What the Hell is a Jigawatt?

From kindergarten through fourth grade, I was enrolled in a private Baptist school where my mother also taught. I always fared well academically, and when the school closed down and I had to start attending public school, my good grades carried over.

Mom attributed much of my success, I think, to the fact that I hadn't had to slug it out in the trenches in the South Carolina public school system those first few formative years. There might be some truth in that.

But I'm too much of a populist to believe it's the whole truth. Both my parents are exceedingly intelligent people, both former valedictorians themselves who would accept nothing less from their first-born offspring. I'm also the product of a long line of educators: parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

And in the end, I just have a kickass memory that served me well during midterms but not so well on standardized tests.

None of it means I'm smart. Or noble, for that matter, as I took some of the same shortcuts everyone else takes. I cheated occasionally, procrastinated frequently, sometimes got by on reputation alone just because I could.

Nor does it mean that private school was all wine and roses, either. In the first place, alcohol is like a deadly sin to Baptists, right behind long hair, dancing and any other forms of fun.

And for all of my elementary school's academic benefits, there was an astounding lack of diversity inside its walls, as with most private facilities. Those first five years of schooling, I didn't even know what a black person looked like. To say nothing of the fact that things like hall passes and detention and school-bus routes were all foreign concepts to me.

I thought Friday Chapel and "Onward Christian Soldiers" were standard fare at all schools.

And so I was ill-equipped to deal with life outside those walls once First Baptist Church School shut down after my fourth-grade year. To say I was sheltered (with my mom working just upstairs from me) would be an understatement.

I remember how confused I was when I started fifth grade at Kensington Elementary, how I hated it at first. I had to pee really badly one day and raised my hand to let my teacher know I was heading to the restroom.

"Not without a hall pass you're not."

Um, a what?

So I get this wooden, block-shaped thing-a-ma-bob called a "hall pass," but then I realize that I'm going it alone. No one is going to walk with me to ensure I make it back safely.

Worse yet, no one has ever bothered to show me where the hell the bathrooms are in this huge, horrible place.

So I walk out the door of the fifth-grade wing, wander aimlessly for a while, and then I just say "fuck it" and begin to relieve myself behind the wall of the building.

And, of course, I get caught, yelled at and disciplined.

WTF?

I needed a transition class. Someone to tell me what life would be like now that I was outside the insular reach of the Fellowship Hall, and the chapel, and Mom. I was thrown into a situation--at 12 or 13 or however old you are in fifth grade--that was totally alien to me, and I was expected to acclimate immediately.

Same thing when I transitioned out of high school and college. You can take home economics or University 101, but there's no class on balancing your checkbook. Or buying your first car. Or opening a 401(k). Or closing on a house.

No one tells you shit. You simply have to improvise.

So for the record, Kensington Elementary, pissing on your wall was a pleasure.

Original MySpace post: 4/4/2007

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