When I was a wee lad, sometime before my family left the (at the time somewhat) civilized confines of Denver to settle in the geographically and spiritually barren San Luis Valley, I would get out of going to the 3rd grade by pretending I had a serious pain in my testicles.
Let me clarify: at first I didn’t pretend. The first few times I didn’t pretend. I actually had a terrible stinging pain in my testicles whence I couldn’t explain. What I learned from those first few occasions, however, was that I got to go home when my balls hurt. So whenever I wanted to go home I made a big scene about my balls hurting. And when the teacher began to catch on to my manipulations and would be much more resistant to allowing me to go to the office to call my parents, I actually took the step of collapsing in the middle of class with a phony pain in my balls. I lay writhing on the floor, clutching at my genitals as if I were an especially lascivious adolescent.
This was, of course, embarrassing on several different levels. Primarily, though, it was embarrassing because I didn’t especially enjoy the idea that others were aware of my ball pain.
Still, such realities were a small price to pay if it meant getting out of school. For the entire time I was in school there were few pleasures as fulfilling as playing sick and getting a “free” day in which I could do whatever my mind could conjure (generally: sitting on a couch eating mac and cheese and watching Maury or the Price is Right—both of which were much more interesting than being in school).
The pain in my balls would sporadically pester me for most of the rest of my life, but thankfully the pain decreased progressively until, in my late teens, such episodes were marked primarily by a determined discomfort as a opposed to an all-out pain. And in my early 20s a doctor eventually diagnosed the symptoms as arising from what is essentially a nerve in the scrotum that would (could) sometimes get stretched slightly beyond its means during physical activity. The solution was to wear tighter underwear. And, since then, I honestly cannot remember the last time I experienced this issue.
All of which is firmly in the realm of “too much information,” I understand. Such details are also beside the point, but I kind of assumed somebody reading this would be curious about how the situation ended.
Anyhow, the main thrust of all the preceding nonsense is that I hated school so much that I would basically gladly sacrifice my dignity and allow my classmates in on the knowledge that I had a problem with my balls—if it meant that I didn’t have to stay in school.
This general trend has never really gone away. Even college was horrible. I, thankfully, never used my testicles to get out of going to class, but I wanted to.
The post-secondary memory molesting my memory the most at this moment (HOLY SHITTY ALLITERATION, BATMAN) is the day I was sitting in a creative writing class as the other students were “workshopping” a story I wrote. A literary alter-ego of mine and his loser friends went into the desert to find a chupacabra for the town’s drunk sheriff who was convinced that the chupacabra had stolen his police cruiser. While in the desert, the protagonist and his friends stumble upon a satanic cult enacting some kind of devilish jamboree in the middle of the night. The cult is lead, of course, by prominent members of the community, and the protagonist and his friends narrowly avoid being sacrificed to some demon and end up finding the police cruiser outside the protagonist’s apartment where, sure enough, there are the traditional claw marks and body damage associated with an animal attack of some kind, except in this case the damage is described as much more “savage” and the characters find the Sheriff drunkenly dozing in the back seat.
I mean, it wasn’t a great story, obviously. But it had its moments. And I was attempting to make some kind of point about the absurdity of life and how reality is ultimately unknowable. It was clumsily done, but it was definitely better than reading another story about some girl walking in the ocean contemplating getting an abortion or another very slightly veiled “fictional” story about the narrator (i.e. the author) complaining about not being able to find love in a soulless society, which were the typical offerings for such a class. PLUS: the story was obviously a play on Young Goodman Brown—a blatantly obvious fact that shouldn’t have been lost on the class and most definitely shouldn’t have been lost on the professor.
Everybody hated the story. I had won a competition the year before on campus for a short story I wrote and submitted to the school’s annual literary publication. The story was about a slightly veiled version of myself trying and failing to find love in his soulless society. The twist was that it was a bizarre story wherein the narrator has random wrestling matches with the females who are targets of his twisted male gaze. Thinking about the weirdness of that story, this old hag in the class with a lazy eye told me, while criticizing the story that I had “gone to the well one too many times.”
“How can I go to the well too many times when I’ve never actually gone to the well considering I’VE NEVER ACTUALLY BEEN PUBLISHED BY AN ACTUAL PUBLICATION OF ANY REPUTE?” I asked.
