Platinum Child

You’ve heard of the Golden Child, right? All-American, popular, wealthy, straight As in high school, perfect attendance, grade point average, teeth, and hair?

And that phrase “born with a silver spoon in your mouth?” As in, the top 1%?

Well, this series of interconnected memories is about a person I went to high school with who was neither one of these.

He was worse.

Meet…The Platinum Child.

Disclaimer: For fear of being sued, I’ll just call him Platinum. If you happened to have gone to high school with me or are slightly older or younger, you may or may not know who I’m talking about.

Platinum showed up in my high school in 7th grade. He came equipped with a laptop. He said he had a “learning disability,” but it was basically to show off that he was loaded and not shy about it. Also, that his parents would get for him everything that he wanted and more. His parents also must have given generously to the school, because his behavior was tolerated by just about every teacher. This was in the time before laptops, so everyone was naturally jealous of how we’d be taking notes in history and he’d be playing around with his webcam.

The first time I knew something really wasn’t kosher here was in 8th grade. By this point, we all had laptops and since it was the golden age of AOL Instant Messenger (long before Facebook!), we were constantly chatting on it. So constantly, in fact, that the school completely blocked anything having to do with AIM or AOL. Fair enough, given that five years later, the rest of the world would too, so I guess they were ahead of the curve. For me and most of my other classmates, it was like “well played, school. It was fun while it lasted,” and went back to taking our notes and writing our papers. Platinum and I were in the same science class, and as the teacher was walking around the room while talking about something having to do with physiology, Platinum’s screen caught her eye. His Yahoo! was open (a no-no), and the search term? She helpfully enlightened the rest of us. “AOL Firewall Hacking Technology.” BUSTED. Infuriated, she stopped class and called the principal over the intercom. Well, actually the vice-principal. He came down and took Platinum out of the class for about 90 seconds, and sent him back into the room, saying “we talked about it, and he won’t do it again.” Okay, maaaaybe a first strike, but had it been me? Who knows.

Next stop: 10th grade. Same science class together, same teacher, same room even. It’s first period, and we’re taking a chemistry test. I’m not the best science student, but by this point in my high school career, I’ve figured out what to study and how to take this teacher’s test so that I will get an A (aka, the normal high school student thing). Writing, writing, writing, la dee da…then a tap on my shoulder. It’s the science teacher, and she takes my test away and leads me outside the classroom. I am about to pee in my pants, wondering what I did wrong, when she sits me in a desk, saying “Platinum was sitting behind you copying your answers, so for the rest of the semester, you can take your exams in the hallway so nobody will copy you.”

WTF?

I didn’t really care that much at the time, I was just happy that I wasn’t really in any trouble (even though it sure felt like it!) and what do you know, I did well on the test and got to have my own little bubble while taking it. Later on, I realized that I’d been completely scapegoated by Ms. Science Teacher. For one thing, HE was the one cheating, so shouldn’t HE have been excused from the room, the class, the school? As far as I know, nothing happened to Platty.

And every science test until the end of 10th grade, I had to sit in the hall like a naughty puppy. And it doesn’t even stop there.

Fast forward to 11th grade. By then, Platinum’s got cheating down to an art. His strategy? Whenever we had a test in any period before lunch, he would say something to the teacher along the lines of “I don’t feel ready to take the test, can I take it in the library during lunch?” Of course, the teachers would say yes, and of course, before lunch, he’d have a cheat sheet ready, or an old copy of the same test. The librarian (read: barbarian) was supposed to “watch” student test-takers in this situation, but she usually had better things to do. No, not tequila, but usually harassing all the students, but that’s a story for another time.

Anyway, Platinum’s cheating was a known fact among the students by this point, and for one guy in our grade, it ground his gears so much that he set up a sting operation. Camera phones were not too common by this point in time, at least not among us high school students, but he had one – no word on whether it was his or his parents’.

I’ll call him Cam.

So here’s what happened:

Platinum did his normal lunch-test-taking thing. As he entered the library, Cam was already there, just hanging out at a computer nonchalantly, doing his thing. Platinum pulled into a study carrel, took out several pieces of paper, and started with the dirty deed. While he was setting up shop, Cam had pulled a book out of a nearby bookshelf a short distance away, and was pretending to read, but instead focused his camera on Platinum and acquired the incriminating evidence. That night, he uploaded them onto his computer, enlarged them, cropped them, and made them black-and-white to really bring out the contrast. The pictures clearly showed Platinum with his test on the desk, a pencil in his right hand, and another piece of paper marked with a big bold A across the top. It’s almost like Platty wasn’t even trying to hide it. The next day, Cam brings in the pictures and shows them to a few students along with an anonymously written letter addressed to our principal (who was a complete moron) explaining exactly what was going on in the pictures, as if it wasn’t evident enough. Between classes, he pulled aside some students, showed them everything, and asked them to sign along the bottom, so Cam could maintain his identity should the plan backfire. As head of the high school photography staff, I was impressed with the results, and this combined with my complete dislike of Platinum made me grab the first writing utensil I saw (it was a black pen, I remember) and sign my name in the boldest letters I could. By the end of the day, he’d gotten a bunch of signatures from students, and at least one teacher, who all promised to keep his secret. He slipped the items into a blank manila envelope and under the door of our principal’s office. Mission complete.

The result?

Well, the next day, we went to school. It was a normal day, and then…

…we went home.

Nothing happened.

Nothing.

Granted, we don’t know if he’d had some sort of parent-teacher conference, or had an out-of-school requirement, but as far as we could see, nothing, nada, zip.

And that’s not even the worst part.

