Early on, my mother told me I was a smart aleck and that no one would come to my party if I had one. The ditty she recited was, “Smarty, Smarty, had a party and nobody came.”
Facing such a horror I never had a party, for, indeed, I knew what my mother said was true: I was a smart aleck. But we all crave acceptance, and a smart aleck has only one method — to try even harder and thereby to become an even more obnoxious smart ass. In high school I wanted to be class president, but who would want a smart aleck representing them? No one.
I couldn’t make the football team in high school and basketball was a pretend sport for me. The only place I could shoot hoops was in my dreams. I did, at least, develop a sort of “look-at-me” kind of walk, and I boxed a little. But in my second fight I got knocked out on my feet by a big Swede with a big neck and a pin head. The only sport I was good at was talking. I was a champion big mouth.
I thought maybe I should go to the Naval Academy at West Point – be a big time sea captain or something. But I was slightly red-green colorblind and couldn’t see the letters in that silly spot test, and I was rejected out of hand before I even sought an appointment from some Wyoming politician I didn’t know.
I went to the University of Wyoming located, as it was, in my hometown. You had to belong to a fraternity in those days if you amounted to anything. The frat boys got all the girls because they had a frat pin for “pinning” one of those cute little sweethearts. No girl wanted to be seen with a guy who had no pin to pin, who lacked that sort of social genitalia.
At that time I was working on the railroad as a brakeman and I came to my eight o’clock class covered with coal dust and wearing bib overall work clothes. I also was a night bellhop in the local hotel. My parents were not bankers or business people, and only kids whose parents were, or who were athletes or who were very, very nice, or who had those towering grade averages – in short, only those who might amount to something someday and thereby bolster the reputation of the fraternity got rushed in rush week. Besides, I had pimples.
Breathlessly all during Rush Week I waited for some sign from the frat boys. I had no phone. My folks had moved off to Bolivia where my father worked in the tin mines. But surely they could leave a note or something at the basement room I rented for ten dollars a month with another kid, the room, one of those with the unfinished concrete walls next to the landlady’s laundry tubs. But no. Nothing from the frat boys. Ugly silence.
And worse, one had to muster a response to the interminable, unrelenting painful inquiries from one’s peers, “What frat did you pledge?” What was one supposed to say with an arrogant shake of the head? “I’m independent.” And that’s what I said. What else was there to say – that I was such a repulsive cipher that even the several lower-rung fraternities that were begging for the leftovers wouldn’t have me?
That was my early introduction to those glorious gifts of rejection. I’ll talk more about it, that is I will be asking, is rejection something to be longed for, coveted, fought for and adored? Well, stay tuned.