Posts Tagged ‘School


Thanks for the Memories — I Think.

    Hand holding.
If only I actually had this much hair on my arms.

You never know who will track you down on Facebook. An old “girlfriend,” we’ll call her “Judy,” just found me today. “I’m pretty sure we had an official thing going on for at least a week in junior high,” she said. “Do I have the right Eric? Ah the memories of junior high!”

Lord, why did that memory have to be the one to bridge these (oh my god) 18 years? I much prefer to think about my abysmal performance as Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a production of My Fair Lady she staged with another girl in our 7th grade English class. It was a painful (but important) lesson in the need to project on stage. Sing out, Louise!

(Judy has video evidence of this staging — that none of you will ever see.)

“Official.” Heh. I “broke up” with her (oh god, I actually remember this) in biology class. It was eighth grade. My friend Paul talked me into it. She and I had never once done anything boyfriendy or girlfriendy, and it was kind of a joke for anyone to consider us to be “going out.” So I walked up to her during a break in class and told her “I don’t think either of us is taking this very seriously. So, why don’t we just stop it?”

She agreed, somewhat puzzled, “Um, OK,” and I spun on my heels and bee-lined back to my lab table.

It’s embarrassing to think of what passed for relationships in the eighth grade. At that age, I had a few very short-term girlfriends. My parents never knew, because they never lasted long enough to result in a chaperoned movie date or an invitation to a dance. I always went to dances with just friends. No need to kiss anyone or make out in the car afterward. Safe!

My record for shortest coupling is one day. It wasn’t even one day. It was barely overnight. I got a call one night from a group of friends (all girls). These things are always done in teams, aren’t they — one hand cupped over the receiver while nearly audible whispers are shared on the other end of the line. They told me roughly this: “So-and-so likes you. Do you want to go out with her?”

I stammered for a bit, and my back began to sweat. At first I didn’t believe them. This was a joke, I thought. But they assured me it was very real.

I had never considered going out with the girl. (We’ll call her “Sara.”) But there was nothing technically wrong with her. She was sort of unusual. She had unstylish, sort of frizzy hair. She made her own clothes (which I secretly and fiercely admired). But she was smart, and she was popular in my circle of friends. And I had no problem with her. Plus, I was flattered to think that she was even interested.

Well, I thought… why not?

When these arrangements are brokered through a third party, it’s always tricky to know how to behave the next day. A kiss? No, that would be absurd. Holding hands? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So I played it cool, shyly saying hi to the girl I was supposedly “going out” with and hurriedly passing by.

Sara approached me a little later that morning in orchestra class, a little bravely, I thought. She set her violin down. I looked around me, not knowing what to expect, what do to. “Um, I’m not exactly sure what so-and-so said to you last night, but, just for the record, I didn’t ask them to ask you out for me.”

“Oh,” I said. “So…”

So, we’re not really going out then.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure,” I said.

“So, uh. No hard feelings, right? I hope you’re not embarrassed.”

It was sweet of her to say, because I could tell that she was embarrassed — not about turning me down but rather, it seemed, about having to say anything in the first place. The whole episode must have seemed absurd to her, and I was mortified for having made myself a part of it.

“That’s OK,” I said. “I, er… I guess I didn’t want to either.”

And the truth is I didn’t. But I felt like I was supposed to. And now I wasn’t sure if I was being rejected, or it hadn’t ever really gotten far enough for anything to be rejected. We hadn’t signed anything. She wasn’t exactly reneging. And yet, something was over.

My feelings weren’t hurt. In fact, I kind of felt as if I’d just made a narrow escape. A free man, I found myself back on the 8th-grade market, and I ventured meekly back into the fray. (Which is to say, as a teenage boy, I did nothing.)

