Another installment of my anecdotes told aurally!
My friends Anna Drezen and Andrew Farmer talked about the concept of the “Party Villain” on their podcast: it’s the person who, knowingly or unknowingly, brings down the mood of the party and makes everyone uncomfortable. I think there’s such a thing as the Class Villain, too. They throw off the rhythm and the mood of the classroom, and everyone shifts uncomfortably and makes panicked eye contact when the instructor calls on them. Are they going to mention the Rothschilds controlling everything again? Are they going to name-drop Truffaut for no reason, again? Are they going to snort and say, “Excuse me, what?” and “Yeah, right!” after every single break in the Sociology professor’s lecture again?
Class villains aren’t just annoying, they’re reckless. And I’ll admit I’ve been the class villain before. Probably most in high school, though high school students get a little leeway, I think, because everyone is annoying and reckless then. But I was definitely the villain of ninth grade English.
Mr. Parker was my teacher. I’d been worried I would get the very strict Mr. Campbell, who made his students memorize lists of Greek and Latin roots, and measured essay margins with a ruler. Instead, I got self-described “sensitive man” Mr. Parker, who gave us Meyers-Briggs tests on our first week, let us write short stories, and had us bring in song lyrics to analyze (I think I did Weezer’s “Say It Ain’t So”, which is a pretty straightforward song about alcoholism, and I remember pitying the flustered girl who chose a Bjork song). We talked about poetry and psychology, and I wrote a paper on a biography of Sigmund Freud that he put up on his wall as a “nearly perfect” paper.
It should have been a great experience for me, but it wasn’t. I really liked Mr. Parker, but the feeling was not mutual. If anything, he seemed a little scared of me. I was loud and obnoxious, constantly blurting things out and making snide comments. My friend Lana and I were constantly passing notes, and Steven and I were constantly getting into arguments. I monopolized every class discussion and constantly went off-topic (that’s when Steven started calling me “Tangent Woman”). I even got into a fight with my best friend Melissa at one point. Everyone in that class was annoyed with me.
But every villain has a backstory. Fourteen was a hard year for me, and I was acting out. I had lost my grandfather, gained a new stepmother, and moved in the same year. Puberty had brought my film career, one of the few constants in my life, to a screeching halt. My friend group and splintered, and I was struggling with my mental health and sexuality. You’d think that with my constant fidgeting, writing romantic short stories about girls saving each other’s lives, and sometimes having to leave class early so I could go to psychiatrist appointments, he might have gathered that I was going through some stuff. But Mr. Parker never asked what was going on. Sometimes he even made snide comments back at me, like this was The Breakfast Club and I was the John Bender to his Principal Vernon. Finally, when I interrupted a fellow student’s analysis of an optical illusion to say I thought it looked like Elvis, Mr. Parker took me outside and said, “Has anyone ever told you that you rub them the wrong way?”
That hit me hard. By ninth grade, I’d been called all kinds of names, and had all kinds of teachers insult me, but something about this hit me hard. If he had called me a brat, I could have written him off. If he had just told me I needed to behave better, I would have listened. What he had told felt personal, and damning. It not only meant that he didn’t like me, but that there was nothing I could do about it, that I was beyond hope. I stayed outside of class for the rest of the period, sobbing.
I don’t know if I behaved better in Mr. Parker’s class after that, but I never saw him the same way. Still, I kept my grades up, and I do remember asking if I could give him a hug on the last day. He agreed, but when he hugged me, he said, “Well, Mara, you kept me on my toes.”
Villainy is relative. Mr. Parker saw me as Judd Nelson when I was really Ally Sheedy (although isn’t the whole point that they are all a little Ally and all a little Judd?) I saw the woman in my sketch class as the villain, but she had tons of friends. I never saw her again, and no one has told me, before or since, that I “rub them the wrong way.” Not in those words. Maybe I should have had Mr. Campbell after all. Although Mr. Parker did teach me something very important: the “sensitive” ones can be the most insensitive.
Stuff I Did Recently: I talked about cicadas, turtles, coral, and the invertebrate I’m most creeped out by on Creature Feature! And speaking of my teenage self, I also recorded the 100th episode of Come On Fhqwhpods, a podcast about my adolescent obsession, Homestar Runner! It will be out soon!
Fake BBC Show of the Week: All Out of Ice Lollies