Sunday, November 20, 2011

Be True to Your School

Thanksgiving week always brings Thanksgiving memories to some. I can't help much with that tradition, but in honor of all the weird stuff going on with Penn State, Syracuse and other universities, I thought a little sports story might be in order. Yeah, I hate what sports have become, but that's okay. Unfortunately, as many of you know, there have been some real tragedies on the playing -- mostly football -- field at high school and college levels, sometimes ending in death. Yes, occasionally athletes, sports "heroes," die doing what they love most, and society embraces them as the gods many believe them to be. But who cares about the intellectually gifted students? Kids, if you're exceptionally brainy, sports-teamless and feel as loved as a pile of dog poop in your school, this touching story is for you. . .and happy Thanksgiving to all. . .

Though only 16, Jasper's brilliance for science was recognized throughout the high school, but his fellow students looked upon him merely as a curiosity.

However, one day during a science lab session, Jasper discovered astonishing new methods to interpret the mysteries of both celestial mechanics and quantum physics. In fact, he may have stumbled upon the key to the UFO phenomenon's identity, leading his overjoyed science teacher to proclaim him a true intellectual "phenom" -- or at least a phenom problem solver.

Unfortunately, upon exiting the classroom Jasper slipped on a banana peel discarded by a football player and hit his head on the floor, dying instantly, even though the banana from whence it came had been grown organically. Yes, even green can kill. Along with Jasper's passing went his intricate mental scientific calculations, not yet entered into the computer, and now lost forever.

The student body, frankly, wasn't too distraught because nobody really hung out with Jasper, but they visited school "grief counselors" anyway, and the sessions did provide a way to cut classes. The grief counselors were looked upon as comparable to gods or psychic brain surgeons because their talents involved helping girls cry and psychologically draining boys of whatever testosterone society hasn't already confiscated. The grief counselors were obviously special, for they had grazed professionally among the folk who successfully embraced and fine-tuned the Sybil / multiple personality scam for decades and became fabulously wealthy by manipulating unaware patients into becoming even more screwed up than they were to begin with. Grief counselors were almost magical, for they could provide most of the counseling that now-useless parents used to be responsible for.

Peculiarly, local media, which characteristically reported about high school athlete deaths for weeks, seemingly endlessly, barely mentioned Jasper's demise. After all, he could offer the world only genius, and had played no sports.

When the day arrived for calling hours, school staff scraped together -- with tremendous effort -- a small gaggle of students to venture into the funeral home. The grief counselors had to tell them what to say to grieving family members because students were clueless when it came to using powers of speech, and parents who had long ago relegated the teaching of common sense to counselors weren't much help in that respect, either.. "Can't we just text his family?" texted one student to, and in the presence of, a grief counselor, without speaking a word.

Still, only eight classmates showed up for calling hours. Most spoke so softly or inarticulately that Jasper's parents could barely understand them. At the end of this very short receiving line stood two school jocks, the only members of the athletic section present, and as they approached Jasper's parents each struggled for the right words to say, even though grief counselors had written them down on shreds of computer paper. One jock pulled a crumpled piece of paper from his pocket and stared at it intently as he read the words to Jasper's parents. "I'm sorry," he said, repeating the note verbatim.

The other athlete, now standing alone as his friend made a hasty exit, unable to find his own grief counselor-inspired message among his pockets, yet confident of his feelings, went ad lib: "Um, yeah, I'm sorry your kid couldn't measure up to be part of our team."

With that, noting Jasper's parents had suddenly frozen where they stood, jock number two rushed for the exit, immensely proud of himself for surely expressing what the whole school must have thought about Jasper, the distant non-athlete whose superior intellect had been as welcome as leprosy. Popularity meant everything, and if Jasper couldn't understand the importance of fighting over the transportation of a ball from here to there on a school playing field, of what use was he?

The next day, things returned to normal at school as cheerleaders cheered hypnotically, colorfully-attired jocks thrilled bleachers replete with fans, and brainy, inquisitive kids who wanted only to learn in a classroom devoid of athletic arrogance and playing-field overkill sat at their desks in silence, feeling like freaks. They knew only too well that if any among them slipped on the next banana peel, organically grown or not, and died without wearing that special high school letter or number, they would never, ever be accepted into the afterlife and, worse, the media would ignore their intellectual legacy, and instead rush off to another high school or college locker room to honor the sweaty practitioners of overblown, ever-fading accomplishments.

On the bright side, however, the smart classroom students remembered reading in recent scientific literature that bananas -- hence banana peels -- may disappear from the face of the earth someday.

Clearly, all they had to do was wait for their moment of safe passage.

(The end, uh-huh)