Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Something That Happened in 2003

We’d arranged to meet in the cafeteria. It was one of those group projects for my minor that no-one really cared about or wanted to do, but had to be done anyway to get enough credits to go on to the next year.

I’d arrived early, as I often did, and grabbing a cup of coffee I sat down at an empty table, giving a smile and a nod to someone I knew by sight on the way to the table. I think he was in my History class…a subject I was only taking because admin had screwed up my timetable when I first registered. I hated history, hadn’t taken it since I was 14, and here I was taking it at degree level… all because they’d registered me for the wrong subject, and by the time I’d found out, it was too late.

Well, that’s university admin for you.

I sat back and took a sip of my coffee. From across the room I noticed one of my group members walk in and start to look around. I put my hand up and signaled him over.

“Sorry I’m late.” He said. It was Steve. Steve was always late and was about as reliable as a two dollar wristwatch. This made him really difficult to work with. Other than that, he was a nice guy. Funny as hell too.

“S’ok.” I said. “I’m the only one here right now.”

I knew what had happened. If you wanted this guy to show up on time, you told him you were meeting at least 45 minutes before you actually were…that meant you only had to wait about 20 minutes to a half hour for him. He was a few minutes late, but by his standards he was an hour early.

We sat and chatted while the rest of the group slowly trickled in. The cafeteria wasn’t the best place to work, but the head librarian was an absolute Nazi. She was old school, there was no talking whatsoever, despite the fact the library had tons of group meeting areas. Obviously the architects hadn’t counted on a Victorian librarian running the place.

“Hey all.” Said Angela, sitting down.

I liked Angela. I didn’t know her very well, and never really got to know her, but I liked her because she’d been born with the bitch gene turned firmly off. She could get along with just about anyone, and always did her fair share of the work. In fact, she usually went above and beyond the call of duty. Like the time she spend an absolute fuck-ton of money getting a presentation printed in color on acetate…and then refused to let anyone else chip in on the cost. The best part was she did things like that because she wanted to, not to make sure anyone owed her a favor or to show off.

She was the polar opposite of Tracy. You know how some girls are absolutely smoking hot and know it? They have that princess syndrome where everyone is wrong but them, and their job in any group project is to just sit there and just collect the grade when everyone else has done all the actual work, usually while complaining every step of the way.

Well, put that personality into the body of an ugly fat girl with seriously rank BO, and that’s Tracy. She was sitting across from me with a scowl on her face, hinting loudly that someone should go and buy her a coffee…while everyone else was pointedly ignoring her.

Suddenly, she stood up and started waving.

“One of my friends is going to sit in with us.” She stated.

Stated, mind you, not asked.

This was classic Tracy. We had a group project and a deadline to meet. The rest of us wanted to just get down to the work and get it done as soon as possible. Tracy had this really annoying habit of inviting friends to every single group project meeting outside of class. Then she’d spend the whole meeting talking, not paying attention and would then bitch that we hadn’t covered something, even when that ‘something’ was what we’d just finished talking about.

I turned around to see who she was waving at…and my blood froze in my veins.

It was Martin Farmer. More precisely: Martin FUCKING Farmer.

Let me tell you a little about Martin.

Up to that point, I was blissfully unaware that he even went to the same University that I did. Back in the college I was at before I graduated and moved on to University, he was in both my English Language and Media class.

The guy was also a complete and utter dick.

His dad was on cable TV, and because of that, he thought he knew more about Media Studies than everyone else…including the tutor. He’d waste entire classes arguing some pissy little point with the teacher.

His family was also rich. Now, usually this isn’t a reason for me to dislike a person. My best friend through most of Highschool was rich. His family owned one of the biggest muffler and tire chains in the United Kingdom. He was never short of cash and didn’t mind flaunting it…but he wasn’t a dick either. He understood that while he had tons of money, not everybody else did.

One of my favorite Martin stories was the day he turned up for a Media Studies lecture with a brand new 3000 dollar laptop (I know the price because it was the first thing he told everyone). He then complained through the first 25 minutes of the class that the power outlet was too far away to plug his laptop in (despite the battery was fully charged)…and then came the best bit. He suggested to the tutor that they make it mandatory for everyone to do their work on laptops, and that everyone else should buy one.

That was Martin’s worst feature. He didn’t live in the real world. His world view was that if you couldn’t snap your fingers and get Mummy and Daddy to buy you a three thousand dollar piece of equipment, you were too poor to be at college and you should just leave. In fact, he said just that once, when a fellow classmate asked for an extension because she had to work.

