We went to the Weinberg Center last night to see The Gold Rush, which was an awesome experience and will be the subject of a forthcoming edition of Movies That Kick My Ass. On the way back to Ashley’s place, we stopped at Waffle House for dinner. I was maybe halfway through my bowl of chili when I saw the bus from the St. James school pull into the parking lot.
St. James is this snobby private academy about halfway between Hagerstown and Sharpsburg. It’s apparently the oldest private school in the country, which I only know because it’s mentioned every time anyone with the slightest connection to the place does something newsworthy. Its campus is also the home of a very, very old fucking tree, so old it’s no longer safe to touch or even look at up close. They have an electronic security perimeter around this tree to keep the students from getting near it.
So this herd of St. James kids comes in and just takes over the Waffle House. It was me and Ashley, and a few guys sitting at another booth on the other side of the place, and then within like five minutes it’s full of teenage boys and girls (seated on opposite sides of the place, naturally – it’s a religious school). They were a maximum age of maybe sixteen. The boys sat behind me, the girls sat behind Ashley. Our booth was like the demilitarized zone. A few minutes after they arrived a few of the girls gathered around the jukebox and started playing this Rebecca St. James song, which they then proceeded to loudly sing along to as a group. One of the cooks tried to shut them up by reminding them good naturedly that karaoke night was tomorrow night. I appreciated the gesture, but I’d have gone for a more direct “Shut the fuck up!” if I’d been him. There was this skinny boy dressed in a wife-beater and sickeningly short shorts, wearing sunglasses inside at 11 p.m., who conducted himself like the badass of the group. I kept thinking of all the lockers he’d have been shoved into and all the swirlies he’d be made to endure if he attended public school.
Have you ever had to reach something on a high shelf but you couldn’t find a chair or a step-ladder, so you stood on something not so sturdy, like a big stack of magazines or several cardboard boxes piled on top of an upside down laundry basket? There’s a moment right before what you’re standing on collapses, when it becomes clear to you that you are going to fall and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, you just have to try and land without breaking a limb. Last night at Waffle House surrounded by all those loud, obnoxious private school fuckers, I got the same feeling, only instead of me about to fall off of the pile of magazines, it was the human race.
If you can’t tell already, I’m not a big fan of private schools. I’m not a crazy commie who thinks there should be no such thing as private schools. It’s a free country – if a bunch of rich guys want to get together and found a private school to spare their sensitive offspring the ordeal of socializing with normal people, more power to ‘em. But I don’t have to like it. Private schools are asshole factories that breed elitism, something that there’s already plenty of in the world.
One thing Ashley noticed about the group before I did was their chaperone. He was a dude named Mark Michael, who I went to high school with. He was two years ahead of me. Going by IQ points alone, Mark is probably the smartest guy I’ve ever met personally. Ashley’s dad, who has been a teacher for thirty years, says Mark is easily one of the two most impressive students he’s ever taught. He’s been a teacher at St. James since he graduated college. He’s always been a little peculiar. He used to remind me of an extremely bland Orson Welles, with all of the stiff, measured poise of Welles and none of the charm and charisma. There’s something stiff and detached about Mark, like he’s an android being operated remotely from a subterranean bunker. He sat at a booth with three of the boys, and got up to tell the badass in the wife-beater and sunglasses to sit back down when it looked like he was getting too friendly with a few of the ladies.
Besides being a fucking genius, Mark was also from a prominent Clear Spring family, so he was involved in every extracurricular activity possible. He was in the band, the show choir, the history club, the National Honor Society, you name it. I remember him running for student council president in middle school. He dressed up in a suit and tie and went from person to person shaking hands as we stood in line for lunch. As I watched him work his way up the line toward me, I remembered once years earlier when I’d seen him at a church picnic (during my family’s blessedly brief flirtation with church) throwing quite an impressive tantrum because he had lost a game and the girl who won got more candy than him. I didn’t shake his hand when he got to me. I still smile when I remember the look on his face.