We were the Trojans

Somehow, when USC says it, it sounds more threatening.


By the time I got to junior high, I became acutely conscious of who I was. Your shoes never match your pants, no matter that they’re corduroy and no one in their right mind would want to wear ugly poop-colored corduroys, to say nothing of your shirt not accessorizing well with your hairstyle, if you want to call that a hairstyle, standing in front of your locker-mirror with a comb and brush all day and all between periods the acrid wafting of AquaNet on the breeze … I’m sure that most of you know what it’s like.

I can already hear the jokes. We had enough of that, thank you, when I was in junior high, and the colors (green and yellow) certainly didn’t help disguise our prophylactic duality.

Our school had an, um, industrial look to it. With its sloping walls and narrow windows, some might even say it was prison-like. Granted, concrete isn’t the most aesthetic material in the world, but in the hands of the right designer, you can make beautiful buildings. Unfortunately, the building was more along the lines of the “sculpture” in front: abstract and brutal. Strangely enough, it was quite cosy on the inside, with bright colors, subdued lighting, and plenty of lounging area. The interior was actually laid out in color zones: orange, red, yellow, blue, and green (yeah, probably not the proper order, but you takes what you gets). The various areas were career-diversified: from home economics to language and social arts to math and science.

We had a strange grading policy. We had enough people to worry about that they handed out mid-term grade reports, where you’d get a gradesheet in first period to take around to get signed and initialed by the appropriate teacher. There was space so that, were you deemed worthy, the adult could write a number corresponding to a comment like “Student is a Joy to have in Class”. Of course, there were plenty of “Needs Improvement” and “Needs to Pay Attention”-type remarks. I think that the security was lax enough that several kids would go home without their grades, or, more excitingly, with a whole array of pens able to change the D into a B, – to +; enough, at least, to lull parents into the satisfaction of good enough.

The best part of mid-terms day was that the teachers were always too busy cross-referencing their gradebooks with your sheet to do much teaching, and though they might give some sort of busywork activity, it inevitably was ignored in favor of social pursuits. All the gossip that you might have missed, all the various rumours and lies came out, making you feel vaguely soiled for knowing most of it. And despite your own joy at hearing that Mr. Stoddard really wore a wig or that Neill didn’t have much in the way of a family life, you knew, with some dread, that your turn was only two tongue-trips away; worse yet, you wouldn’t be around to know about it, so you could never deny the loose talk.

So you grow up some during junior high, but maybe it’s more a matter of having the child crushed out of you, rather than any sense of maturity. You guard your words and hope that no one twists them around on you the next day; the slightest mis-action could be seen as the prelude for a whole host of uncool activities, like tugging at someone’s shirt suddenly making you into a crazed sex maniac. Even with all that, should the chance to slander come up, you’d jump eagerly at it, never realizing you flip the two-sided coin of talk and rumour. Maybe you spend too much time in junior high catching up to your image, and the rest of high school trying to deny it; it’s almost a relief to say goodbye, sometimes, to cut a clean start.

Still, there’s plenty of people who had good junior high experiences, form life-long friendships, and sing happy songs to the end of their days. I just didn’t know any. Even if it is fashionable to complain about what a lousy time you had growing up — I didn’t — maybe the one thing most of us have in common is memories of cringing in junior high, at least once. I spent a lot of time hoping to get one of the cool T-shirts, plenty of time coping with my own deficiencies (short, fat (I redistributed the wealth with a couple more inches growth in high school and decided that that was plenty tall enough), un-fashionable: hey, now that corduroys and baggy pants are in style, can I do seventh grade over?), and far too much time (mentally) groping.

Was it just me, or did most of the junior high boys seem to walk around in a perpetual hormone-crazed glare? It sometimes gets to the point where virtually anything female could set you off; various naughty words would replace the humor you found in “toilet” as a second grader, but best of all must have been to spend your free time combining sex and rumour. Should anyone find out who you dreamed horizontal dreams of, your life was essentially public domain for the next few months, or as long as it took for your fickle mind to settle on the next.

I somehow get the impression that the girls didn’t participate in the same sort of thing, although it seemed easy enough to rope them into your games: perhaps they understood that it was something that we’d have to grow out of before we’d even be worthy of further consideration. The idea of actually going out with a junior high boy must have been laughable, and still, we had more than our share of nearly-married ones. Boys were even more variable than we’d expected; there I was, all one hundred and twenty pre-pubescent pounds of me, sitting next to the nose guard for the Raiders (well, at least he needed to shave when he was twelve) in Language Arts and thinking, boy, did I look sophisticated today. Those polo-type shirts with the alligator over the heart? I had a fox, and it was cool, man. I also wore for the longest time those KangaROO shoes, the ones with the pockets on the side, to keep … well, I think I had a quarter in them once. And we don’t need to beat corduroys to death, now, do we? After all, I didn’t wear them that much.

