Monday, November 15, 2010

Natural Selection

Robert Langellier

You don’t need a red wire and a blue wire to experience a real instance of absolute panic. You don’t need a long silence after proposing to your girlfriend of three years. All you need is to have your teacher announce “choose your own partner” time in class.

At this point, starting guns fire in the distance, nervous pit stains appear, and the entire room plays a furiously faux-nonchalant game of musical chairs, except with eye contact and not chairs.

“Finding a partner” is one of the lesser appreciated terrors of the young student. There’s nothing scarier than the possibility of ending up with that weird girl with the greasy hair and the voice of a seal. This bodes dangerously for the normal kid sitting next to her. All eyes in the room will undoubtedly treat his corner of the room like a cluster of lepers. By indiscriminately making a sweeping rejection of an entire region, chances of being paired with Sealia are cut drastically. 

In most cases, everyone will have a preferred target. The Golden Partner. I try utilizing my eyes as a sound combination of mild heat vision and ESP telegraphing to control my target’s focus. If I succeed, he catches my eyes, and I quickly convert them into tractor beams that lock him in until it’s too late for him to escape. I have won, at least for that day.

Never let them see you bleed. Sweat, but never pant. Nobody wants a nervous kid for a partner or a friend. It’s a difficult process to put on an air of being above petty scramblings while a keeping a constant vigilance on a 270-degree region, but in times of real need, unknown potential always realizes itself. Your eyes will adapt to bend light around your temples like bullets in Wanted, and your senses will become attuned to the emotional statuses of both your friends and your enemies. The moment you show fear, the culture will sniff you out immediately. You are then doomed to a less-cool partner, or worse yet. 

Ostracization. If there are 185 penguins in an arctic colony, mathematically, one of them isn’t mating. I failed to mate with anyone in my 8am French class. Over the course of time, every person in class has paired off with an unofficial daily partner. I have been ostracized. Every day is a bleak window of terrifying solitude. My eyelids shift constantly between half-closed half-consciousness and wide-open, petrified fear. Since it is a foreign language class requiring you to speak, French makes room for “partner work” time every single day. And every single day, I try to sink lower into my chair than the day before, in shame.

I have one of three options when this happens. First, I look to see if anybody’s partner has failed to show up. Perhaps I can snatch them up like a Hungry Hungry Hippo marble. When this inevitably fails, I switch to option two: try to fit a third nut into a peanut shell. The way the tiny desks in my classroom are attached to the chairs and packed in, this becomes an exercise in extreme awkwardness, especially when you’ve built a reputation in class of not talking much or interacting with other life forms. I often then concede defeat and slip into option three: sit alone, stare intently at my book, and read the partner exercise to myself semi-audibly. This is true humiliation, coming to its full, awkward, disgusting climax when my French teacher came over a couple weeks ago, knelt down by my desk, and did the exercise with me. Consider myself blacklisted, unless a pity clause is soon invoked in some kind soul. It probably won’t be.

Selection is about speed, strategic angles, communication, and willingness to mouth the word “Sorry” to that one guy while pointing to the kid sitting next to you. Play the game wrong, and you’ll end up as alone as I am. Play the game right, and you might make a lasting friend with a real impact on your life. All it takes is a little luck. One wire makes all the difference.


  1. I wish so dearly that I could proclaim this as a metaphor for your love life.


  2. I have become a master of the three-nuts-in-a-shell maneuver. My latin teacher having announced a group exercise in a class of a meager 15 students, I glance behind me to find that everyone has already paired off in an instant, clinging to their pre-selected partners. Not letting my desperation show, I spring into action. I thrust myself onto the nearest pairing with a nonchalant, "Hey, how are you guys doing?" They look back with restrained horror. What is he doing? He can't do that, can he? They glance to the teacher, but she solemnly avoids their gaze. She will grant them no salvation. In this way I have subjected many a group to my unwanted presence.