kite and key party

6/14/07

I’d like to draw Junior High School Memory Week to a close with my own personal Most Humiliating Moment, or rather, when the gaping existential maw of adolescent doom opened wide and swallowed me whole.

I, too, endured beatings, beratings, and iceballs to the ear, but I figured those were to be expected. By skipping kindergarten (and being a May baby) I was almost two years younger than many of the cohorts in my grade, and they didn’t take to me kindly. Like many of you, I kept under the radar as long as possible, and when the fights came, I fucking took it like… well, like somebody who is almost two years younger than you.

However, there was one kid, whom I’ll call Bert (since I really don’t want to deal with Google’s search engine) who sat next to me in science class and regularly struck up conversation. When Dr. Gerlits left him in charge of showing the movie (an informational film shot in 1954 about How Electricity Works), it was his idea to thread it backwards, thus treating our class to its first visual freakout. He barely had any friends either, and he decided that’s what we’d be.

I pedaled my bike to his house for months, where he had old Playboys and Penthouses, and I watched him banter with his dad, the saddest broken-down creature in a wife-beater and black sock garters I’d even known. His sister, vivacious and large-breasted, was my secret fantasy.

He once thought it’d be cool to fly a kite with speaker wire during a thunderstorm, which we did, until the cops saw us. We would meet between classes just to talk shit, something I’d never done before. Suddenly, he had the bright idea to be a technical stagehand for the Junior High School Musical (an execrable production called “Doctor! Doctor!”) and that meant I was too.

When we got to our first meeting, the art teacher-cum-drama coach (i.e., a pissed-off ex-hippie) read us the riot act about defacing school property. He then unveiled a wall that had signatures of students going back to the 1950s, kids who’d worked on other shitty musicals far into the past. If we minded our p’s and q’s, he said, we’d get to put our names on that wall.

All was going well with the production until the goth kids running the light booth began to speak inner Ostrogoth to each other and became super-tight. This meant they needed someone to make fun of, and I was perfect. They threw brooms in my way so I’d trip on them, they’d send me on nonsensical errands, and they got me to sign a little block of wood with a red marker, saying there was going to be a raffle.

They even made a temporary nickname for me: The Beaver, after “Leave it to Beaver.” I have no idea why.

On opening night, they ran to the light booth with a prop I needed to start the show. They locked the door and mocked me through the holes in the grate. As the chorus grew louder, I heard Bert in there with them: “Fuck off, Beaver!” followed by a chorus of stoned guffaws. When I saw Bert through the grate, and I could see the glee he took in finally being a part of a clique, finally being able to humiliate someone else, something in me broke.

I always thought someone was more low than me, that someone was actually standing behind my place in the great line of popularity, but in that moment, I turned around and realized the end of the line was me. There was none more lower. I was the last stop before… I didn’t know. Quadriplegic kids in wheelchairs making left turns via a straw? Kids with communicable diseases?

I had never known any friends, so I’d never known that sort of betrayal. I walked away quaking with rage and sadness, and told myself: this is how things are. You are here. There is nowhere to go. I decided not to talk for a month, and damn near did it.

I was only partially awoken from my trance by the art teacher, who was screaming at me for the prop – the play couldn’t start without it, and it was still locked in the light booth. Later, he and the vice-principal called me into the front office, where I was shown the block of scrap wood where the goths had told me to write my name. I had defaced school property, and was now forbidden to sign the great wall of musicals past.

I was no longer allowed to have anything to do with the drama department, which ruined my plan to just “not show up” ever again and let them suffer shorthanded. I didn’t say anything, just left the room without looking at anybody.

Oddly, a week later, the art teacher called me into the backstage room. When I got there, they were having the wrap party, and everyone was signing the wall. With a profound smugness only perfected by abject self-hatred, he told me I’d done my penance, and he had reconsidered: I may now sign the wall.

I wanted to take the magic marker and shove it down his pee hole. I looked at the sneering party, now stopped for my benefit, and I wanted to take a sword and behead every last one of those fuckers. And I wanted Bert, who dared not look me in the eye, to swallow a bowl of M-80s and explode from the inside, so I could set fire to his entrails.

