SPECTACLE OF MYSELF

Title of my memoir, obviously. What follows — not the memoir but for the time being a consideration of this title, or an explanation of this title — I’ve decided to publish now in order to nail down provenance. (While I’d prefer to say “copyright,” my understanding is that titles can’t be copyrighted.)

With a good title up for grabs, like the one above, you’ve got to pounce. Aggressive rivals are what worry me. Specifically I’m thinking of one rival, slightly younger than I, who in almost every circumstance could be expected, inconveniently, infuriatingly, to think up such a title, no doubt this exact title, only days or hours — not to say minutes — before I had. His mind works like mine, but much faster, or at least much sooner.

The reason I was first to snag the title in question is that I’ve been sitting on it forever. It came to me in my fifth year, when my rival would have been just seven months old and probably not yet talking. Even if he was, which one might almost imagine in the case of this person, I believe I can safely assume that inventing amusing titles for future memoirs remained at that point beyond his nascent skills.

The title’s inspiration — apart from its self-evident connection to Guy Debord — was my mother, who would caution me several times each day, “Please don’t make a spectacle of yourself.” Shamefast by nature, she was especially shamefast in situations in which I acted precisely in accordance with my nature, such as on that day when — so she had been informed by my kindergarten teacher — I had boldly announced to my classmates that I was well known to, and indeed good friends with, the seven Mercury astronauts who would soon travel into space, and that I was in fact sometimes referred to by them as “the eighth Mercury astronaut,” and that, moreover, Colonel John Glenn Jr had particularly recommended me, due to my diminutive stature, for a special assignment to accompany him on his orbital mission, in order to operate previously untested guidance instruments located in the nose cone of his capsule. (Normally the Atlas-6 capsule would be capable of carrying just one full-sized astronaut per flight.) During this mission Glenn himself would be busy with other stuff, steering around satellites, for example, and saying “roger.”

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Artist’s rendering of John Glenn and me in orbit

The interesting thing about my kindergarten teacher (whom I’ll call Miss Old Knee because my dad, as often on her bad side as I, had given her this nickname after returning home — utterly pissed off — from a parent-teacher conference) was that instead of just declaring, in these fairly frequent instances, “Your son’s prevarications” — and it would have been typical of her to use a word like prevarication incorrectly — “are ridiculous and unspeakably absurd,” she would instead present a sort of litigator’s argument, based on ironclad logic. Perhaps it was in dealing with parental push-back, although there can’t have been much parental push-back in the middle of the twentieth century, that Miss Old Knee had acquired her strategy, her method of insinuating in a way that could not be contested by mere favoritism. (“Oh, but our son would never lie, for we have taught him right from wrong.”)

On the contrary, Miss Old Knee would say something like, “Colonel Glenn must realize that shortness of stature is quite common among kindergarten pupils, not at all unusual or peculiar, let alone unique. If he had needed a small child to ride in the nose cone of his rocket, he could have found one right nearby in the Cape Canaveral Public School System.” It would have been typical of her, also, to confuse capsule with rocket. She had been born in the 1890s, after all. What did she know?


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