Kurt, Kurt, Kurt......
But I want you to know one thing: that 80's tough love bullshit, it doesn't work. It's not real. It doesn't work. I should have let him -- we all should have let him -- have his numbness. We should have let him have the thing that made him feel better, that made his stomach feel better. We should have let him have it, instead of trying to strip away his skin. You go home and you tell your parents, "Don't you ever try that tough love bullshit on me, 'cuz it doesn't fucking work". - Courtney Love-Cobain
I really have to get Kurt's book and read it, because from what I've read elsewhere, Kurt's life was typical for someone like him in the Aberdeen/Hoquiam area.
Certainly it gave me lotsa deja-vu. I think there ought be a memorial to Kurt and all the other Kurts who were and are, but didn't happen to die conspicuously.
The line I use is that the only difference between me and Kurt Cobain is that he could play a guitar.
The Harbor is not easy on oddballs and misfits; I was one such. I've been recently identified as having Asperger's syndrome, and I'll warrant that Kurt had that, or possibly ADD - maybe both. Anyway, people with those syndromes don't "fit in" because they are wired different. It's not actually a disability, it's a difference - but Neurologically Typical persons sure work hard to *make* it a disability.
I remember grade school, at Central Elementary in Hoquiam. Vaguely - most of my memories from that time are hazy, there are few if any good ones, because there was a consistent, semi-official view that children should be allowed to torment kids who were "different" to make them "conform to social norms." And back in the sixties, there were very few permissible variations of "normal."
My mother, Alice Bingham, a much and justly despised Business Machines teacher at Wishkah HS, subscribed to the NEA Journal and I recall distinctly reading an article encouraging just that approach. It seems abusive today - probably because it is.
But it probably worked well enough for kids who COULD change their behavior, or who didn't have a parent who had bothered and annoyed older brothers and sisters. Since no amount of conforming seemed to help me at all, I'm unsure if that was because my efforts failed or because they were ignored.
Still, I remember it was considered almost a crime - and definitely prejudicial of good order and classroom discipline - to read a book after completing my assignments. Or to sit quietly in a corner of the playground and read. So it wasn't just that - it was definitely a school that insisted on pushing down anyone that looked like they might escape the resource industries. :> One hopes it has changed, considering the state of the resource industries.
This abuse continued until my first week of Jr. High, when five stalwarts of the Normalcy Police (Upperclass bullies) backed me against a locker in front of the school office - which ought to tell you something - and told me they were going to beat the crap out of me after school. I'd never laid eyes on any of them, they didn't know me, but the grapevine had told them I was a priority target for their attention, I guess. Possibly they were told by a particular teacher or administrator to "get me squared away." I don't know, but I have dark suspicions.
I wrapped my fist around my brass padlock and informed them at the top of my lungs that it was happening right NOW, where people could see it, and goddamn it, they might hurt me, but one of them *****(long and elaborate string of curses I WISH I could remember)**** was gonna die right there. I was completely sincere.
Needless to say, I was expelled as a troublemaker. The assailants were not even suspended, as I recall, a fact that tends to confirm those dark suspicions.
Apparently I was supposed to let them beat me up and accept my place in the "social order." That was the distinct impression I got from the cold lecture I got from the administration, the people who should have intervened on my behalf and expelled the bullies; instead they had idendified me as a potential problem and arranged things so that I could be legitimately expelled, rather than dealing with the issues/problems that I (obviously) had.
So I attended St. Mary's for 7th & 8th grades, St. Martin's in Lacy for 9th, then transferred to Weatherwax. No troubles after 7th grade, particularly - seems most of the abusive crap was in that elementary school. It was a relief to be somewhere that appreciated a student that thought the point of school was to learn something.
Anyway, pressure to conform socially is abusive when a child is unable to conform, and this was before "special needs" existed. One was either a "retard" in special ed or not. And Aspies all tend to be smart; our problems are not academic, they are social - so no special accommodation for us.
(My wife's son has Asperger's Syndrome, and now such needs are recognized - so instead of being hell, school is something he likes, because his differences are treated as differences and not as "behavior issues.")
Autistic-spectrum (Asperger's Syndrome, possibly ADD) persons are unable to pick up social cues, body language and other things that help normal people get along. We reason in different ways - often starkly different ways. We are often perceived as rude and uncaring. (Um, and we are, actually, but it's not like it's personal or nothing, your emotional reasoning is as invisible to us as our weird logic is to you, so we think you are being deliberately stupid and emotional, while you think we are being rude. Mostly we have one or possibly two friends, and are perfectly happy off in a corner alone. Crowds make us crazy, loud noises hurt - quite literally - and as a result, a pep rally or a noisy lunchroom is a descent into personal hell.
