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blkeyesuzi
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would


x-tempo wrote:

 

...Everyone seems to be absorbed in Benji's personal experiences, which is fine, however, I haven't heard anyone yet acknowledge any issues of social class in his very atypical childhood. 

 

In "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois described what he called the "Talented Tenth," a well-educated and affluent cultural elite whose achievement would lead the way to acceptance for all African Americans. The Talented Tenth, which in reality was more like one in five thousand, were seen by many African Americans as just a snobbish upper class. And it's also debatable whether a podiatrist and a corporate lawyer for Nestlé's with a summer home (like Benji's parents) were what Du Bois had in mind. 

 

 

 

 


 
While I certainly understand and respect your point, my feeling is that Colson Whitehead isn't aspiring to what Du Bois had in mind.  I don't think Whitehead's novel is meant to be taken as a sociological study of any sort.  It's meant to be taken as a stroll down memory lane...one boy's experience over a summer.  He's looking back to a special time in his life and looking upon a place that has changed greatly over the years.  Remember when...
 
Sure, Benji's life was atypical and that's what makes it interesting.  Without his parents and his grandparents hard work, he probably would not be summering at Sag Harbor.  Moreover, there is plenty to be said about the generations before him who blazed the trail to bring Benji to the freedom he enjoys at that moment.  There is also much to be said about the changes yet to be realized, but I don't think Whitehead's intent was to use his novel to make a sweeping statement about social injustice or issues of class.  He is simply telling us "what I did the summer of 1984" (I think that was the year...I don't have the book in front of me at the moment).   It's about summer break... a subject to which most, if not all, of us can relate, regardless of class or color.
Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
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EbonyAngel
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would


blkeyesuzi wrote:

x-tempo wrote:

 

...Everyone seems to be absorbed in Benji's personal experiences, which is fine, however, I haven't heard anyone yet acknowledge any issues of social class in his very atypical childhood. 

 

In "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois described what he called the "Talented Tenth," a well-educated and affluent cultural elite whose achievement would lead the way to acceptance for all African Americans. The Talented Tenth, which in reality was more like one in five thousand, were seen by many African Americans as just a snobbish upper class. And it's also debatable whether a podiatrist and a corporate lawyer for Nestlé's with a summer home (like Benji's parents) were what Du Bois had in mind. 

 

 

 

 


While I certainly understand and respect your point, my feeling is that Colson Whitehead isn't aspiring to what Du Bois had in mind.  I don't think Whitehead's novel is meant to be taken as a sociological study of any sort.  It's meant to be taken as a stroll down memory lane...one boy's experience over a summer.  He's looking back to a special time in his life and looking upon a place that has changed greatly over the years.  Remember when...
Sure, Benji's life was atypical and that's what makes it interesting.  Without his parents and his grandparents hard work, he probably would not be summering at Sag Harbor.  Moreover, there is plenty to be said about the generations before him who blazed the trail to bring Benji to the freedom he enjoys at that moment.  There is also much to be said about the changes yet to be realized, but I don't think Whitehead's intent was to use his novel to make a sweeping statement about social injustice or issues of class.  He is simply telling us "what I did the summer of 1984" (I think that was the year...I don't have the book in front of me at the moment).   It's about summer break... a subject to which most, if not all, of us can relate, regardless of class or color.

I took it as what I call, "not serious reading" also.  So I have to agree with blkeyesuzi.  It was a nice story of a black teen-ager looking back on his summer vacation in a place where he could be among other black teen-agers like himself.  Sure there were racial matters brought up but only as they pertained to the story at hand.

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x-tempo
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

[ Edited ]

EbonyAngel wrote:

blkeyesuzi wrote:

x-tempo wrote:

 

...Everyone seems to be absorbed in Benji's personal experiences, which is fine, however, I haven't heard anyone yet acknowledge any issues of social class in his very atypical childhood. 

 

In "The Souls of Black Folk" (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois described what he called the "Talented Tenth," a well-educated and affluent cultural elite whose achievement would lead the way to acceptance for all African Americans. The Talented Tenth, which in reality was more like one in five thousand, were seen by many African Americans as just a snobbish upper class. And it's also debatable whether a podiatrist and a corporate lawyer for Nestlé's with a summer home (like Benji's parents) were what Du Bois had in mind. 