The class gazed upon me sternly.
The professor eventually interrupted the silent scolding when he said, “I agree. You lost me when you got to the satanic cult.”
“It’s out of bounds for me,” I mumbled, “but just fine for Hawthorne.”
“What’s that?” the professor asked.
“Hawthorne,” I mumbled again, fake coughing.
I sat for the next 20 minutes as the other students, the professor and the old hag continued on. The old hag’s story, by the way, was one about her and her husband having moved to Oregon on a whim when she was in her 30s and how she was doing handstands trying to get pregnant. Everybody loved that shit.
I mean, I was fine with it. I didn’t actually expect anyone to like my story. I’m at least that smart. I had long since figured that I wasn’t necessarily writing for the type of personalities that have a tendency to take creative writing classes. But I at least wanted the professor to acknowledge that I was making an attempt at subtext, which none of the other students had seemed to have heard of. I at least wanted him to point out that I was cribbing from Young Goodman Brown.
I got nothing.
This is school. This is why it sucks. I suppose it’s good for some people. Some people excel. Some people get something out of it. Some of us would rather have a persistent pain in the testicles than sit through a bunch of intellectual cows grazing dumbly on middle brow educational standards.
If there’s one movie that really captures the issue with school in general, whether primary or post-secondary, it’s definitely Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure has a reputation of being a somewhat amusing if meaningless diversion of a movie. It’s often mentioned as being a “fun” “little” “stoner” movie. It is a fun little stoner movie, but it’s so much more. I’m even hesitant to refer to the movie as a “stoner” movie because we never actually see Bill and Ted get high. They appear to just be naturally stupid. I can see why some people refer to it as a stoner movie because they seem stoned, but I had a friend in high school, Aubin, who everyone thought was stoned all the time. No one ever believed me when I told them he was just like that. Even the school administrators would try to get me to rat him out, but even if I were a rat, there was nothing to rat on. He was just naturally sort of dazed.
Anyhow, what the movie really has going for it—subtextually speaking, of course—is its very pointed and even poignant criticism of the educational system in this country. Of course the movie is almost 30-years-old now, but it says a lot about education in this country that its observations are still immediately valid.
Keep in mind that there are potential spoilers ahead for a nearly 30-year-old movie. I usually don’t give a shit about spoilers. I hate the kind of privilege and entitlement that allows someone enough time and mind to worry about movie spoilers, but whatever. There it is—the warning.
So, to begin, let us acknowledge the obvious fact: Bill and Ted as characters, are the literal saviors of the planet. At one point in the movie we learn that they are destined to bring peace and prosperity to the planet. War and plague and poverty will be eradicated because of the influence of their music.
Our culture leads us to believe that if there are to be any saviors of the planet (there won’t be) that the school system will single these people out, probably at a young age. They will excel in school and in extracurricular school activities. They will be stern and determined and boring. Eventually they will go to some preppy wasteland like Harvard or Yale or, god forbid, NYU Film School.
This is a fallacy of course. Very few world-changing feats have been accomplished by so-called “overachievers.” Usually they’re accomplished by outsiders who learn to think on their own and who have been marginalized by the “Establishment” because they have their own ideas, are dedicated to their own ideas and refuse to be stifled by bureaucratic lunacy—which is what The Establishment is made of: lunatic bureaucrats. Grants aren’t given to visionaries, they’re given to people who write what the funders want to hear. Yes men, essentially.
Bill and Ted toe no line. That is why they are ignored. School is boring to them and, in return, the school doesn’t even have the decency to ignore them and let them be. It actively tries to destroy them. Bill and Ted are the duo who will save the world, and the system is hellbent on separating the two. The system as it is set up is utterly incapable of recognizing the potential inherent in those two boys. It’s a failed system. It’s a system in which it is literally impossible to see beyond its nose. It has no strategy. No foresight. Either you pass the stupid tests or you are stupid. But as literal saviors, Bill and Ted are the antithesis of stupid. They hold within them—within their relationship—the intellect needed to save the world.
And, again, the school system fails to recognize that there is anything beyond failure for them.
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