“Come on, we need a fourth man!” That’s funny. Man. We were no older than eight, and already my friends had appropriated the language of their fathers. But, much as I hated to, I was going to disappoint them on this day. There was no way I was going to run around the playground in the miasma of high-noon, not when I was wearing my Toughskins jeans. I just stared at my feet and remained against the schoolhouse wall in the shade of the eaves.
If you don’t remember the unique bondage inflicted by this particular brand of apparel, then let me take a moment to explain. Toughskins resembled normal jeans in most ways, only they were designed especially for children. The assumption was that the average child, full of energy and free of inhibition, was prone to such daily activities as scooting across gravel, falling from rooftops, swinging from branches, and the like. Thus, the Toughskins were made of an extra-durable polyester, nylon, cotton blend, the end result of which was not so very different from chain mail. Additionally, the inner lining of each knee was fortified with a rubbery patch to forestall holes forming in the most obvious place.
Unfortunately, it was this latter–the diabolical rubberized patch–that was the bane of my stunted existence. For, in the humid southern summer, the atmosphere as thick as broth, the pads would affix themselves to my perspiring knees, bonding at the molecular level, which made the possibility of normal walking nigh impossible. Throughout the day I would pluck at my knee pads, and pull my pant legs straight when they bunched up as I stood. For hours on end I would pinch the material at my knees and tug it out to create twin tents, just to keep my knees from suffocating. Needless to say I could not, so burdened, participate in normal recess activities. This was the real reason that Toughskins lasted until one outgrew them, not because they were well-crafted. I believe that Toughskins were responsible for my stunted socialization. I didn’t feel fully free until I graduated to a private school uniform many years later, but by then we were all too sophisticated to bend our knees anyway.
None of it has changed with adulthood, with people so quick to don psychological patches to avoid scuffing their most delicate areas. The newspaper I work for is rife with stiff examples. You can’t even agree with my Associate Editor, for example, but not because she’s wrong. In fact it’s when Anne is correct that one discovers that she emits a screen of insecurity so impenetrable that she won’t allow you to agree with her. She doesn’t let you substantiate her point, because doing so would be to fully understand her, which would be tantamount to… to capturing her soul, I suppose.
Anne was brought in by our rag’s Lead Editor, Loukia, who had worked with her previously. I’m not sure specifically which insane asylum that was, but I suspect their early release program still needs work. Yesterday Anne introduced me to the new guy, a Marketing Agent with whom she had worked before. Later on she confided that the new guy was really going to work out, because it was always best to work with a known quantity. Playing my “participation” card, I agreed, “Yes, of course. Like you, with Loukia.” Anne looked at me blankly, cocked her head like a hen. I added, “A known quantity, when she brought you onboard: a good head start.” I even gesticulated as I was speaking to help fit the concepts into place.
But Anne shrugged off the comparison as irrelevant. “Well, see, but I’m not a known quantity though.” She raised her eyebrows and nodded at me. “So, I mean now I’m known, but not before. I wasn’t originally.” Shrug.
What? Wait, how far back was she thinking? I wasn’t talking about the Toughskins and safety scissors days. But she was responding in that way, you see, the implication being that she was, at last, unknowable, despite the fact that I wasn’t attempting to draw any deep unifying theory about the knowability of people. First of all, yes she certainly was a known quantity when she started with the paper. But second of all–and this is the thing–if she wasn’t knowable then wasn’t she single-handedly dismantling her own argument? In fact the only way for her to be correct and refute my truth at the same time would be to open a fork in reality. At a loss I muttered, “Well, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.” She agreed to that much, which follows, since I’d said absolutely nothing.
My therapist would call it a rhetorical self destruction via projected proxy, but I’m familiar with a simpler truth, which is why, even to this day, I sit with my legs straight out under my desk.