 

 

 

 


While I certainly understand and respect your point, my feeling is that Colson Whitehead isn't aspiring to what Du Bois had in mind.  I don't think Whitehead's novel is meant to be taken as a sociological study of any sort.  It's meant to be taken as a stroll down memory lane...one boy's experience over a summer.  He's looking back to a special time in his life and looking upon a place that has changed greatly over the years.  Remember when...
Sure, Benji's life was atypical and that's what makes it interesting.  Without his parents and his grandparents hard work, he probably would not be summering at Sag Harbor.  Moreover, there is plenty to be said about the generations before him who blazed the trail to bring Benji to the freedom he enjoys at that moment.  There is also much to be said about the changes yet to be realized, but I don't think Whitehead's intent was to use his novel to make a sweeping statement about social injustice or issues of class.  He is simply telling us "what I did the summer of 1984" (I think that was the year...I don't have the book in front of me at the moment).   It's about summer break... a subject to which most, if not all, of us can relate, regardless of class or color.

I took it as what I call, "not serious reading" also.  So I have to agree with blkeyesuzi.  It was a nice story of a black teen-ager looking back on his summer vacation in a place where he could be among other black teen-agers like himself.  Sure there were racial matters brought up but only as they pertained to the story at hand.


 

Thanks for the replies, blkeyesuzi and EbonyAngel,

 

I think there is a kind of "double-consciousness" already inherent in this type of modernist narrative in which, as you say, a narrator looks back and comments on himself as a younger person. If this kind of "two-ness" or "fractured" self is what we're calling double-consciousness, then there's nothing negative about it because this story is all about consciousness and experience. Being able to see something from more than one point of view is a positive attribute, not a negative one. But that's not how Du Bois meant it. Anyway, I don't mean to belabor that point because we're not reading Du Bois, but when Queequeg, the harpooner in Moby-Dick and resident of the fictional South Sea island of Rokovoko, is described on p. 83 as feeling a touch of religious d-c, it's the generalized type because Du Bois was not concerned with South Sea islanders or non-Christians.  

 

In "Sag Harbor," the first sentence of the "Message from the Author" contains two capitalized phrases: "I've always been a bit of a plodder, which is why I now present my Autobiographical Fourth Novel, as opposed to the standard Autobiographical First Novel." In my opinion, anyone who is reading this novel as an autobiography might be able to use some double-consciousness because I don't the author and Benji are one.

 

I've all read five of the author's books and none have been sociological studies, nor would I want them to be, however, even comic novels, good ones, at least, should be taken seriously. I particularly like John Henry Days with its complex structure--two alternating threads, one in the present and one in the 19th century, plus really interesting set pieces, a one-act play, and discontinuous time (it begins at the end). That kind of complexity appeals to me. 

 

About the prep schools. Carly Simon had an almost dream artistic childhood because writers and musicians of all kinds were in and out of her house when she was growing up. Her siblings include an opera singer, a concert pianist, and a famous photographer. I wish the same kind of educational experience for everyone and I certainly don't any young person to feel bad about attending a prep school. On the other hand I have a hard time pitying anyone because of it. 

 

If you're interested, here's a 1963 video of Dr. Kenneth Clark interviewing James Baldwin. The meeting(s) with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy may have taken place in May, a few months before the March on Washington in August.

 

When Kenneth Clark asks him (at 3:23 in the video) where he attended school, he merely says "P.S. 24...and P.S. 139," he doesn't mention DeWitt Clinton High School. 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt-WgwFEUNQ&feature=related 

 

Message Edited by x-tempo on 03-08-2009 06:18 PM
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Bridget2
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

This was my favorite chapter in the book.  I worked in an iced cream shop for six years when I was a teenager, and Whitehead has done an excellent job in describing the atmosphere: the clouds of fruit flies, the smears of ice cream up and down your forearm, the awkwardness of parents lifting their children up to the window to watch you as you scooped rock-hard vanilla into waffle cones, the fact that by the end of summer, you had one arm with larger muscles than the other!  Reading this chaper really brought me back.  And I, too, get sick at the smell of ice cream! 
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Jennmarie68
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

I had the same thoughts about Benji and Reggie's relationship. Benji seems to simply be the same Benji (short of the whole "Ben" thing). Reggie seems to be the one that is trying to change who he is by doing things that don't define him as half of Benji and Reggie, which works out to Benji's advantage given that he started the summer with the same train of thought.

