13 September 2016

Confessions of Rebel With and Without Causes


I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it. 
- Groucho Marx in Horsefeathers

I was swimming in public pool one Summer afternoon. I must have been about eight or nine. I was at the deep end. A lifeguard whistled me over to the edge and said that owing to my size and age I needed to swim the width of the pool and back to prove I could handle being in the deep end. I was happy to oblige — show off — and did just as he requested — underwater. I was a good swimmer. Upon completing the appointed task I looked up at the lifeguard anticipating his thumbs up. But no, he said I had to do it “the regular way” which meant the freestyle stroke. Needless to say (I’m saying it anyway) this was ridiculous. If I could swim underwater with ease surely that was sufficient proof that I could handle myself in the deep end. But rules are rules. Again I obliged and made a point of swimming as fast as I could just to show up the stupid bastard.

I was a born rebel and scoffed at society’s conventions as far back as I could remember. Many of my stances have been principled ones that I’d been proud to take. Others were a case of a rebel sans cause, often me just being oppositional. This has sometimes led to trouble (for me). Part of my rebelliousness is that I don’t just go along with the program (as I’ve so often been cautioned to do) but ask questions and see better alternatives. Most kids would have swam conventionally the first time asked and those who didn’t would think nothing of having to comply with the stated rules.

When I was in grammar school we did the pledge of allegiance every morning, hand over heart facing the flag. I never thought this to be a good use of time. I would stand all right, but with my hand at my side without uttering a word. The teacher never noticed. Classmates didn’t care. Even as a wee tyke I saw it as a meaningless rote practice, just as I do the stupid Star Spangled Banner before every sports event. It is the same way that I see group prayers. When a family I’m dining with says grace before dinner I hum the Cal fight song in my head.

Some rules are especially stupid and deserve to be called out. In my twenties I was seeing a psychiatrist at a place that charged on a sliding scale. I qualified for the rock bottom price of a buck a throw with the government picking up the rest of the tab. I’d show up, ramble on about my life and when the 50 minutes was up fork over a one dollar bill. It was peachy. Until I missed an appointment. For a missed appointment I had to pay the full $20. You see, logic. I presented my case to the doc. For showing up and being “treated” I paid a dollar and for not showing up it would cost me $20. We were through the looking glass. I don’t remember how it all worked out but I do know that I never paid that goddamned 20 bucks.

Speaking of shrinks, one of them described me as being provocative. (It’s about the only thing he ever got right about me.) Yeah, I’ve pushed things. I take things as far as they can go and then go one step more before easing up. I’ve done this regularly with employers. It got me in a far amount of trouble when I was a public school teacher. Any rule, policy or directive came along I looked for — and usually found — a flaw. Anything that made bureaucratic sense but was useless or harmful to students or teachers I called bullshit on. I was a pain in the ass.

Once I went into the vice principal’s office and complained about a one-day change of the bell schedule with a proposal that made far more sense (mine was actually logical). The veep shuffled through some papers and muttered under her breath “I knew you were going to be trouble.” The thing was I heard her. But I let it go. So I was trouble. Good. I had a better idea.

As a public school teacher I always had ideas. Its in the nature of teachers to have ideas. At a staff meeting the principal throws out an idea and you will hear a dozen variations. Once something is picked there’ll be another half dozen amendments suggested. Teachers are like that. It’s a pain in the neck for administrators but then again if you’re a teacher without ideas you should go into custodial work. But I had ideas even when they weren’t solicited. Probably some of them were hare-brained but a lot were pretty good. It got so people didn’t want to hear them. I was always stirring the pot.

I’ve mellowed. At my current position I only occasionally ante up my ideas. It’s different working for a corporation. Decisions come from up above (way up) and generally no one has time to indulge one lousy teacher’s ideas. Some of my colleagues tried to be provocative, tried to implement change, tried to fix a broken system and air out their grievances. Amateurs. One of them was leading a staff development session on holding students accountable and he appended it with a searing rebuke of the admin staff, calling them sharks and lauding the previous academic director as a means of discrediting the current one. It was an ambush. It was also purposeless. I couldn’t believe they didn’t fire his ass. But what he’d done was set back any “cause” he had. You want to light into higher ups? Go ahead but bring to the fight something constructive an alternative. Something that will improve things. You don’t just show up half the room. Hell you can get into fistfight with a boss if you do in private. But publicly you mind your p’s and q’s. You can’t just name call and criticize.

I go along to get along a lot more although I still draw lines. Thick lines. Like we’re all supposed to wear name tags. Not me. It’s a stupid rule and I refuse to recognize it. We’re also supposed to wear the company gear on Mondays. I flat out said that unless it comes with tie I’m out. I wear a goddamned tie to work every day but casual Friday and I’ll be pickled in brine before I wear a company shirt. Not big causes but you’ve got to be clear on what you will or wont do. I get away with it  because they like me, they need me. I’m not there to cause trouble but I do have certain standards. So sometimes my stubbornness is a case of adhering to a principle. Sometimes it’s objecting to bureaucratic nonsense and sometimes it’s just me being a jerk. Well, not so much the last one anymore. After all, I’m a grown man.

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