Friday, February 10, 2012

Destiny's Child

While combing through my vast personal archives recently, I encountered a mother lode of materials from my high school days, including a junior-year English class essay. It was a character sketch of some sort on King Arthur that I wrote more than thirty years ago. I remembered only being very pleased when I got it back with a “great! 100” scrawled atop it. I showed it to a buddy of mine—an aspiring writer even as a teenager—who harrumphed and promptly informed me in no uncertain terms how really lame it was. Teens are a very competitive bunch.

Reading this essay all these years later made me cringe, which is what I typically do when encountering past scribbling from high school, college, and well beyond those years, too. I would like to believe this boyhood pal of mine was practicing a variation of tough love, and that he was merely prodding me to strive to do better, and then better than that, and not to ever rest on my laurels. Without him, I might still be wallowing in high school prose like this: “Arthur was a weak man. He was weak in character and he was weak physically. He needed a cane to support himself, and when he spoke he sounded like a growling tiger. He loved to bark out orders and he loved attention.”

Thirty plus years ago at the callow age of sixteen, I wasn’t entertaining a dream of one day being a writer, or really anything else for that matter. When I entered Manhattan College a couple of years later, I initially planned on—for lack of a better idea—studying accounting. I took the introductory course, Accounting 101, required of all business students and fast ruled out that notion. I had an affable sixty-something professor who, if memory serves, returned his corrected exams to us in grade order—highest to lowest. I somehow figured that out. And I was not just one among the bottom feeders in the class, but hopelessly trapped in the sediment at the bottom of the barrel.

At that point in my life, basic accounting was the most boring subject matter imaginable. Nevertheless, I had little choice but to sign on with part two of this opening salvo during a second semester. I can confidently say that not knowing what the hell has gone on in act one is a harbinger for bad tidings during the second act. Still, I signed on with the very same professor, who didn’t instill accounting basics in my eighteen-year-old brain on the first go-around, because he was at once very genial and—apparently—graded on a warm and reassuring curve. In other words, as long as you showed up for his class, being completely clueless merited a “C.”

I would very likely be in better financial shape had Accounting 101 and 102 struck my fancy in 1980 and 1981, but it just wasn’t meant to be. And that friend of mine who unmercifully scoffed at my high school essay subsequently served as one of my writing mentors. He still scoffs on occasion but—in the big picture—destiny’s child is spawned in some of the oddest places and under the strangest of circumstances.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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