Here we are, first semester, senior year. Platinum and I are in the same second period class taught by Rabbi Awfulbaum. Rabbi Awfulbaum was probably not a horrible person, but he also had a pulpit that semester, therefore rendering his unable to teach 75% of his classes. So, it was basically either study hall or take a quiz on the homework and readings under the “watchful” eye of a sub.

So, one day, Rabbi Awfulbaum is out on official rabbi business (big shocker) and we’re given a quiz, overseen by today’s patsy, Rabbi Naiveman. The quiz is relatively short. Among the first to finish are Platinum and a friend of his. He goes to turn in his paper, and asks if he and his friend can go get a drink. “Sure,” says Rabbi Naiveman (spoiler alert: bad move). The rest of us keep working.

Time ticks by, and most of us are done with the quiz and are either doing homework or just sitting and talking. Rabbi Naiveman realizes he hasn’t seen either of the boys since the first ten minutes of the ninety-minute period, and he’s starting to wonder how getting a drink could take so long. Another student leaves the room for the same purpose and comes back a few minutes later, upon which Rabbi Naiveman asks him if he’s seen the two of them, to which the student says no. He asks one or two of the boys in class if they could go find Platinum and Friend, who are probably just roaming the halls or making trouble. They return after a walk around the school, and like the guy before, they haven’t seen them. It’s been an hour at this point, and Rabbi Naiveman is getting nervous. He intercoms the main office, asking them to make an announcement for Platinum and Friend to return to the main office. He lets us out a few minutes early so he can go to the main office and explain that two students left class and didn’t come back.

Third period happens, then lunch, then fourth period. Several more announcements go over the intercom. The two students are officially missing. Fifth period comes and goes, and no one can say that they’ve seen them either in or out of school, and nobody knows where they went.

I don’t actually know exactly how things unfolded after that. I believe that the police came, or at least a call was made. Students and teachers were genuinely worried. School ended, and we all went home, wondering what became of Platinum and Friend. Rabbi Naiveman was probably crying off in a corner somewhere, or at least redoing his resume and looking at the want ads.

The next day, I went to school, and still knew nothing, but that they weren’t there. As usual, the school did a crappy job of covering up what actually happened, but word got around that they’d been found, at a 7-11. Just hanging out, or whatever it is that scummy 18-year-olds do when they cut school and nearly give the administration a heart attack.

Here are two versions of what I heard happened:

1) Someone (a parent, or a student who’d left early that day) had seen them at the 7-11, and either called in a tip or came to school to give them the news, whereupon one of their parents or someone from the school went out to said 7-11, found them there, and took them home. And then spanked them and sent them to bed without supper.

2) They actually came back to school after the school day had ended but before everyone had left, and walked in as if nothing happened, got busted, and sent straight home to get spanked and sent to bed without supper.

Either way, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although Platinum’s Friend rejoined us for the remainder of the year, claiming “it wasn’t his idea,” and getting to graduate with us but not attend graduation, this was the end for Platinum. He was finally gone. Kicked out. Expelled. Game over.

I didn’t shed one tear for him, but I did wonder what would happen to his life now that his permanent record included getting kicked out of a private high school, where he lied, cheated, and broke the rules constantly. Plus, he had a horrible personality. And he was not nice, either. I wondered if I’d see him serving me pizza, or bagging groceries down at the store.

Well…I was wrong.

In 2005, Facebook happened. As college freshmen, all of us added each other as friends. I searched Platinum’s name…and learned that he was indeed attending college, a private university somewhere in New York.

An actual university.

WHAT THE HELL?

He wasn’t the Devil Incarnate, but you tell me: if you or I pulled all the crap that he did, where would we be right now? Probably in prison, or working at a K-Mart somewhere.

And all because his mommy and daddy had enough money to get his record expunged, or at least the connections to get him into a university.

I don’t like to use the word “hate” anymore, but I’m at about one level separated from using the word. I dislike this. I dislike him. I dislike him. This is just plain wrong.

Am I just jealous? No, not in the least. I had my own issues in high school, but managed to get myself together enough to survive without much carnage. Am I bitter? Not really, no. Yeah, I was made to feel like a dog, but since high school, I’ve gotten to go to university, graduate with honors, spend a year overseas, and be awarded things based on merit, talent, and hard work, rather than a trust fund. So, how do I feel? Other than disgusted at him, his family, our school, and the system that rewards people who behave badly if they can afford to pony up the green, I kind of feel sorry for him. I wonder if he’s reflected on anything he’s done, anything he’s done. I wonder if he wished he’d done things differently, and regretted. I wonder if he’s found fulfillment in something, and if he’s become a better person.

And then I usually think of something else. Crap, it’s 1 AM, I’m still on the couch in my sweats and I need to shower and get into bed so I can get some reading done or something.

The last time I ever saw him was at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike. My dad and I were driving from Amherst to Baltimore during a break, and while stuck in a horrible clog of traffic, my bladder decided to turn into the Hindenburg, so we drove illegally on a shoulder until we got to a rest stop, whereupon I ran through the building, clutching my stomach, to the nearest toilet. While I was running, he was walking in the other direction and I’m sure he didn’t notice me but I immediately recognized him. Only now he was much taller, thicker in the chest and arms, had a little more facial hair, and clad in a standard scumbag-possibly-still-living-in-the-90s ensemble: oversized white wife beater, baggy jeans, cap turned to the side, and a Jewish star on a chain around his neck, walking with the swagger of someone who used the word swagger in daily conversation. It was just a brief glimpse, but it told me all I needed to know about who Platinum was today.

Anyway. I made it to the bathroom on time, and had such a relieving post-urination afterglow that I forgot all about what I just saw.

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