Little Man Big Man

Optimistic Little ManWe had to put our heads on our desks and raise our hands to vote. There were no paper ballots, no ballot box, just a simple count of hands. This came after each category called for nominations: secretary, treasurer, reporter, representatives, vice president, and president of the class’s 4-H chapter.

I was at the age where I thought formalities like this mattered, and any positive attention or recognition I could get was automatically a good thing. This was fifth grade, and it’s when we started figuring out who we were in relation to our peers. I wasn’t sure who or what I was at the time, but I knew what I wanted to be: popular. What 80s kid didn’t at that age?

I was just beginning to genuinely think I belonged and that I was just as important as anyone else. Sure, my polo shirts weren’t the real “alligator” shirts from Izod, but they looked like the “in thing.” I managed to keep a pair of Nikes from 5th grade on—one pair at a time, and each had to last a full year. But I had them. I had just moved from Tough-Skins to Levi’s, a new “requirement.” Yep. I was in.

Even still, I was surprised to be nominated for every office for 4-H. We’d never done this before, and I had no idea what 4-H was until that week. But hearing my name called felt good, and each person nominating me would usually look back at me and smile. I hadn’t asked for the attention at all—I was stunned, actually. But I loved it. Some of the people who nominated me were friends, but not all were.

It took about a minute to nominate for each office and another 30 seconds or so for the “secret” vote. Yes, I peeked a few times early on.

But with each vote for every office, I came in a solid second. By the end, it was a bit of a class joke. It wasn’t “Wow! Glenn was nominated for every position,” but instead, “Dang! Glenn lost every vote!” I wasn’t exactly crushed, but I was certainly embarrassed.

There was a twist though. Mrs. Gulley had no faith in the elected president, and threatened that any behavioral or academic problems would mean the runner-up gets the job. Not the elected vice president, but the runner up in the vote for president. That was me, but even I knew that didn’t sound quite right.

But that’s exactly how it happened. Lance was booted out of office just after presiding over one club meeting. I became president but was well aware that I did not deserve the title no matter how I added it up.

But I did the job. I attended all county meetings as our class’s official representative, even though Lance remained on the roll and my name was never called. My place in the world seemed to be set that year. Every meeting reminded me that I was “solid second” unless someone intervened out of “pity.” I became the dependable stand-by—there when you need me, but otherwise invisible. I was the “good, quiet student” but never tried to be the best at anything. In many ways that was fine, because I came to hate any sort of individual recognition.

In 9th grade, my biology teacher made me cringe by reading one of my science reports to the class. It was the best one in the group… but it was written about warts! I avoided all National Honor Society events all through high school, at least after the first “surprise” assembly when I was inducted. A few years later, I toyed with suspension when blurting out “Well shit!” as I was called up for the Library Award, recognition for being the best library assistant that year. I certainly deserved the award, but I wanted no part of the attention.

I’ve always avoided things that might make me stand out, doing “just well enough” in school while trying to sink into the background whenever possible. This doesn’t mean I’ve been lazy. If anything, I’ve been a workaholic most of my life. But I’ve always leaned toward work no one else wanted—work that needs to be done but that few would reward or recognize.

Yes, I post publicly here and on social media. I love to analyze my weird life and share some pretty personal stuff. But I sit comfortably behind a well-crafted portrayal of myself—one that won’t get me much fame, fortune, or recognition.

Even still, every time I click “publish,” I have to take a deep breath and say a little prayer to the Internet gods. Don’t blow up! Then again, I rarely if ever share anything that will. Safety first!

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