Sunday, April 29, 2012

Love Stinks (and Other Smelly Tales from Junior High)

By the time I got to junior high, I knew I wasn't cool.

Back in elementary school, however, I had an occasional delusion of grandeur. I remember one time in particular when, for some reason, they were going to name the "best dressed student." I thought I had a legitimate chance to win. Why? Because I was stylish and chic? No. I actually thought I would be named "best dressed" because I had a Star Wars t-shirt for every day of the week! Did I win? Of course not. (Looking back, I think it was my "Jawa" shirt that did me in. Nobody liked those short, beady-eyed, robe-wearing, droid-abusing little cretins.)

It's okay to be overconfident like that in elementary school. Elementary school is small and fun. You have the same teacher all day long, and she (or he) will read you stories. You still get RECESS!!! (Twice a day!) (I miss recess. Work would be a lot more fun if we had recess a couple of times a day.) (And no, coffee break and cigarette break do not count because: a) I don't drink coffee or smoke cigarettes, and 2) there is no jungle gym.) (Also, I have never been asked to play a game of "Red Rover" at work.)

Junior high is a totally different animal. It is big. It is scary. You have to move around to different classes all day. (You don't get to sit in the same desk.) You have several different teachers, some of whom are mean, some of whom are incompetent, and almost none of whom will read you stories. And there is no recess.

It was fairly early in my seventh grade year when I fully came to the realization that I would not be cool. At tryouts for the basketball team, I was the second-slowest kid at running "killers." I did not make it past the first round of cuts. I wasn't going to be on the basketball team. I wasn't going to be cool.

One of my best friends in junior high was cool. (Or, at least he thought he was. And that's half the battle.) At the time, the television show Happy Days was popular. My friend thought of himself as Fonzie. There were some similarities. Even though we were only in the seventh grade, my friend had his own motorcycle, and had been riding motorcycles for several years. He was good looking, confident, and liked to go steady with girls. In his own mind, he was Fonzie.

I, on the other hand, had not even the faintest inkling that I was Fonzie. I didn't ride a motorcycle. I wasn't confident. I was too scared to talk to a girl, let alone go steady with one. I was more than happy to play the role of Richie Cunningham to his Fonzie.

This is me in junior high. (Much more Richie Cunningham than Fonzie.)

One of "Fonzie's" biggest weaknesses (besides being a little short) was that he struggled with his classwork. I, on the other hand, did good in school. (Or should that be "did well in school?" I don't know. Back then I'm sure I would have known which of those was correct, but I haven't been in school for a long, long time, so now I'm not sure which of them is more righter.)

Anyway, as we entered junior high, Fonzie talked me into taking every class with him, one of the reasons being that he would have me there to help him in his classes. It was a good arrangement: I helped him with his homework, and he let me hang out with him.

Fonzie liked the girls. He usually went for girls a year or two older than us. (Why? Well, ninth grade girls are more likely to be developed in the chestral region than seventh grade girls, so they were more likely to catch his eye.) Sometimes his reach would exceed his grasp (figuratively and literally) , but he did have a fair amount of success with the ladies. But, just because he wasn't looking at the girls our age didn't mean the girls our age weren't looking at him.

There was one girl in particular who took an interest in Fonzie. For the purposes of this story, and to continue the 70s television show theme, I'll call her "Sabrina." (Sabrina was the "smart" one on Charlie's Angels. And even though she wasn't as good looking as the other two, she was still very cute.) "Sabrina" was in a lot of the same classes as us, and it was obvious, even to someone as inept at reading social cues as I was, that she liked Fonzie.

Fonzie knew this, too, and he used it to his advantage. Instead of having me do it, he would often "let" Sabrina help him with his homework. At first I liked this, because it meant less homework for me. But, after a while, it started to bother me. Fonzie had no interest in Sabrina other than as help for his homework. He was just using her.

You can probably guess what happened. Before long, I developed a crush on Sabrina. And it wasn't a little crush. It was a big, think-about-her-and-my-stomach-twirls-to-the-point-that-I-can't-eat type of crush. It was a see-her-and-parts-of-my-body-get-all-tingly type of crush. I had liked girls before her, but nothing to this level.

So, what did I do about it? Nothing, of course. (I didn't become a 40 year old virgin by springing into action.) I didn't do anything because I knew she liked Fonzie. Even though I knew Fonzie had no interest in her. Oh, I would see her frequently, because we would both be hanging around with Fonzie. We would occasionally talk, but I never let her know my feelings for her.

