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Archive for the ‘Childhood Silliness’ Category

Flashforward

I sometimes try to remember what I was like in high school. Well, not so much what I was like in high school as how my personality had evolved by the time I was a senior. That was the year I became more active than passive, had actual responsibilities, hit my final growth spurt, and became more social. So I wonder how have I changed since then — how have my attitudes, intelligence, sense of humor, and interests shifted, if at all?

Luckily, I have a yearbook, and it’s a better time capsule than most have, because I was co-editor in chief. It was largely a two-person operation, with help from a few others. If the whole thing failed, only I, my co-editor and our moderator would be blamed. It’s probably too much responsibility to give a high school senior. So much can go wrong, from incorrectly mapping out a page plan, to failure to collect information, to forgetting to mail out pages, to losing battles with Jostens.

Let me put it this way. Many newspaper sports staffs spend the last month or two of summer putting together a special high school football section. It’s really hectic. You need rosters, comprehensive team outlooks, a nice theme, art; it’s a lot to coordinate. The number of the people working on it depends on the size of the staff, but it’s never just two high school seniors with screwball tendencies.

So it wasn’t a matter of if something would go wrong, it was a matter of how much would go wrong — we considered it a success if whole pages weren’t missing or chopped off. What did go wrong? We had a pretty atrocious layout, a bunch of grammar errors, and a confused 9/11 memorial page. One senior wasn’t in the thing at all. Yearbook camp didn’t help, after all.

But other than that, it was a mild success. People can look back and remember their time in high school, and all that good crap. For me, the greatest success was the double-truck about the yearbook itself. It’s kind of a funny concept. The whole yearbook is essentially evidence that the yearbook staff exists. Including pages for drama, the choir, and sports teams have some educational purpose. The purpose of including pages about the yearbook, in a yearbook, could be accomplished with a small section toward the end. Instead, the yearbook pages are a great opportunity for self-aggrandizement, and if anyone will take that bait, high school seniors with their own office will.

The result? A rambling, stream of consciousness write-up. The intro:

This year, as we all know, the yearbook staff had to overcome many obstacles on the path to a memorable yearbook. The first obstacle was partitioning work and responsibility to the incredibly large staff. Many long days and nights were spent discussing how work would be split up between the staff members who knew the pursuits of Pagemaker, but since there were so many disagreeing opinions, little work was actually done. So, this yearbook is the fabrication of a mail order yearbook catalogue.

No, we actually made this book, yes that was bad grammar, and we actually did have real obstacles in the way such as:

And then it’s just a list of several hundred inside jokes. Some of the more baffling ones include:

Chess baseball

Lysol + pictures

that wig we found at the prison

Mr. Big Stuff Meal

roast beef crucifix

Ah, memories. It took me a while to remember the story about the wig at the prison. Roast beef crucifix? Just no idea how that occurred.

It might also be evidence that not every hour, or even most, spent in that office was productive, but that doesn’t matter. We had a chance to secretly make fun of things and people, including ourselves, so of course I took advantage. There are also hints to secrets of the Yearbook Office, and I will never admit them. But I would probably do the same thing with that writeup now, or something more high-concept. It wouldn’t be far off.

Some people look back at their high school yearbooks and think they were so goofy and odd, had bad hair, did dorky things. The embarrassment is a familiar theme. Or they view them as good times gone by, because they’re no longer a star runner or actor or vice-president. My yearbook is like a predictor. It’s not that I can’t believe what I was like then. I can believe that. I just can’t believe that we got away with all we did.

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Bananas are, without a doubt, one of the most inexpensive fruits you can buy. Perhaps for pure caloric content, peanut butter is a better bargain among foods, but bananas are pretty frugal. You can buy a medium-sized banana for, like, 15 cents, and even at places like Wawa, where prices are fixed and raised for convenience, one costs something like 35 cents.

So you’d think bananas would be a pretty good thing. But no. What you save in money you pay for in time, because they spoil quickly. Based on my personal experience, people only eat two, maybe three, out of five bananas purchased.

They’re easily bruised when ripe. Nothing ruins a good banana like that brown, mushy patch. Yes, you can cut it out, but then you’re left with mutilated fruit. If I’d known I’d have to carve, I’d just get a pumpkin.

And even after you actually eat the damn thing, that peel is a curse. Big Banana markets the product like a highly convenient snack, perfect for folks on the go, like cyclists, who can stick one in the jersey pocket. But you eat one in the car…then what the hell to do with that peel? You could throw it out the window, but you could also inadvertently throw it in front of a cop, or worse, into someone else’s window. You can stash it in a trash bag, but then you forget about it, it decomposes in secret, and one day you open the car door only to be socked in the face by peel stench.

Now, all that’s pretty facetious. But you’ll have to excuse me for being slightly anti-banana, for the fruit is the source of one of the most mysterious episodes of my youth. For reasons listed above, bananas are popular for school lunches. My mom used to pack me bananas, and for good reason: it’s hard to mess up eating a banana, even as a grade-schooler. That’s from the parental perspective.

From the kid perspective, I suppose bananas suck, and all kids want for lunch are Doritos, Ssssssippsss, fruit snacks and overly salted pretzel rods. And the only thing kids like better at lunch periods than kid foods is the recess. It’s always an interesting waiting game, particularly in a lunch room like the one at my grade school, which had huge glass windows and doors — the playground, basketball court and grass fields teased us during lunch, in full view.

