If you were not one of the cool kids, there is a real easy way to make yourself start to feel a bit down. Just think about being in school. Not much can take you down the dark road of a personal pity party faster than remembering just how awful your formative years really were. Good thing there’s always a steady supply of chocolate and coffee at my house to help me overcome these moments of weakness of mine – moments when I remember just what a dork I was as a kid. The following is my script from last night’s performance of The Time Out Show: The Mother of All Comedies. Hope it gives you some laughs, or at least a reason to reach for the chocolate.
High School. Those are some scary words. For lots of folks, only middle school was a worse experience. There’s the acne, and the homework, and the dating, and the clicks. Oy. I was trying to figure out what group I had belonged to, way back, and my “click self-assignment” proved to be a stumbling block. What had I been? I wasn’t a jock, or a stoner or a skater or a goth. Not a prep, or a band-geek, in fact I wasn’t even geeky enough to be a true geek. After wracking my brain, I realized that in terms of high school clicks, I had been nothing. Four years of compulsory education and I was just a “nothing.” This idea was so depressing I had to stop for a couple of drinks. Of coffee. In reality, I wasn’t actually a “nothing” in high school; I was just odd. I couldn’t help it. It really is all my parents’ fault. Now if you are a parent, you may bristle at the thought of all your child’s shortcomings, real or imagined, coming back to rest firmly upon your shoulders, but in my case, it is true. To say I had several social disadvantages compared to my classmates is putting it mildly.
First off, my elementary years found me to be basically a giant dork. My current 5’2” stature may not seem very daunting, but back when I was 9 and this tall, it was worthy of nicknames. Lots of nicknames. Plus, I was thin. Painfully thin. The kind of thin where your limbs look like a cartoon character’s – just skinny sticks with big knobs at the ends. (This was not a good look, but it got me lots of free sandwiches and cookies from my grandmother’s friends.) So, take a super skinny kid, give her big, round, green, eye glasses and some serious buck teeth, and you have an idea of the look I was sporting through elementary school.
As if that wasn’t humiliating enough, my parents didn’t allow normal human activities in our home. Nope. Other kids would come to school talking about how funny the previous night’s Cosby show had been. Dying to be part of any conversation, I would insert myself into their conversation with something like, “Whatcha talkin’ bout?” When someone finally took pity on me and asked my opinion, I’d say something like, “Cosby? Oh, I’ve never seen it. But the McNeil Lehrer Report was pretty good last night and then there was a great segment about black holes on Cosmos.” If you are a fourth grader and you think Carl Sagon is the pinnacle of Hollywood cool, you are in for trouble.
Okay, so I looked like a dork, I didn’t watch normal tv, and it was the 1970s. Not a very auspicious foundation for my high school years, let me tell you.
If you have seen the movie, “Shrek”, dial back your memory to the scene when Shrek is trying to find someone to go with him. The donkey nearly dislocates every limb jumping while begging to be chosen. “Pick me! Pick me!” It is so disturbing to see yourself depicted as a short, chubby donkey in a children’s movie. At least they could give me some royalties.
Now, I need to admit my own participation in my dorkiness. It wasn’t really all my parent’s fault. Well, aside from encouraging my behavior. The summer when I announced I was going to read the Webster’s Dictionary, my mother forgot her primary job of helping me to survive childhood and actually encouraged such behavior. “Have you made it to the Js yet dear? There are some really fun words in that letter.” “No,” I replied. “But I finished the Fs. Don’t you just love the word, “fruition” Mom? It just feels good as it rolls off your tongue,” I told her. “Oh yes dear. Just wait until you get to the Ss, there are some real tongue-rollers in there.” Too bad I wasn’t smart enough to keep this little personal habit to myself. Kids can get a lot of ammunition out of the smallest of comments. You can imagine the nicknames middle school awarded me.