I had a class with a couple of my best friends and the alcoholic teacher as well as a plenty perky girl. Day after day, we’d go into class, to meet a stack of transparencies, instructions on the board telling us to turn on the overhead projector and copy the day’s notes; we could surely flip the plastic ourselves, couldn’t we? Usually, that was enough to keep us busy for about half an hour, copying word-for-word (after all, the quizzes were open-notes; apparently, he would blank out strategic words on the transparencies and run off photocopies) as we’d catch occasional glimpses of our heroic leader, in his office, looking out with wild, bloodshot eyes. Apparently, he spent plenty of time hidden from view, and we could do as we pleased for the remainder of the hour. Most of the time was spent trying to get me to confess to the secret lusts hidden in me (after all, the Chinese were once considered to be so concupiscent that their skin turned yellow), most especially for the perky brunette.

Yeah, go ahead and yell at me for saying “perky” and “girl”, but you had to have been there.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t dislike her, but she wasn’t the one for me. She had style a’plenty and sultry eyes to drown in; best of all, she already had a minor reputation, though mostly from hanging around the unpopular kids. All of which served junior high rule #32 even better: the more improbable the match, the more valid it must be. After all, I’d evinced no apparent inclination to becoming popular, let alone break free from the monkish existence I led. All the same, there was that evil thirteen-year-old in me that led me to believe that I absolutely needed to start, ah, sheathing my sword, lest it wither and die of malnutrition; regardless of age, should the opportunity come, I might as well jump at it. I didn’t ask to be kicked, though.

No, nothing happened. I love to say that, if only to see your salacious slaverings disappear; it’s the truth, though. Nothing happened partly because I think that my friends, who were doing all of the kicking, wouldn’t push that hard, and partly because we were all in the same horny boat, and to have someone jump out would have been almost too much to bear, even if they’d done all but thrown me overboard. I was daily forced to confess undying monkey love, my desire to swap various fluids, or to take back the various items they’d held hostage (pencil, folder, book, and so on) after it’d been in contact with various undisclosed body parts. Despite all of this, she was nice enough to write a reasonably chaste comment in my yearbook at year’s end (hey, getting a phone number out of it must have been worth some of it, right?). No, not the nicest comment either — though that was the same year — but one that made me wonder at the maturity of women, even then.

In the last year of junior high, it was as if all of the girls had simultaneously discovered hairspray and competed for largest and/or tallest hair. I lost a bit of respect, then, that so many would follow the same trend, not dreaming that I was just the same. Face it: when you were in grade school, did your fondest dreams of taking the next step include lowing with the herd? I’ll give that it was quite eye-catching, though.

I managed to fool enough of the people some of the time to be elected student body vice president. As a teacher told me after, my speech was nice but a bit optimistic; what the hell, people ate it up like so much pabulum. I really did believe in it, though, when I wrote it and spoke in front of the entire student body. Eyes and ears: representation shall set you free. It didn’t matter, after all, that the vice principal had us all under his rubber stamp or that I managed to ask people’s opinion about the state of the student body, uh, never. I was veep, damnit, and that’s what I wanted, maybe.

Of course, what was a vice president without his queen, or, in my own little world, treasurer? I spent a couple of weeks and a good deal of the year working with a beautiful woman that I was almost desperately ready to confess undying servitude to, even though we were officially, at best, debate partners. As long as a partnership was somewhere being official, could there be much doubt about the final outcome?

this man needs a direction
you want my blind affection
and i’m not sorry i came
i stayed too long that’s all

— Sleeper, stop your crying

I’m not sure why it never seemed to work out, but I can tell you that holding on to bitterness results only in poisoning your heart. And it’s not as though I’d put much effort into impressing her with anything besides how little effort I could put out. Coming off of a bad relationship in college, I heard that she wanted me to email her, and I deliberately misplaced the address out of remembered unrequital and current bitterness. My mistake; it’s easy enough for me to be an idiot, after all.

Easy enough to hate; quick to anger, and slow to heal, of course. Minor slights might slide off the backs of the mature, but even the smallest hurt gets amplified by the young. Geez, if following the dark side means that you’ll end up in junior high, isn’t that incentive enough?


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One Response to “We were the Trojans”

  1. The Nicest Yearbook Entry « Dear J- Says:

    […] J- correspondence and calamities « We were the Trojans High School (Aren’t We Joe Cool Yet?) […]

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