5 Ways Things Change When Accused of a School Shooting Plot
Writing, even the crap kind, is an incredibly powerful tool. I know this because I damn near had my education and life torn to shreds over some terrible, terrible scribblings that convinced some people that I was about to become the next crazed loner to blow body parts to bits because one of Marilyn Manson's filler tracks told me to.
Yes, while many kids look back at high school with fond memories of the prom or getting piss drunk on cheap hooch because minimum wage only buys so much, my strongest memory was getting randomly accused of plotting the mass murder of my entire school. Very randomly -- even Hollywood would reject my story as making no goddamn sense whatsoever, right before greenlighting The Animal 2: Schneid Harder.
Bad Fashion and Bad Poetry Can Have Dire Consequences
Here's something we keep forgetting about mass shooters because we're too busy arguing with conspiracy nuts who insist they don't exist and are simply red herrings dreamt up by the Obamament to steal our guns and melt them into hammers and sickles: they usually tell us they're about to murder. But they don't often just storm the hallways hollering, "I WILL SHOOT ALL YOU MOTHERFUCKERS IN THE HEAD AND HEART AND LUNGS GRRRR." They typically reveal their intentions through vague comments that could easily pass for dark humor ... or bad poetry.
My classmates were triggered by the latter. Like many young boys filled with angst and outraged that Korn and Nine Inch Nails weren't eternally battling for No. 1 on Total Request Live, I wrote my own soul-baring poetry. And boy, did it suck: forced rhyming in basic AA patterns, cliched metaphors, and lines like "A shame really, because I feel love / for those who live life high on the dove" that not only ensured Trent Reznor and Billy Corgan would never hire me to ghostwrite, but that I wouldn't cut it at Hallmark either. I also wrote one called "Mary Jane Mind" about how I didn't need to smoke pot because I was already naturally crazy. Maya Angelou never thought of that.
"Despite all my rage, I am still just a bird in a cage."
At the same time, I turned to the dark side and went goth ... kind of. I wore black, bought spooky necklaces at Hot Topic ... and that's it. I was way too lazy for eyeliner, makeup, fishnets, tall boots, or wacky hair that had to look just right or Satan would yell at me. Soon, even the necklaces stayed home, and I became a mere dude in black, like Anakin if he never progressed past whining about everything.
The climactic scene where young Skywalker finally rebels against Obi-Wan's constant nagging to clean his room.
So how did black clothing and shitty poetry end up freaking people out? For one, I read this dreck aloud at school instead of keeping it a secret between myself and the paper shredder. This dreck had titles like "American Nightmare" and lines like "We see society running scared / because we are our American nightmares" (I think the "nightmares" were people who spoke the truth or some other equally meaningless bullshit).
Oh, and I wrote this dreck in 1999, mere months after Columbine. That's the kind of pinpoint timing that triggers anonymous kids to call the cops on the dour kid in black bleating out "I look down and I see red / My life has flashed, I want it back."
"Why pay attention to the world around me? It's all stupid and everything's doomed anyway."
Cops With the Chance to Do Nothing Will Probably Take It
Since my writings' intended message wasn't "run for the hills, run for your life," you can imagine my surprise when I walked outside one sunny day and encountered cops with me in their sights. What you might not imagine, however, is how miniscule of a shit they gave about the whole situation.
If you were a cop and charged with investigating whether or not some kid was the insane shooter anonymous tipsters were making him out to be, what steps would you take? Intense questioning of the suspect? A meeting with his parents? Maybe obtain a warrant to search his house for weapons? Check back every couple days for signs of mental deterioration? Nothing at fucking all? If you picked that last option, then congratulations -- you're fit to police teenage misfits in small-town suburbia.
No one's going to get away with sticking gum under the benches on your watch.
The cops did nothing aside from talk to me for a few minutes. They mentioned why they were there, vaguely referenced "some concerns," and did little else. They didn't scare me straight or even try to -- they simply saw a kid not actively wielding a machete and breathed a sigh of relief. The closest they ever came to actual police work was when they asked me where I was headed. I told them I was going to work, which was true. They -- in case I was actually off to pick up a sawed-off, double-barrel, laser-sighted AK-47 (on clearance at Wal-Mart that week only) -- refused to let me go alone. So into the squad car I went, with me making 100 percent sure they knew exactly where my job was and that yes, I'm going there to make money, dammit.
Part-time retail money, sure, but still technically money.
Did they follow up at any point? Well, fuck no they did not. They moved on to more important matters, like ticketing people for going 26 mph when the speed limit was 25 mph. Lucky for them, I wasn't actually planning to do much aside from dust shelves for the next six hours. If I had more doomy shit on the schedule, I would've simply waited until the cops drove away and then skipped work to take care of the bloody business at hand. The cops would've caught on. Afterwards.
The Anonymous Rumor Mill Can Make a Bad Situation Way Worse
So the story's over, right? After all, the cops had successfully gambled on my having less of a killer instinct than a Care Bear, so I might as well devote the rest of this article to badass earthworms that changed history or some shit.
These master baits will eat your fish and ass-fuck you with the rod. Hook included.