This went on for all of seventh grade and all of eighth grade. While I was in eighth grade, the J. Geils Band released a song called "Love Stinks." The opening lyrics spoke directly to a certain lovesick junior high Richie Cunningham. It was like they had been looking at my life while they wrote the song: "You love her. But she loves him. And he loves somebody else. You just can't win." (The song peaked at #38 on the charts in April of 1980, although I find it very hard to believe there were 37 songs better than it that week.)

When ninth grade came around I didn't see Sabrina much, because I didn't have any classes with her. Eventually, I started to get over her. (Even though, to paraphrase a line from the show Friends, I was never under her.) I hardly saw her at all during high school. After a while, I moved on to unrequited crushes on other girls. (I didn't know there was any other kind of love besides 'unrequited' for another 25 years.)

But, whenever I think of my first real crush, I remember Sabrina. And, whenever I hear "Love Stinks" I remember her, too. But luckily, even though it was later in life than most, I found out that the J. Geils Band isn't right about everything. Love doesn't really stink. (It just did in junior high.)







Friday, April 20, 2012

The Room Without a View

I didn't want a show. I just wanted to go to the bathroom. But, I did get a show. It was kind of like my own personal Twilight: New Moon. Except worse. (And I didn't think that was possible.)

There is a reason public restrooms don't have windows. (And why bathrooms in homes only have small windows or windows with frosted glass.) There is also a reason bathrooms have locks on the doors. Absolutely no one wants to see what's happening in there. (Actually, I shouldn't say "absolutely," because one thing I learned in my Abnormal Psychology class is that there are a lot of messed up people out there.)

I work in the shipping/receiving department of a large manufacturing/warehouse facility. I deal with a lot of truck drivers. The trucker's "lounge" consists of a few chairs, two vending machines, a microwave, a water fountain, a pay phone (yes, those do still exist), and a restroom. The trucker's lounge restroom is a small, five-foot by five-foot cinder block room with a toilet, a sink, two paper-towel dispensers, and a garbage can. It also features a door that locks.

I have had some traumatic experiences involving that restroom. I've found the poop-filled underwear of grown men in the garbage can. Twice. (Once while digging through the garbage can looking for my lost weddng ring. The other time I made my "discovery" simply by opening the door and breathing. (The stench practically knocked me off my feet.)) And, more often than you would think, I have opened the door to "discover" a fat, stinky truck driver sitting with his pants around his ankles.

It happened again a couple of days ago. What made it worse was that a couple of my co-workers were in the lounge with me, and they saw the driver go into the restroom, but they didn't warn me. (Of course, they had no way of knowing that the doofus wasn't bright enough to operate the door lock.)(Is it really too much to ask that someone LOCK THE DOOR? I don't think so.)

There is a reason there is a lock on the door. No one wants to see you sitting here!

To me, it seems like common sense. If the bathroom is small enough that you wouldn't want anyone in there with you, you lock the door. That is why, in larger bathrooms, they have stalls for the toilets. I don't want to see other people when they go to the bathroom, and I don't want other people to see me while I go.

It's always disconcerting when someone violates the unwritten personal space rules of the restroom. Years ago, I worked my way through college at Deseret Industries (a Mormon version of Goodwill or Salvation Army). They also give employment opportunities to mentally challenged people. One young man had particular problems with social boundaries. When he went to the bathroom he would always try to have conversations with everyone else there, going so far as to look under or over the stall doors to see who he was talking to (or at, since nobody else seemed very interested in talking back.)

This young man also had the habit of pulling his pants all the way down to his ankles when he stood at the urinal. It was always awkward. One of the reasons there aren't stalls around urinals is because most men know to be discreet and not expose their buns to everyone.

Of course, in recent years they've put up those mini divider walls between the urinals. I guess that's for the best. Privacy is the better option. Gone are the days of the old urinal troughs. Does anyone else remember those? It's a big, long tub with water running in it, big enough that four or five guys can sidle up and pee in it at the same time. They used to have one in the elementary school in Arimo. And, there was one in the Student Union building at Idaho State University. (I'm sure they've remodeled that bathroom and taken it out since I was there.) (Peeing really shouldn't be a group activity.)

Unfortunately, the surprise peep shows are not the only problem I encounter at the trucker's lounge restroom. Quite often, I enter to find another man's urine all over the toilet seat. (Like most public toilets, this one has no lid, just a seat that can raise or lower.) As near as I can figure, this occurs because the drivers are: a) too stupid to raise the seat; b) too lazy to raise the seat; or 3) incorrectly overconfident about their aim. (Oh, and by the way, "Another Man's Urine" would be a really bad name for a rock band, and an even worse name for a soft drink.)

