- 1978-79 was an awesome time to be in Napa, California.
- Sixth grade was one of a very few years where I wasn't starting out in a new school. (I went to 10 different schools, K-12.)
- Northwood Elementary was a K-6 school, so I was regally perched atop the food chain.
- I was not only a member of the elite, paramilitary Northwood Elementary School Patrol – I was a sergeant.*
That year should have been a stone groove. But there was one snag. Ms. Lenzi.
From an educational standpoint, Ms. Lenzi was probably one of the best teachers I ever had. I learned a lot and I learned some lessons about knuckling down and actually working hard. So the 44-year-old version of me can call her a straightforward, no-nonsense educator. The 11-year-old version of me still calls her a bitch (or whatever variation on that term 11-year-old Greg might have employed in 1978).
It was because of Ms. Lenzi that I had to learn the phrase "personality conflict" before I was old enough to have to learn the phrase "nocturnal emission."
In Ms. Lenzi's defense, I was a pretty insufferably pretentious kid at the beginning of sixth grade. I was just coming down from the high of fifth grade with Miss Hunter – who loved me almost as much as she loved Prince Charles. She was an angel. And I was a teacher's pet.
So in my mind, teachers and I were simpatico. We were on the same side – fighting against the ignorance of the rabble. My mission was to offer an encouraging glimmer of brilliance in order to bolster my teacher and give her confidence that, yes, the youth of today can be taught.
Evidently no one clued Ms. Lenzi in to that script.
So there we were in our first week together. Ms. Lenzi, staring out at 29 new potential troublemakers. Me, staring back at what I could only assume was the next adult to be smitten by my precocious charms.
"Pretest" I heard her say. I was old enough to know that these were checks on what we'd already been taught and, therefore, easy. Geography? Okay, I've got this one. Hurry up and pass them out. Hurry. Hurry!
Finally, there it was. But wait. Name the four oceans? Name the seven continents? Name the capital of California? This was no good – it was too easy. She was never going to be able to tell from this pathetic half-sheet of paper just how much better I was about to make her life.
And then it hit me. It was simple. It was subtle. And it was Bogart-smooth. Casually, my hand rose into the air. "Yes?" she asked, grudgingly.
"Missus Lenzi," I began earnestly, "for Europe and Asia, is it okay if we just put 'Eurasia'?"
I put down my hand and smiled expectantly. See, the beauty of this plan was that it was not only going to demonstrate that I was an exceptionally knowledgeable and well-read student. It was also going to demonstrate my visionary potential. Check this out, I just increased efficiency by 14 percent! Serenely, I waited for that familiar look of surprise and respect to wash over her.
That's when she hit me with one of the most traumatic lines of my youth. "Did everyone catch that? Listen up, everyone. Listen to Greg. Congratulations Greg, you've just given away two of the continents. Do you have any other answers you want to give away?"
I melted into my desk, suddenly sweating much more than even an un-air conditioned classroom in California deserved. Eventually I got a grip on myself and learned to co-exist with Ms. Lenzi. But not that day. That day I biked home crying like a little bitch.
*I've gotta remember to do a post on that someday soon.
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