Monday, August 30, 2004

The Singing Skunk

It was a serious tactical error on my part to trade roles with Jean Jeffrey in our second grade play.  I started to suspect this the moment I did it, got the full impact of it both during rehearsals and right after the performance, and still felt the aftershocks for years afterward.  For the rest of my tenure in the Fayetteville-Manlius School District, I blamed an inordinate share of my peer troubles on that one bad decision:

Karen Funk, second grade.Mrs. Nevin:  Karen, you and Jean may trade parts if you like.
Jean (quickly): I want to be Peter Rabbit!
Karen (reluctantly): I want to be the skunk.

Peter Rabbit and Sweetie Phew were the second and third leads, respectively, in a rather jumbled musical adaptation of Snow White.  I don't even remember whether there were any dwarfs in it.  Peter, despite the name, was basically a Thumper character, and Sweetie Phew was Flower with a persecution complex.

The skunk was a much more interesting and, to my way of thinking, likeable character than the rabbit.  And besides, Peter was a boy's name.  I didn't want to be teased for playing a boy rabbit. So, partly because I liked the role better and partly to curry favor with Jean, I agreed to the switch. I don't think Jean appreciated the favor.  As for myself, I was in trouble. Even as I said the words that sealed my fate, alarm bells were going off in my head.  A skunk?  Are you mad?  Everybody hates skunks!  Besides, it rhymes with Funk!

I did it anyway.  The last line of my introductory song was maudlin but meaningful to me:

"My story ends/I have no friends."

In the course of the play, Pete the rabbit and Bill (whatever he was) have enough of a character arc to ensure that Sweetie's social position is much improved by the reprise:

"I offer clothespins, but each shakes his head;
Bill holds his nose; Pete smiles instead.
Dear Snow White made all things right.
My story ends,
Now I have friends."

It shouldn't surprise you a bit that life didn't imitate art in this case.  I had just paved the way for a rather obvious taunt that continued for years afterwards:

"Funk the Skunk is a pile of junk!"

with variations.  "Flunk the Skunk" got some use, as did "Funk is a Skunk!"

I wish I could say that I successfully laughed this off, made lots of friends with my great self-confidence and adroit social skills, and ended up popular, happy and well-adjusted.  Um, no.

Was it because of that second grade role that I was still being teased by high school?  Of course not.  Being shy, smart and fat is a recipe for social disaster, which I didn't know how to overcome.  Sweetie Phew didn't help, but ultimately, it was my responsibility to learn to get along with the other kids, and take some teasing without being crushed by it. I've been looking at my high school yearbook recently, and to the extent that I even remember them, most of those kids were all right. I should have cultivated more friendships instead of shying away and nursing old wounds.

It wasn't until college that I came into my own.  Even now, married a quarter of a century, an A student, with a number of minor successes behind me to bolster my confidence, the oversensitivity that kept me from laughing off a school play is always lurking, ready to jump out at me.  "Nobody commented on the Skwok piece!  Nobody likes it!  Nobody likes me any more!" And similar nonsense.

Yeah, yeah, I know.  Get over it.  I'm trying!  This is the reason I include my maiden name in my byline instead of just calling myself Karen Blocher.  Having suffered for that name, I figure I've earned the right to use it.  It's part of who I am: a woman who, forty years ago in the Manlius Elementary cafetorium, chose to play a skunk in Snow White.

Karen Funk Blocher


alphawoman1 said...

My sister K. in grammer school was "forced" by my Mom to wear a type of belly daner ooutfit (this is odd even thinking about it today! because it was a Catholic school). (my Mom was a sub teacher when one of the sisters had a nervous break down or something similiar).  Well, Kitty stood in front of the class and her top fell off.  Ever since then the class would taunt her, "S***** Kitty has no T******" this day she is still mortified.

ryanagi said...

Ouch. You are a bigger woman that me in the use of the maiden name. I abandoned mine like the passengers of the Titanic. I get the whole Sally Field like sensation of "You like REALLY like me!" with the journal comments too.

We have to be related somehow. You sure no one in your family gave up a little girl for adoption in the mid 60s? LOL You got any family in Kansas??? ;-)

mavarin said...

Yow, Alpha! That's much worse than mine.  Poor Kitty! And I didn't even think to mention wearing a sarong-like garment to school - twice.  What was I thinking?

I think it's a measure of the relative innocence of F-M and the times that the most vulgar variation on my maiden name got essentially no play among the teasers.  I suppose if they had, Becky, I'd be less inclined to keep the name.  Now I'm curious what your was! - Karen