Wednesday, February 8, 2012

“The pen is mightier than the sword unless it's a real sword in which case the guy with the pen should run away fast.”*

Dear Little Boy I Saw at the Los Angeles International Fencing Center Today,

            Aw, little buddy. When I saw your mom taking your picture in your brand-new uniform, my heart hurt for you. You are too adorable. And little do you know (or perhaps you do) what a hard road you have in front of you. A journey full of, at the very best, good-natured teasing and occasional noogies lies ahead. And at the very worst, severe beatings and nonstop torment will follow you until the day you finally head off to Vassar or William and Mary.
            Why? Oh, honey. Oh jeez.
            First of all, you fence. And lord only knows whose idea that was, but I’m guessing it was yours. No way in hell a parent forces their kid to sign up for fencing lessons. It’s not like learning guitar or trying out for the basketball team. It’s something that requires you to wear what looks a lot like a space suit and a beekeeper hat and leap around swinging (thrusting?) a sword with a cork on the end of it. It’s probably the compromise your parents arrived at after you expressed an interest in ballet. They probably figured that between fencing and ballet, you had a tiny sliver of a chance of escaping middle school unscathed with a sword in your hand. The conversation probably included them saying, "But in fencing you can wear a costume and prance, too! But you also get a sword! It's like dancing, but better! You'll be like one of those mice in the Nutcracker!" But that’s totally okay. Fencing looks like it might be a pretty good workout, maybe one that will help you run when you get chased. And when you grow up you can move to New York and pursue your real love: the dance!
This isn't the hero of our story, but he gets the point across.

            I also have to say that your little face, while sweet and adorable, is going to get you in a whole mess of trouble in the coming years. What your mom and I find precious is the kind of thing that makes other kids want to ruin your life. Your little glasses, enormous, snaggletooth smile and incredibly petite stature are going to work against you for sure, but take heart: someday you will use your rapier’s wit (and potentially a real rapier) to school all those bullies! And your Internet Company will probably hire the biggest bully of all to be the janitor or the elevator man. You’ll have the last laugh. I know it.
            Of course, there’s always the chance you’ll wind up incredibly disturbed and mentally unhinged from all the teasing and isolation. There’s the chance that one day you’ll take your épée** and use it to chop a bunch of people into tiny little pieces and bury them under the high school football field or feed them to their own dogs. That could happen.
            But I’ve also considered that perhaps none of this will be an issue and you’ll be that rare gem of a child who’s just so comfortable with who he is that it doesn’t matter if his name is Herbert or Gaylord and he has a rat tail or suddenly sprouts a mustache when he’s eleven.  People understand that Herbert is confident and self-deprecatingly cool, so they leave him alone. And kids like Herbert are out there and they don't really care if you think fencing is cool. They just know they dig it. I was always jealous of them growing up and it’s possible, just possible, that this could be you, tiny fencer.
            But I doubt it.
            So hang in there, little one. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for you.
(The Creepy Adult Who Was Watching You from A Parked Car And Considered Taking a Picture of Your Mom Taking a Picture of You)

*Quote from Roger Eschbacher, animated television writer. (I mean he writes animated television, he's not an animated character of a writer on television.)
** A word I know exclusively from years of doing crossword puzzles.

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