Being a B+ Student
I’ve always been a B+ student. And over the years, I’ve learned to live with that.
We’re not burned out, and we don’t burn out. Because we’re so close, close to greatness,
and we’ve got hope. I bet Gandhi and Martin Luther King were B+ students.
But what do I know. I was never that great in history.In fact, it’s not just in school
where I’ve always churned out my B+. In Little League, Iwas one of the coordinated
ones who wasn’t afraid of getting hit by the ball. As center fielder, I’d actually
catch real fly balls. When a kid managed to hit a balloutside of the infield, I’d always call off
my left and right fielders, the fat Campighli twins Fred and Frank,because I knew they’d drop the ball.
Once I made a double play during a key game. Long fly to center, I caught itpedaling backwards,
then nailed the ball to my catcher and best friend Loam who tagged out the kid trying to score from third.
But at the Home Run Derby in Nicasio, where’d we’d gotten all our parents and their friends to
sign up to give money to the League depending on how far we hit the ball, my long fly ball hit the fence.
The witnesses around the field all breathed a sympathetic “Ohhh”. I raised my 10 year-old eye brows,
squinched my lips and walked back to the dugout. The ball was 3 inches from goingover for a homer.
In eighth grade, I was one of the popular kids. High up on the food chain, I was among those
who teased, praying I would never get teased. I destroyed people in 4 square and was one of the last
kids to drop in slaughter ball. I had a top locker. As a result, I ran for Student Council Vice President,
a perfect position for a B+ student. I even had a campaign manager, a kid named Robert,
who was like me: close to greatness. After much thought, we decided on a campaign slogan: “I Dig Doug”.
I heard a similar slogan once worked for one of our Presidents. But I had a formidable challenger. Lorenzo.
He was going out with the most popular girl at school, and she was running for Student Council President.
They were to be the darling power couple. He was the school’s first “preppy”, dressed the part,
and thus injected the thought in the student body that there was a world beyond the misty woods, the cows, the kelp,
the dead skunk smell, the Toby’s Feed Barn hay trucks, and the dirty jeans of our young Northern Californian lives.
Lorenzo had the elite locked up. I focused on the middle school outcasts. The kid who broke theseagull’s wing with a rock.
The unpopular Coast Guard kids. The Mexicans. The kids that hated Lorenzo. On Election Day, Robert’s mom called to
say Robert was sick. I lost by one vote.
RC Cola. The San Francisco Giants. Not quite enough hot water for a shower. All this nearperfection was just fine by me.
I graduated from high school (3.3 GPA) and college (3.2 GPA) and then proceeded into theworld. My expectations managed,
planning for the worst but always hopeful, looking at the horizon. I gradually came to realize that my B+ world view made me
into an A- traveler. Everything seemed to suit me pretty well. I was flexible. In fact, the hardest question for me to answer
still is, “Tea or coffee?”
Israeli Tex-Mex, Algerian wine, the bottom bunk in the youth hostel in Tangiers, brackish Egyptian beer. Nothing’s
perfect, I’d cheerily remind myself, as an ominous gastrointestinal sensation began looming deep within.
Then I eventually got into this elite Arabic language program in Egypt. (I didn’t pass the
entrance test the first time.) I lived with Chris, another hopeful soul whose world view was set on “stun”. Merrily
we would explore the dirty streets of Cairo. After buying a little food for Lucy, the neighborhood bitch, and her two
flea-ridden pups, we still had one dollar a day each to spend on our own food - two ta’amiya sandwiches for
lunch, and a bowl of koshiri for dinner. The whole experience was pretty good. I’d give it a B+.
I moved to Tunis for work and I lived with a Tunisian family. In their kitchen, their caged parakeet
my liberal, western mentality a possible key to his salvation. Weeks passed. I struggled with this dilemma.
Should I creep in at midnight and let him out to stretch his blighted wings? Would that be American cultural imperialism?
