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.)