I attended the second and third sessions of the Summer Institute for the Gifted at Blair Academy in Blairstown, NJ. There we were encouraged to think of ourselves as we already did: as people set apart from the ordinary school population by the curiosity and talents that our peers (the prematurely mustachioed boys and the girls with the big hair) were intent on snuffing out. The idea that there were children possessed of abilities beyond the ken of what the world could regard without jealousy and malice and that you were one of them was at an early stage of the universal diffusion that would instill a mild personality disorder into every child of college-educated parents in America. By now we know that all of the children are above average; back in the summer of 1987, the idea of running a camp consecrated to this proposition still seemed obnoxious. Of course I wanted to go.
Here I would learn my first significant lesson in love, which was also a lesson in society. The camp was an artificial setting that reversed the hierarchies of the American public school, giving the assorted nerds, drudges, grinds, closet homosexuals and Asians who attended a taste of social preeminence they might not otherwise experience. As was usually the case in such instances, the popular people turned out to be the ones who still had it going on in the conventional sense. A clique of wealthy, attractive, and stylish – according to the curious standards of 1987 -- Asian people turned their ethnic solidarity into an instrument of domination of others. I was happy to discover that I was not excluded from this solidarity, though I was not myself wealthy, attractive, or stylish. The Asian kids came from Bergen County suburbs like Tenafly and Alpine, and they had discovered music – New Order, Erasure, and Depeche Mode – that felt more interesting and subversive than alternative music has the capacity to feel anymore. We looked down on white people and coined a derisive term, “meegs” (short for the Korean word – itself a derisive term – for “white person,”) to refer to them.
It was my first exposure to the quality of self-entitlement that could inhere in other people, (that there were people far more self-entitled than these people could ever have dreamed of being, and for better reasons, did not change the effect it had on me -- all perception being relative to one's own restricted experience,) and I did what I could to adopt it. With surprising success. Because by the end of the first weekend, when everyone had begun to pair off, I found that my ruminative nature and watchful demeanor had somehow earned me the affection of the bubbly center of our little clique – adorable, sparkly-eyed, babyfat Carissa – with whom, by the end of the camp, I would finally reach a milestone I would not reach again until I arrived as a freshman at college – first base.
While all of this was going on, a pale and solitary white girl with a drawn expression and long butterscotch blonde hair had conceived of a crush on me. I recall her sad eyes regarding me as I engaged in the supercilious antics that the camp setting had empowered me to unleash. The look in her eyes is one I will never forget, though of course I affected not to notice it. It was pure ardor. And so the little tableau I want to paint for you here is just this – sitting in the front seat of the short bus with Carissa's head against my shoulder, and the pale blonde girl – I never did learn her name – in the back seat with her face in tears. I knew back then that I was gaining a privileged glimpse into what genuinely rich and popular boys (white boys, mostly, but not all) in the real world were going to go on to experience all the time, as often as the world (which was happy to collaborate with them in the satisfaction of this desire) would allow – the exquisite pain, and pleasure, of a breaking a young girl's heart. What I experienced at that moment was a premonition of what I knew I was going to see more of throughout my life – women preferring to be used and discarded by worthless men who cared nothing for them to all other alternatives – and it made me sad for two reasons: because it was sad in itself, but also because I knew then that my momentary glimpse into an experience outside of my own true portion -- the experience of being among the popular, rich, and stylish people that others would look upon with longing and ardor -- was an accident that fate was quickly going to correct.