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!
- 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.