But I couldn’t say one word. Having a retort, or even an ounce of self-respect, was not in my character. I took the magic marker, and knowing everyone was staring, I signed the fucking wall. For all I know, it is still there today.

I left that place about 18 months later and moved across the country to Norfolk, Virginia, where I enrolled in a prep school. We wore ties, I went back to the grade I was supposed to be in, and I made actual friends for the first time. Nobody beat anybody up; we listened to REM, the Jesus & Mary Chain and read Tom Wolfe for class.

I said goodbye to middle school and tried to blot it all out. Of course, most things leaked through, but I have to believe that each time you remember a rotten story, it has noticeably less effect on your heart. And so, my dear readers, I’ll try to bid adieu to those years yet again, but have one last request: Benjamin Franklin Junior High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, please go fuck yourself.

0 thoughts on “kite and key party

  1. scruggs

    WTF? That is brutal. I would think part of you would wish for a Flatliners moment where you got to go and kick their collective asses. As a parent and poster child Helicopter Mom, this type of thing is a concern for the future. I dread if there is ever a day where my kids are on either end of that type of story.

    Reply
  2. jif

    i missed yesterday’s confessional so here is mine: after the 7th and 8th grade dance at resurrection catholic grade school, all the 8th graders and four of us 7th graders went to godfathers pizza to hang out… i was 13, had braces, frizzy hair and was just generally awkward. at the pizza place, i was standing in line for a coke with an 8th grade girlfriend, behind five of the “cool” 8th grade boys. suddenly one of them, russel, turned around and without warning, looks at me and says, “jiffer, you are so butt-ugly”.. all the boys laughed. my friend stephanie told them to shut up. i excused myself and went to the bathroom and blinked back tears, telling myself not to cry or my face would get red and everyone would know. i went home and cried myself to sleep.. he suceeded in annihilating any semblance of self-confidence i possessed. i rarely spoke in 7th-8th grade gatherings again that year, to avoid anything like that happening again..
    wonder where bert and russel are now!?!?

    Reply
  3. Sturdivant

    jiffer-
    your story moved me to post my first comment EVER on a blog…I don’t even have words for how cruel that was…the joke is clearly on Russel- I told Salem when I met you that you are truly stunning…thank God we never have to re-live 13!

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  4. Lee

    God, all these storied make me want to home school my kid! They are all so sad. What is wrong with people??

    Reply
  5. hilary

    god i think everyone who experienced a junior high school dance in north carolina in the 1980’s had a moment like that at the godfather’s pizza after-party. i know i did…several. ian, a heartbreaking post–i’m very disappointed in the goths; i always thought they were a compassionate tribe.

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  6. Ian

    Yeah, they weren’t “goth” as we know them now, more of an angry prototype. I’ve loved all goths I’ve met since. Substitute “angry tussin abusers” for “goth” in the story.

