Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Writing as I’m about to do has the potential to set me up for a fall. Every grammatical error will seem an indictment, and God help me if I misspell anything. Should my memory be faulty, someone might jump on me with both feet. I also have to be careful to keep my sense of humor, not letting my ego overrun everything. I'll need to throw in a joke here or there to keep things light.
I’m going to write about my being intelligent.
(No, wise guy, that wasn’t the first joke.)
There has rarely been a time in my life when I haven't felt that I was more intelligent than most of the people with whom I’ve been involved. That isn’t to say I’ve always been THE most intelligent person in a particular group, nor does it mean that I'm one of the smartest people on the planet. One look at me standing in the rain without a jacket, on a 40 degree day, smoking a cigarette, would be enough to tell you I'm not Einstein's successor. It's just that, when all factors are taken into consideration, I don't usually feel a need to take a back seat to too many folks in any crowd of which I'm a part.
Does that sound amazingly egotistical? I suppose it might. It’s true, though. I’ve always been in possession of more brainpower than most of those with whom I’ve associated.
(If you're a long-time friend or business associate, and you're wondering if I'm saying that I'm smarter than you, the answer is no. I'm talking about all of my other friends and business associates, not you. You're a genius!)
I suppose now would be a good time for me to trot out the proofs, if I had any. However, my best pieces of evidence aren’t available for scrutiny. You’ll have to take my word concerning them (and I'd say that your doing so would say a lot about your own innate intelligence and character, but that would be too blatant an attempt at flattery to sway someone of your obvious discernment.)
When I was an infant, my mother kept a bit of a journal about me. It was within the pages of a how-not-to-kill-your-baby book published by Good Housekeeping. There was a section in the back for recording your child’s height, weight, accomplishments (reaching for things was one, so the bar wasn’t set very high), and so forth. There was also a section reserved for recording the diagnoses and/or pronouncements of doctors and other health professionals. My Mom recorded, in one of those sections, that some pediatrician had proclaimed me "... slightly more intelligent than most other children" after he had me perform some tests. Perhaps I was having a particularly good day reaching for things. Well, I've always been pissed about the "slightly" part of that statement, but I'll take the rest of it.
As I grew up, I found myself in situations that offered further proof concerning my general mental superiority. For instance, in grade school, I was always the best reader in my class. When the teacher called upon us to read aloud, I knew I could do it more easily, and with fewer stumbles (that is to say, none), than all of my classmates. I was good at it because of help from my mother, father, and other relatives. My mother taught me the basics of reading before I entered kindergarten. My other relatives - somewhat to my outer embarrassment, but very much to my inner pride – would have me read aloud from newspapers, almanacs, magazines, encyclopedias, and so on, every time I visited them. They always heaped inordinate amounts of praise upon me for being able to get through all passages of whatever difficulty smoothly. I owe my current job of voice-over professional to them (and you probably owe them your difficulty in plowing through some of my more painful constructions, as well, since I glide through most anything and thus don't edit as neatly as I probably should.) Back in grade school, however, I was so much better at reading than any of my classmates, I would actually stumble ON PURPOSE once in a while. I was so self-conscious of my superiority that I didn’t want the other kids to be mad at me for making them look bad.
I was a voracious reader as I grew up. I read newspapers cover-to-cover; every bit of magazines, even the publisher's statement and copyright notices; encyclopedias were a constant source of amusement; and nothing could keep me so thoroughly entertained, for as long and with as much joy, as an almanac (but, you knew this already.)
As good parents would, My Mom and Dad fed this desire to learn. Whenever we went on a shopping trip to a department store, they'd allow me to roam off on my own to the book section. There, I'd pick one and they'd buy it for me. My Mom would often come home from work with some sort of interesting science or history book she had purchased for me. I was a frequent patron of our local public library, and I belonged to various book-buying clubs sponsored by the Gilbert Stuart, my elementary school.
For the fourth grade, when I was 8, I was taken from that elementary school and assigned to an advanced school in another neighborhood in Boston. Being smart doesn't always equate to emotional maturity, though, and I cried and wailed and made a general nuisance of myself for the two weeks or so I was there. I wanted to be back in my own neighborhood school with all of my friends. So, my parents being good folks who valued their child's happiness over some abstract future earning potential, they re-enrolled me in the Gilbert Stuart. I was happy as a clam when they did so. However, being assigned to the advanced classes was an ego boost even if I hated being at that school. I was now even more firmly convinced that I was a 'smaht kid', as we'd say in Dorchester.
While in the 6th grade, I took the test for admittance to Boston Latin, the only 6-year high school in Boston. It was (and arguably is) the most prestigious secondary school in the country. It was founded a year before Harvard, and Benjamin Franklin was a dropout from the place. Imagine the graduates! Well, I passed the exam and entered the school for the 7th grade.
And now comes the moment when I humble myself. I flunked, miserably. Whereas I had been a straight A student in my neighborhood school, I was straining to attain passing grades at Latin. The main problem was that everything had always come easily to me before, but now I was being asked to apply myself. I did only as much work as I thought I needed to do to keep my parents and teachers off of my back. Because my travel time to and from Latin was 60 to 90 minutes each way, I was constantly more tired than I had ever previously been in school. And being an 11-year-old in a school with kids as big and old as 18 or 19 was not much fun; it was standard for the upper classmen to pick on the "sixies" as were known. I truly hated most of my time in that school.
It appeared I might have to repeat the 7th grade. Talk about having your illusions concerning your intelligence smashed to rubble!
I was saved from being kept back by dint of the fact that Latin was such an amazingly hard school. Had I stayed there, I would have had to repeat the year. However, if I transferred back to my local junior high school for the next year, I would still be promoted. Although there was some argument between Mom and Dad concerning which course of action to take, I was finally transferred, much to my relief, and I was promoted to the 8th grade.
My parents and I didn't necessarily learn a lesson from my first stint at Latin. I once again took the entrance examination for 9th grade (as well as being a 6-year school, students could enter for a more-usual 4-year high school course.) This time around, I lasted half as long as I had the first time. I did so miserably in my classes that I transferred back to my local school midway through the year. Once back at 'The Woody' (Woodrow Wilson Junior High, the neighborhood school) I resumed my coasting in the relatively relaxed atmosphere and graduated easily.
I took another entrance exam, this time for the second-best high school in the city, Boston Technical. I passed it. And I graduated from there, too, although it was a closer call than it ever should have been. By the time I got there, I detested going to school. Whereas before, during my pre-teen years, I found school an alright place to be with my friends - not that I was overjoyed, but I didn't dread it - now all I wanted to get out of school was me. I was high half the time, didn't care at all, and I passed barely enough classes to graduate - after I made up one class in summer school.
Heck of a way for a kid who tested out at a 136 IQ to finish his schooling.
The shame of it is that I loved learning. It was school that I hated. I used to play hooky from high school because I abhorred being in those buildings and being graded, but do you know where I went when I played hooky? Most guys went to a ballpark or to a movie or did something normal. I went to the Boston Public Library and spent my day reading.
And from that reading, and from my devouring of encyclopedias and almanacs and dictionaries when I was a kid, I've acquired great storehouses of haphazard knowledge, most of it useless except for my own entertainment and with just enough unfilled gaps to get me into trouble. Which brings us to the present time and my third attempt to get onto the television show Jeopardy. As I write this, it is now 7:47pm here on the East Coast. In 13 minutes, I will be attempting to qualify for the show via an on-line test. I'll let you know how it turned out, of course.
After I tell you about my previous game show adventures...