I hated kindergarten. I was one of the unfortunate children assigned to the "Mustard Door". The mustard and ketchup doors were the clever idea of a well meaning teacher to help stupid five year olds remember where to go after their parents abandoned them in the school parking lot. A stupid idea, because all five year olds know that ketchup is superior to mustard. If you are in the mustard class you must be retarded or something. Mustard is lame.
Mrs. Falen was my kindergarten teacher. She did not like me any better than I liked her. The first day I arrived at school (After Christmas break I was a transfer student. Lucky Mrs. Falen) I concocted a plan to convince my teacher and classmates I was deaf. I wanted them to leave me the hell alone. I smuggled my transistor radio in my coat pocket. I plugged in the earphone to simulate a hearing aid and responded only in sign language. This worked for about an hour until Mrs. F confirmed that I was not a “special needs” child and was, in fact, in the correct classroom. Bad news for both of us.
Every morning Big Judes (My Mom) would drag me kicking and screaming up the stairs of Crestview Elementary School, through the mustard door, to Kindergarten hell. She tried to abandon me in the parking lot once with strict orders to follow the other sheep to my classroom. When her big white Plymouth was out of sight, I started the two-mile walk home. I was found and returned to school. Big Judes never did that again. I would guess it is uncomfortable to explain to school administrators why your child called them "varmints" and demanded to be returned to "Granny's place in Dodge City before the last stage".
Most days I refused to participate in anything. No sing-a-longs at the piano. No dry graham crackers and apple juice. No tempera paint. Didn't these people understand I was not supposed to be here? After weeks of boring mornings with the mustard kids, Mrs. Falen announced that we were all going to make “What I Want to Be When I Grow Up” posters for the upcoming school open house. Finally! A project I could relate to. I knew exactly what I wanted to be! A Cowboy.
My Old Granny would smear my face with Vaseline and rub coffee grounds on my cheeks for whiskers. I rode the range of my neighborhood with my chrome plated six shooters and jangling spurs. I had a stick horse named Ruth (After Festus’s mule on Gunsmoke). I bushwhacked girls on the sidewalk playing hopscotch. I let a whole pen of rabbits loose at the neighbor’s house so Ruth and I could practice roping and riding. The cowboy life was the life for me.
I created a stunning illustration of Ruth and me robbing a bank. (Did I mention I did not aspire to be the cowboy with a white hat?). I wrote my name in purple crayon. I could not wait to show my parents my masterpiece. They would be so proud.
When Mrs. Falen saw my poster, she looked concerned. She called me to her desk. “Tobi, please tell me about your poster. What do you want to be when you grow up?” I looked at her with concern. What was this lady's problem? “A Cowboy” I replied.
Mrs. F: “Tobi, you are a girl.”
T: (Blank stare)
Mrs. F: “Girls cannot be Cowboys. Girls can be Nurses, or Teachers. Or, Mommies. Don’t you think it would be nice to be a Mommy? Why don’t you look at what the other girls are drawing and give it another try? How does that sound?”
I did “give it another try.” I decided that if I could not be a cowboy I would be Miss Kitty at the Long Branch Saloon. Miss Kitty was a girl. Right?
If I could not be a cowboy, then I would be a childless whisky-drinking prostitute. I would dye my hair red and rouge my cheeks. I would have a secret affair with a cowboy for twenty years without benefit of marriage. Take that Mrs. Falen.