The most interesting things happen on the book aisle at Walmart. You should try spending a few hours there. I've met 80-year-old women who read Twilight, men who gave away half of the plot of a book to me before saying, "But I'm not going to spoil it for you," and young boys with headaches trying to figure out which Gossip Girl their girlfriend hinted that she wanted for her birthday.
The other day a boy and a group of his friends ambled onto the aisle. I had my nose in a Naruto manga, but not so much that I didn't eavesdrop (it's a truly bad habit I've developed lately). For a few minutes they flipped through magazines, talking flippantly about school, girlfriends, and the next big game.
One of them -- a mop-topped 13-15-year-old-ish with converse shoes -- made his way over to me. He pulled out a book from the little "classics" section. The Count of Monte Cristo. "You ever read this book?" he asked me. "I thought it was pretty good."
Immiediately his friends stopped their talk. Before I even had time to answer, they swarmed us like flies over cut fruit.
"You read that book, Andy?"
One of them snorted, elbowing the other. "Geek," he muttered.
Andy threw his book down. "No," he protested. "I... didn't read it."
The teasing didn't let up. I kept my nose in the book... but I was almost ready to give them a piece of my mind before they'd finished with him. They haressed him about reading, them they began haressing him about a good grade he'd made in Pre-Algebra.
"I like Algebra," he muttered.
Their laughter made him flush.
But it was his eventual respond that really astonished me. Instead of keeping up the defense, he began laughing with them. He began doing a clever imitation of what I assumed was their Algebra teacher. The others doubled over. He began making light of the plot of The Count of Monte Cristo, making it seem a hilarious, fluffy comedy.
They ambled off the aisle as they had come -- friends.
I knew what he was doing. I knew it so well I almost followed him and begged him to stop. Only I still do it sometimes, and that would sort of make me a hypocrite.
Even with Hollywood's more favorable portrayel of the "smart kid" in recent years, those of us who express any interest whatsoever in things scholarly usually get mocked for it.
Last summer I took a road trip with my brother-in-laws youth group. I can still remember sitting in the back seat, scribbling down a story idea in my Idea notebook.
The boy squished beside me looked incredulous. "You write?" he asked.
I was too involved in the idea for a response. I gave him a nod.
"You write... outside of school?" he asked.
"Wow." He stared out the window, and then blurted as if he couldn't help himself, "You are a freak."
I used to be terribly embaressed about the teetering piles of books I carried out of the library with me, because inevitably I'd run into one of the kids who came in to use the internet. They would eye me down, and then take a step back, almost revolted.
So, I learned that when I was with those who didn't share my love of learning, it was best to feign idiocy. Be a goof, a childish cookie pick-pocket. I learned that the reason that most teenagers dislike anyone with good grades is because they themselves hate to feel dumb. I was making people feel inferior by just using a wider vocabulary.
So, I developed another personality. One that I became very, very good at. I learned to make the person I was with feel good about themselves. I would pick around -- find that one thing they were good at -- and then let them show it off to me. I would play down any trait of mine that might make them feel less smart.
That personality is almost default for me now. I rarely let myself take on the old let's-talk-about-life-the-universe-and-everything, intellectual, ponderous side when I'm with those my own age. (That's why sometimes I really crave the company of those older than me.) It's a sort of social survival of the fittest. Just, instead of a limb, I've evolved an extra personality.
Or maybe I just took to one that was already there, and little explored.
Either way, what are your thoughts? Have you ever tried to act... well... dumber than you are to make another person feel less nervous around you? And is this a hypocritical thing to do, or just another peculiar way of life?