Then he got tore to pieces and complained that everyone was picking on him…but more on that later.

Martin had somehow gone through his entire life without learning a single social skill. His idea of romance was to blatantly stare at a girl’s breasts, would tell long boring stories when you were giving every hint you just wanted him to go away…and I heard from the few actual friends he had that he was the kinda guy who would ask someone to buy an extra ticket to a concert for him, not show up, and then refuse to pay for the ticket.

After all, he didn’t actually see the show, why should he pay?

His absolute worst feature was that he’d be downright rude to people, belittle them, argue that black was white and he’d take every opportunity to humiliate someone or get them in trouble, just for the sheer pleasure of dropping someone in it.

Then, after he’d done all that, he’d whine that no-one liked him and everyone picked on him.

The truth is, no one ever actually picked on him…they just told him to fuck off or refused to work with him or help him because he was a dick.

In Martin’s eyes, telling the tutor in front of the entire class that another student didn’t forget their assignment, but actually hadn’t done it yet, was fine. However, when he asked the same person he’d just dropped in it if he could borrow their notes, and they refused…they were picking on him.

I can’t stress this enough, I usually cut people a lot of slack, and I don’t tolerate bullying or singling one person out for humiliation at all…but Martin was an asshole, plain and simple. I’m not saying that as an excuse to bully him, because like I said, no one actually did…they tended to just avoid or ignore him. In many ways, he was more of a bully than anyone else. In fact, that’s exactly what he was, just without the muscle or a crowd of friends to back him up.

I’d like to say that any real ‘bullying’ he got he deserved, but that isn’t true…if he got what he deserved he’d have been exiled from society.

Put it this way. I knew he was a special case when Kath, one of my favorite college tutors ever, and quite frankly the most laid back person on the planet, got so aggravated by him she told him flat out to just shut the fuck up or leave.

That’s Martin in a nutshell.

Anyway, I’d known the guy for three years prior to University. But as he came over and sat down, he didn’t give me even a flicker of recognition. This was unusual, because despite the fact he was almost universally disliked, he somehow assumed that anyone he spent any length of time in contact with were his friends.

“Hey Martin.” I said.

“Hey.” He said back.

The next fifteen minutes were really, really weird. Whoever this guy was, he wasn’t the Martin I knew. He seemed, well… normal.

I finally figured what was going on. He’d reinvented himself. He’d realized what an asshole he was, and had figured that ‘New School’ equals ‘New Start’.

You see, I’m the type of guy that will give anyone every possible chance. If someone acts like a dick, maybe they were just in a bad mood. If someone doesn’t show up for a group project or something, I wait to hear their excuse before I get pissed.

My own experiences taught me to do that:

I arrived late on my first day of school. Not late as in ‘class started at nine and I showed up at ten’, I mean a whole week late. My family had moved from Liverpool to Haydock, so I enrolled late.

I walked into school that day with big afro hair, glasses like the bottom of Coke bottles in thick tortoise-shell frames, I was fat and had a weird accent that was different to everyone else’s. I might as well have walked into that school with a target strapped to my back. Friendships and cliques had already formed…I was the new weird kid that wasn’t going to fit into any of them.

They say you don’t get two chances at a first impression. What they don’t tell you is that first impression will follow you for the first 16 years of your life.

I was bullied from day one, and that includes the teacher. (The teacher in question, may her soul burn in hell, turned out to have major psychological issues and was fired shortly after I left school after they found her in the school library, reading ‘Janet and John’ books to herself). It was a classic case of every kid who complained about her was ignored. We were 6 year olds, she was a teacher.

Well, unfortunately for me, while the bullying stopped after I finally lost my temper and knocked out one of the kids who was bullying me, I was forever the weird kid.

That’s one of the things people don’t understand. If you get that reputation as a weird kid…maybe ‘weird’ is the wrong word, but you know what I’m talking about, the kid who gets picked on…that shit follows you as long as you’re at school. By the time I was fifteen, in high school, I had properly cut hair, new decent glasses and had lost a ton of weight…a normal kid basically…but that didn’t mean I wasn’t still looked down on.

The other thing is that most of the time, that weird kid doesn’t realize he’s weird. School is the time you learn social skills, how to talk to people, what it’s acceptable to say and what isn’t, what topics of conversation should be public and which should be private.

When you go through school with little or no friends, you have absolutely no idea of what’s cool and what isn’t. People would be talking about football or the latest craze, and I was talking about programming in BASIC. The point is that at the time, I didn’t realize any of the things I was doing labeled me as a nerd. The way I looked at it was people talk about the things they’re interested in and computers was (and still is) what I was interested in.

