Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Spawn’s Small Town

I figured you all had had enough of my funky viewpoint about small town living for the time being, so I asked Spawn what his favorite and least favorite things about living in a small town are. He’s lived here for 10 of his 19 years, and I figured his perspective would be different from mine.

Spawn is glad that no one has offered to sell him drugs or mugged him. (It’s nice to see a baseline of sorts, I think.) He says he likes that he can walk around pretty much anywhere in town and feel safe, that there are no really bad sections or scary sections of town. (He’s right, there really aren’t any unsafe spots in a town this small and as well-policed as it is – by cops AND aggressive little old nosy ladies.) And, he thinks the traffic is definitely bearable and that our downtown, old-fashioned shopping district is kind of cool. (I agree, lots of small town merchants with one-off shops in 1920’s buildings and lots of eager clerks.)

The things he wishes were different include more and a wider variety of jobs for teens. The ones available now are either fast food or retail clerking, and virtually none of them offer the option of full-time employment for the kids who are taking a break from school or who are not heading off to college right away. For teens, there’s really no where to hang out that isn’t religious-themed, no juice bars, no discos, no kid-friendly bookstores or coffee shops, no computer stores or internet cafes. Consequently, since there are only so many times a teenager can go bowling, and he’s not a sneaky drinker, there’s not much for him to do other than his college class work (which he could be more attentive to, ahem), play computer games, and work in fast food.

Spawn also thinks the people in our town are weird. He admits that it may just be our small town where the long-term residents and descendants of early residents are so darned mean and unfriendly, but it’s definitely something he’s noticed and had to deal with as a kid in the schools. A few years ago, when I kind of named this phenomenon the “I’m From Mxxx, and You’re Not, So Buzz Off”, the kids all got a look of wonderment on their faces. One by one, they all agreed that their friends were all from somewhere else originally and THEY thought the townies were clinkers, too. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but it certainly seemed to make the kids feel better somehow.

And, then there is the small town focus on sports. High school sports are particularly important, and if you want to see a big crowd turn out for a school board meeting, just mention something about some sport being in danger of being cut for the year, and the town crowd pours through the meeting hall doors like they were offering free pizza and beer.

Spawn is a nerd, like my whole family. We all wear glasses and have since our elementary school years. People with glasses don’t like sports involving projectile objects, such a footballs, basketballs, or baseballs, unless their parents are wealthy enough to supply them with an endless amount of chic, upscale eyewear. We are not such a family, so we all have to be careful of our glasses, which means we’re kind of congenitally sports-averse.

Spawn could stand being hammered with a few hostile dodge balls, and has, but it was the overwhelming, crushing dominance of sports and jocks in high school that really turned him against the high school. It wasn’t just the kids who were obsessed, it was also the teachers, many of whom are coaches, the administrators, the endless pep rallies; and the nasty corrupt version of social power that accompanies a sports-dominated high school really curdled his gizzard.

There was, during the long, long tenure of a particularly beloved football coach, an entire clandestine “track” for jocks, which guaranteed them passing to good grades, nice transcripts, and disciplinary free rides for those times when the testosterone got out of hand. Consequently, if Spawn signed up for something, like German, and walked in and found the class full of jocks, he knew he’d just wasted 7.5 hours of his time each and every week (on the block schedule). That just broke my heart. Not one of those students learned enough German in two years to introduce themselves or say where they’re from. It was pathetic. Other “jock-friendly” classes were heavy on worksheets, instructors who had given up standards for tenure, and do-nothing “B” grades. Really, it was an academic nightmare and a total disappointment for Spawn.

There have been repercussions for Spawn. Being bright, he essentially wasted at least 2.5 of his 4 years in high school, since so many of the courses that were supposed to be “good” had a plethora of jocks in them and had been dumbed down. As a result, his study and work habits for college stink. They just stink. He’s been kicked in the pants a few times this year, with his grades not being the A’s he was used to in high school for slap-dash, haphazard work. That’s been good for him. He’s actually enjoying the stricter, higher standards and feels like he’s finally getting the education he wasted so many years hoping for.

He made friends among the other nerds and outcasts and met a wider variety of people than he would have had he been a jock. I wonder if that isn’t the same in all schools – anyone who isn’t a super-peppy cheerleader or jock learns what the real world is like early on – that you make friends with the people who make you laugh and you avoid those who are too stupid to breathe or too quick with their fists and their abuses of power.

So, there we go. View of a small town from a post-high school teenaged boy. At least as much of it as he would tell his mom.

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