E. Van Lowe, Author of Never Slow Dance with a Zombie
In the iconic film, The Godfather Part II, when Fredo Corleone is confronted by his kid brother, and mafia chief, Michael, for going out on his own, Fredo lashes out.
"I'm your older brother, Mike, and I was stepped over!"
"That's the way pop wanted it," Michael cooly replies.
"It ain't the way I wanted it!" Fredo decries. "I'm smart! Not like everybody says..."
Of course, everyone in the audience knew, Fredo was an idiot.
Back when I was in high school in the inner city, being smart was not a badge of honor--not if you wanted to be hip, and cool, and in. Back then, intelligence was a curse. Somehow my peers had rigged it that being smart was a sign of weakness. And because I was smart, and had dreams, but still wanted to be accepted, I became a Fredo.
In elementary school I was quick to raise my hand, happily answering all my teacher's questions. But by the time I was in the seventh grade, amidst taunts of "teacher's pet," and "brown nose," my hand steadily came down.
By the ninth grade, knowing many of the answers and just sitting there was getting old. So, I did something to keep myself entertained, and (hopefully) to step up my popularity--I became a wise-ass. Now, when my hand went up in class, you could feel the energy in the room shift. Small smiles and giddy looks appeared on the faces of my classmates as they wondered "what the heck is he going to say now."
When my geometry teachers was explaining a tangent, my hand shot up:
"Yes, Mr. Van Lowe?"
"What does a piece of fruit, shaped like an orange, have to do with geometry?" I asked, my voice indignant. Yes, I know it was juvenile (I was fourteen), but it got the desired effect. Laughter all around. Of course, it meant detention for me (since I'd been warned several times about my answers), but it was worth it. I was welcomed into the bad boys, the jocks, the hip kids. Everyone thought I was so funny.
The toughest part of this charade is that I still had to get good grades, or I was going to get killed at home. When my teachers handed back my test papers, I would look at them, and then crumple them into a ball. Sometimes I'd glance at my classmates with a twinkle in my eye and say: "I got a ten. I was shooting for a zero, but I got my name right." More laughter. Everyone assumed I was failing--which I wasn't.
There was a gorgeous girl in my history class named Beverly. Beverly was late for class every day, and she was so ditzy. I usually don't go for the dumb type, but when Beverly wore tight skirts to school, she got my fourteen year-old juices flowing. I wanted to hang out with her. But talking to Beverly was like talking to a brick. She was that dense. Still, I dreamed of Beverly being my girlfriend.
One day in class, my history teacher was in a particularly good mood. The class, as a whole, had done much better on his most recent exam than he'd expected.
"And, of course, our best student always gets an A," he said, stopping by Beverly's desk. A hush fell over the class as we all awaited the punch line. But there wasn't one. He handed Beverly her test paper and moved on to the next student. She sat silent, the look on her face saying it all--sheer and utter embarrassment.
Well I'll be. Beverly was a Fredo.
I was elated. This was my in. I could be smart around Beverly. We could be smart around each other. One day after serving detention, as I was leaving school, I saw her. The corridor was empty--just her and me. My heart began pounding in my chest.
"I'm a writer," I said. It was all I could think of to let her know I was a Fredo, too. She shot me her ditzy look. I wanted to say: "It's okay. I know you're smart. And I don't care."
After several moments of me babbling about something to keep her from walking away, she said: "I'm going to medical school." Our eyes met. Mine filled with hope that gorgeous Beverly was going to be my girlfriend; hers held a warning.
We hung out a few times after that, but she never allowed me to get too close. She worked extra hard to win her ditzy rep back in history. Then she graduated with honors, and went on to a good college. I don't know what became of Beverly, but I'm sure she did well for herself.
Isn't it amazing what peer pressure can do to a kid? High school is tough enough without having to pretend you are dumb. But that's what me and Beverly, and I'm sure many others did to survive. I hope things have changed.
By the way, what the heck is a tangent, anyway?
Yes, I know. I'm still trying to be funny. Old habits die hard.
Read my review of the hilarious zombie novel Never Slow Dance with a Zombie here.
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