The New Kid: The Karate Kid
Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College
The New Kid: The Karate Kid
Once again, I was the new kid in school, and that all too familiar, lonely feeling, in the pit of my stomach was back with a vengeance. It was never fun being the new kid in school, but arriving to my first class well after the school day had begun gave me that extra added feeling of awkwardness. As a ten-year-old, I realized every single one of my perceived imperfections was amplified, and I was well aware of the thoughts that were boiling in the heads of my fellow fifth graders. Surely, they were sizing me up, pinpointing weaknesses for future torment. Yes, indeed, this script had already been written. I had read the book and I had seen the movie.
My family moved a lot when I was a boy since my dad was in the military. At this time in my life, my dad had retired from the military, but I guess he couldn't shake the moving bug. He had two hearts, one for the state of Nebraska and one for his home-state of California. This time we would make our home in the rural town of Sebastopol, California. It would end up being one of my most memorable times as a child, but it started out a little rocky.
It was the first day of school, and I was standing at the head of class. All the other students had arrived on time and they were already seated. I stood at attention as I prepared to receive a proper introduction by my new teacher. I can't quite remember what she had to say, but I am sure she pointed out the obvious, and, by the looks on the faces of my soon-to-be fellow students, it went something like this; "Here is our new student. His name is Mitch, but feel free to call him 'itch.' As you can tell, he is very shy, so I am sure he won't mind if you make him cry. You'll notice his midwest sense of fashion does not really fit in with our cool California dispositions, so feel free to point out his flaws, because it's easy to see, he follows no fashion laws."
Okay, I'm sure she said none of those things, but as far as I was concerned, she might as well have. By the time she was done, I had planted those thoughts into the piercing, giggling, staring heads of my fellow students. In addition to all the flaws pointed out by my teacher's introduction, I was all too aware of my shortcomings, which had been pointed out so keenly by previous childhood hospitalities.
My flaws started at the top of my head. While most boys enjoyed the flowing locks that came with the styling of the late sixties, I sported a finely-groomed, out-of-date crew cut in the military fashion. My hair closely cropped to my scalp gave my oversized ears ample room to meander freely on the sides of my head; they just loved the open space, frolicking in the breeze. They took advantage of the freedom to make a grand showing at all times. This feature was consistently honored by all with joyful delight.
The humor of others was not limited to my physical features. No, my peers loved to point out that my shirt was too well-cut and lacked that "groovy feel." My pants were always the highlight of my wardrobe. For whatever reason, I always maintained a pant leg that was just a few inches too short. For this, I was appointed the unofficial title of "Weatherman." I was always asked "Hey, when's the flood?" At first I didn't understand the question, but I later came to the understanding that my pants held the answer, and the answer was a flood is imminent, and I was the only one well-prepared for such a disaster.
All my youthful flaws thrown together sent out the signal "easy pickin's." And I knew by experience that there were always kids at every new school who employed an easy pickin's radar, and that radar was always in full working order. As I walked sheepishly to my seat, I could feel that radar homed in on me. As soon as I sat down, I began counting the minutes until I would be set free to the safety of my home. Before I could become settled in at my desk, it was time for recess. I would have been pleased to stay put, in the relative safety of my seat, but, that was not an option. We were all told to remove ourselves to the outdoors.
As I walked outside, I momentarily forgot that I was the outcast. This new elementary school was in a rural setting, and trees were prevalent all around. This setting helped to create a sense of comfort. There was even a boy who came up to me and befriended me. We walked and talked and ended up at the outermost section of the playground, looking out at the trees that were on the other side of the schoolyard fence.
With our backs to the school, and well out of the range from any adult authority, I stood there talking to my new friend, gazing out into the trees. I was oblivious to my immediate surroundings, especially to the surroundings immediately behind me, because racing full speed at my unsuspecting backside was a boy whose easy pickin's radar was screaming at full alert. I must have had a bulls-eye on my back, or at the least a sign that read, "I'm shy, I don't mind if you make me cry, so go ahead and give it a try." Before I knew what was happening, he jumped in full stride onto my backside. My reaction was reflexive. I simply bent forward, and he went flying over my shoulders and landed a few feet in front of me. He rolled around a bit, and when he got up off the ground, he looked surprised and shaken.
After gathering himself, he exclaimed, in a loud astonished and slightly embarrassed voice, "Why . . . I didn't know you knew karate!"
I, of course, didn't know karate. But, I just looked at him and shrugged my shoulders and stared at him while he walked away with a sheepish look on his face. I didn't find it necessary to tell him that the only black belt I owned was the one he just bestowed upon me. But, suddenly, within the space of a few moments, my ears shrank a few inches and were reconciled to relative obscurity on the sides of my head. My checkered, short-sleeved shirt became retro and was the latest in fifth grade chic. My pants, though, were still the portent of future Biblical torrents, but, at least now I knew nobody would inquire about the forecast for any impending precipitation. Because, hey . . . I'm the Karate Kid, right?