By an entangled line of associations I cannot fully trace back, a memory popped into my mind today:
It was the first day of my sophomore year at a highly respectable, science and technology oriented high-school. Most of us students knew each other already from the previous year; classmates stayed the same throughout the 4 year program. The specific class attended was physics science, taught by a no-nonsense, short-tempered teacher. She was blessed with a sharp sarcastic tongue; not someone to be messed around with. Let’s call her Mrs. H.
About five minutes into the class, the door is knocked open and a new student lazily enters. He stands at the entrance for a moment, letting us all take in his appearance; an amused look smeared over his freckled face, his mouth hard at work, loudly chewing gum, his Hawaiian-style shirt is mostly unbuttoned, revealing a hairy chest, his legs carelessly shooting right and left, a pair of cheap slide flip-flops on his feet, making distinct flip and flop sounds as he walks.
We all hold our breath. This is, no doubt, someone who came to the wrong class. No one would dare challenge the notorious Mrs. H.
The stranger and the teacher stare at each other for the longest moment.
The exchange that followed was something like this:
Teacher (in a sharp uninviting voice): “Yes?!”
Stranger (entertained, chewing his gum): “Is this Class 10-2?” [the name of our class]
Teacher (still same tone): “It is.”
Stranger (starting to move towards an available seat at the back of the class, his flip-flops squashing along): “I am David.” (turning his back to the teacher as he marches on) “I will be joining this class.”
[I should mention here that rarely the school accepted students one year into the program.]
Teacher (baffled but pulling herself together): “Stop!”
David turns, stops, and, looking at her half smiling, still chewing his gum, says: “What’s up?”
Teacher (her face turning red, steam literary coming off her ears): “This is not a way to enter my classroom. Get out, right now, and enter the proper way!”
David (still smiling, his face wearing an expression of a question mark): “Excuse me?”
Teacher (becoming impatient): “Get out, close the door behind you, knock on the door and enter only when you receive my permission.”
David winks the class, and, chewing his gum even louder, tiptoe out. He gently closes the door behind him in a manner that appears grotesque.
A moment of dead-silence. We all stare at the door as if expecting no less than the Messiah to make an appearance.
A knock follows.
The teacher, who at this point seems to be completely oblivious to us, stares at the door, her eyes narrow as if aiming a laser gun, waits a minute.
We are all hypnotized. No one dares take a breath.
A second knock.
David enters the room and repeats his sloppy walk towards the available seat at the back.
David turns to her, still amused but now also a little annoyed, as if bothered by a persistent fly: “Now what?”
Teacher: “First off, take out this gum! Then button up your shirt!”
David takes his time carrying out her orders. He is not showing any particular signs of rebellion, just acting as this whole drill is a nuisance. When he is finally done and takes his seat, the class resumes.”
Turns out that David was quite a bright guy; not for nothing was he accepted to this school, which had high academic standards, a year into the program. But he was also a guy that considered himself above the law. He couldn’t easily accept authority and made a show of it. Some may define him as a borderline criminal, others as colorful. Yet in those few first minutes in which we were introduced to him via his showdown with the toughest teacher in school, he immediately positioned himself as someone not to cross. The rest of us were, for the most part, a bunch of geeks and nerds, and though he was no hero to us, he represented something way outside our way of thinking and behaving. Fact of the matter is that I still remember this incident to date, well over thirty years ago.
Lesson of the day: first impression matters. If I enter a room in a mousy manner, it’s unlikely anyone will notice, let alone remember. I am not saying that a standoff is a must for one to make an impression, but that whenever you are coming to a new place, consider what sort of impression you want to make and then plan your entrance accordingly, an entrance that will be noticed. To quote Morrissey of The Smiths: “I’d rather be remembered as a big-mouthed failure than an effete little wimp.”
I have come a long way from my shy days, but still have a way to go.
Learned from: David Z.