I have read that President-Elect Obama learned about being African-American through the lens of television. I am not surprised. All land mammals take cues from the environment and do internal, brain-stem level assessments based on first impressions. That’s why some dogs bark when I approach. That’s why the groundhog on Wakonda #11 rears up on it hind legs and hisses at me (I’m going to get it and turn it into a hat). That’s also why I don’t wear a Batman costume to work.
That is also why I bring up this book: The Preppy Handbook. It was written as satire, but in fact, it was a cultural Rosetta Stone, Enigma Machine, and decoder ring wrapped up in a pocketable volume. Being an immigrant, I had no clue as to how to dress or talk in the social cauldron of a southern prep school. Having just come from Brooklyn was no help -I may as well have arrived from Mars.
Being an analytical yet typical teen, I set upon a quest to break out of non-conformity, and did it the only way I knew how -by research and keen observation. Funny thing was, this book was available at my school’s library, and I checked it out for about …26 years. It was like reading Jane Goodall’s field notes, and it was with the same determination that I jumped into the world of tassel loafers, khaki pants, and button down Oxford shirts. It took Jane about a year before the chimpanzee’s of Gombe let her sit among them. It took me about the same amount of time before the inner ring of high school students let me lounge around with them at the gazebo on our sprawling campus.
Ultimately, it was about one thing. Okay, maybe two or three things, but I was still too young to even think that the third thing was possible. But who knew? Knowing what I do now, I have no regrets.