And so I suppose one particular day it might have been nicer than usual, we were friskier than usual, I can’t really remember. All I remember was a banana without an owner…

…and one kid at our table tossing it to another

…that kid tossing it to someone else

…that kid tossing it back, and another tossing it longways down the table

…one kid tossing it to a girl, who wanted no parts of the banana toss

…more and more kids tossing it back and forth, back and forth, until the yellow, starchy boomerang flashed in the corner of a teacher’s eye.

And that was the end of the toss, but the beginning of so much more. Who touched it? Had I? Was there proof? Who could claim innocence while keeping a straight face? Why was the one girl crying, pleading her innocence?

We were certainly not equipped to deal with the multi-layered issues presented before us. First, we were not equipped to extrapolate who had actually brought the banana, which seemed to be a priority piece of knowledge for the teacher. Some pointed at me, but I distinctly remembered not having a banana. A classmate provided me with an alibi. Several other banana-bringers were fingered, but no one admitted having it.

Secondly, we were not equipped with the value of blame-taking. We certainly did not want to rat out anyone, name names, become a social pariah at the socially impressionable age of…nine?

Finally, we were not equipped with the reasoning necessary to determine why it was wrong to toss this fruit around. We only knew it was wrong to do, and our knowledge was confirmed when the teacher made all the boys in the class sit outside in a circle for recess, with the banana in the middle, in order to determine who brought it and who made the first toss.

No one sang.

Eventually, one bold classmate, sensing that a confession would mean we’d get the rest of recess to play, copped to it. Only he wasn’t a banana-bringer. The teacher immediately picked up on his (probably poor) bluff, made him sit down and told us to provide a real answer.

No answer came forth. And so we spent the entire recess period in that circle staring at a banana. What a waste of a recess.

Even in that episode, the banana retained its economy. It probably cost 10 cents, but it provided us with a lunch-time supplement, a makeshift sports projectile and an hour’s worth of drama. And I could be satisfied with bananas if the list ended there. But without even peeling the damn thing, it gave us a lifetime of mystery, and that doesn’t decompose no matter where you toss it.

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I recently left a pair of shoes outside in a gym parking lot, and while that is both unfortunate and dumb, it reminds me of one of my foundational childhood events.

Every child seems to have several dozen of these stories, stories that could only apply to that particular person. They are either so outlandish or imaginative, the person commits the moment to memory out of force. For instance, I sure don’t remember what kind of flower I gave my parents at a graduation ceremony, but I sure do remember booting a glass-framed picture three feet across the room at the same shindig.
Anyway, the shoe. Early grade school, field trip day. Field Trip. Who doesn’t like field trips? Every time a group of adults goes somewhere out of routine, it is pronounced as a field trip. There is implied fun.
But, at eight years old or whatever, I did not know this, and I dearly did not want to go on a big yellow bus to The Franklin Institute, a museum in Philadelphia. This place is now called The Franklin, which makes it seem like a goofy, dance like The Charleston…or a seedy motel.
I had been driven to my school by my mom, who I am sure was not pleased when I voiced, certainly with no mature argument, my opinion about this trip. There was probably some whining, a lot of resistance at being forced to the bus door and those steps that are way too high for kids to climb without a pair of moon shoes and a bottle of Jolt.  After insistence from both sides — myself and my teacher — my pea-sized idiot child brain somehow comprehended I could not win. So I relented, and got on the bus.
At least, that’s what I wanted my foolish teacher to think, because as soon as I got one foot up the bus stairs, I ducked under her arm and bolted back to my mom’s car. Who’s clever now, teach? It was a hot day, so this is probably why I was left behind and the rest of the boys and girls had a fabulous time romping around The Franklin. They wanted to get going.
I did feel guilty though, as my embarrassed mom was now forced to put me in the back seat and drive me home, looking at my stupid face the whole way back in the rearview mirror. Who the hell was I to pull that stunt? And almost worse, I couldn’t even comprehend what I was doing — couldn’t comprehend the hassle I caused to my class, couldn’t comprehend the embarrassment I caused myself and my mom, couldn’t comprehend that in a few minutes I had turned the entire day into a total waste of time.

And the parent, my mom, has to live with full knowledge of that. She’s probably wondering just what the Christ is wrong with me. All you can do is shake your head in that moment. You can’t yell or smack, especially in front of a bus full of young students and their teacher.

Unless an opportunity presents itself.

Just moments after she buckled me in and the bus had left, a Boys size 5 loafer raked my face. Somehow, in the process of buckling in, my shoe had slipped off my foot, and suddenly I felt it slip across my cheek. Well, that seemed like an overreaction, but who was I to argue?
Little did I know that, being a warm, humid day, there were a billion bees flying around, including one in the back seat of the car. I’m not sure when I ever picked up that piece of information, but it wasn’t on that day. I have no idea if she ever killed the bee. In one swipe she did kill my sense that I could get away with any more childish chicanery.

So, I cried, the cries imploring, ‘Why? Why, mom, did you smack me with my own shoe?’ And she hustled me home as fast as possible, a day completely ruined…

…but not before she left the shoe in the parking lot and — being a warm, humid day — the atmosphere relented into a downpour, saturating the leather, pooling inside the toe box, further weakening the creases worn in time, soaking the stitches. I never saw that shoe again. It was gone the next day, with the bee, the bus, most of the redness on my face, and the opportunity for me to resemble a normal human child.

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