 

I'm still only about half-way through the book (I had to quit reading for a while so I could write my final paper, school takes so much time away from reading... LOL) so I don't know if there is more to these two growing apart, but as of where I am now I have to say that I agree with you 100%.

 

I would give you a Laurel for this comment but it seems that I am out???

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
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Jennmarie68
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

I still have a hard time getting out of bed, for any reason. I can't imagine getting up and going to work while still being so young and without anyone to make do it. I almost had to re-take one of my classes my senior year because I was late so many times. My sister would get up and if I wasn't awake yet she would just take the bus cause he knew that if she waited for me to drive her she would be late. So I have to agree with you, I can not see myself getting up and going to work without being made to, at least as a teenager.
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
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Jennmarie68
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

IBIS,

 

I love the humor that Mr. Whitehead puts into almost every situation Benji gets into. I find myself laughing quite often when reading this book. While I think this would have been a good book on its own the humor makes it that much better. 

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
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Jennmarie68
Posts: 127
Registered: ‎02-09-2009

The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

I wanted to add something about this chapter that just struck me as something I wanted to mention: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

 

Now I've read a few posts that talk about how there was too much about this, but it really struck a cord with me. 


I wasn't old enough to remember when they changed the coke formula, but I am addicted to the stuff now, so I understand what Benji is talking about. I don't know what I would do if they changed the formula for that great brown drink that can eat a bone away to nothing. I drink way too much of it, and (like coffee for some) if I don't have a can in the morning when I wake up I'm not a happy camper. So Benji's actions when his beloved Coca-Cola was changed are almost exactly the same as what I would have done. 

 

For me drinking a Pepsi is not the same as drinking a Coke, there is just something about Coke wins hands down for me. Even the difference between bottled, canned, and founatin pop is something I feel strongly about.  Now I don't know that I would have tried to steal coke from someone but if Coke announced today that they were going to change the formula I would drive to every store in a 50 mile radius to stock up so that I had enough to ween myself, eventually. 

 

I don't know where this obsession comes from (outside of the obvious addiction to caffiene) but I can't even drink the other "flavors" of coke. So to me the section on Coca-Cola was not overdone, I think that an addiction like that is one that will make you do things that you normally wouldn't do. 

 

This also leads me to an epiphany... I didn't quite understand why Benji would have been so malicious by leaving the doors open so that the ice cream melted, but I think that's why the coke story was placed in this chapter. Benji trying to steal the coke shows that even though it may have been outside of Benji's character to do that, Benji is not always "walking the straight and narrow". If anything the coke story was simply to introduce us to the idea that Benji could do something that we wouldn't normally think of him being capable of. 

 

-Jennifer

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
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READERJANE
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery


Jennmarie68 wrote:

I wanted to add something about this chapter that just struck me as something I wanted to mention: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

 

Now I've read a few posts that talk about how there was too much about this, but it really struck a cord with me. 


I wasn't old enough to remember when they changed the coke formula, but I am addicted to the stuff now, so I understand what Benji is talking about. I don't know what I would do if they changed the formula for that great brown drink that can eat a bone away to nothing. I drink way too much of it, and (like coffee for some) if I don't have a can in the morning when I wake up I'm not a happy camper. So Benji's actions when his beloved Coca-Cola was changed are almost exactly the same as what I would have done. 

 

For me drinking a Pepsi is not the same as drinking a Coke, there is just something about Coke wins hands down for me. Even the difference between bottled, canned, and founatin pop is something I feel strongly about.  Now I don't know that I would have tried to steal coke from someone but if Coke announced today that they were going to change the formula I would drive to every store in a 50 mile radius to stock up so that I had enough to ween myself, eventually. 

 

I don't know where this obsession comes from (outside of the obvious addiction to caffiene) but I can't even drink the other "flavors" of coke. So to me the section on Coca-Cola was not overdone, I think that an addiction like that is one that will make you do things that you normally wouldn't do. 

