The summer I turned nine, I was filming a movie far away from home, and staying in a beautiful neighborhood in a beautiful city. There were lots of kids to play with, and most of them I got along with. One kid I did not: he was a boy, and while I didn’t outright dislike boys, they were more likely to be know-it-alls. And as a competitive know-it-all myself, I could not stand for that.
I’ll never remember who started it, but suddenly, one day, William and I were in an argument.
“I bet I’m older than you,” he said.
“I’m already nine,” I said. “I turned nine last month.”
“I turned nine in May.”
“OK,” I said, conceding that to him. “But I’m going to be in the gifted class at school next year.”
“I’m in the gifted class, too,” William countered.
“Yeah, well…” I took a second to think. “I bet you don’t know what the square root of twenty-five is!”
“It’s five,” he said, and I clenched my fists and folded my arms across my chest.
It went on for far longer than it should have. William and I quizzed each other long after the sun had set and the other children had gone home. Bedtime was nearing, and I desperately felt that I needed to prove myself once and for all. I searched my memory for the questions that my BrainQuest cards had given me extra “Genius Points” for knowing.
“I bet you don’t know who Benjamin Banneker was!” I said.
“You don’t! I knew it!” I yelled. “For your information, he was a Black astronomer and writer in the 1700s who helped build Washington, D.C.!” (This last part, I would learn later, has been widely disputed, though Benjamin Banneker was an incredibly talented and accomplished man.)
William suddenly looked dumbfounded. “He helped build what?”
“Washington, D.C.,” I said. William showed a glimmer of recognition, but only the faintest. I seized on his moment of weakness.
“You don’t know where that is?” I said. “Do you not know whoWashington was?”
“Um…” Now he looked stricken.
“Do you even know when Independence Day is?” I said.
“The first of July?” He said, and I burst out laughing.
“How can you not know this?” I said, and then I gave him my last, most devastating blow. “This is baby stuff!”
My grandmother called for me to come into the house, saying it was bedtime. William stared after me as I walked in, triumphantly. Clearly, I had won, and I had done so, easily. I’d proven myself, and exercised one of my most important rights as an American: the right to believe that you are better than most people.
It was only later, while I was lying in bed that night, that I remembered something that changed the game, that cast serious doubt on my easy “victory” over William.
I was in Toronto.
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Standing in Fields with Noel Fielding