Except it didn't end, so screw Earthworm Jim and the gang. See, word got out about what happened, but since "kid goes to work and probably masturbates in the break room" is a fucking boring story, the nameless, rumor-spreading shadow people had to kick it up several notches. They did so by inserting a brand-new chapter where I was suddenly very angry over being reported and questioned -- like incredibly, monstrously angry. So angry, in fact, that I apparently went to a party and blurted out my plans to violently murder the principal and anyone else in my path. I never learned how drunk I was at this party, but most likely I was extremely so. Murderhol is a helluva drug.
Obviously, this story was pure bullshit, since it assumed I ever got invited to parties. But Imaginary Me could've been captaining a magical pirate ship with sails made out of giant condoms for all it mattered -- the rumor's mere existence (and rapid-fire spreading) was enough to reignite the panic. Only it was worse now, because instead of simple shitty poetry misinterpreted as possible threats, now I was coming right out and Popsicle Pete-ing everyone unlucky enough to not be home sick when hell comes to Pleasantville.
None of you are safe, or awake past 10 p.m.
If simple panic and massive distrust wasn't enough to take one's mind off college applications, I now had the threat of expulsion thrown in my face. I'd almost certainly have been arrested too, because school officials simply ordering someone they think is a murderous psychopath to leave and not come back would have been awfully trusting of them. But as it turns out, they were pretty damn trusting anyhow ...
Schools With the Opportunity to Do Nothing Will Probably Take It
Remember how the cops talked to me for maybe five minutes and then let me go? It happened again when I met the principal, the guy whose life Imaginary Party Boy Me threatened with great gusto. That guy met with me, with no cops or doctors or anyone else around just in case. And 10 minutes later, I was free to go because I actually grew up in a TGIF sitcom where nothing changes, everybody gets along, and problems always work themselves out in time for the credits.
Too Many Books.
Here's literally all I did to avoid getting kicked out: I told the principal why I wrote the words I wrote, made it perfectly clear that I never had any intention of doing anything remotely violent, and insisted that I never threatened his or anyone else's lives. That's all. I even threw in the self-deprecating line about how there was no way I'd be invited to a party, so there was no way I could incite a panic at one. And I still got spared.
By the way, since I reused that line in an earlier entry, I've technically been working on this column for 15 years.
Time to ask the boss about overtime pay.
But my Academy Award-winning eloquence was only one reason I got off scot-free. There was also my fucking shirt, meaning clothing got me both in and out of this mess. I met the principal while wearing moob armor with a giant yin-yang symbol slathered on the front. I think there was some Chinese lettering floating around there too. And even though they probably translated to "camel's poop is mmm mmm good," the principal found the whole thing incredibly deep and meaningful. In his eyes, my wearing of that particular bit of cloth meant I had a profound spiritual understanding of both light and dark, but that ultimately light won out.
"You ... dumbass ... white ... kids ... will ... buy ... anything."
And with that, I was free to go. There was never talk of counseling, no psychiatric evaluations, and still no parental intervention (the only reason they knew about any of this was because I told them). Oh, and I knew fuck-all about yin-yangs and light/dark duality -- I wore that shirt simply because I thought it looked cool. I didn't tell him that, of course, but to declare my innocence because my clothes had exotic emojis all over it is beyond both sad and amazing. Good thing I didn't wear my new wrestling shirt that day:
What's the Chinese symbol for "insanity plea?"
The Initial Reporting Was the Right Thing to Do (and Everything Else Was Completely Wrong)
Despite all the worry and stress that this episode caused both my family and I, the people that started it all by reporting my atrocious wordplay actually did everything right, and their actions should probably be emulated by more people once something eerie triggers their Spidey sense.
Yes, my words were not actually thinly veiled warnings of destruction (aside from their destruction of the English language), but what if they were and nobody acted because they thought it was "just poetry"? The only people happy about that idea are trolls who hate my articles and fantasize about a beautiful alternate universe where I'm either dead or rotting in prison for 10 life terms, plus 650 years.
Eligible for parole after seven deaths.
The cops and school officials though? While they were technically right about me not being a mass murderer in waiting, the Rightanswerville route they took was just about the worst and most irresponsible path imaginable. They did just slightly north of squat, which makes me wonder if the same thing happens at other schools that wind up housing real homicidal maniacs. Do grown-ups just talk to them between classes and then send them away, hoping they learned their lesson and decided not to take their guns to town? Because I'm pretty sure stopping a shooter before they start shooting involves more effort than that.
Sadly, the Bugs Bunny route won't cut it, either.
So if anyone who actually called the cops on my Robert Smith-wannabe ass is reading this: good job, you were right, and if more kids followed your lead, we might not hear about any more Newtowns or Millard Souths. As far as the cops and school officials go -- not only were you in the wrong ballpark, you weren't in a ballpark at all. You were on a tiny remote island that had never heard of sports and had neither space nor funds to build a ballpark. I'm sure it was quite the relief that I wound up being nothing at all. But don't worry -- if I was actually planning anything, you would've figured it out.
Congratulate Jason on his Pulitzer-winning poetry via Facebook and Twitter.
For more from Jason, check out 5 Surprising Realities of Working in a Drug Rehab Program and 4 Children's Books That Will Unintentionally Scar Your Kids.
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