Having spent the last four-and-a-half years of my life at Country Day, I think I’ve been sheltered from the worst of the angst teenagers deal with in school. There are definite drawbacks to going to a school so small that a whole grade wouldn’t fill a public-school class, but I’ve grown accustomed to the SCDS atmosphere.

In fact, I’ve gotten so used to my group of academically oriented and perhaps slightly pretentious friends that meeting new people can be a bit confusing.

Usually the struggle is nothing more than my inability to understand pop culture or Instagram.

But I had a particularly interesting experience this weekend when one of my friends from out of town came to visit, unexpectedly bringing another guest with him.

My new acquaintance’s reputation preceded him. I had heard many stories about him over the years, but his most legendary accomplishment was stealing a car and driving it through several states. When he returned from prison, he told his friends that it was a fascinating experience and they should all try it.

I’d never interacted with felons much before, so I didn’t know what to say to him.

We walked to a park near my house, where, to my mild dismay, he started smoking. I politely resisted the urge to fake a coughing fit when the smoke blew into my face, but I did spend the next 15 minutes looking nervously over my shoulder, afraid one of my piano students and their parents would see me associating with such a sketchy character.

Bad habits aside, he was relaxed and friendly. He kindly warned me that getting handcuffed is painful and I should try to avoid it.

When he asked about my life and my friends with seemingly genuine curiosity, I was a little thrown.

“Um…I have a couple really good friends. We watch movies sometimes…go on picnics.”

His social life and mine apparently had very little in common.

“I accidentally joined a gang sophomore year,” he said.

“How does one accidentally join a gang?”

“I didn’t know anyone, and they seemed like cool guys. They asked me if I was Mexican, and I was like…yeah. So they were like, do you want to join our gang, and I said sure.”

“What did you have to do?”

“Screwed-up stuff, man.”

My life seemed suddenly dull. Not that I minded.

When we got back to my house, he leafed interestedly through a New Yorker magazine. I had heard before that he was a brilliant writer; he won a short story contest while in prison.

So we did have some similar interests. We got into a discussion about books, politics and Ayn Rand, a conversation I could actually participate in.

Unsurprisingly, he was opinionated. He acclaimed socialism, but he had a compelling take on capitalism, too.

“I don’t really buy stuff, but I believe in taking advantage of the free market,” he said. “Emphasis on free.”

When he left that night, I was befuddled. Clearly, by going to a small, private school I am missing out on knowing a certain type of individual. Now I just can’t decide whether my evening with a car thief has encouraged me to retreat back into my academic utopia or get to know a wider variety of people.

 

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