Jan 06, 08
the young at heart
If you want to see exactly what rests at the center of someone’s soul, don’t bother reading a 200-page biography on them; ask them what was the first book ever to make an impression on them that lasted into their adulthood. For some it might be some garbage about a brat named Ramona and her ginger-kid friends, and these people embrace a passion for whimsy and camaraderie. Others have a deep-rooted sense of ‘self’ from cherishing the trails and tribulations of some chick named Margaret menstruating and masturbating. Those who would grow up to be truly unexceptional enjoyed those 10-page “Mr. Man” books (mr happy, mr bump, mr greedy) which always delivered some pointless life lesson about sharing, caring, or other similar nonsense. And then there are those who were destined to be influenced by the outrageous, ridiculous, and sublime, and their rallying point is the fantastic cast of Wayside School.
I’m sure each character has their own loyal following of obedient acolytes who have championed their cause and tried emulating their idol throughout their life; most would probably be fond of Todd, the luckless but genuinely lovable rapscallion who is dismissed from class for his antics every day, the art-f@g crowd related to Bebe Gunn, the dreamers prefer Sharie , the ambitious geeks decry the greatness of Myron, the optimists swear DJ had the right attitude while the misanthropes defer to Kathy’s wisdom, and the goofballs and flucktards of the world were torn between Stephen and Jenny. The people supporting anyone else are usually living in their parents’ basement currently and getting geeked on paint thinner or spending their time volunteering for charitable causes or running for public office. But there is the unsung hero that none can forget, easily the linchpin of the story and the single most inspiring, enigmatic, and culturally relevant character ever introduced in ANY book; Sammy. That’s right, Sammy; the grimy, filthy, stinking, and baffling dead rat that tries infiltrating Mrs. Jewls class while posing as a student and wearing multiple raincoats that reek of decay and alley-trash. He trash talks the entire class, he befouls their atmosphere with his pungent stench, and threatens to bite the teachers head off for discarding his ‘good clothes’ as she throws raincoat after raincoat out the window. Sammy stands proud in the midst of his admonishment, laughing at those who think he might actually give a damn about their concerns or opinions, and is ultimately banished to the basement to live with the other dead rats; presumably where they hatch their nefarious plans to somehow attend class. Are they doing it just to cause a commotion? Are the legitimately interested in garnering some education? Could this be their own rite of passage in their social circles? Sammy’s puzzling nature keeps us guessing, pondering these questions without conclusion.
Compared to the iconic students attending Wayside, the kids at Hogwarts don’t compare, Ramona and her ilk look flimsy and pathetic, and the Choose Your Own Adventure books seem predictable and without shock compared to the zany irreverence displayed in these Sideways Stories.