OM155 - Winifred Sackville Stoner Jr.

Ken being the smartest kid in school (OM155)

When Ken was in elementary school he was an universally lauded, self-proclaimed smart kid. A class usually has a generally understood smartest kid, there is definitely a competition and you know who the cooler ones are vying for. It was a big part of Ken's identity and his parents were dead-set on getting him into a gifted-kids program in Seattle public schools and he had to do tests and do puzzles.

In High School Ken was Salutatorian, meaning he was the runner-up and the second in class. As a very young kid he had the curse that often comes with being the smart kid: Having a very dutiful and doting set of parents. His mom was telling the principal that even tough he was in Kindergarten he needed to be in a higher rating-group and he got shuttled off to the 3rd grade classroom, which was the highest classroom in the school. The 3rd graders were sports about it and saw Ken as their mascot kid and didn’t seem to mind him.

At some point some art teacher had chewed out Ken's work and Ken’s mom asked Ken for that picture he had done the other day, and Ken, not knowing what she wanted to do, handed it to her. It turned out she had shown the picture of Han Solo in the cloud city of Bespin to the principal, like ”Look at it! Are you telling me this is the kind of student who should be chewed out by the art teacher?” She was a little over-involved.

John has the sense that Ken wouldn’t have been a teacher’s pet because Ken is more of a class clown. Smart kid is not the best social identity and you have to fall back on something else. A lot of smart kids are quick and can fall back on Funny Kid. There was a class clown in Ken’s first grade classroom, probably Eric R. They had three Erics and Eric T was the mean one and it was either Eric R or Eric N. One morning in May of 1980 Eric leaned over to Ken during the Pledge of Allegiance and whispered: ”Mount St. Helens blew its penis yesterday!” and Ken started laughing so hard. To this day it is one of the funniest things anybody ever said to him. There were kids who were just funny who made Ken laugh.

Being the prodigy is tough! It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a lot of these kids are pushed to do good work. Ken doesn’t think they are always coming at you because they are coming at the king. John went to school in Alaska where you really were bear food. What often happens is that these kids will hit the wall because they have been skating by with little effort and at some point they will hit the calculus class where they cannot just skate by and then they are going: ”Screw this!”

Ken did hit that, but he constantly deals with a watered-down imposter syndrome where he feels like he had all this early promise and he turned out fine. John interjects that Ken turned out smartest boy in the world, not ”fine”, but Ken says it was just parlor tricks. He didn’t found a company or write the great American novel. There was no genius in Ken, but he just found out how to leverage his Iowa test abilities for good.

It turned out he was clever, but merely clever and in some way he has not lived up to whatever the potential was that his parents and the DIG program saw. He didn’t invent the SOG vaccine (?), but he got a blue ribbon on Jeopardy, America’s county fair, like a big pig.

There was never another bright kid who threatened to knock him off his pedestal, but there were a lot of grinds. In South Korea there were these bright, hard-working prairie dogs of tomorrow, a lot of them Asian-American kids, and Ken was not Valedictorian because Chrissy Ko had a 4.3 GPA. It sounds impossible because it should stop at 4, but they weighted if you took a certain number of AP classes or something.

Ken got into Stanford and could have gone to Ivy League schools, but he went to the University of Washington because he wanted to come back to Seattle where he always wanted to live, but had never been able to. He wanted to get close to those Mudhoney shows that he never went to, he sensed a dawning of a new kind of culture in 1992 and he decided to go to Seattle, but never go to a show. He sensed the dawning in that it was on a cover or Time Magazine? It was more like ”These Sub-pop labels will eventually churn out Power-Pop and Folk bands and then I will be more into it!” Ken was waiting for the second wave.

Ken’s wife’s cousin’s kid was a High School screw-up who tested really well and they were told to just let him screw up because he was going to have to figure it out at some point and the test scores were his back-stop. The kid eventually got into the Air Force academy on a fencing scholarship and they whipped him into shape. These kids generally end up doing okay, but Ken cringes looking back at himself because constantly being told in a million small ways that you are the bright boy and the shining light becomes a huge part of your identity.

John's journey through school (OM155)

In John's elementary school the two kids vying for teacher’s pet and smartest kid status were Laurie Basler and Deminidor Gor-Belleza (see RL305), he was a Filipino. Deminidor was the smartest and Laurie was certainly extremely smart, but Deminidor also had that sharpness. John couldn’t accuse them of being grinds, but they truly were smart, but neither of them were especially funny, so John had that sown up.

