This is the second in a guest series by Phil Cate. Watch for new installments every Friday.
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The Dysfunction Cometh. God said, Let them have a son
My name is Phil Cate, and I was born in late December of 1962. I came out of the womb the worst student (among other things) on the face of the earth. I had plenty of IQ, mind you; I just had no desire to use it, unless it was to create some fun or find a way around a rule. I became quite proficient at both.
I have an incredible memory, but refusing to read the book makes it hard to memorize anything. And I can remember almost verbatim every conversation or lecture I’ve ever heard or been a part of. However, I got hung on a technicality — if you don’t listen to what the teacher is saying, a good memory helps you very little. Actually, my memory was no help at all, since I had no desire to listen to things that didn’t interest me. Trouble was coming.
On the first day of kindergarten, my mom walked me to school. By this time, we were living in Potomac, Maryland. She took me down the hall and walked me right up to the door of Mrs. Pitt’s classroom at Beverly Farms Elementary. I walked halfway into the room as Mom left for home. I’m sure she had a pleasant stroll home on that sunny September morning, relieved that she had raised her two to the point of sending them both off to school, and now she could get some well-earned quiet time. (Having kids of my own now, I know that bands play and balloons are released in the minds of young mothers on that blessed first day of kindergarten.)
I guess it never occurred to Mom to look back, or she would have soon realized that I was trailing a block or two behind her. I was smart enough not to go into the house, so I sat on our porch for about two hours, daydreaming. It was a wonderful day — until the school called and Mom finally came out and dragged me back to school.
That started the most ridiculous academic career of all time, and it only got worse from that day forward. As a matter of fact, the high point of my educational career came on that very day. In an attempt to comfort me in my obvious trauma, Mrs. Pitt let me feed the rabbit. No one knew at the time — or else they would have snapped a picture — but feeding that rabbit was the pinnacle of my educational achievements. Come to think of it, that was my only educational achievement.
Then there were my compliance “issues”. Right before first grade — I guess I was six at the time — Mom told me to get in the car; we were going to see Dr. Dugan. He was that cruel child abuser who had an office full of needles and other terrifying stuff. He tried to act like a nice guy; he’d lure in unsuspecting, innocent children with toys and kids’ magazines, but I knew what evil lurked. I really put up resistance to going and made Mom promise that I wouldn’t get a shot. She did what any desperate, God-fearing mother would do; she lied and told me there would be no shots.
Midway through my exam with Dr. Evil, I noticed a strange and deceptive look on Mom’s face. A nurse came in and started trying to establish close-in eye contact and silly dialogue with me, the six-year-old, as I sat on that cold table in nothing but my BVDs. I could smell an ambush coming and looked over my right shoulder just in time to see Dr. Evil thumping a nine-inch needle to get out the air bubbles. My sweet mother had lied to me; how dare her!
I jumped off the table and ran screaming through the lobby just as the elevator was emptying out. I was about six paces ahead of the witch — I mean, nurse. I bolted into the elevator just as the doors were closing and went down four stories to the main lobby, out the front door, across six lanes of traffic on the Rockville Pike, to the Toys R Us parking lot.
Back then, MG Midget sports cars were everywhere, and I crawled right up under one in the parking lot and refused to come out. Within seconds, I had a doctor, several nurses, a receptionist, and that Benedict Arnold mother of mine trying to get under that car to drag me out. Size was on my side, though; that thing was so low to the ground they couldn’t reach me. Can you believe the gall — they actually tried to lure me out by promising not to give me the shot! Did they think I was stupid? Fool me once, shame on you . . . I wasn’t moving.
The tide began to turn when Dad showed up. Mom had called him at his office, and it only took about three minutes for him to make the twenty- minute drive. Having a father of 6’6” was a disadvantage in many situations. I felt his meat hook grab my arm, and within a half-second I was standing upright, looking up at my father in his expensive cotton dress shirt and tie, both stained beyond repair with black asphalt and motor oil. He was sweating, his hair was tousled, and he did not look pleased. It hadn’t been a very good day so far, but it was about to get worse. The pain in my arm from that nine-inch needle was the most pleasant feeling I experienced for the rest of the day.
Despite all of my “issues,” I made friends very quickly, and that’s a good thing (in some cases). All through elementary school, I had a rat pack of good kids around me all the time. I also inherited some of Dad’s athleticism and was a solid baseball player and even more solid golfer. The No Pass No Play guys hadn’t quite started their chants back then, but that didn’t matter much in my case; Mom and Dad’s standards were higher than the system’s anyway. My real problem was that I couldn’t meet the lowest common denominator of standards, due to the aforementioned low give-a-flip quotient. It was constant turmoil at home, with my parents trying to get me to do my homework and me trying to avoid it.
This turmoil had some upsides, though — it taught me to be quite the liar and forger of parent/teacher signatures. This talent radically cut all the silly correspondence between overbearing school staff and nosy parents. It was bad enough that I had to go to school, but can you believe these fascists actually wanted me to do school work? I’d show them . . . and I did.
Incredibly, the school kept passing me along. I passed, even though on the standardized tests I’d show up with my trusty number 2 pencil and make funny patterns in the fill-in-the-blank squares, or I’d check every multiple-choice answer — A, B, C, and D — without reading the questions. Then I could return to my ADD fantasia happy land, staring out the window, dreaming of stand-up triples, birdie putts, and dodgeball on the blacktop.
Later in life, I found out Mom and Dad had a lot of conflict deciding what to do with this strange creature that had come through Mom’s birth canal (certainly only by some form of genetic mutation). After all, this was an academic family. Clearly they had brought home the wrong child. Or maybe I had some kind of disease. My sister was quite certain I had acquired rabies. Dad, oddly enough, thought I’d grow out of my dementia and eventually light the candle of ambition. Mom was sure we needed to have an exorcism or something similar. Of course, Lori thought the rabies was terminal, and it would be best for everyone if I was just shot and buried in the back yard.
Next: The Heart of Dixie
Phil Cate is a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and runs a small medical equipment resale business. He is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at PhilC@ER3.biz or by phone at 678-429-0901
Printed by permission from Phil Cate, Mama told me Jesus saved my soul, but who was gonna save my butt??? Confessions, lessons, and revelations of a born rebel, © 2008.