Basically, getting picked on at school was all I’d known. As far as I knew, I was perfectly normal, and evil classmates and a psycho teacher were the norm.

Long story short, when I started college, and parted company with all the douchebags I went to school with, (very few of them made it to college), I was more than happy to lose that stigma and reinvent myself.

I didn’t really do anything different, but it was nice to meet new people who judged me by who I am, rather than who I was. I was Paulius, ‘that guy in my English Class’, rather than Paulius, the kid who pissed himself in class when he was seven, because the psycho teacher (may her soul burn in hell) wouldn’t let him go to the bathroom…or the kid who would cry in class at the age of 7, because that same teacher (may her soul burn in hell) deliberately made him sit at the back, because his eyes were bad and he couldn’t see the blackboard from there, just so she could shout at him for not completing the work.

I hated that teacher. I told her over and over that I couldn’t see the board, and her response would be to walk to the back, stand next to me and tell me that she could see the board, and if she could see it, so could I.

College was different. In fact, I got a little fame at college for chewing out one of my tutors, and offering to take her to the Principal’s Office to address my concerns with her attitude…but that’s another story.

Anyway, as I looked at Martin, I smiled inwardly. As far as I was concerned, it was everyone’s right to reinvent themselves, and even though he was a huge asshole at college, maybe he’d realized what a huge asshole he used to be and had changed his ways.

If he’d reinvented himself, I sure as hell wasn’t going to out him as a douchbag. I knew what it was like to have someone bring something up you’d done or said over ten years ago, just to have a laugh at you. If he’d changed, great.

“Good for you, Martin.” I thought. “Good for you.”

It was at that point that I pulled out my textbook and said:

“Everyone’s here, shall we get started?”

There was a chorus of ‘yes’s’ as everyone reached beneath the table for their backpacks.

Then suddenly…

“Hey! I remember you!” Said Martin. He gestured towards my notepad. “I see you still can’t afford a laptop. Do you still have to work as well?” His face contorted into that smug, self-important half-sneer that I knew so well. Next to him, Tracy smirked as well.

He looked around, taking everyone else’s bemused “Is he joking?” facial expressions as approval, and then he was off, under the usual mistaken assumption that his world view was the norm, and not some weird freak of nature:

“I went to Carmel with him!” he laughed. “He had to work to afford his tuition! How are you affording to come here? Did you have to get another job? I remember when you broke that Mac in Media Studies! They made you pay for it, didn’t they?”

For clarity, I never broke a Mac in media studies. The monitor cable fell out, Martin shit a gold brick and started jumping up and down shouting ‘He broke it! He broke it!’ with a look of pure glee on his face. I calmly stood up, reached around the back of the machine and plugged it back in. End of story. Despite this, he brought this story up at every opportunity, and each time it got wilder.

My mouth dropped open.

I felt everyone around me start to bristle (except Tracy, who had started laughing).

As far as I know, everyone at that table, with few exceptions, were paying their own tuition. If looks could kill, Martin would have left nothing but a grease spot in his chair and his shadow scorched into the wall.

You see, at University as well as College, I was well liked…and for some reason people don’t like it when a stranger, uninvited, joins their group and starts making fun of one of them…especially when what the idiot is saying is making fun of the whole group by proxy.

It was like that scene in Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf recites the Black Speech in Rivendell. Martin, completely oblivious to the sky darkening around him, continues running his mouth. Finally, with a huge grin, he leaned back in his chair and waited for everyone to start laughing at me..

Everyone looked at each other, then they looked at me.

I was smiling.

You see, I was about to let him have it. I could have talked for hours about the embarrassing and stupid shit I’ve seen him do. If he wanted a war of words, it would be about as challenging as taking on a paper opponent with a flamethrower.

Instead, just as my mouth began to form the words, Angela leaned over, and in the sweetest voice you’ve ever heard, said:

“Ummm…Martin is it? Can you do me a favor, please, sweetie?”

Martin looked at her and said “Yeah?”

“Get your stuff together…pick up your coffee… and fuck off!”

I knew there was a reason I liked Angela.

[Authors Note : The above is all true, although some names have been changed to protect the ignorant. Just in case you’re wondering, Martin did indeed grab his stuff and ‘Fuck off’…and despite the fact that at the time he was 22 years old, he went straight to a tutor and told him that Angela and I were ‘picking on him’. Legend says that the Tutor told him he wasn’t in grade school any more and to grow the fuck up.

At the time of writing, I have no idea who Martin went to after that, to complain about the tutor picking on him…but I have no doubt that he did.]

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