When I was in third grade, the school I transferred to decided to throw me in the ‘Gifted and Talented’ class. I had been in some special classes before that were geared toward students who weren’t challenged by the normal curriculum, but this was my first time to be taken aside and labeled ‘above average’. Which, if you’re fluent in third grader, roughly translates to WEIRD. With a capital WEIRD.
At the time, my school district was small and the Gifted program was somewhat selective, so I was one of four or five students in the class at my grade level. And because I had the luck to end up in a rural town in the South during the early nineties, this meant that my regular class schedule was ignored once a week during last period to make time for forced visitation with other weirdos in a tiny portable building on the edge of the campus. (Oddly enough, the same woman who taught my Gifted class would later accompany me to a strip club, but that’s other story entirely.)
To my school district, Gifted class meant that we needed to be corralled away from the general population, kind of like animals. Or convicts. We were confined in a tiny, stinky classroom and forced to participate in a horror show of nerdness known as the Invention Convention. Even if we had no personal inkling for creativity, at the conclusion of each year, we were forced to ‘invent’ a device to make modern life easier.
My time was better spent (I thought) reading Baby Sitter’s Club books and correcting my homeroom teacher that Colorado was not spelled C-o-l-o-r-a-d-a (true story) so I took about nine seconds to the night before the competition to come up with a device I called the ‘Hook-on Backscrubber’. It was basically a sponge with suction cups hotglued to the back and a piece of soap inserted into a slit in the front. I tried to convince the judges that it meant to suction onto the side of bathtub so that someone with limited mobility could more easily wash their butts. Picture cow with a bum leg rubbing up against a fence and you’ve got the idea.
The judges didn’t exactly buy it. The looked at me sideways and told me it would be a lot easier just to use a loofah on a stick.
Obviously, I lost. A boy I went on to date and almost marry won the competition. He came up with some kind of unholy buzzing device that alerted teachers when students leaned back in their chairs. Because of course I had to fall in love with an ass-kissing entrepreneur who turned out to have a taste for buxom lab partners.
Really, I’m not bitter. Not about the lab partner thing, anyway. But that invention convention thing still rubs me the wrong way.
At the end of that year, my homeroom teacher informed me that I had missed an entire years’ worth of Health classes during my incarceration in nerd prison. But that didn’t excuse me from sitting the exit exam. She felt like I could pass the test easily because (and I quote) “You’re a bright girl.” I just looked up at her with the hairiest stink eye I could muster and agreed to miss recess to take the test.
So on the last day of school, she handed me a three page test and wished me good luck.
I think I did okay on the whole thing. It was mostly multiple choice, so I diligently filled in each tiny little bubble. It didn’t matter that every answer I made up for the fill-in-the-blank questions was complete bullshit. My third grade year didn’t ride on one test. I would be passed to fourth grade no matter how I did in Health.
Apparently, I passed. I mean, assume I passed. I graduated from the same school district as Salutatorian of my class, so I guess I did okay.
But y’all, one question has struck in my brain all these years later. (Forget that most mornings I can’t fucking remember if I’ve rinsed the conditioner out of my hair, this little bastard is practically etched deep into my hippocampus.)
You’re getting ready for school one morning and you need to brush your teeth. Your mother has forgotten to buy toothpaste. What do you do?
A) Don’t brush your teeth. One day doesn’t make a difference.
B) Brush your teeth with just a wet toothbrush and no toothpaste. Something is better than nothing.
C) Neither. Brushing your teeth is lame and makes you a stupid doo-doo head.
Or something like that. My recall isn’t exactly picture perfect. But y’all, I’ve been plagued ever since. I answered ‘B’, but is that really the right answer? I mean, it makes sense, right?
What would you have answered?