    Reply
  7. Salem

    Ian once said that I was not afraid to start a long story, which I think is one of the loveliest ways I have ever heard someone express their affection while simultaneously offering a warning to others.
    The location was the historic Dillworth section of Charlotte. A neighborhood with restored old Victorian treasures and another half demarcated by the “cha-clunck” sound of the the power door locks in my Grandmother’s Oldsmobile. Little Salem was blessed with fiesty spirit and a very fortunate obliviousness to social cues. This, along with being fucking adorable, meant that my discontemt was self-emposed. Back to the story. Back from 7th grade Catholic military school for the summer, I pedaled my red Scwinn to the Dillworth Elementary school ball field where I foung a big group of kids playing touch football. I hung out on the sidelines until one of the bigger kids said “hey little %$@$% can you play?”. By bigger I mean that he was thirteen years old and six feet tall, built like Dennis Rodman. I lied and said I could play. This is where the “oblivious to social cues” part did not work to my advantage. Amazingly I had great luck. Whenever we were on offense, I was given the ball! Even more amazingly, when I was on defense the ball carrier always ran directly towards me. For a little bench rider, this was a remarkable turn of events. The game switched from touch to tackle upon my entry. After a few partial black-outs and dusting myself off a dozen times, I pushed the big guy off of me, and not able to hold back the tears, started throwing around some curse words. Suddenly it was me against the big guy, with his buddies cheering for him to destroy me. After knocking me down another dozen times, daring me to get up, he tired of me. He then took my Scwinn, bent it practically in half and threw it into the soccer net so hish I couldn’t pull it out of the tangle. I walked home in tears. We later learned that the big kid was an extraordinary athelete who was trapped in a very dangerous home life.
    Fast forward five years. Salem is still tiny, but now a tenacious little Defensive End on his high school footbal team. What do I see and here watching a scouting film on our next Friday’s football game? Providence Day School has a new super star running back who lives with the coach and is on full scholarship. They are undefeated and this kid is scoring four or five touchdowns a game. This superstar was none other than my jr high nightmare, Reggie Clark. To make a long story longer, I put Reggie’s jersey number “7” all over my helmet and on my gloves. On the first play that Friday night, it was a quarterback pitch option play that always got pitched because knowbody ever caught Reggie once he got outside. Reggie was the only player on the team, so I didn’t even play out the pitch. I ran straight for Reggie and I was in the air headed for his chest before the ball even arrived. Little Salem and the ball arrived together, and the giant fell. Behind the line of scrimmage. He almost broke my nose with his fist up under my face mask, but the taste of blood just made it feel better. My team shut-out Reggie that night and won 27-0. It was the only game of his season that he did not score. In the game film there were plays were on the left side of the field and you could see Reggie and I on the other side of the field finding reasons to block each other.
    In defense of the “big guy”, a change of home life revealed that there was a good guy hiding under all that anger after all. Reggie went on to play football for Carolina as a receiver and defensive back. I’m glad I had my Friday night before I realized what a nice guy he became. Little guys need that shit. Unfortunately I still remember hiding my head in the Ford Gran Torino Station wagon while I tried to show Mom where my bike was hanging. I kept my head down, hiding while my Mom went to the youth center that day to see if she could “handle it”. You only hide your head like that once in a lifetime. When you hide your head the first time, something clicks, that something never allows you to hide your head again.

    Reply
  8. Salem

    please tell me I’m not the only “spell-check” addict. Half of Ian’s readers are editors or writers and I forget to spellcheck. Damn it.

    Reply
  9. salem's little sister

    As our ironic world would have it, I went to Providence Day while Salem went to Latin. I remember that night although I was only in middle school. I think the only person who wanted to be out on that field more than Salem was our mom.
    Reggie was a hero to us and tutored lower schoolers. He was a god at PDS and did not abuse that power. We had a drama class together his senior year and my freshman year. I asked him if remembered Salem’s story and he said he did a lot of things before he came to PD that he wasn’t proud of. Maybe brother was one of many, but I’m glad Salem got his redemption and Reggie got a chance.

    Reply
  10. John Schultz

    Reggie was also a really good hitter in baseball. He went “yard” on us (FCDS) often.
    We always had a good laugh about that at Carolina.

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  11. ken

    How kind of you to spare Bert the guilt of revealing his real name lest we all ‘Google’ him. However, you oughta try and track the little fucker down yourself and see what he’s up to these days, it would make a nice post-script.

    Reply
  12. Salem

    I probably should have altered Reggie’s name. Though the story reflects his success, he should not have to pay twice for the circumstances that were forced on him as a child. After seeing the real Reggie, I just considered the 13yr old Reggie as having been cast in the role of a bad guy. I’m glad it was a short run. I am feeling a little guilty at the moment.

    Reply
  13. LFMD

    Salem. . . I am not as nice as you are. I don’t feel badly for Reggie. Sounds like he was an asshole. Perhaps he still is one.
    I don’t know who Reggie is (I don’t really follow sports), but having a bad home life does not excuse treating people cruelly. You know what I mean? People who suffer cruelty at home KNOW what being at the receiving end of meanness feels like. . . . so what does it say about him as a person that he ruined your bike and publicly humiliated you?
    Reggie was a punk. Does the fact that he was a great athlete make a difference?
    P.S.: As usual, I am ranting about something of which I know nothing. If SLS thinks highly of Reggie, that is good enough for me. I just have a problem with teflon athletes. Pardon me now while I Google Reggie Clark and find out what sport he plays and what kind of mega millions he makes.