 

This also leads me to an epiphany... I didn't quite understand why Benji would have been so malicious by leaving the doors open so that the ice cream melted, but I think that's why the coke story was placed in this chapter. Benji trying to steal the coke shows that even though it may have been outside of Benji's character to do that, Benji is not always "walking the straight and narrow". If anything the coke story was simply to introduce us to the idea that Benji could do something that we wouldn't normally think of him being capable of. 

 

-Jennifer


 

Your observation is priceless and it could apply to anyone about anything. The visual that he created about stealing the coke and his obsession about it, for me had me laughing out loud.
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DSaff
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

Great post, Jennifer!

Jennmarie68 wrote:

I wanted to add something about this chapter that just struck me as something I wanted to mention: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

 

Now I've read a few posts that talk about how there was too much about this, but it really struck a cord with me. 


I wasn't old enough to remember when they changed the coke formula, but I am addicted to the stuff now, so I understand what Benji is talking about. I don't know what I would do if they changed the formula for that great brown drink that can eat a bone away to nothing. I drink way too much of it, and (like coffee for some) if I don't have a can in the morning when I wake up I'm not a happy camper. So Benji's actions when his beloved Coca-Cola was changed are almost exactly the same as what I would have done. 

 

For me drinking a Pepsi is not the same as drinking a Coke, there is just something about Coke wins hands down for me. Even the difference between bottled, canned, and founatin pop is something I feel strongly about.  Now I don't know that I would have tried to steal coke from someone but if Coke announced today that they were going to change the formula I would drive to every store in a 50 mile radius to stock up so that I had enough to ween myself, eventually. 

 

I don't know where this obsession comes from (outside of the obvious addiction to caffiene) but I can't even drink the other "flavors" of coke. So to me the section on Coca-Cola was not overdone, I think that an addiction like that is one that will make you do things that you normally wouldn't do. 

 

This also leads me to an epiphany... I didn't quite understand why Benji would have been so malicious by leaving the doors open so that the ice cream melted, but I think that's why the coke story was placed in this chapter. Benji trying to steal the coke shows that even though it may have been outside of Benji's character to do that, Benji is not always "walking the straight and narrow". If anything the coke story was simply to introduce us to the idea that Benji could do something that we wouldn't normally think of him being capable of. 

 

-Jennifer


 

DonnaS =) " Reading is a means of thinking with another person's mind; it forces you to stretch your own." Charles Scribner
"A book is like a garden carried in the pocket." Chinese Proverb
My blog: http://bookworm56.blogspot.com
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blkeyesuzi
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery


Jennmarie68 wrote:

I wanted to add something about this chapter that just struck me as something I wanted to mention: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

 

Now I've read a few posts that talk about how there was too much about this, but it really struck a cord with me. 


I wasn't old enough to remember when they changed the coke formula, but I am addicted to the stuff now, so I understand what Benji is talking about. I don't know what I would do if they changed the formula for that great brown drink that can eat a bone away to nothing. I drink way too much of it, and (like coffee for some) if I don't have a can in the morning when I wake up I'm not a happy camper. So Benji's actions when his beloved Coca-Cola was changed are almost exactly the same as what I would have done. 

 

For me drinking a Pepsi is not the same as drinking a Coke, there is just something about Coke wins hands down for me. Even the difference between bottled, canned, and founatin pop is something I feel strongly about.  Now I don't know that I would have tried to steal coke from someone but if Coke announced today that they were going to change the formula I would drive to every store in a 50 mile radius to stock up so that I had enough to ween myself, eventually. 

 

I don't know where this obsession comes from (outside of the obvious addiction to caffiene) but I can't even drink the other "flavors" of coke. So to me the section on Coca-Cola was not overdone, I think that an addiction like that is one that will make you do things that you normally wouldn't do. 

 

This also leads me to an epiphany... I didn't quite understand why Benji would have been so malicious by leaving the doors open so that the ice cream melted, but I think that's why the coke story was placed in this chapter. Benji trying to steal the coke shows that even though it may have been outside of Benji's character to do that, Benji is not always "walking the straight and narrow". If anything the coke story was simply to introduce us to the idea that Benji could do something that we wouldn't normally think of him being capable of. 

 

-Jennifer


Hi Jennifer,

 

Great observation!  You have an excellent point and I couldn't agree more!