But predictably enough, that rep I got for that incident followed me, just as the rep I'd had that made it "ok" to pick on the pink monkey had before that. So I had no trouble after that, even in St. Mary's, which was a distillation of all the "problem kids" from all over Grays Harbor County. Bizarrely, being willing to splash brains all over a junior high hallway brought respect. A question had been resolved, and the issue was over.
And even had that not been true, the good sisters didn't put up with any nonsense from anyone, did not permit bullying of ANY form, and glory be! Harmony and actual education prevailed!
Anyway, people who say that violence never solves anything haven't read enough history. It sure solved my problem.
I was fortunate that no actual corpses occurred, but frankly, it wouldn't have bothered me had there been some; at that point, I was well past caring. The fact that it worked out ok was luck, or God's will, however you like it. It was not the result of school policy, decent, caring people or positive parental involvement.
A violent reaction should NOT have been necessary. Ever. But since it was, I have no apologies. I spent seven years looking for better options, being given smug lectures on how there are better ways to get along. Being a good child, I tried every one... and all were useless, as they required the participation of other people in the social dance.
You see, you have to be allowed to "get along." It may seem obvious when stated, but all the advice I have ever been given on getting along presumes that if you suppress your reaction to provocation, the provocation will stop. In fact, I've never once seen that occur, in any context, anywhere. Nor is that true at all for socially-clued persons. The way provocation is met is with some form of (reasonable) boundary backed with a credible threat.
A socially-aware child might simply change the subject and mention their big brother, the martial-arts instructor. Or call to a large friend and introduce him to the aggressor. And all the violence would be implied, the dance of dominance subtle and unstated.
I'd give a pretty to be able to do that. But since I can't, I do expect to be able to say to an aggressive or pushy person to back off, state a logical consequence if they don't, and not have it being seen as something different - since it isn't.
Parents, if you want to make sure that there are no weapons and violence in school, make it an issue that no child will feel the need to be armed or react violently. Kids aren't stupid, for the most part; risk/benefit calculations are something even a grade-school student understands.
If there is a consistent problem with weapons in school the problem is that many kids HONESTLY feel the need for them and it is likely an accurate perception. Expelling the kids who carry probably will do nothing to solve the issues, as the issues generally don't need weapons themselves, being big, ruthless and backed by three friends just like them. Very often the bullies are persons who, due to belonging to some socially-approved group, are treated differently than other students. Football players come to mind.
I have no trouble understanding the Columbine shootings, none at all. Because not a day passed in Hoquiam schools where I did not think of doing much the same thing. It's fortunate that when the snapping point occurred, all I had available was a brass padlock. But to say that proves that students should be expelled for being armed misses the point. Yes, someone would have definitely gotten their head blown off had I been armed with a gun. And they would have deserved it.
Or if not precisely deserving it, nonetheless, it was a logical and predictable consequence, statistically, that such a thoughtless, cruel and dangerous behavior pattern would get SOMEONE'S head blown off.
That is my point. It seems to me a valuable life-lesson for schools and administration personnel to pass on - that threats and violence in support of social norms - bullying, in other words - is every bit as despicable as any other sort of violence, and that no form of it should be tolerated or encouraged by the schools, no matter who is doing it and no matter what the social goal is.
That an assault by a football player is just the same as an assault by someone who's not "popular." As an example. That tormenting a "faggot" is no less despicable than tormenting anyone else. Whatever one feels about alternative sexualities, lifestyles or mental differences, the plain fact is that if you push anyone hard enough, in the right ways, they will snap. Maybe they will kill themselves. Maybe they will kill you or someone you actually care about. Bad karma, everywhere you look. And blaming the victim of aggression for reacting to it in a conspicuous and dangerous way is - well, aside from unjust, it misses the point entirely.
Yes, I committed a crime that day. I could have been sent to Juvy. I was perfectly willing to commit a much worse one, or a couple more, given a bit of luck and an exposed temple. However, the crime, in my mind, was that such a decision seemed (even now) the only reasonable course of action.
Anyone remember the usual mayhem after the turkey day game? Couple-three assaults, at least one drunken road fatality and probably a dozen rapes, reported and otherwise. But hey, boys will be boys. Or at least, CERTAIN boys will be boys. Others are "troublemakers."
Oh, it's not that I think I SHOULD have gotten a different reaction - brandishing a weapon demands a consequence. Period. But it also demands an explanation - and nobody gave a damn about that.
Nor the equally grave crime that was committed against me. Since a threat to commit an assault is an assault, and four against one is as much a deadly threat as a brass padlock. But apparently it mattered who made the threat, and to what end it was made, since the apparent idea was to rid the school of a "problem" unofficially and without any tedious paperwork.
