Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Doing something different with the same results in eighth grade

If seventh grade was an epic tale of lovelorn longing and embarrassment, then eighth grade was more of a haiku of embarrassment. In general, with the exception of the whole remaining girlfriendless for the year and throughout the remainder of most of the next decade thing, eighth grade was a pretty awesome place for a 13-year-old me to be.

We'd had a year to complete that transition from elementary school to the new-found relative freedom of junior high school. And as eighth graders, we were at the top of the hill, a relatively small hill of only two grades, but still a hill.

I was doing well with the making friends thing, and had deluded myself into thinking a) I was one of the popular kids, and b) that being one of the popular kids counted for something. Eight grade was likely the crest of the wave of my popularity delusion, but for that one glorious year I was riding it with as many surfing metaphors as I could.

Just how bad ass was life as an eighth grader?

We got to spend our gym classes playing Ultimate Frisbee, which until Golf Frisbee came along was the cutting edge of flying disc-based sports technology.

Study hall was even better than gym class. There was a group of about a dozen honors students who got to spend at least some of our study time in our science teacher's classroom watching tapes of Friday Night Videos on his giant, toploading classroom VCR. Since most of our town had yet to obtain the magic of cable television and all the Duran Duran videos MTV could play during the early 80s, this was about as good as it gets.

And, in between viewings of the Safety Dance and Jessie's Girl, I had found my new object of affection, eighth grade version. This girl, was, well, I guess she was cute. And occasionally within viewing distance of me, and in my badass study hall. And I was on an Ultimate-Frisbeeing roll and was gonna get this girlfriend thing down in year two of junior high. Yeah, I was going to go for it, eventually, maybe.

I'd thought, or at least I like to think I thought, I'd learned a lesson from the previous school year's attempt at winning going-steady favor through the use of humorous epistolary. This time around, I was going to stand up and be a man (okay, boy - mannish boy) and outright ask this young lady to be mine.

Honestly, I don't think this girl made anywhere near the impression on me that seventh grade not-girlfriend had, but I was in the game and worked myself up and I was going to do this. Now other than committing the sin of being cute and somewhat in my line of daily activity, I'm not sure what this girl did to deserve my swaggering approach. But I was going to go for it. Eventually, maybe.

Going to put my plan in motion!

Great plan!

Just go up to her and ask her out!

Two weeks later. Still my plan. Still had not asked her out. Every night working myself up to do it the next day. Building up high levels of eighth grade anxiety. Hoping she would say yes. Not really having any clear plan what would happen next if she did say yes. Extreme handholding? Walking to the arcade on a half day?

Finally, one day I worked myself up into enough of a sweat-filled frenzy of nerves of I'm Going to Do This that I convinced myself that by the end of the day I was going to Do This. This was the one part of my plan that had not changed from seventh grade. Wait until the last possible minute. As a matter of fact, this has been the one consistent thing that has ever held true about any plans I've ever had for anything.

Doing It consisted largely of cornering the poor girl near her locker at the end of the day, covered in sweat. My sweat, although as soon as I cornered her near her locker, I don't doubt that she began to break out into her own cold sweat. I put my arm up on her locker, looking all cool-like in that 80s eighth grade way, felt my heart go up and out of my throat and dive back down to my knees at the same time, and promptly began stammering.

Something along the lines of:

So, uhhh. You know, mm, I really like you and ummmm (cough)
was thinking, just thinking really uhhhhh, maybe that
you might, maybe mmmummahh wanna
go out with meeeee?

In retrospect, the supremely well thought out and solid part of the seventh grade wooing by letter plan was that I did not see the reaction to my lovestruck idiocy playing out in real time.

Because in eighth grade real time, the reaction could most closely be described as: The facial expression of a teenage girl who had swallowed a skunk that had rolled around in a city dump sized mound of garbage that had been sprayed by a thousand other skunks. If there was a way to wrinkle one's nose so far upwards that it disappeared into the back of one's skull, she discovered it that day.

Uhhhh, yeah, no, that's okay,
I don't think so.

She managed to get out once the skunk smell dissipated enough and her nose had retracted back out from the back of her skull.

I managed to keep my cool arm on the locker pose as she walked away.

During the 20 seconds of what seemed like a sweaty eternity it took for the full powers of rejection to hit me, one of my friends had come up to get his things out of his locker.

