Doing the same thing differently

(this is day #9 in my #100days challenge — I took a little break)

When I was seventeen I was living with a family just north of Sydney for the summer. I had wanted adventure and they wanted some free labor so they flew me down to help work around their property but six weeks in it was clear everybody hated the arrangement. I remember coordinating a call to my mom back in Snohomish, Washington early one morning to ask her what I should do after things went sour.

This was before the internet, really, and even the phone call was kind of expensive. So when the call went through we were so excited to talk to each other. “You’re my little world-traveler!” she told me. There was some small talk to cover but after that I got to the thing I needed help with: “I’m not sure that these people like me anymore, mom. I’m not sure what I should do.”

Now, my mom would be the first to admit that she has not been a font of wisdom for me. Once, when I decided to press her on it, I made her tell me what she thinks I should do with my life. She got this panicked look in her eyes, blurted “whatever makes you happy!”, and then scurried away down the hallway. So when she tells me something that sounds sage I tend to remember it.

We spoke for about twenty minutes that morning and talked through things I could do with the rest of my summer: Bum around Australia as a minor, backpacking my way around; Try to stick it out with the family even though they wanted me gone; Or come back home and wrap up the summer in the states. I asked her which was best and she said there’s no best here, there’s only growth. “Whenever you do something that you’ve done before but you do it in a new way you learn something.”

I chose to come home and a few weeks later I started my senior year of high school. The first day I drive to school and everything was fresh and new but the second day I heard my mom’s voice in my head everywhere I went. That second day I diverted to a detour through a side street that took me next to a river for a few miles instead.

Once I got to school I entered my first period class and, as there was no assigned seating, picked a different desk than the one I chose the first day. Nobody spoke up about it but nobody else changed seats (save the one guy I displaced). At lunch I ate in a different spot with different friends.

Pretty quickly I exhausted my routes to work and the available desks in my classrooms and I had to branch out. Now I’d eat lunch at the same place with the same people but I’d do it sitting weirdly or doing a handstand or laying down flat on the ground, trying to somehow drink a soda and swallow a cheeseburger while totally horizontal. Then came the freestyle walking (think really, really shitty parkour) where I’d spin as I went up or down stairs or if I were near a wall I’d walk with one foot on the ground and one foot awkwardly up on the flat surface pretending gravity had shifted forty-five degrees to the side.

A couple months in I had finally managed to sit for a day in every single desk in my English class. I kept forcing myself to find new paths and I discovered a ridiculous one: I stood in the back of the class opposite the teacher for an entire period as if I were sitting at a desk. There was no podium in front of me, I wasn’t leaning on anything, I was just standing there pretending to be at ease. He never said anything (he was extremely cool but he was visibly anxious and his coolness might have prevented him from just shouting “sit down you fucking weirdo”) and at the end of the 55-minute class I walked out the door with the rest of the students, having never sat down.

This all happened a couple years after Austin Powers came out. I was reenacting some bits of the movie with a friend of mine in Latin class (yes, I took Latin and it was awesome and, no, it didn’t survive the stupidity of the standardized testing movement) when my friend dared me to change my middle name to Danger. I remember he inverted his pinky onto his lower lip and said “Danger is now your middle name” in a shitty faux-British accent and we both groaned.

After graduation that summer I did exactly that. One Tuesday I drove to the Monroe county courthouse and set an appointment for the next day at 1pm. I returned, chatted up the security guard and clerks I’d met the previous day and entered the courtroom where the only other person there was the court reporter. The judge entered a minute later eating what appeared to be the end of a turkey sandwich. He was still chewing when he asked me “Are you changing your name to avoid paying taxes?”
“No, your honor,” I replied.
“Alright. Are you changing your name to cause harm to anyone?”
“I don’t see how I could do that. I mean, no, your honor.”
He looked at me over his glasses and then looked back at the paper in front of him. “Danger, huh? That’s pretty unusual but I guess I’ll allow it.” Then he banged his gavel and handed something to the court reporter and she told me to go talk to the clerks. It cost me $56 in court time and a $9 filing fee to the county auditor.

That night my mom came home from work and asked me how my day was. “I added a second middle name,” I told her. “So ‘Danger’ is legally my middle name now.” I recall her smiling at me and saying she thought that was cool. Then she asked me if I’d thought about dinner and whether I’d like to try a completely new recipe.

“Sure mom, let’s try something new,” I told her.

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