My Most Embarassing Moments, Part Two
When I was six, my family moved from Austin, Texas (where my dad had been working with the Association for the Understanding of Man, chasing UFOs and working on his book), to Exton, Pennsylvania, where my great-grandfather had moved to work with the Pennsylvania Railroad. We moved into the tenant farmer’s house at Arrandale, the biggish country house that my grandfather had first seen while fox hunting, and that he had encouraged his father to buy and restore.
On my first day of school, my mother and I walked down the long, tree-lined driveway to wait for the bus. We sat on the stone gates and waited ten minutes, then twenty, then forty-five: it seemed normal, I guess, for the bus to be late on the first day, but we were pretty far off the beaten path, too, and the driver might have missed us. After a while I guess my mom decided that the bus wasn’t going to show up, and that she’d better drive me to school.
She wanted to know if the bus eventually arrived, however, so she left me at the end of the driveway while she walked back to get our navy-blue Volkswagen Beetle. I had strict instructions: watch to see if the bus came, but don’t get on it (thereby avoiding uncertainty as to my whereabouts.)
Of course, no sooner had she disappeared from sight than the yellow bus pulled up: first day of school, bus packed with kids, the driver late and flustered. The door slapped open.
Face clear, conscience untroubled, I stood calmly by the side of the highway, feet rooted to the spot.
“Come on, kid, get on the bus!”
I had been to several years of Montessori kindegarten, and was used to following orders. ALso, I had a good idea of the chain of command: Mom first, bus drivers nowhere. What’s more, being a deeply spacey kid, I was completely unequal to the task of explaining that the bus was forty-five minutes late, taking car, wanted to see if bus came but orders are to recon and report, not to embark, etc. So I stood there placidly and shook my head.
“No, I’m not going to get on the bus.” I was probably wearing little-boy sandals at the time, too.
“Come on, kid, get on the BUS!“
“No, thank you.” By this time every window on the near side was filled with incredulous kids; I’m sure the bus was listing to starboard with the weight of all the elementary-school gawkers. Like I said, though, I was a Montessori student, gently raised, with no experience of public-school ridicule; I probably had the demeanor of a guest refusing a cup of coffee at a cocktail party.
“Thank you, no, I’m not going to get on the bus.”
So the bus finally roared off, carrying its cargo of frustrated and incredulous amazement. If this was a Disney movie, I would have been a hero, carried on the shoulders of the inspired student body, borne triumphantly from class to class. But the other kids on my bus route were third- and fourth-graders, too young to think rebelling was cool. Not getting on the bus was about as cool as having to wear corrective shoes, or needing special earplugs during rec swim. I was often stopped at the water fountain: “Hey, aren’t you THE KID WHO WOULDN’T GET ON THE BUS?” “Yes,” I would answer, puzzled and starting to get dismayed, “yes, I am.”
That actually blew over, until I added further laurels to my name: “The boy who keeps getting up and wandering out of class” (my Montessory training, again): “The boy who writes on the walls” (I had been dragging my pencil, ERASER FIRST, thank you, along the grooves between two bricks when returning from recess): “The boy who TAKES DRUGS IN SCHOOL” (I had palmed my morning multivitamins, pocketed them, then swallowed them in a fit of remorse during art class.)
Which is the reason I was sent to Westtown School the next year, after my second-grade teacher became so frustrated with my polite, spacey, abject inability to follow the public-school rules. Thirty seconds after walking through the door at Westtown, I had a cubbyhole, a place to hang my coat, and was working busily at the craft bench, which was a world of relief.