Ramadan passed. Then I thought of a solution. A B+ solution. I entered the neighborhood pet
bazaar and sidled up to the bird merchant. After the bargaining, I slipped outside with my cage in hand, to a
secluded nook by a palm tree. I opened the cage door and the newly-bought parakeet flew in a B line to the
lowest branch of the palmier. As the bird looked down upon me, he was saying to me in my western, liberal
imagination, “You have given hope to avian freedom everywhere.” It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it allowed me to live
with thoseTunisians and turn a deaf ear to their miserable parakeet.
Then I moved to Washington to make something of myself. I applied for a Government job, submitting my school transcripts
that were filled with all the B+’s I’d gathered over the years. B+ was good enough for Uncle! I began my GS-7 job. I lived in an
“efficiency” apartment in Washington. There I had a mysterious neighbor, something along the lines of Boo Radley
from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. That is one of the books I still remember from 8th grade. Remember how Boo hid presents for
the little girl in the hole in the tree?
Each Sunday when I took out the trash, I found countless valuables placed next to the dumpster.
(Note: next to not in.) Wicker bookcases. A TV. New wine glasses. A decent table. Even a box filled with
about 12 different kinds of unopened liquor. Like a faithful labrador the size and color of a hippo, that dumpster greeted
me each time I left my small abode. It was the first thing outside I saw every day. I lived in an alleyway. There was a
constant, unknown source of heat emanating from the bathroom floor. My air conditioner had emphezema. And I had a
$12,000 credit card bill. But looking back on it, I’d give Washington a B+, all things considered.
Then I was promoted to GS-9. I promptly moved to Takoma Park. I had my own parking space. I had a jolly, alcoholic Polish
grounds keeper. Plus avigilante lived in our midst. One night a car began blaring its medley of “ambulance”, “fire engine”, “police
car” and “English police car” alarm cadences. Ourvigilante hero stepped out into the darkness and shot four rounds from his
.357 Magnum into the engine block of the car, murdering it. We slept. A real police car came round the next day. Our hero was never identified.
But on the down side, I lived a stone’s throw from the metro train, the Amtrak, and freight railway tracks. The sliding glass window shook when
the MARC train from Baltimore came thundering through every morning at 6AM. ‘Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative’ is what Sinatra
used to say. I’d give Takoma Park 8.5 out of 10. Moving up the USG hierarchy, I moved to Suburbia, MD. I got a mortgage. Two parking spaces.
I lived in a “town house” on “Mystic View Court Rd.” There was a fake lake. One of our neighbors talked to us. The front door of each house in the
Mystic View cul de sac was painted in a unique, Home Owners Association-approved color. Mine was tangerine. But Suburbia, MD had cameras that
zapped you and sent you expensive bills by mail when you burned a red light. It was a homogenous array of malls, drugstores, gas stations, and Bed
Bath & Beyonds. There were many other fake lakes. These attracted alarming herds of defecating, but pretty- looking geese. Lorenzo would have
loved it. I’m not complaining. It was actually a pretty nice place I guess.
Then Uncle sent me to work for Him abroad. In Qatar, green parrots flew free above date groves, playing in the air and robbing the date
farmers below at will. In Dubai, a huge sea ray swam free 10 feet below me in the turquoise water of the Persian Gulf just before sunrise.
In the Hijaz, playful, wild baboons openly displayed their love (and desires) for one another, flaunting the Wahabi strictures of their gasping homo sapien
cousins. In Jordan, a wild camel in full gallop stared at me with wizened eyes. In Kuwait, a school of a thousand fish swam in beautiful symmetry, their
vitality in stark contrast with the dead sand and rock baking in the sun above water. In Bahrain, dolphins raced along the jetty and quickly
breached in front of a massive oil refinery.
Several years passed.
I returned home briefly. I had a lunch in San Francisco by the water. The white wine was perfect. The company was enchanting. The weather balmy. A bold
seagull blown in from the Pacific landed and stared at me with profound confidence. On leaving San Francisco by ferry, I turned back to see the city and
found it suddenly engulfed in fog. It had disappeared. But a change had come over me. I suddenly knew B+ was no longer good enough.