I know a lot of couples have had many tense and terse moments arguing about the state of the toilet lid and seat. I am very grateful that my wife is intelligent and practical enough to not make an issue of this. It's pretty simple: if the seat is up, she puts it down before she sits. Just like it's simple for me: if the seat is down, I lift it before I pee. (I don't know why so many people have so much drama about this.)

I guess it all comes down to one simple motto: Look Before You Leak!

The End.

Now, please choose a title that best fits this story. Remember to fill the circle in completely and use only a #2 pencil, or the computer may not be able to correctly process your answers:

O A. The Room Without a View
O B. Twilight: New Moon
O C. Another Man's Urine
O D. LOCK THE DOOR!
O E. Too Stupid and/or Lazy
O F. Look Before You Leak











Thursday, April 5, 2012

The One Girl

There was just one girl for me. Literally. Just one.

Of course, she wasn't just for me. She was the one girl for all four boys in Arimo. One girl, four boys. That was it. That was the extent of the kids my age in the entire town of Arimo. (I have mentioned that Arimo was small, right?)

Arimo was so small, in fact, that by the time we finished 2nd grade they realized it wasn't worth running an entire elementary school for us, so they started busing us to nearby McCammon. (McCammon was about twice the size of Arimo. Still no traffic lights, but they did have a rodeo grounds!)

And then, for the junior high and high school years, in order to get enough kids to have a school, they shipped kids in from five surrounding small towns, none of which was big enough to have their own traffic light. (Arimo, McCammon, Downey, Inkom and Lava Hot Springs.) This added yet another level to the normal social dynamics of Marsh Valley High School. Along with the regular segregations along the lines of gender, religion, wealth, athletic abilities, and nerdiness, there was also, "what town are you from."

I felt bad for the One Girl. As we started first grade, she was alone. As we progressed through school, and more towns were added to our schooling experience, she wasn't as alone anymore. She had other girls from other towns that she made friends with. But at the beginning, in Arimo, she was alone.

I hope that gender relationships have changed since then, but when I was in elementary school, boys hung out with boys and girls hung out with girls. There was no intermingling. (This was 1972, therefore I blame Richard Nixon.) So, while us four boys formed a tight-knit group of friends, calling ourselves the "Arimo Mafia," we had very little to do with the One Girl. (We didn't come up with the name "Arimo Mafia." We borrowed (stole) it from a group of older kids. We thought it made us sound edgy and cool, even though the most "edgy" things we ever did were to occasionally drive cars fast (not "fast cars;" just old cars as fast as they could go) and try to figure out which member of the drill team had the biggest thighs.)(Nobody said we weren't jerks.)

For her part, the One Girl didn't seem to mind that she was never included in Arimo Mafia doings. She was very, very shy and quiet. She was also cute-ish, nice, and smart. So, even though "girls" were not something I was concerned with at the time, she was always on the periphery of my consciousness. I thought that when it came time to be interested in girls, she might be a girl to be interested in.

At this point I should point out that the One Girl's parents were friends of my parents. (In a town as small as Arimo, everyone was friends.) (Unless they weren't.) And, the One Girl's family had opposite gender kids lined up exactly with the kids from my family. There was a boy the same age as my older sister, and there were girls the same age as my brother and I. To my mother, this was a constant source of matchmaking potential. In her mind, my brother and One Girl's sister were meant for each other. And although I was not yet interested in the One Girl, my mother most certainly was.

Mormons are taught that they shouldn't start dating until they are 16 years old. This doesn't stop most of them. Many get around the "16" rule by holding hands, going "steady," and making out at school without actually going on a "date."

Of course, when you are a shy, awkward, scaredy-cat with the social skills of an unripe* turnip, the "don't date until 16" rule was a godsend. (Literally.) (*Do turnips even get ripe? I have no idea.) Unfortunately, when I actually did turn 16, I felt somewhat obligated to go on a date. The Homecoming dance was coming up, so, early in my junior year of high school, I was going to have to ask a girl out on a date. (Yes, I didn't go on a date until my junior year in high school. Don't mock me.) (Wait...go ahead and feel free to mock me. That's one of the whole reasons I'm writing this. Now that I'm married and happy, I don't mind anyone making fun of how stupid and idiotic I was as a kid.)