Woah man, he said, that was pretty rough. Wanna go play some ultimate frisbee?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tales of a seventh grade courtship, or just be yourself -- except when that seems like a bad idea

Today, the first in a series in which I look back to look ahead. Unless I decide I want to write my next post about how I never appreciated the music of Jackson Browne until two years ago. And also I post in which I spout some advice and platitudes that I pretty clearly ignore within three paragraphs.

I never planned on being in another long-distance relationship. Which seems pretty obvious, since I've never really planned on being in any relationship. Which is also not the same as saying I've never wanted to be in a relationship, at least from the age of 12. Or 13. Or whatever age I happened to be by the time I began junior high school (which was a type of school people used to go to before it was replaced by middle school, which sounds more corporate and less angsty).

It's that the wanting and the planning have usually been approached with remarkably different levels of effort.

I wanted real bad.

I was also shy real bad. In my mind, that made the doing somewhere on the difficulty level of landing a covered wagon full of cavemen on the moon. Did I also mention that I didn't have a girlfriend until I was 22? From the age of 13 (or 12), I may have only gone out on a few outings that only now, in retrospect, appear as though there was a chance I could have considered them as dates at the time, had I been so bold.

For all I know, the sands of time that have conspired to thin my hair and expand my love handles in an effort to make me more desirable to women as I've settled comfortably into my forties. More likely, I was a shy skinny kid unaware that no matter what your best qualities are, you'll always be more comfortable and confident if you put your best qualities out there for the world to see. So maybe I should have worn tighter Wranglers in junior high to better accentuate my sweet, sweet butt.

Or I could have been more okay knowing it was okay to be myself. Then again, what 12-year-old knows that?

Back to the girlfriendless years, also known as that time before I could legally drink in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Nothing through the end of sixth grade really counts, even in the swinging 70s and the early days of the Reagan Revolution there weren't a lot of swinger parties involving randy, velour and plaid covered 10-year-olds. Seventh grade was when the battle lines were first drawn in the world of pre- and early-teen dating. Those first whispers of so-and-so having a crush on that one over there and parents taking Sally and Brucie to the movies on a Saturday night. There was even the discovery that Janey was dating a ninth grader from the high school. Imagine what they must have been doing on HIS couch after school! Since I had been sneaking peaks at Playboys when I had the opportunity, I could imagine. Granted, what I imagined was very air-brushed, playing volleyball, and conducting long interviews with Gore Vidal.

This was a whole world I felt like I wanted to be a part of, and I even had a love interest in mind (keep in mind, this might seem like something I was planning, but don't worry because it did not end well). There was a girl in my homeroom as well as all my other classes (on my team, in the parlance of 80s junior high education speak) whom I had convinced myself on some cosmic, seventh-grade level that I had fallen in (the seventh grade version) of love with. Or at least wanted to go steady with.

As near as I could figure then, and now, going steady was some exclusive combination of advanced note passing, furtive between period hand holding, the occasional parent-chaperoned weekend movie, and if you were really lucky, an awkward makeout session in the darkened computer lab/closet in front of the sickly green glow of the screens of the Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. With all this in mind, I had worked myself to ask my homeroom sweetheart to go steady, or go out, or be my girlfriend.

There was one huge roadblock to all this, other than not having a clear idea of how seventh grade boys asked seventh grade girls to be their girlfriends. Alas, the object of my affection was also the object of affection of one of my best friends. To anyone who was even remotely paying attention, it was obvious that the object of my affection wanted to be more affectionately the object of my best friend.

This next part is probably the most unusual and frankly, quasi-adult part of Operation I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Make Out With You in the Computer Closet. For the first, and probably the only time, I had an adult-like conversation with my friend about my intentions regarding the mutual object of our affection. Showing a remarkable amount of class, or perhaps just knowing the ultimate outcome of my whole ill-conceived charade, he said he was okay with me making the first move in trying to board the going steady train.

With clearance given, the pressure was on. This was the dark days before Google, or even Ask Jeeves, and unless I wanted to glean the tea leaves from a rousing game of Oregon Trail, there was no computer-based knowledge depot where I could figure out how to ask out a girl.

On the face of it, I came out of the gate with with would should have been, if not fool-proof, at the very least an adequate plan given all the rigamarole I laid out earlier about being confident in your strengths. I decided to go with the one-two punch of writing a letter and using humor.

