5 Lessons From The First School Shooter Who Was Allowed To "Teach" Us SomethingRemember this guy? It's the Northern Illinois school shooter, the one who was such a nice bighearted hardworking humanist before he killed five students before turning the gun on his own throat last Valentine's Day. Steve Kazmierczak is the name. I would say it's a shame more school shooters don't have easier names, or else we might remember the lessons they're so desperately trying to teach, but it occurred to me while reading the gazillion-word epic in Esquire on Kazmierczak that you're really not allowed to learn "lessons" from school shooters, because they are evil and/or crazy and also, Michael Moore sort of tried that already, but at the end of the day those Columbine kids totally undermined his powerful socialist message by being such total assholes. Not so with Steve, who was actually a tutor himself in college! And his case, if anyone was capable of reading 12,000-word stories anymore, could teach us a few things. Things we already knew from Bowling For Columbine, but who retains information anymore?1. Copious quantities of mind-altering drugs: they didn't make Anna Nicole Smith any less crazy and they probably didn't help Steve! Alexian. Clozaril. Cogutin. Cylert. Depacote. Lithium. Paxil. Prozac. Risperdal. Seroquel. Zyprexa. Look, I alphabetized them for no reason at all, think I'm OCD too??? Anyhow, those drugs garner numerous occurrences of free product placement throughout this story, but curiously Kazmierczak's only respite from his demons comes when he violates his group home's orders and goesoff the meds, cold turkey because he's obsessive that way. Then he turns his life around, aces school, wins a Dean's award, meets a girlfriend who loves him, devotes himself to helping people, etc. But Steve is so obsessive-compulsive that his obsession with staying off meds sort of sets him up for failure, which is to say, repeated Craigslist casual encounters and that SAW movie, which is not such a bad thing in itself, but he has this sort of Puritannical way of obsessing over small infractions, as if his whole life is one long juice fast, which brings me to… 2. Yes, America, We Are Fat. So fat we have somehow turned being not fat into the new American Dream. And speaking of! It's only subtly addressed in the story, but Steve is obviously waging a personal War On Fat. His parents are to blame; his mom being a "fleshy, enormous" insomniac blob on the couch whose sole contribution to Steve's reserves of cultural capital is an addiction to horror films; his father is an alcoholic who goes into diabetic shock at one point; you know what that means. Steve is skinny but balloons to over 300 pounds on the meds, then loses it all when he gets off meds and enlists in the military. Later he freaks out that Prozac will cause weight gain, even though Prozac actually tends to do the opposite, but Steve, like many members of the progeny of the obese, can't face the thought of losing control of his body the same way. And this is where I really do wish we valued brains a little more in this country, because there REALLY SHOULD BE BETTER THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT. But the same way the first American Dream moved us all out to the suburbs only to strand us there alone with our cable and ice cream and placid lawns and sad fleshy dead-eyed moms who can't bother driving us anywhere, this new American Dream of fastidiously monitoring our intake and expenditure of energy units is really just another big distraction from the real problem, which is to say: 3. Wouldn't it be cool if guys like this didn't feel like they had to join the Army? Raise your hand if you don't have issues with your ratio of control:security! Okay, so all Steve wants to do is be disciplined and focused and work hard and feel a sense of control over his conduct, but he craves structure and order and job security, so where does he look? The only place that really offers that anymore: the Army. They find out about all the meds and discharge him. So he goes to school and immerses himself in studies and people think he's weird at first but things get better and suddenly he gets a Dean's award and later, when his grad school plans get derailed for lack of funding in his program, looks to the prison system for a job pursuing his passion for (the irony!) rehabilitation. But it's kind of hellish and if you're even one minute late you have to start back at day one (the irony!) of training and one day he gets pulled over and that's the end of his whole life. And you can probably relate to that, because I remember being in my early twenties and full of energy and brain power I just wanted to put to use somewhere, and no job prospects. Yeah, looking for a job blows, especially at that age, because at that age all they can judge is how you sell yourself, and any decent twentysomething knows he doesn't have much to sell quite yet. Oh yeah, and so you intern, maybe with the "understanding" there's a job waiting upon the passage of some unclear but finite period of time, or you temp, or you sign on as an independent contractor for three months with no benefits and at some low point if it's peacetime it probably occurs to you that the Air Force might be less soul-wearying than teaching. Because you just can't face the reality of all those kids out there with their fat parents and big cars and psychiatric meds and credit card debt that they can maybe pay off by enlisting. 4. Self-professed libertarian Nietzsche devotees should not derive their greatest pleasure from tutoring dumbasses and rehabilitating prisoners, but somehow, EVERYDAY IN THIS COUNTRY, they totally do. "[Steve] is extremely patient and calm when tutoring students who are stressed out about statistics and the high standards imposed on them. He has the highest ethical and academic standards, he thinks abstractly and analytically, and relates at an emotional and empathetic level with others," is what Steve's professor wrote about what a nice good tutor he was. And when he got his job at the prison, it was demoralizing because he didn't feel like he was helping enough. And yet! Steve's favorite author is Nietzsche. The superman, above moral code. Only the weak let themselves be ruled by morality. "Weak," of course, is what Americans generally are, which brings me to a little thing I learned recently about the Serenity Prayer, which we tend to associate with admitting we are powerless before the temptations of alcohol, but actually it originated in the thirties somewhere and is generally credited to a guy whose main claim to fame at the time was being a prominent Christian socialist. In other words, it's the economy, stupid! You can blame your demons or your addictions or your horror films or your personality disorders or your hundred pounds of excess flab, but really the hardest thing is living in an economy that profits so handsomely from reminding you that you have all this control when the little control will you actually do possess is too busy plotting your next tattoo. 5. Guns need to be banned duh! When Steve was 16, some girl told everyone he had a small penis. But he was obsessed with guns before that. Then in college he wrote a paper called (No) Crazies With Guns, advocating a ban on gun sales to people on anti-psychotic medications. Here's a crazy idea: what about a ban on gun sales, period? Of course, second amendment defenders would argue to retain the right to defend themselves against such crazies, but maybe for once we should listen to the crazy person telling us he's the one most qualified to tell you that you can learn all sorts of things from statistics but you can't much control whether you become one. A Portrait Of The School Shooter As A Young Man [Esquire]