grow out of it. I didn’t. In fact I got even more manic and made up “burying dead Ws.”

This had to be seen to be believed. I would find four sticks of approximately the same size and dig a (shamefully shallow) “grave” (in the shape of a W, of course), bury the sticks, and then pray over it. In Latin.

(Did I mention the Ws had names? Oh sure they did.  Sitting here, I can recall only a few of them; Wubbit, Dubbit, Wuberina, Wubberiska, Wub-Dub, and…uh…a bunch of other names that are bastardizations of W).

My teachers (with the exception of my third grade teacher, who was peri-menopausal and a huge bitch that got off on teasing me along with everyone else) tried very hard to get me to “pack away W” (poor Mrs. G.). The more I was harassed, the more gung-ho I got. There was no end in sight.

The end did finally come, and it ended as abruptly as it began. I literally woke up one morning and had no more interest in Ws. I did, however, have a great deal of interest in other things, not the least of which was regaining my self-respect.

Yeah, I know.   *sigh*

I’m still working on it.