Maybe it wouldn't have mattered even if the letter combined the wit of Twain with the poetry of Shakespeare's sonnets. After all, it was obvious to everyone at Memorial Junior High School that she was infatuated with my friend. For chrissakes, he wore a fedora! Everyone wanted to wear his fedora!

But the allegedly humorous letter I drafted in Bic black ink and passed to her in homeroom at the last possible second before we vacated the class for the afternoon buses was quite possibly the biggest affront to letter writing humor with the exception of the book I imagine in my mind that Larry the Cable Guy wrote containing his love letters to Sally the DishTV Girl.

More than 30 years later and I'm still willfully blacking out most of just how awful that letter was. The underlying theme of the whole fiasco was that I purposely misspelled just about every word in the letter. Maybe I was two decades ahead of the time in predicting txt speak, but man, thinking about it now, I'm amazed I ever again transcribed a single word onto paper or tried to be funny.

I don't remember exactly how the rejection came, but it was gentler than I deserved for being an embarrassment to the English language and not owning a fedora. I think one of her friends told me she thought the letter was cute (sure, likely story!) but that she was really interested in my friend. All I know is that within one week, I saw the two of them making out in front of the sickly green glow of the TRS-80s, the first computers to ever grace the darkened closets of Memorial Junior High School.

Monday, March 03, 2014

From the notebooks of Ramblin' Ad Swiftiott

This is what happens when I take my notebook with me and drink coffee and write in the notebook and drink the coffee and write some more until I get to the point where I have stopped writing or the coffee is all gone, or both. It begins, it ends, in the middle is the past between the beginning and the end, and those parts tend to have little relation to each other. So consider this a warning.

Tom Petty was wrong. As much as the song rocks in the most TomPetty of ways, The Waiting is not the hardest part.

The hardest part is the doing. The moment when all the thoughts and schemes and plans in your (my, whatever, pick a pronoun you like better, I'll tend to fluctuate with this) head stop being the thoughts and plans and schemes in your (my, etc.) head while you are drinking a beer and hitting play for the next episode of Cheers on Netflix. Not that there isn't a value in being able to slow down and relax. The danger for me (me) has been that my intense belief in being able to slow down and be calm often devolves into something that looks and feels an awful lot like inertia. Because it is.

There are too many days where I spend too much time and energy figuring out how to do the least amount of anything possible.

Don't have to talk to anyone today? Great!

Can get my work done by lunchtime? Amazing!

Can use all that extra time from getting my work done to take another nap? It's not depression, it's a reward!

But still, I'm as happy as I can remember being in a very long time. I recognize and accept many of my shortcomings and don't let them define me. I may not always do enough to fix them, but there is always that first step.

Some days that first step is nothing more than walking out the door carrying a book, and on especially good days I've packed up a notebook and a couple of pens and I take them to a place where there are other people. I may not interact with those other people, but it is good to know there is a world with sunlight and conversations and general weirdness outside my basement bunker. And while I'm all-in-all pretty comfortable being alone, my favorite way to be alone is when I'm someplace busy. It's the feeling of walking alone in the city and feeding off the energy of the crowd. (This feeling does extend to shopping at a Market Basket on a Saturday, but everyone must recognize that is a whole other ballgame that jumps the line from busy to pure insanity.)

It also helps that I try to surround myself with good, kind people and I try to feed off their positive energy and be there for them when they need a lift. I think I've always (at least tried) to do that, but given my essentially laid back nature, it has been too easy at times for me to get tied into the negativity and suffering of others.

There have been too many times when I've gone along just to get along. When I've nodded my head when someone has said something about someone else that is hurtful, then I feel like an asshole for weeks afterward for falling into that trap again.

Which is not the same thing as never talking about people at all, the good and the bad of them. There is a big difference between negativity for the sake of negativity and trying to come to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of the people you let into your life. In these cases, I've always made the effort (sometimes successful, sometimes not) to not only focus on the negative but to give it the ol' proverbial walking a mile in the other person's shoes (or chanclas) and trying to understand why that person may be feeling or acting in a particular way.

I never really get too upset with the whole concept of "I hate it when people talk behind  my back." I accept that there are people out there discussing my failings and shortcomings and maybe even a positive trait or two. It is what people do. As long as these discussions are honest and not just an excuse to slander me or call me an asshole (without at least having a reason for it), it's fine with me. The only thing worse than being talked about is being ignored.

So, somewhere there may have been a thread in all of this that became unraveled, but I took the step. Or thread the needle. Or something.