I was pretty cool. At least, I thought I was and, if I remember, some other kids did too. I remember in 5th grade, when I first set foot on the playground of another new school, getting the challenge from the resident diplomats.
Diplomats: Are the kids who were nicer than the popular ones but still in the group. They had the ability to consort with the plebes without losing any credibility as one of the In.
“So you’re new, huh?” In the typical challenging way they were allowing me the opportunity to deny charges and possibly take up further examination at a later date but, at this point, I was a pro.
“Yeah, just switch over from the academy.” The “academy” was just the tail end of the name of a private school across town but they didn’t know that.
“Academy?” There was no question asked but the look was on their diplomatic faces.
“What was it that you guys wanted?” I had already scored some intangible points by throwing them off guard with my confident answer. Now it was time to really make an impression. This question was a statement for how much I really didn’t care.
Not Caring: Probably the most important emotion to display on the battlefield of a 5th grade playground. Looking like you don’t care and not actually caring are two different things. If you actually don’t care then you’re usually left the hell alone but to a fault. No chance of sitting next to girls in the cafeteria and no chance of getting picked first (or respectively close enough to first.) If you look like you don’t care what you gain is awe from those who do (most everybody) and a level of immunity because they don’t think you care.
“Sarah R. said that you beat her brother on the way to school.” This sentence is stuffed to the serif with cunning 5th grade sneakery. First, the abbreviated name, everyone knows who she is if they had a class with her and only if there was another Sarah present. There is no other reason for the R except to separate her from anther like-named girl. Second, the vague reference to her brother. A newcomer wouldn’t know the relationship between the locals yet and this was slipped in to force a question out of me. Asking questions like this implies that you care but don’t know which is weak whereas not caring but still knowing is the desired state. Third, apparently I beat him but there is no indication of what the contest was. The assumption, of course, would be hand-to-hand combat but is probably not the case being that, in 5th grade, I was less than four feet high and thought that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would be cool forever . Just imagine a tiny person trying to fight like a giant turtle named Donatello. Besides, I went to a public school not a private dojo.
There’s another subsumed implication buried in here that could go unmentioned but won’t. “…on the way to school” implies that they know how I get here everyday which could mean that they know where I live and, although the statement is not meant to be threatening, it could be construed that way if one were so inclined.
“You mean Paul ? Yeah, he’s really fast.” Never mind all the stuff before. I knew exactly what they were talking about and I even slipped in a little personal praise on my part. By saying that he’s fast, I have given away that I am faster.
For some reason, my school held a lot of weight in how fast you could run. Everyone was racing everyone else and being quick was definitely an asset as a newcomer. For some other reason, I always paralleled it with different dojos in old Japan. There were some that placed importance on strength, others did with technique and others, speed. In some way my elementary school was mastered by a sensei who knew the importance of speed. Maybe, in some cosmic way, I was supposed to be at that school at that time. Like some scrambled, pre-pubescent version of karma.
I went back and forth with the Diplomats for a while and after several minutes of cunning diatribe they arrived at the conclusion that I was okay. I had dodged their conversational attacks, parried their semantics and taken my own well-placed shots when I could. Like a samurai using all the skill he possesses I had selected the right moves and vanquished my opposition. And, although, these were not won with the sword and the discipline to properly execute the “Crimson Swallow”, they were still hard fought matches.
In the feudal system of the 5th grade playground, those of us who were ronin did whatever we thought we should to survive.