|It was the worst birthday ever
||[Aug. 20th, 2007|04:50 pm]
|||||Karl Smith-Must Say More||]|
I wrote this as part of a communal blog for my friend Nick, who is turning 25 tomorrow. However, I thought I may as well post it here as well.
I can probably trace the bulk of my neuroses back to one particular day: February 23rd, 1989: my fourteenth birthday and, coincidently, the day of my high school’s athletics day. Why do I hate being out in the sun? Ask me about my fourteenth birthday. Why do I hate sport with such a passion? Again, ask me about my fourteenth birthday.
A digression: athletics day was always a strange day at my school. It was a day of, if not compulsory participation, then compulsory attendance, and I could never understand why the entire school was forced to spend a day sitting in the hot sun watching the kids who liked sport run around the field. (I mean, it’s not like the entire school had to sit around and watch me at my drawing board during graphics and design, or watch the kids who were good at maths sit tests or anything.) Bear in mind that late February is probably the hottest time of the year, and that there wasn’t a single bit of shade around the sports fields at my school. To the best of my recollection, you weren’t even allowed to bring a book or a Walkman onto the sports field. For the freaks, the geeks, the nerds, the burn-outs and the generally enfeebled, it was a day of hot, boring discomfort. The fact that it would often fall on my birthday felt particularly unjust.
Another digression: the school’s groundskeeper and sometime-teacher, Mr. Findlay. Even thinking about him today makes me feel slightly queasy. He was a deeply unlikeable man, who wandered glowering around the school, lit cigarette in hand, emanating a deep hatred for all children other than those who took his 6th and 7th form Outdoor Education courses. For plump, bookish but generally rule-abiding kids like my friends and I, he was our arch nemesis –hunting our kind for sport.
It was on February 23rd, 1989 that my world and Mr. Findlay’s worlds collided for the first time. It must have been at morning tea time that, graciously given a “break” from the enforced frivolity of watching people we didn’t actually like run in circles around a field, we were allowed to leave the field for 15 minutes for our morning tea. Cheers. Taking my skateboard, I was walking up to the top car park when “Findlay” (as he was unaffectionately known) intercepted me and commented on the fact that one of socks was down. (My high school had a fairly strict dress code, and it was crucially important that our socks remained up on our journey to adulthood.) The passage of time has erased his exact words to me, but my skateboard was immediately confiscated, and I was told to report to him in a few minutes for a “job”, which I assumed to be picking up litter at lunchbreak.
No such luck.
Finding him a few minutes later, I saw he was standing next to a gigantic metal drum attached to something which looked like it was designed to be pulled by a team of oxen. “The cricket pitch needs rolling” he said matter-of-factly. And that was that. From approximately 10am until 3pm, I lumbered with this bloody great steel drum, back and forth, back and forth, crushing down the pitch in the hot sun. Whilst I certainly wouldn’t like to draw trite comparisons to Jesus’ crucifixion, whenever I watch those old religious epics and see Christ carrying his cross up the hill, the first thing that comes to mind is that day, sunburnt, sweating, carrying a heavy load and feeling utterly miserable. All through the afternoon, friends and enemies alike wandered over to watch my toil. Some expressed sympathy and outrage. Most just mocked me. I felt like Sisyphus. (Or some form of perverse entertainment in a Roman arena, circa 200AD.) God knows how I got through the day without passing out or suffering heatstroke, although the fact that I have absolutely no recollection of what happened after the school day ended suggests I probably just came home and collapsed.
I say again: It was the worst birthday ever.
For my 21st birthday, my dad gave me a photo album featuring 20 photos, one taken on every birthday since infancy. In most of them I look pretty happy. But there’s one particular one where I’m sunburnt to hell, my head is tilted on a strange angle, and I look like the weight of the world is on my shoulders. Guess the year.
PS - As an addendum to this sorry tale: isn’t it weird to think that schools could force students to sit outside in the hot sun all day, and teachers could walk around the school smoking?