The Smarts

I am not what one could ever mistake for an intellectual giant.

I mean, I’d LIKE to be; I have always tried to surround myself with the trappings of intellectualism. I have built-in bookshelves, for God’s sake. But I have a number of strikes against me…strikes that really and truly separate me from the bona fide intellectual.

For one: I’m lazy. I mean – I am really, really lazy. I am a procrastinator par excellence. I spent my entire academic career (1975 – 1996) waiting until the last goddamn possible minute to read that book/write that paper/turn in that thesis. I was the one who’d announce, at dinner, that I had a series of posterboards due on Marie Curie for the Science Fair. The next day. I was THAT KID. It’s a wonder my mother didn’t drive me to a remote wooded area and leave me to be raised by coyotes. Even then, I’d have been all, “Oh, you needed me to eat that housecat NOW?”

I’m also easily distracted. An ex of mine once summed up my modus operandi thus: “Ooooh, shiny!” Honestly – for me to get anything done I have to be sealed in a concrete bunker with nothing but a folding chair and table and the task at hand. And I’d still wind up fascinated by the underside of the table.

Then, of course, there’s the slight problem of my being a Pop Culture Whore. So much of the real estate in my brain is taken up with “Brady Bunch” plotlines, vintage commercial jingles, and 80’s ephemera that facts and figures enjoyed by the truly intellectual simply don’t stand a chance of finding purchase. You want someone to rattle off the lyrics to “The Most Important Person,” I’m your girl. Discussing Proust? No chance in hell, folks.

And yet I’ve always wanted to be an intellectual. I wanted to be a Smart Kid, a kid who always made Honor Roll and got to collect a bunch of little scholarships at graduation, who was on that whole Smart Kid track that I could clearly see, but never quite jump on. I was excellent at memorizing lines and absorbing huge amounts of information about shit that nobody else cared about. (Go ahead, ask me about the entire history of the “Our Gang” shorts, and which of those kid actors went on to do voiceover work for Chicken of the Sea, or got shot in the groin over a $50 debt. NO ONE CARES. No one. And still I know. I know ALL about it.) I had the skills to be a Smart Kid, but – in the parlance of frustrated teachers throughout the Hingham Public School system – I was lousy at “applying myself.”

I figured, then, that if I couldn’t actually be smart, I’d hang out with the kids who were. I couldn’t dazzle them with my intellect, but I could make them laugh, and so they let me tag along. I felt rather like a poodle in a sweater around them, and I never could quite shake the feeling that as soon as I ceased to be amusing, I’d stop getting invited to their parties. Of course that wasn’t true, and when it came time for our senior yearbooks to be passed around and signed, I was struck by how many of these Smart Kids saw through me: in so many words, they told me that they sometimes wished I’d drop the “character” and let people know the real me.

All these years later, I still struggle with this idea that I’m not “smart” enough. I couldn’t hold my own in a discussion about public economics or second-wave feminism. Even in groups of people who share my interests (writers, musicians, actors), I feel like I don’t have the c.v. to pass muster. I used to drink to cover up for my perceived intellectual inadequacies. Now I just have to hope that someone will wonder aloud, “Whatever happened to Alfalfa, anyway?”

And when THAT happens, watch me hold court, y’all.

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