Monday, February 04, 2008
Practice Makes Perfect
I cannot speak for these young men, but when I was a kid, there were certain things we learned to do as boys that ensured we remained safe within our respective gang of friends. The basic bag of tricks every boy picks up to be cool with his fellow fools. I am sure these fellows picked theirs up early on as I did. It seems though only one was instructed in the correct and proper way to give the finger.
Some of the things we learn come naturally, some have to be practiced over and over again before we get them right. I remember this lesson well from my days as a 2nd grader trying to break into the crew of 3rd graders who terrorized my street in Bethesda, Maryland.
Jimmy was the defacto leader. If he thought something was cool, it was cool. If he decided something was not hip, it was quickly excised from the group repertoire. Chuckie and Al always seemed to agree with him anyway. So here I was, once again the new kid on the block and searching for some wedge to fit into the crew who had this block by the short hairs. We played some kick ball. I passed that test. We did the dodge ball thing up against my dad's garage with me as the target. I proved tough enough after many shots to the head.
Chuckie and Al were happy to include me, but Jimmy was not convinced. This new kid had to be a loser. I was in 2nd grade afterall. He was determined to find my weakness. My size was up to their standards. My expertise regarding all the typical ball sports up to snuff. I could spit as far as any of them. Belching on command was no problem. But there had to be something. He would search until he found it. I would not be accepted before he had broken me at least once. No one is perfect.
One Saturday a month or so after I moved there, they decided to include me when they visited their clubhouse. The clubhouse was under the steets in the storm drains that led out to Mass Ave. This room was a special place where plans were hatched, cigarets were smoked, candles stolen from mom burned, and nefarious activities of all sorts played themselves out. Chuckie told me they even had some dirty books there. I wanted in.
But, Jimmy insisted, I would have to pass one more small test first. I could tell from the grin he had, he was sure he had me. A foolproof exam sure to keep me home on Augusta St.
"Show me how you flip the bird", he said.
Right away he knew he had me. The look on my face must have told him I had no flippin clue what flippin a bird was, let alone how to do it. They left me dejected, rejected, and sad sitting on the curb in front of my house. To make matters worse, they all flipped me off as they left. And I still did not get it.
A few days later I cornered Chuckie, held him in a head lock and made him show me what flippin the bird was. He did. I asked him what it meant. Go to Hell, screw you or some such nonsense. He seemed vague about it's real intent, but knew it was not a compliment.
I made him show me again. I tried to imitate him. He made a big deal out of telling me I had it wrong.
"No, no no! You have to curl up the fingers on either side just like this", as he formed the proper one finger salute.
Try as I might, I could not get those two fingers to curl up just so. One was easy, but pulling it off with both in the right position seemed impossible. The only way I could present it was with my thumb crossed over the uncooperative fingers. Damn! I knew from Chuckie's demeanor, half assed was not going to cut it.
So I practiced. I worked hard. I was caught and scolded by my parents. My older brothers found it humorous and laughed at my singleminded focus on getting it right. They would not tell me why, but warned me to be careful how I used it.
Eventually I nailed it. I had it down. I even practiced with my left hand so I could give it with either hand. I worked so hard I imagine I even did it in my sleep.
The day came when I mustered up the courage to show the boys my new talent. We had been called in for dinner by our respective moms. As I seperated myself from the group and was what I felt a safe enough distance away, I hollered at Jimmy to look. He turned around and was greeted with my soon to be infamous double bird. And then I high tailed it into the house and the temporary safety of my mother's skirts. There would be payback, but that was another lesson waiting to be learned.
Thanks to brambor of widereach.net for permission to use one of his fine photos from the State of Maine.