John was third and he was the loose canon, the one who might have been the smartest and who was most likely to squander his talent. They never knew when he was going to come out of left field with the big right answer, but most of the time he was just slacking.

John was in the DIG program (see RL221). He was a discipline problem and the only reason he survived to this day is that he was a smart kid. He was the smartest when it came to test scores. There is a series of very specific tasks that if a kid just happens to have a knack for those, the establishment will decide they are the future of the species. On the Iowa basic tests John had 99’s across the board. Iowa was synonymous with standardized testing in the 1970s.

John’s mom only did go to the principal in the case of his sister. One of the teachers was picking on her for whatever reason and her mom went down, being all about documentation, with homework assignments where Susan had been marked wrong on things that were demonstrably right, like math problems that mom could prove. The teacher was brought down to the principal’s office and got censured in some way. No-one ever went to bat for John. The assumption was that he deserved any trouble he got into.

John graduated last in his class from High Schoo. There were 10 or 15 kids with higher GPAs who failed to graduate, but John was a national merit scholar because of the SATs. There was always a tension between those two things: He was a fuck-up, but he was also going to make it, or if he wasn’t going to make it, he really had to work to squander it. He was going to skate by on aptitude which is really laudable and which he is still doing.

John got into Jesuit college on a special program for bad boys, like Father Flanagan’s Boys Town, but with good test scores. John was never going to go to college otherwise. Why is there no Long Winters record called ”Bad Boys with Good Test Scores”?

Junior and Senior suffixes (OM155)

Adding Junior and Senior as a suffix to your name is an Americanism that is not used that way in other parts of the English-speaking world. There are no laws regulating this, but if you have the exact same name as your parent, you are a junior and they are a senior. John’s dad was a junior, but he never went by that. John is not a III. Your number reflects how many of those generations are alive, so if your name is John Smith and your great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was John Smith, you are not John Smith VI, but you are either a II or a III if your grandfather is still alive. Ken is sure that John said that before and he is still confident that it is wrong.

There are people named John Rockefeller IV, but they don’t put that on their letterhead because the Gilligan’s Island killed it once it became a millionaire cliché to have an awful number after your name. Ken is III and according to John’s theory he should be Junior because his grandfather died in the 1990s. You advance until death! John remarks that Ken named his son Dylan, but he could have been Kenneth Wayne Jennings IV. What a Gen X move that was! Nothing about the definition makes it verboten for a woman to be Junior after her mother, you just don’t see it a lot.

Ken could name his next child, which surely he and Mindy are planning, like Quizwinner Kennings, or Kwizzwinner Jennings Jr. It is a great name for a wizard!

John’s first and second bands (OM155)

John’s second band was named Chautauqua, which was very on brand. His first band was called The Truly Awful Band, but Chautauqua was the first band to have any recorded material. They were good, it was Grunge Rock era and they were strummy, jangly Indie Pop at a time when everyone else in Seattle was already doing something else and they didn’t scan.

Speaking several languages (OM155)

Everybody in Ken’s family speaks a couple of languages, but ”a couple” in this case means several. Ken speaks Spanish pretty well and can piece together written Portuguese and Italian on the fly and sometimes French. If you can speak Italian, you can speak Romanian as long as you get your suffixes right. People always want to know how many languages Alex Trebek speaks because when he reads the clues he is always hyper-correcting and he studies pronunciation every morning before he reads the clues. As an Ontarian he speaks English and French fluently and he can mess around in several more languages.

John says that, too, but what that means is that he can order a beer and get a hotel room in 14 languages. It is survival skills! John has known people who can speak six or more language like German, Dutch and Danish. They learn one and then they can get the others. French, Spanish, Italian and the slavic languages are hard to do, but if you would learn a slavic language you could probably pick up five. Esperanto or Volapük will solve all this!

Random bits (OM155)

John actually did have two children. He experimented on one of them by depriving them of healthy food. One of them could speak French, but read English and eventually John realized he had failed in that experiment and he sold him off to the Navy.

When John wonders about his squandered potential, he often thinks that maybe he should have been a bunko artist. Any fluent raconteur and/or podcaster can make odd claims about themselves at parties. John kind of is a bunko artist! ”Wait a minute! My stories are 110% true!”

This is always the risk when you tell a smart kid that they are a smart kid and make that their identity. In light of this John would say that Ken did pretty darn well!

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