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  • In second grade, I didn't really have anyone to sit with at lunch.

    I'd hit the lunch line, produce my plastic card with the grid of giant black and white pixels that looked like a slide block puzzle, retrieve my industrially produced "chicken" sandwich with unbranded potato chips, and sit alone on the east side of the cafeteria, directly underneath the retracted basketball hoop.

    I had a lot of time to soak in these details, because I was completely alone on that side of that end of that table. And I really didn't think much about that; it was just the natural order of things. There were many situations at the time where I was set apart from my peers.

    That same year, I had tested at a college reading level, and they kept me in a corner of the classroom during the weekly spelling tests. The other kids got theirs in a red folder. I got mine in a yellow one.

    That same year, my mom was voluntarily committed in the local state mental hospital. The other kids were almost universally from mormon, nuclear families. I lived with my grandparents as their illegitimate obligation. Not that there wasn't love there. There was love, my brother and I were the cure to an empty nest. But there wasn't just love. Shame and embarrassment played their roles, too, as they often do with communties that are as tightly wound as they are tightly knit.

    I didn't really know how to talk to them, the other kids. They probably felt the same about talking to me. I felt aware of things, things in the world, and in life. Worse though, I felt aware of that awareness, and was just the right mix of vain and foolish to confuse this self-flagellating moebius for a unique identity for the next 25 years. Talking to me probably wasn't much fun.

    So it wasn't with any particular social goal in mind that I began talking to my potato chips.

    "Hello, Mr. Chip," I'd say, in a British accent for unexplainable reasons. "Chip, chip, cheerio!" Then, CRUNCH! Pulling the next one out, "I do say, guvnah, I hope I shall not be eaten to- Oh, NO!" CRUNCH!

    This went on for some time.

    I was pretty well drawn in to my tiny little world of potato-pun-based-monologues, unfailingly ending in crunchy tragedy. Drawn in so much so, that when I looked up and saw a crowd around me, giggling, I was truly surprised. The last time I had drawn that kind of attention was when I had sneezed a head full of snot into my hand during the pledge of allegiance (which wasn't all that dissimilar of a situation, now that I think about it).

    "Why are you talking to your food, Robert?"

    The honest plainness of the question really did deserve an answer. And I had one.

    "Well. It was mostly talking to me."

    A beat. And then a burst of laughter. I looked around, not really sure if this was the right kind of laughter, but I decided I didn't care, and started laughing too. Really, it was mostly directed "at" me, not "with" me, seeing as how I had found a slightly tastier version of being the kid who ate worms. But, it didn't matter, not very much at all.

    I hadn't made friends with them with that action, and they didn't seem any less alien to me. But they had become known to me in a strange and powerful way that has stuck with me all this time.

    They weren't my friends. They didn't have to be. They were my audience.
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