So, when it came time to think of a girl to ask, my thoughts turned to the One Girl. Not immediately, but eventually. You see, there were other girls that I liked more, but either a) they were going with someone else; or b) I was scared to death to talk to them. I wasn't afraid of the One Girl. (At least, not much.) She was as shy and quiet as I was, maybe even moreso. So, I decided to ask her out, mostly because I wasn't too afraid of her saying, "No." My mother was very happy.

Once they turn 16 and are "allowed" to date, Mormons are encouraged to double date or date in large groups, the thinking being that, with lots of people around, couples are less likely to pair off for hanky panky and/or shenanigans. Adhering to this principle, I double dated with a friend, and then we met up with another double dating group for high-volume hanky panky protection. (Not that I was worried about hanky. Or panky. Or any combination of the two.)

We took the girls to dinner at the truck stop restaurant in Downey, because nothing says "romance" quite like a giant chicken fried steak served at a gas station. I ate well; I'm not sure if she did or not. (I've almost always been more interested in fried foods than romance, anyway.)

We went to the dance. We danced some dances, sort of. During the fast songs, my dancing style mostly consisted of swaying from left foot to right foot and back, while occasionally swinging my arms in an incoherent manner. (I'm sure you've all seen this "Clueless Dance of the Junior High Boy" before. Even though I was in high school, it was still the only move I had.)

Here's a picture from the date. This is undoubtedly the most physical contact we had with each other all night. I've blurred out her face, because she was a very nice girl and doesn't deserve her picture plastered all over the internets, even though she looks very cute.
(Meanwhile, check out the collar on my sweater! They don't make sweaters with collars like that anymore!)
(There's a reason for that.)

For the slow songs, we held each other at arm's length, so that actual physical contact would be kept at a minimum. This is what happens when two extremely shy people get together at a dance. Do you know what else happens? Absolutely no talking. None. It was as if we were mute.

Okay, that's an exaggeration. But this isn't: over the course of the entire date, I'd be surprised if, between the two of us, more than 27 words were uttered. (And that's only if you count "uh-huh" as two words.)

When it came time for me to drop her off at her door, it was so awkward that it wasn't awkward at all. We both knew nothing was going to happen. We each said, "Thanks," and "Good-night," and that was it. (And yes, "good-night" counts as two of the 27.)

I didn't talk to her again until a few weeks later at school, when she asked me to a girl's choice dance. I'm not sure if she asked me because she liked me, or if she was just reciprocating for the previous date. Either way, we were in for another fun-filled evening of awkward silences and minimal physical contact.

Again, it was a large group date, with four couples involved (and all four members of the Arimo Mafia making up the male half of the entourage.) Unfortunately, the girls didn't splurge for a hearty truck-stop dinner. Instead, we had dinner at the One Girl's house. The girls tried to make it "fun" by serving us spaghetti, then giving us nothing but chopsticks as utensils. The other three guys were even less interested in their dates than I was in mine, so, as a group, we were not amused by the whole "chopstick-spaghetti dinner" idea. We cut the date short, and the four members of the Arimo Mafia ended up walking over to the house of one of my buddies, where we sat up for several hours making fun of the girls who had just asked us out, and talking about the girls that we would rather be with. (Did I mention that we could be jerks?) (Come on, we were teenage boys, of course we were jerks.)

My relationship with the One Girl didn't change after these two dates. We spent our entire twelve years of school together not saying anything to each other. The only difference was for those two nights we didn't say anything to each other while within closer proximity of each other. That was it.

My mother was disappointed that nothing more became of our dates. She continued to push the One Girl as The Girl I Should Spend My Life With. I ignored her. And then, a couple of years after high school, while I was away serving as a Mormon missionary, my mother spent a summer commuting to work with the One Girl. I'm not sure what happened during those commutes, but after that summer my mother not only stopped trying to push me towards the One Girl, she also NEVER tried to set me up with ANY other girl EVER again! (And remember, I was single until I was 40, so there was plenty of time and opportunity for possible meddlings and setups.)

I don't know what happened during those commutes. Maybe, when forced into a conversation involving more than 27 words, the One Girl revealed herself to be a bigot, or a psycho, or, worse yet, a Democrat. Maybe my mother just realized that it wasn't her job to find a wife for me, and she should be happy with me just as I was. I honestly don't know. But, whatever the reason, I was glad not to get any more matchmaking pressure from my mom.

And, I was glad there was a world outside of Arimo. Because if I had married the One Girl like my mother had wanted, the awkward silences would be extremely awkward over the years. (We might even have gotten up to 238 words by now.)