Now, to make matters worse, I went to a small school. A very small school. In fact, there were only 26 students in my class. So, my serious case of social pariahism in elementary school was permanently attached to me. Even the kid who ate his own boogers was higher above me on the social food chain. You can try to ignore your place in the school’s pecking order, but there really is no escaping it. Get contact lenses, master a new hairdo, overcome the buck teeth, and you are still likely to spend time inside your locker as a high school freshmen. As far as school goes, once a dork, always a dork.
A case in point. As a high school freshman, I once again went out for the basketball team. As our school had only one large gym, the boys and girls alternated between early and late practice. It was one of those classic gyms with the arched ceiling and the velvet curtained stage at one end. One afternoon, I was sitting on the edge of the stage, taping up my foot. The boys were just finishing up their practice when my life changed. In a blink of an eye, any tiny amount of normalcy I may have managed to carve out for myself, eroded. I was lacing up my high-tops, and looked up as the boys thundered down the court for one last play. Just as RJ Densley, the “big man on campus” of my school hung from the rim after a particularly showy lay-up, Joey Dreger pants-ed him.
Now, we must remember that sometimes language is a capricious thing. The singular term “pants-ed” covers the whole gamut of having one’s clothing forcibly removed from one’s lower region. There is a “partial pants” as when the butt-cheeks manage to exert more surface tension than the downward motion can overcome. There is a “full pants”, but of only one’s outer layer. And then, there is the granddaddy of all pantsing, when all clothing leaves one’s waistline and meets one’s shoes. And this was a pantsing of the granddaddy version.
So, here I am, reveling in my social position’s movement from “dork” to “nerd” that being a basketball player had awarded me. I had never even had a boy call me, let alone ever seen just what distinguished the sexes, so to speak. I was mortified to see RJ Densley’s family jewels displayed so prominently before me.
But the amazing part was this. I was the person tormented over the pantsing incident. You know you will never be fully accepted at school when the whispers in the hallway are about you even though you were only a bystander. “Oh, there’s the nerd who saw RJ’s package. What a dork.” Did RJ get teased? Nope. Having been pantsed actually improved his social rating. But it eroded any upward momentum I may have gained over the years – and I slid from “Nerd-dom” right back into “Dork-dum.” My only hope was either to die a fiery death from my burning cheeks, or to move.
Luckily, my family did move not long after that. And while things did improve for me, I still was nowhere near the “cool” part of the pecking order. Instead, I hovered between “nerd” and “geek” but had too little appreciation for mechanical gadgetry to truly be welcomed by the geeks. But things were better.
I had learned to contain my “pick-me, pick-me” tendencies, my new classmates had no idea about my unfortunate affection for dictionary reading, and people actually sat with me at lunch. It was enough to make me start to hope for that elusive prom date. My senior year, I actually had a boyfriend in the spring and all seemed pointing in the direction of “normal.” And then we broke up. Two weeks before prom. And after I had purchased one of the most froofy, lace-ridden pink prom dresses in the history of formals. Me, in froo-froo and pink. How did I possibly think I had a shot at “cool”?
One day, I was rooting through my locker, searching for a book when I heard a deep voice rumble, “So, I hear you don’t have a prom date, anymore.” “Yep” I sniffled. “And I hear you already have a dress.” “Yep.” “Well, you know, I don’t have a date either. You could go with me.” So, here were my options. I could stay home on the night that was intended to firmly cement my position in normal teen-dom, or I could go to the prom with Bubba. Yes, Bubba.
And so I did. It being just 8 days prior to the actual event, Bubba didn’t have a whole lot of tuxedo options, especially because Bubba was like 6’4”. But he did his best and a very spit-shined and sweet Bubba took me to my senior prom. In a baby-blue tux. And well-used Converse shoes because there weren’t any rentals in size 14 by then.
But when a girl’s high school aspirations focus on surviving high school and maybe, just maybe moving from being a dork, through the many layers of nerd, all the way to a geek, her prom date options are somewhat limited.