When Judy Facebooked me today, she said she wasn’t sure if I’d remember her. The truth is, I do remember a great deal of people. Clearly. Her included. Mostly because I spent so much of middle school observing and not participating. I never carried much teen angst with me. But I do think I channeled what might have been outrage and arrogance and stubbornness into an even stronger sense of fear. Fear of embarrassment, mainly. Fear of failure. Mustn’t draw attention to myself. I felt so invisible in school that I was shocked when I won two of the mock elections in my high school senior year book. (“Teacher’s Pet” and “Most Dependable.”)

Judy and I were never close. (Despite our torrid affair, of course.) How close was I to any one of those middle school kids? How close were any of us? I kinda hated those two years. It was like a cruel social experiment. What a ridiculous proposition to take elementary school kids, shuffle them like playing cards into packs of other kids, some to one new school, some to another, and then two years later, to do it all over again for high school.

Things only got better from there. (What alternative was there?) And now life is pretty good.


Don’t Judge Judy

    <a href="
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Sit down and shut up!
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This gem from the New York Daily News about bad bus drivers reminds me of my youth spent in school bus humiliation. It was a dog’s life on those buses. If you could survive the embittered old drivers, you had to then deal with the assholes who sat in the back. Only a total suck-up would be nice to a bus driver. One dared not sit near the front of the bus for fear of association with him or her. The back was invariably reserved for the ones with the trendy haircuts and nice clothes. The ones who never seemed to carry a book or have homework. The ones who set fire to things with a lighter and an aerosol hairspray can.

Facing the crowded middle of the bus, I was many times forced to hunch down next to one of the lower-el kids, even my safely ensconced friends unable to offer me much more confort than a shrug of the shoulders and a weak grin.

I felt I understood even then why the drivers were so mean. (I came out of my retirement for this?) Every single one of them was humorless and wholely unpleasant, ready to strike unmitigated terror into us with a well-aimed glare or a brief tirade shouted down the aisle. Sometimes I felt I was truly in mortal peril for not sitting down and facing forward. They probably wouldn’t threaten to ram the bus into a wall to kill everyone, but … well, you never know.

Out of a string of drivers from age 6 through 15, I don’t remember faces, just attitudes. Except for one driver. Judy.

She was a manish woman with short, tightly curled hair and large, solid features. Her brow heavy and hard, her voice sharp and piercing. She was a highly aggressive driver. She was tough as nails, that woman. And I kind of loved her.

She was the “activity bus” driver. A few hours after the school day’s official end, she’d pick up me and my nerd compatriots, who stayed after school for the school newspaper and Students Against Driving Drunk and Spirit Committee and possibly the least active chapter of the National Honor Society in the history of public schools, and deliver us to within blocks of our warm, well-lit houses.

She didn’t much like it, I could tell. The kids were ungrateful and often late to the bus, holding everyone up. Sometimes it was just a few of us. It hardly seemed worth her time some nights. With my nascent sense of class, I picked up on some differences between her and most of the kids she transported. I don’t think she had much reason to pass down the same streets in her car that she did in a bus every day.

Being an unabashed kiss-ass, I and my friend Kiran befriended her. She didn’t trust us right away, and was rather tight-lipped at first. But we’d sit in the front-most seat every time, and eventually she’d ask us what we had been up to after school. She’d tell us about her family. I couldn’t imagine her having a husband. Kids. Kids much older than us. She’d tell us stories of misbehaving kids from earlier in the day. She’d openly complain about her job, which was shocking and fascinating to me at the same time, like we were being let in on a great adult secret.

There were times when she’d had a bad day, and we knew enough to stay. The hell. Away. But usually she was quite pleasant to us. I began to look forward to our brief rides. To be friendly with a bus driver seemed to cinched some sort of outsider cachet.

One year, we gave her Christmas presents. My gift was a set of kitchen hand towels my grandmother had crocheted. It seemed like we were breaking down an invisible wall. In my experience, bus drivers just did not get gifts from kids very often. She gave us a couple of those super-fat candy canes that last all winter if you wrap them every time.

When I turned 16, I started driving to school. I never saw Judy again.

the untallied hours