All But Content
Along with the more famous PBS television programs of the late 80s, Reading Rainbow and Sesame Street, I watched a show called The Letter People. Brightly colored characters shaped like letters of the alphabet frolicked and sang together, all in the course of teaching kindergarteners to read. Classrooms like mine could stock up on the enormous inflatable Letter People, toys that loomed over us six year olds, grinning from atop their bookshelf perches.
Distinguishing each character from another were behavioral or physical qualities—Mister H’s Horrible Hair, for example—which defined a letter’s identity solely by words beginning with its letter, all presented to the viewer in catchy songs. Every letter but X seemed easy enough to characterize in this fashion, but what begins with X? For this reason, Mister X, who wasn’t introduced until forty-five episodes into the show, is a bizarre composite of appendages, hands and feet askew, and dismissed as “all miXed up” or, as his Zappa-esque song announces repeatedly, ALL WRONG.
Generally speaking, I got along well enough in kindergarten. Half a day of playtime, listening to stories, learning to count: all simple stuff. I could already read upon entering school, or so claims my mother. Just one small characteristic that put me outside of the crowd—until my mom brought in raisins for class snack instead of cookies like other parents—and that was enough. Kindergarten was easy for me, until I realized that unusual behavior didn’t always go over well with the majority.
Like most of those early years, I don’t actually recall much of The Letter People. Mostly I remember the closing song, during which a flock of Letter People stroll off the screen, hand in hand, waving their farewell to viewers. Nothing upset me more than seeing that final scene each week, hearing the music that I remember now only as mournful, feeling that with the program’s end, something else was slipping away from me, one more severed connection.
Odds are I had a favorite character, maybe Mister B because of my name (he was made of buttons and one of the more adorable letters). Probably not Mister X, though, not at the time. “Quite complex” and isolated from the other letters, Mister X was perhaps the best representation of his letterhood, the one that doesn’t fit in anywhere. Really, what better role model could you ask for?
Still, I wasn’t able to see myself in Mister X at that age, couldn’t see the gaps between my family and those of the students around me. The differences became clear over time, when children of doctors and professors began questioning why my parents didn’t just buy me new glasses to replace the ones repaired with black electrical tape, why I wore sweatpants instead of jeans, why I could never invite people over to my house; there were others.
Until these differences were pointed out to me, I never suspected they were there, but knowing kept me from ever returning to my innocence. Very well, then, I accept my mixed up status; I am in good company, after all.
We are of a kind, he and I. X—Mister X, to be formal, though I feel we must have reached a point of congruence by now. You can do what you like, be as different as you need to be, all wrong if you have to, as long as you recognize that in some way, you will always be alone. Zaniness in any way is not tolerated here.