Suzi

"I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see. " --John Burroughs
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mattzay
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

This also reminds me of when my brother left a pot of ravioli under his bed. He must have had it under there for weeks because the smell was unbelievable. I heard my mom shriek when she found it and almost threw up when I saw it. There was mold and fuzz growing around the uneaten ravioli. My mom would up throwing the pot out. I don't think I would have been able to eat anything made from it.

 

I cannot believe they let the pot sit that long. I bet they wished they had thrown it out instead of making that deal.

 

I think my first waffle cone was from the Hagen Das place at the local mall. Jonni Waffle reminded me of it. They had a topping selection that sounded like the one in the book. I must say that I am glad I never worked there.

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mattzay
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would

My first minimum-wage job was at a local supermarket. I remember thinking I would be rich and then when I saw my paycheck I was hit with reality. I am surprised that they have to work to support themselves. I know teenage boys eat a lot but I would think that their parents would have provided more.

 

In the book, Benji states that he used to feel like they were joined at the hip. Maybe them both getting jobs, at different places, helped them get their independence from each other.

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HannibalCat
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Re: If I Could Pay You Less, I Would


Deltadawn wrote:

Readingrat wrote:
I didn't really think the descriptions of the Jonni Waffle patrons as scornful at the time, just as observant I think.  Anyway Benji leaving the freezer doors open really surprised me.  It just seemed a little too malicious for Benji.  On the other hand if he was to do something to take revenge on Martine, the Jonni Waffle customers, or NP I can see him doing something that no one could pin on him more than an in-your-face confrontation.

 

I was surprised that Benji left the freezer door open, as well. But you are right that he seems to be the type of kid who wants to avoid confrontation - so when he did something vengeful, he did it anonymously....

 

Yes, Yes. I, too, was surprised. But I couldn't figure out why he would do such a thing. Was it because of the head patting, the fact that Martine wasn't black enough, what was his reason? I think you are right about the vengence being committed anonymously. He does not like confrontation, as seen in the argument between his parents when everyone goes to their own room, or leaves, so as not to get involved. But I still don't understand why such a vengeful action was necessary. It really was quite a mean act. And could have been a very costly act. He didn't even try to find out what happened after. He just went back to work. I am having a hard time figuring his motives.
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Jennmarie68
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

I think what struck me as so funny about this sceen isn't so much Benji going through it, but that I could picture myself in that kind of a situation. I don't think I'd steal it, but just thinking of myself trying to stuff a 6-pack under my shirt unnoticed is quite the funny thought... At least to me it was.
Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt
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IBIS
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery

Jennifer, i agree with your epiphany about Benji's character... when he revealed his Coke theft, the author exposed an unexpected part of Benji's character. 

 

Benji believes himself to be honest. He does not steal ice cream. Stealing the Coke was humorous, not malicious.

 

Although his other coworkers continually pilfered ice cream (NP took a pint home very night to his mother), Benji chose not to steal ice cream. In order to hurt Martine, he chose to sabotage the freezer, and ruin it.

 

It's an interesting twist ... a skewed perspective of an otherwise likeable teenage boy. 

He got his revenge without resorting to theft. 

 


Jennmarie68 wrote: 

This also leads me to an epiphany... I didn't quite understand why Benji would have been so malicious by leaving the doors open so that the ice cream melted, but I think that's why the coke story was placed in this chapter. Benji trying to steal the coke shows that even though it may have been outside of Benji's character to do that, Benji is not always "walking the straight and narrow". If anything the coke story was simply to introduce us to the idea that Benji could do something that we wouldn't normally think of him being capable of. 

 

-Jennifer


 

IBIS

"I am a part of everything that I have read."
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Jennmarie68
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Re: The Great Coca-Cola Robbery


IBIS wrote:

It's an interesting twist ... a skewed perspective of an otherwise likeable teenage boy. 

He got his revenge without resorting to theft. 



I think you're right, Benji is so likeable and this event just kind of seemed out of place for him. Like his mind was telling him to do something that made no sense with what we knew about his overall character. As I read further this incident seems to stand out more because all the rest of the shenanigans that Benji indulges in seem to hurt no one but himself. 

 

I guess in this case he had an alibi and was sure that NP would take the blame, if anyone went down for this one. 

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt