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P.P.E.* Mania

October 8, 2013 — Leave a comment

Kindergarten was a delightful experience back in the late 50’s. It didn’t have much of an academic focus, but was more a means of socializing us to formal schooling, as reflected by my kindergarten report card, with its list of “Citizenship” categories. I earned check marks in such things as courtesy, initiative, good health habits, sense of fair play, and working well with others. Nowhere on the card is there anything pertaining to reading, writing or arithmetic. Yes, kindergarten was a series of halcyon half-days reserved for high priorities: dress-up, story time, singing, graham crackers and milk, recess, and creative expression through the medium of manila paper and Crayolas.

On this particular afternoon, Mrs. Mendoza handed out fresh sheets of paper and instructed everyone to draw our very CRAYONS-JUMBObest “purple people eater.” I could hardly believe my ears. You see, the songPurple People Eater” was wildly popular at the time and on its way to Number One on the Billboard pop charts. DJ’s had been asking listeners to send in their pictures of purple people eaters, and our very hip teacher was catching the wave. I was loving it.

I recall that she first played the song through for the class — as if she even needed to do that! Didn’t everybody know the lyrics by heart?! — and then she turned us loose with our crayons. I got busy outlining a sort of blobby, winged dragon-like creature with my purple crayon. I was about to fill in the one eye and one horn features when I became hugely distracted.

Some of the other kids were drawing green, blue and even red creatures. What was that about?! Didn’t they just hear Sheb Wooley sing that this creature was one-eyed, one-horned and purple?! I tried to persuade my classmates that their pictures needed to follow the specs, but to no avail. They kept right on coloring their creatures in way they had planned, my protests notwithstanding, and were as pleased as punch with their finished products. I got more and more frustrated with my inability to single-handedly sway public opinion and behavior.

In an effort to force things conform to my sensibilities, I approached Mrs. Mendoza’s desk. “The children aren’t drawing their purple people eaters right,” I informed her. “They’re putting two eyes on them and some don’t even have horns.” I wouldn’t be able to tell you the exact words she used to inform me that their pictures were just fine and I should go ahead and take my seat now and just worry about my own drawing.

Sigh. I tried. A brief chapter from that Big Book of Life Lessons entitled: “No, Linda, You Are Not the Boss of the World.”

And now, for your listening pleasure, may I usher you into a former era of song, beginning with the one that started the Great Kindergarten Classroom Controversy in the first place (lyrics thrown in at no extra charge). And while we’re at it, I present several other hits that were soaring at the top of the charts in 1958, either shortly before or after Purple People Eater:

[* Okay, so you figured out the acronym. Please proceed to the head of the class.] 

I believe it goes without saying that we aren’t all that good at seeing ourselves accurately. As the Scottish poet Robert Burns penned in the late 18th century:

O would some power the giftie gie us

To see ourselves as others see us.

What I’m coming to realize lately is that the compulsion to airbrush my self-image started early. I was fully persuaded I was a good little girl. No, not just a good girl, but a better-than-average girl. Well, probably much better-than-average. Okay, I admit it — I thought I stood a good chance of being the b-e-s-t. Sorta like my little five-year-old friend who recently drew this picture. When asked for an explanation of what she had drawn, she said, “It’s me on top of the world because I’m the best; the other people on the earth are not at the top because they’re NOT the best.” (Can I get an amen?)

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She nailed it. My skewed young perception in a nutshell. An early elementary school kid who bought into her own propaganda — that she was la creme de la creme, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding…

EXHIBIT A:

“If it pleases the court, the prosecution would now like to call to the witness stand, Mrs. Mendoza, the defendant’s kindergarten teacher.”

“Proceed.”

“Mrs. Mendoza, please describe to the jury, in your own words, exactly what you saw.”scan0008

“Well, it was right after lunch and I had passed out large sheets of manila paper for the children to draw pictures on. Billy got engrossed in his artwork and began standing over their shared table, leaning on his elbows as he drew.”

“What happened next?”

“Linda was seated in the chair beside Billy. While he wasn’t looking, she clandestinely pulled his chair away from the table so that when he went to sit back down, his behind landed on the floor. Billy then came to my desk crying.”

“Did the defendant offer any explanation for her actions?”

“Only that ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ and she ‘thought it would be funny’.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mendoza. No further questions, Your Honor.”

[Well, color me flabberghasted. You mean to tell me Billy didn’t think my stunt was hilarious?!]

EXHIBIT B:

[The following is excerpted verbatim from notes my mom kept on us kids as we were growing up.]

“When we would go shopping little Linda had a bad habit of not staying with me – even though she had been instructed to stay close. With her little independent spirit, she always wanted to wander off. I always had to keep a close eye on her and was often chasing her down. One day we were shopping downtown in the J. C. Penney department store and I noticed she was wandering away again! She wasn’t watching me, so I had an idea. I decided to keep my eye on her – I kept moving so I could watch her, but staying where she couldn’t see me.

“For quite a while she didn’t care that she didn’t know where I was – she was happily and nonchalantly wandering around the racks of clothes. However, after several minutes she realized she was entirely alone (she thought), and she started crying. I then went to her and explained that’s what happens when you don’t stay with your Momma. The lesson must have worked – after that she always stayed with me when shopping.”

EXHIBIT C:

When I was perhaps a year or two older, I was messing around in my back yard with a spoon. Digging in the dirt, I think. The younger two boys who lived in the other half of the duplex were out in their yard. I called them over to the fence and talked the older one, who was perhaps 4 and 1/2 years old, into opening his mouth while I flicked a little bit of soil into it. (I know…) He complied and knelt down on the opposite side of the fence from where I was digging. I took the tip of the spoon and sent a few tiny flecks sailing onto his tongue. He leaned on his little brother to do it too. The little guy couldn’t have been older than 3 and 1/2 or so.

What happened next was a bit of tomfoolery that got way out of control. My spoon caught something solid, pried it loose, and sent a big dirt clod straight into little brother’s gullet. He sprang to his feet and ran into his house, squalling all the way. Suddenly I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. As I feared, his mother hollered for me to get into her kitchen. Pronto. I winced as she grilled me, all the while trying to rinse all that dirt out of his mouth. “What were you thinking, Linda?!!” she pressed.

And that was just the point: I wasn’t thinking. At least not thinking about the boys. I was thinking about me. Me having fun. And it did seem fun — at least while I was doing it. What the boys would stand to experience as a result of my little shenanigan totally escaped me.

SUMMATION:

The Prosecution: I implore the jury to consider the full import of these incidents and find the defendant guilty of ego-centrism in the first degree. May her delusional plea of innocence and “goodness” fall upon your unswerving commitment to hold her feet to the fire and to press her to acknowledge her ill-founded mindset. She must confess that she is as capable as the next person of being a little stinker, and not the “good” person she, in her erroneous judgment, fancies herself to be.

The Defense: Gentle Jurors, please bear in mind that the defendant was overcome by nothing more than that which besets us all: a propensity to gaze into the mirror and see ourselves through the rosy lens of self-aggrandizement and image-boosting. If remanded to her parents’ custody, she will, provided she submits to their regimen, likely outgrow the narcissism of childhood and mature into a reasonably caring and thoughtful adult and responsible citizen.

[At the time of this publication, it has been reported that the jury is still out. Meanwhile, the defendant continues to pray for leniency.]