A wise man once told me that “you are what other people think you are.” Actually it wasn’t a wise man but a college friend who went on to major in accounting. Still, some pretty sage advice I thought. All of us, but especially men, put on an exterior veneer or facade that we present to the outside world that often doesn’t jibe with the beast we know that is lurking within us. A beast that men go to great lengths to keep locked up in some deep dungeon within our psyches, but that could, nevertheless, become unleashed given the right set of circumstances. When it is unleashed, it usually results in mayhem or some criminal form of behavior or both. So most men keep a tight lid on it and maintain their facade of civilized politeness, poise and calm. To cover up the feeling that deep, deep down we’re essentially fraudulent as well as being rotten to the core.
When I think back over the experiences I endured during my misspent youth, I realize now what extraordinary lengths I engaged in to impress the world at large of what a civilized and engaged human being I was, although just the opposite was true. I went to school, not to obtain an education, but because it was required by law. Besides, what else would I do with my time. I was a mediocre student at best who put in just the minimum effort needed not to fail the course. By the time I reached high school, my philosophy of life was just to slide by with as little effort as possible. No fuss, no muss. During my latter years of high school I could have probably quit school; but that would have meant having to look for and obtain a job. Oh, the horror, the inhumanity. At least as long as I stayed in school I could live on my parents dime, as poor as they were. The concept of having to get a job and work for a living terrified me more than the boredom of having to go to school.
My modus operanti in getting through school was to pick a classroom seat in one of the back rows, and behind some kid bigger than me. Then I would bob and weave during class time, hiding from the teacher behind the larger figure in front of me, so as not to get called upon to answer some question I was totally unprepared for. Once in awhile, when the teacher posed a real easy, generic question, I would shoot up my arm and virtually demand to be called on. It was my method of engineering the facade of being an eager and engaged student after all. Once, however, during a high school algebra class, my instincts failed me and I was on the verge of being exposed as the fraud I really was.
First of all I hated math in general and algebra in particular. It was the middle of June during one particular algebra class, (in those days school didn’t end for the summer until June 30) and an extremely warm day. The window was open and and I could hear kids voices and laughter as they were frolicked on the school playground. I was being lulled into a state of tranquility and, thus, let lapse my bobbing and weaving strategy to avoid being called upon. The teacher had written some long equation on the blackboard and was looking for someone to provide the answer. I could have no more solved that equation than I could have taken a space ship to Mars. But, as I’ve said, due to a mental lapse in strategy, I became an open target.
The teacher suddenly spotted me and it was as if he instantaneously understood that I had taken great pains to avoid being recognized all semester. He loudly called my name and demanded that I solve the equation. He knew he had me trapped like a rat and that I was about to be exposed for the fraud I really was. He was practically salivating in anticipation. My head began swimming as I realized that I was being doomed before the entire class of over 30 students. Now, as fortune turned out, in the front row sat a boy who always wore the same football jersey to school every day, or so it seemed. It was a purple jersey with a large white 8 on the back. It was the last thing I saw as everything became blurry and I thought I would pass out. Finally, in desperation, I blurted out-“x equals 8.” The teacher suddenly froze with a look of great consternation on his face. The piece of chalk he held in his fingers dropped to the ground. “How did you do that,” he exclaimed. I immediately knew that I had gotten the fat part of the bat on the ball and quickly regained my composure. “Why, through deductive analysis, of course,” I calmly replied.
Thus, being saved from this near death experience, I managed to get through the rest of high school, and go on to college-again, mainly to avoid having to become employed. I probably would have continued to grad school after college but my parents finally drew a line in the sand, as far as them providing me free room and board. After getting married and holding down a somewhat stressful full time job, I did go for my masters degree; the hard way- by going to school at night while engaged in a full time day job. I guess I became more serious about life as I aged, although I never became a barn-burner consumed with overriding ambition. That will never happen in this lifetime, especially now that I’m in my senior years.
The long and short of it is that we are, as my friend said so many years ago, what other people think we are. In that vein, we employ the necessary facades to cover up the fraudulent elements within all of us.