    Reply
  14. Greg T.

    Just to clarify for those not familiar with NC high schools, S&M was a reference to the NC School of Science & Mathematics (NCSSM).
    Man, I feel like a dork right now…

    Reply
  15. Wayne Hunt

    I’m sure there are many readers who can come up with their own version of “top that” but I’d say anyone would be hard pressed to beat out my version of junior high school hell.
    Unfortunately for me, Thomasville, NC in the mid 80’s wasn’t exactly a bastion of liberalism. So, many of the traits I later came to realize were positive, seemed to be a proverbial noose around my neck as I struggled through E. Lawson Brown Junior High.
    As a 6th grader at Brown I remember a black kid named Chris Duncan (who was in 7th grade) as the only other minority kid in school (I am of Native American descent as far back as I can trace my bloodlines). On top of that, I was fortunate enough to be the “trailer park kid”. As much as I hate to reinforce stereotypes, all of the other Spring Lake Trailer Park kids whom I shared a bus with were potheads or “hoods”. Jerry, Donnie, Jamie, Brian, Crystal S. and Terry all ended up in jail (some on numerous occasions). Angela was killed in a drug-laced high-speed single car wreck. Crystal M. later went to work for the county Register of Deeds office but was on staff of a Republican.
    What was my claim to fame? Somehow I was identified in elementary school as an AG (academically gifted) student. That meant I got to spend all of my formal school years in classes with “all of the rich kids” as my trailer park brethren liked to remind me.
    Even though I always proved my own in the classroom, I was the outsider of the AG group. There were 3 of us: David Hayaradeni (an amazing writer even at 12 whose parents moved back to Israel when we were in 8th grade) and Scott Swicegood (whose twin brother was an amazing classical pianist).
    Then the fateful day occurred. It was the one that would change my life & get me over the hump. While other teachers only allowed a few students per class on a bathroom pass at one time, Mr.Eddinger let the entire AG class go at once because it was less disruptive and he trusted that we were socially responsible enough to go as a class and not get into trouble.
    While we were standing in line waiting our turn at the urinal, the Swinks (a blood thirsty band of four brothers from the rival Ponderosa trailer park) came in, guns a ‘blazing. The leader of the Swinks was Carly a robust, mulleted 7th grader (who was supposed to a high school freshman). While we patiently waited our turn, Carly broke in line and after getting objections from fellow AG’er David Teague, he promptly stole David’s maroon Members Only right off his back.
    Now hysterical with laughter, the whole Swink clan sauntered out but not before a certain Native American AG trailer parker uncharacteristically pointed out “at least we aren’t the ones running away”. That remark brought a stop to the Swinks exit and a roundhouse right from Carly that landed squarely on the rectangular mirror above the sink, just wheezing past my cheek. Quickly taking advantage, I was able to land my 1st career punch to Carly’s cheek, one that was obviously more ferocious than I had imagined as it felled the mighty Carly who dropped the Members Only and broke into tears.
    I retreated knowing that the other Swinks would surely pounce but Mr. Eddinger, sensing something was amiss when the AG kids didn’t make it back to Creative Writing on time, intervened.
    David was grateful (the next weekend I spent the night with he and his parents in a nice split level that housed the largest collection of Star Wars and G.I. Joe figures this side of KB Toys) and I was looked at differently from that point on.
    After that, I loved school, even to the point that I’d say my time at East Davidson High School, post Brown Jr. High, holds some of my favorite memories. Who knows? That incident may be the reason I’m still the only kid from Spring Lake Trailer Park to earn a college degree.

    Reply
  16. John Schultz

    I had dinner last night with AJ Lewis. He was probably there around the same time as Greg T. He had some great stories to tell about Durham and the school.

    Reply

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