Some awareness of this cultural degeneracy is starting to percolate through the national consciousness, after Columbine, though. I see some tiny signs of it.
And until then, I say, "Let the shootings continue until the morals improve." Since they will, whatever anyone says. :)
One of my most unfavorite memories - mandatory pep rallies. Of all the dumbass idiotic mindless jockoid stupidities I can imagine, ASIDE from my own personal issues with crowds and noise that made it so much more than just a stupid waste of time. The idea of being required to be enthusiastic on command strikes me as ... well, a number of things. But all of them false and hollow. And no good thing comes from a lie.
"Where's your School Spirit?"
"Sorry, I must have left my B.E.E.R. in my B.R.A."
"Are you going to The Game?"
"The THANKSGIVING DAY GAME!"
"To support our team!"
"Don't they have jockstraps for that?"
I had nothing against people going to the game if they enjoyed it. I have nothing against jocks enjoying jockish things. I just don't understand why their enjoyment was diminished by me not wanting to be there, nor do I accept the perception that I'm a lesser form of life for not wishing to do obscure and arguably pointless things with an oblate spheroid. My opinion might vary if I could do and would enjoy those obscure and pointless things, but I can't and don't. (shrug) So y'all go and have fun, and I'll do what I like. You'd think that would be fine, wouldn't you?
I remember with great amusement my letter jacket. I lettered in Debate and Rifle Team - and one football jock was HORRIFIED that I could get the Sacred Jacket that Impressed Girls by doing WIMP sports!
I also remember that there wasn't a single drug in the illegal pharmacopoeia that I couldn't have gotten there in Weatherwax, had I wanted them. Pot, speed, LSD, uppers, downers, cocaine, hash, heroin - it was always cheap and easy. Of course, now that I think of it, I expect a hell of a lot of drugs came through the port in chip ships. Probably still do.
Of course, in the Harbor, there's a lot of need for self-medication.
That's how Kurt got started. Heroin being excellent for suppressing emotional pain. Lot of my friends did too, although heroin wasn't a common thing; usually it was pot and beer. But probably a lot of them ended up the same way. Good thing it never tempted me; my drugs are caffeine and nicotine.
Come to think of it, it's bizarre to realize how many A and B students were utter alcoholics and/or potheads. That says something about either the social pressures or the curriculum...
But if half of the rentals on the flats in Hoquiam aren't grow houses, I'll be deeply surprised, and shocked if there aren't at least five microbreweries that are collectively having trouble meeting the demand.
The thing that deeply offends me is that there is, as far as I know, no memorial in Aberdeen to Kurt. Not that he's a hero or anything, he's not; trying to make him one would be a disservice to his memory and his art, like making Jerry Lee Lewis out to be a saint. The memorial I think would be appropriate would be something by way of a concrete apology - you should pardon the pun.
You see, from the reaction I saw to his death, it seemed pretty much like the reaction to his life - a smug sense of "finally, he got what he could expect for being that way," when a lot of the way he was came from being surrounded by people who didn't understand and resented the implication that they might have an obligation to try.
But when you see someone like that - and there were a lot of us like that, one of the girls in my class kissed a logging truck - the answer to the perceived pain should be something other than - "pull your socks up, think you're special or something?"
Because, obviously, Kurt was. He managed to express it in spite of everything. Not everyone gets that chance. A lot of other people *could* have been, but they believed the crap about "not being special" and ended up setting chokers or driving trucks, trawling or getting pregnant not because they wanted to, but because they thought that was all the choices they were supposed to have.
Me, I do get to express my specialness... but I'm not sharing with the class today. But when I have the chance, I tell kids to be *exactly* who they are, and to live their dreams no matter what other people say or think. I'm lucky, since like Kurt, I really didn't have a choice, I didn't have the option of copping out and taking the easy path. Believe me, had I been ABLE to conform, I DEFINITELY would have.
And now, that all that is long past and done, my anger is not so much for myself, but for all the kids who were able to conform and did.
And I'll ask you - everyone of my age or so - are you satisfied with where you are right now? I am. And my sense of satisfaction doesn't depend at all on anyone else's view of what I ought to feel. Since I couldn't ever manage to please anyone else by being someone other than myself I finally realized I could please myself by being me - and by golly, having done that, I find that pleases enough other people to be worthwhile.
And I'd have been a LOUSY lawyer.
Now having said all that, damn, I miss the place.
Last updated Wednesday, January 27, 2010 01:59 pm
Copyright 2001 Bob King
Massacres of the Soul Idat's take on Columbine and bullies. She describes the gut feelings of those who could do such things.
Wikipedia entry on bullies and what is being done currently.