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Learning to profile, engage with others

Nowhere in this column will I mention how hot it is.

The picture of my friends Ruben and Sara Martinez’s daughter Genesis will say it for me. Her sprawled out in front of a computer, “attending” her first day of school, is a microcosm for the world at large. We are all nearly overwhelmed and exasperated by 2020. School kids sitting in front of a computer screen is not ideal, but it’ll do in a pinch. The old guard of society is ever fearful of what that computer and phone screen do to the young mind. But I’m still on the fence.

When I see a 16-year-old with their face buried in a phone, it’s fun to imagine they’re reading the Wikipedia page of Vasco De Gama or the War of 1812. Not spiraling uncontrollably, listening to Cardi B rap about her…well, for lack of a better word, Great Wolf Lodge. In a pinch, when I need to remember what college Brian Sipe played football at, the internet is a godsend. Yet, I digress.

The lessons these young minds need to be taught, are not found on a computer screen, but on the playgrounds and classrooms. Learning arithmetic, spelling, and writing will all come in due time. Social skills and their delicacies require time, practice, and participation. A computer can’t play kickball, and it’ll never let you know when you’re becoming a jerk. That’s the job of people and peers. 

Let’s backtrack a bit to 1977. The days when the hazing and maligning of a young boy weren’t stymied by adults. Instead it was a rite of passage. One that I believe has served my generation, and the generations before it well.

It does rub me wrong that we live in a climate of “Everybody gets a trophy” and the coddling of feelings to the point we homogenize winning. But I tucked that away a few years ago after a conversation with my then 7-year-old nephew Bode Hiatt.

I had attended his Little League game, and watched jaw agape as these little monsters cried, sat, belly-ached, and walked through the paces — all while helicopter dads and moms made cringe worthy statements like “Just run to first, when we get home mommy will let you watch Toy Story and eat cookies.”

They not only didn’t keep score, they made a point of reminding everyone that they weren’t.  In my day that would’ve not only been an insult to my time and team, it would’ve been license for me to goof off on the level of Ralph Malph at Arnold’s. It’s ok to keep score, take things seriously, and still have fun. That’s sports. Yet I digress. Again. 

But my nephew Bode is the son of a coach, and he has a bedroom and play area decorated like Cooperstown. Postgame I tried to touch base with his thoughts on the game.

“Well that was something. You have fun?” — Me

“Not really. I have a bunch of dummies on my team that don’t know first from third...but I keep score in my head. We won, even though we have way more players that stink.” — Bode

That’s the spirit!

Somewhere in his cute but snide remark, he’d learned diligence and tolerance. I think.

The first couple years of school have more to do with learning how, where, when, who, and what you are within a social dynamic. In 1977 I started Kindergarten at Van Allen School in between Manteca and Escalon on Highway 120. Real farm school stuff. Roughly 16 kids in my entire class. Half my classmates were the children of migrant farm workers, the other half owned the farms. Mix in a Redneck and a few Dutchmen and I was learning how the real world worked.

A school with one classroom for each grade. No separating class to hide the dumb ones. Dog eat dog. Flash card arithmetic war. Vicious games of blacktop kickball and tag. All the while learning to be fearful of the other grades. It was K-5, and with roughly 20 kids per classroom, you knew everyone.

There was no hiding. And for a brat that drank a gallon of loudmouthed soup each day, I soon learned the art of negotiation. How to plea bargain a “t” twister down to a head noogie. Or a behind the back arm-wrencher into eating a clump of grass. Lessons that can’t be learned sitting in front of a Zoom meeting on a laptop.

It was 2nd grade that I may have learned my two most important lessons in life: Don’t underestimate people. Don’t overestimate people.

Like most reading this column, school in my day started in early September. When and why this early August shuffle happened I’ll never understand. School should start with football! Who wants to return from Summer vacation without being able to lay down a few dimes on the Raiders game at lunch?

For me the first week of school always aligned with my birthday. Allowing my mom to showcase her cupcake abilities all while allowing me to build up some class clout and favor before destroying it by years end.

We were just a few days into 2nd grade and new kid Carlos Roig had established himself as a serious threat to my flash card throne. His kickball skills were top notch as well. All from a scrawny newbie?! Not giving me the recompense I so desired. I gathered my troops.

Elliot Nunes was my muscle, a neighboring dairy kid with the strength of 10 linguica sandwiches. The late great Jeff Van Slyke was our pretty boy, fast and cool – all the ladies loved him. As the brains of this playground posse, I set out to make Carlos an offer he could not refuse.

He was hunched over at the water fountain when I made my move. A light knee to his hind quarters, and a menacing “You think you’re so cool. Wanna fight?!”

And then FWAP!! Thud!

Those are the sounds of his 7-year-old fist busting my nose open, and the back of my head hitting the ground. I came to with Mrs. Judy Wentworth – our teacher – hovering over me. By then my boys had scattered but Carlos was holding my head for the time being. He owned up to the moment, and we were both office bound.

Both were given a fitting 1970s punishment. Forced to wear signs that said “We are in isolation. Do not talk or play with us.”

Just imagine trying this shaming maneuver today. This discretion on my part should have flown under the parental radar, as I hadn’t mentioned the event at home. However, my mother’s arrival at school with cupcakes to celebrate my birthday and my subsequent begging of Mrs. Wentworth to remove the sign shackles were met with deaf ears. My mother was neither pleased, nor surprised.

Carlos and myself sat alone on the bench, watching kickball being played, as Mrs. Wentworth delivered us each a cupcake.

“See this ain’t so bad” — Me

“Shhh. We’re not supposed to talk.” — Carlos

“We both have the signs on...we can talk to each other” — Me

“Not unless you want to sit on the bench for another week young man” — Mrs. Wentworth.

Carlos and I became best friends immediately. Never Underestimate.

I’ll knock out Never Overestimate in the next few days. Something we’ll call: “The day I took my Stretch Armstrong on the school bus — and he never made it home.”

P.S. Brian Sipe went to San Diego State and won the NFL MVP in 1980.

“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do”