Mr. J is the frontman/engraver/designer/maker of all things award-like. Walking into his store on the Boulevard is like walking into a an over-achiever’s dream room – except for the stuffiness and the parrot. Unless you are an over-achiever who likes stuffy rooms and parrots.
“你好！ Your order was ready a long time ago! Sorry no call – so busy!” Mr. J greets me. He is a bald dude, 50ish, and reminds me a little bit of Dumbledore – friendly, warm, lighthearted yet deep.
He brings me the trophy I ordered and catches me balk at it’s appearance. It was over twice as tall as the demo trophy he showed me last week when I made the order.
“All ready! Easy job, very simple. You teach math, yes? You must be good at math, a good math teacher. You want receipt, yes?”
I make nice chitchat as he hand writes the receipt. It is a very nicely made trophy. Engraved with the name of the student, our school name, and the year. The base is attached to a pedestal topped with a math-themed disc I chose from a catalog. It is solidly constructed for something made completely of non-recyclable plastic and, at $10, a snag of a deal.
It is also shiny, gold and white with gold-navy-black marbling, winged, and about the height of a standard steering wheel. Subtle it is not; but then again, I suppose trophy-makers are, by profession, unsubtle people.
It is meant for the 1st place winner of the 6th grade MathCounts! team we formed this spring in preparation for the 2013 competitions. A winner out of a total of eleven children. A winner who got 60% of the test correct.
I pay for my trophy made from apparently woefully inadequate directions. “再见！See you again next time!” I wave cheerfully to Mr. J, holding it together until I reach my car.
And then I laugh my ass off. Just as I catch my breath, I imagine the look on Ms. H’s – the other MathCounts! club coach and Colleague Extraordinaire – face tomorrow morning when I show her the over-dressed award. It is a good five minutes before I can trust myself to start my car.
The thing is, even if I had gotten a smaller item – like a medal, or a ribbon – it would have been ridiculous anyway. Winning something like this in a competition against 10 other kids when the top score was a measly 60% correct? It probably doesn’t even deserve first dibs on the cupcakes.
How many trophies, and medals, and ribbons do I have, sitting in a closet in my parents’ house? First place individual essay at an Academic Decathalon meet. Third place at a local piano recital. Honorary Mention at a student art exhibition. Highest score in my grade for some computer math game at school. Was I proud of them? Hell yes. Am I still secretly proud of my past self for winning all those awards 10+ years ago? You betcha. Am I a perfect example of an entitled trophy kid, good only for first-world-problem mockery? Probably.
Does that make me any less capable of learning humility? Unable to imagine and empathize with the suffering of others? Unmoved to take action in order to make this world a bit better than the world I was born into? Surely not.
So I take this glorified joke of a math trophy with a grain of humor and a little wish: may I play not too great a role in embiggening the head of the child who wins it.