Because perfection angers the deities.
You get up in front of the class and you deliver a prepared five-minute or so presentation on a subject of your own choosing. (While your classmates try to interfere with your concentration, hoping to break you up, embarrassing you in front of the assemblage. It’s because they like you. Though I can imagine less cripplingly humiliating ways of showing it.)
We go in… I don’t know what order we go in. Alphabetical. By height. Something. And it is now his turn to go up.
Nobody likes the guy. Solitary. Gruff. And academically – in the subjects he does not care about – deficient. He once scored “Three” out of a hundred on a French exam. Can you imagine? “Three” out of a hundred? If I got that, I would be unable to go home. His truculent response to his ignominious failure:
“What do I need French for? I ain’t goin’ to France.”
He plods heavily to the front of the class to deliver his oral composition. Nobody will try to make him laugh. Not because they are afraid of him (although they are.) They simply don’t care enough.
The topic he has chosen to speak upon today – that’s how they traditionally made us begin:
“Miss MacLean and class: The topic I have chosen to speak upon today…” (One bundle of nerves once began, “Miss MacLass and clain…”)
The topic he has chosen to speak upon that day is submarines. He has also brought along a stack of “8 by 10” photographs, as visual accessories to his speech. Before he begins, however, he unexpectedly asks for assistance, someone to hold up the pictures while he delivers his oration. (His own hands being pre-occupied managing a number of three-by-five-card auxiliary “notes.”)
The room is redolent with indifference. Nobody steps up to help him. For minutes – which are actually seconds but feel excruciatingly like minutes – he stands in front of the class, wounded, rejected and alone.
Finally, somebody rises from their seat, goes to the front of the class and stands beside him, taking the released compilation of photographs, showing the pictures one-by-one on his signal.
That “somebody” was me.
Some time in 2007.
We have been invited to a political fundraiser, an afternoon gathering in a rich couple’s backyard. We are out of our element, but we go.
We stand outside in these opulent surroundings, speaking to nobody but each other, the heart of our conversation: “What the heck are we doing here?”
Disinterestedly, I look across the impeccably mown lawn, a four hundred dollar haircut, but it’s grass. Suddenly, I catch sight of a figure standing all by herself. The social whirl spinning noisily around her, but nobody is talking to her. She stands there, silent and alone, a woeful wallflower at a political fundraiser.
It is the afternoon’s Guest of Honor.
Looking vulnerable, unhappy and forlorn.
The uncomfortable look in her eyes makes you wonder why she chose to enter such a glitzy and punishing profession. But there she is, a solitary figure, looking like she could desperately use a friend.
It is virtually the identical situation:
The alienated “submarine speaker.” The out-of-place political candidate. Both demonstrably needy, a salvaging lifeline immediately required.
I helped him. I did not help her. Though I actively fantasized helping her. Moving surreptitiously to her side and saying, “You don’t have to talk to me. I’m just going to stand here so you won’t look so pathetic.” In a tone that made her feel rescued rather than shamefully exposed.
But I never made the move. Why? Who knows? Closest I can come to explaining it is I figured nobody would ever help him and someone would eventually help her. And they did. Next time I looked over, she was no longer standing alone.
That’s your whole story – one person you helped and one person you didn’t?
It’s a little more interesting than that, Blue Italics Person.
You will recognize one of these names, but almost certainly not both:
Bob Kettle. And
As I surmised, she did pretty well without me.
Still, I’m going to go vote for her today.
I figure it‘s the least I can do.