My friends say I’m “relaxed.” But I tell you now it was not always so. Just a few years ago I was a quivering, muttering paranoiac, quietly making daily tallies of instances in which ordinary inanimate objects and forces of nature had conspired against me. Things like drink machines that wouldn’t take my coins, or snow that blew in my face no matter which way I turned.
This anxiety most likely emerged back in elementary school, with my teacher Mrs. Jones (not her real name)—or Zera as we called her (cf. certain late 60’s science fiction films starring Charlton Heston and a cast of extras dressed as chimpanzees). At some point during the school year Zera developed a condition that caused her to blame practically any classroom mishap on me and my friend Bruce Lee. (This is his real name, yes, and the beginning of another potentially long and tangential parenthesis unless I nip it in the bud right here.)
Bruce and I sat along the window in our classroom. As Christmas approached that year, the class decided to fill the entire window space with colorful construction paper and festive decorations. This project had two effects for Bruce and me: a) the paper precluded our joint habit of staring out the window and slipping into reverie during class; and more importantly b) the several buckets-worth of glitter decorations often dislodged and fluttered down around our desks. Bruce and I began collecting and categorizing the glitter pieces by color—mostly green and red—into opposing “troops.” The rare gold glitter pieces that fell on our desks were naturally officers. After all, a glitter army without officers is just...glitter.
As time went on we agreed that we had each gathered enough troops to wage war, so we began constructing little origami-like jeeps, tanks, artillery, and fortresses for them to fight with. Whenever we had a free moment during the day one of us would launch a direct attack across a desk, or else try flanking along the windowsill. The windowsill was risky, though, as it was more visible to others in the classroom. (I assume, but cannot attest, that during this same period most of the others in class were engaged off and on in some type of educational exercise—or learning—normally expected of elementary school students.)
To make a long story short, one force emerged victorious from the Glitter War, and that force was...Zera. She discovered the glitter stashes in our desks and accused us of deliberately dismantling the Christmas decorations for our little battles. This indictment proved to be a political coup de maître. If we confessed to her charges, the other students would hate us for sabotaging their beloved Christmas display. But if we asserted (honestly) that the glitter had been falling unaided into our laps for the last several weeks, it would amount to accusing them of making shabby decorations, again stoking their resentment. Zera, in one carefully worded allegation, had brilliantly invoked “class struggle” against Bruce and me, causing us to feel guilty for being innocent. The sheer injustice left me breathlessly confused.
It has taken me years since then to renounce the sinister feeling that somehow, even in the slightest anomaly of, say, a slow-to-respond jidou door or a flickering fluorescent light, there is some nebulous agency at work seeking my demise, bit by bit, brain cell by brain cell, perhaps for no other reason than its own pleasure. It’s either the stupidest thing one could ever learn in the 5th grade, or it’s the most important. Thus spake Zera.