Welcome to Teenage Boot Camp

My Real Memoir

We were in junior high school, theoretically, to learn Math, English, and Social Studies. But we all knew the real reason we were there: to learn how to be cool, so they’d let us into real high school. It was teenage boot camp. And it was brutal. Not because of the teachers, but because of the students. They were far more authoritarian than any of the teachers. So I realized instantly that I had to learn The Rules. Fast!

The Rules:

  • Wear the right clothes: Basically, dress like the Beach Boys. Real teenagers wore white or striped t-shirts with blue plaid wool shirts (Pendleton only!) or windbreakers, and rubber-soled slip-ons (precursors to Van’s). And that was it. Period. No variations. Oh, and authentic sun-bleached hair was worth a ton of Cool points, but it was hard to fake – when word got out that super-bitchin’ Surfer Glenn not only bottle-bleached his hair, but didn’t even know how to swim, he wiped out big time.
  • Ride, don’t walk: You had to have a bike. And not just any bike, but a dark blue Schwinn Continental 10-speed. Light, girl-color bikes (especially white) would result in merciless mockery. I already had a big beefy paperboy bike, but that would never do, I explained to my parents; it had to be a brand new dark blue Schwinn Continental! So that Christmas, Dad bought me a bright white used Italian racing bike. True, it could probably have pounded any Americano ride into polenta, but that didn’t matter–it broke The Rules! Plus it was white, a girl-color! The first school day after winter break, I rode it up to the bike racks and was rewarded with the most scornful kissy sounds ever uttered. I’d just scored a massive amount of Uncool points!
  • Avoid the Danger Zones: 1) The Boy’s Bathrooms. Get in and get out fast. Why? Because the ceilings were crusted with “stalactites,” colossal arrays of dried loogies and spitwads, that could fall at any moment. Plus, The Bullies hung out there. 2) The Cafeteria line. Even if you just wanted a Creamsicle from the Snack Bar, sooner or later one of The Bullies would move in cuddle-close and whisper, “Give me your lunch money or I’ll beat the shirt-without-an-r out of you!”

I guess I figured I had nothing to lose after all the scorn I’d earned riding my weird girl-colored 10-speed. At any rate, when Steve, president of the United Brotherhood of Bullies Local threatened me in line, I turned and said, “Go ahead, Stevie. Beat me up!” Everyone watched as Steve, caught completely off guard, hesitated, and then faked a punch to my gut. “There!” he said. “Do you want some more?”

I laughed out loud. So did everyone else in the line as Steve slipped silently away. It turned out he was just another “Surfer Glenn,” a fake. And so, I began to think, were most of the people who followed The Rules. In fact, The Rules themselves were fake. They were only The Rules until someone changed them.

So the next day I dressed like a beatnik.

My Real Memoir is a series. To read the next one, click here.

About mitchteemley

Writer, Filmmaker, Humorist, Thinker-about-stuffer
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31 Responses to Welcome to Teenage Boot Camp

  1. Neese says:

    What a rebel!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. cigarman501 says:

    It was light blue button downs, and khakis starched to a board like consistancy along with Oxblood Weejuns…but then we were pretty land locked.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I can hardly wait for tomorrow’s episode! (I wore black and white Vans Thursday, as a guest of a book club. I didn’t know they were cool, just fun!)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. C.A. Post says:

    The only “fight” I ever got into was on the last day of 8th grade as school let out and with a guy I thought was my friend all through the year. We had sat next to each other in Math and ogled the teacher together (she was a major Babe from New York, and we loved her accent as much as her curves). And Math was our last class of the day.
    So when the bell rang, I bolted for the door as did 520 other kids in Arrowhead Junior High and was heading for the exit toward my bus. Since I was closer to the door, I was the first one out of the room and since our room was closest to the exit double doors, I was the first one to reach the freedom of outside.
    Right behind me, my “friend” yelled my name to get my attention, but as I looked over his shoulder, I saw 518 kids literally rushing for the doors like a tsunami! Just as he took a swing to punch me in the nose, the tsunami hit! Knocked him over and he missed by a mile; I turned to get just ahead of the wave, not being loving enough to wonder if he was being trampled, but I guessed he was fast enough to roll out of the way.
    Got safely on my bus before the rest of our route piled on screaming about school being out for the summer.
    Never saw my “friend” again and wondered that next fall if he had moved away or had been crushed by the tsunami.
    Still wonder why he wanted to punch me that day. 😏
    Neither of us had ever followed the “rules” but we were never worried about being the “cool kids.” That was waaayyy above our pay-grade! 😅

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Again, you’ve made me smile at the nostalgia! I got the yellow Schwinn 10-speed for Christmas when I was 14, but I only wanted it because my boyfriend had one. He was a year older, and when he got one of those egg-shaped Subaru 360s, we didn’t have much use for the bikes anymore. Great post, Mitch!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Anonymous says:

    Geez, Mitch, it’s like we had the same life… except my white 10-speed was a Peugot touring bike. When I was 18 I rode it from Long Beach to Ensenada and back and loved it, but when I was still in school…well…it was white. And European.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. murisopsis says:

    Mitch! We called those “deck shoes” and everyone had them. I was devastated when I discovered that a boy in my class had the exact same shoe (boys usually wore navy and mine were white)! I would have gone barefoot except it was winter with a foot of snow on the ground! I was happy with my Columbia 3 speed (got it when I was in 6th grade) and still have it – the maroon has faded to fuchsia… Alas it is NOW a girly bike but back when new it was considered a “masculine” color. I would have traded in a heartbeat!!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember junior high as an uncool experience I would not want to repeat.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh, hey now!! That took some chutzpah!! Way. To. Go!! Way to think outside the box!!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Jack Gator says:

    Lived 1/2 block from the strand in Hermosa and did nothing but surf for half a year till my unemployment ran out. Took the super chief back to Minneapolis with just a few clothes, my bleached hair and a set of bongos. No food money. Made it to the ‘local’ in KC and sat next to an interested young gal with a bag of butterfinger pieces. I ate the whole bag and never saw her again. I was cool but broke and also decided to be a beatnic rebel existential jerk. Marlon Brando in the wild one: “what are you rebelling against! I dunno, whatya got?”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Nancy Richy says:

    Boy, the rules for teen girls were very different … at least where I come from … but just as intense. I, for one, am glad those days are behind me. Now I get to watch my grandkids going through the misery of teen angst!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lulu: “Our Dada says now he wants to write lyrics for a song called ‘Teenage Boot Camp’ set to the tune of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, whatever that is …”

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Nancy Ruegg says:

    You got to ride a bike?! In our town, bikes were for little kids, not for us much cooler 12-14 year olds. Of course we couldn’t drive yet, so that meant we WALKED everywhere. Were we stupid or what?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • mitchteemley says:

      ;>) Yeah, I think the surge in the popularity of 10-speeds back then made them the exception. They were cool, unlike “kid’s bikes.” That was why I refused to ride my 1-speed paperboy bike to school. As far as walking goes, I’d always walked to grammar school, but our jr. high was much farther aways, about 30 or 40 min. on foot.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Ann Coleman says:

    Good for you for standing up to a bully! And yeah, I remember Junior High the same way. Very strict rules which very few were willing to break!

    Liked by 1 person

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