Seated in our sixth-grade classroom in Newton in the Fall of 1962, Jean, a pretty, tom-boyish girl, and my desk-pod mate, whispered that she wanted to dance with me at Mr. Champagne’s initial dance class after school. I was in the stratosphere over Jean’s invitation, but wary as my dancing had been at best down to earth. The Virginia Reel in gym class had left me reeling with confusion. Still I rose to the occasion and gave my most creative reply, “OK.” Jean’s choice could make my formidable task of surviving the dance class more likely and perhaps even exciting. The gym, the scene of all my struggles with gymnastics, now could mark my ascension to the boyfriend/girl-friend zone. We wouldn’t be a beauty and beast couple which was comforting. Jean was blond and lithe, and I was tall, thin, with freckled faced even features, and I could see OK enough to dance without my goony dark glasses. I was only uncomfortable with my feet which protruded out to give me a penguin gait.
Sitting about two feet from Jean, I tried to control a giddiness, only matched later that year when I anticipated the great oral report that I would deliver on President Grover Cleveland. What eventually reduced my sweaty elation was realizing that Jean was relatively front and center socially, and I was rightfully an oddball in the back row. This rocky self-image was honed from my quirks that culminated with major 5th grade embarrassments. These humiliations melted away any solid sense of age 11 success, even when these put-downs were balanced against my near encyclopedia like command of trivia, 17 above averages out of 27 grading items, and my eagerness-to-please persona. How was I, hovering in classroom esteem between class clown and class eccentric, going to handle this dancing with at least an iota of suavity. For instance, there was my most undoubtedly un-suave, “disorganized genius” humiliation the previous spring when I became the 5th grade’s total laughingstock for at least 5 recess sessions.
I learned that I was the object of my classroom’s derision, via the voices ganging up on me, “Look up Bill. Wake up spaceman. Look at the lights.” It was then that I suffered a pants-wetting-worthy embarrassment. My sneakers had been tied together and hung ignominiously on the shiny fluorescent lights of our brand-new classroom spotlighting my deficiencies. The bully perpetrator of this act was bigger than me and older than me so what could I do. Plus, she was my teacher.
Miss. K. used this incident of the traveling keds to lecture me about my personal lack of competitive grade school focus. Standing in front of her desk she began, “Bill, I warned you that if you kept losing track of your personal things there would be consequences. I’m sure that if I opened your desk it would be completely overrun with trash. This is not kindergarten, it’s fifth grade. You don’t want to be our “disorganized genius” forever. Hopefully by tying up your sneakers up there, I’ve taught you a lesson.”
“OK I’ll try harder,” I murmured. But really, I wished at that second that I could be a wise ass and threaten to sic my parents on Miss K. I regret that I couldn’t come by with the likes of, “You know Miss K., my dad’s a dentist, and he is very, very HANDY WITH the DRILL.”
But I suffered from a double whammy, not only disorganization, but also an impulsive disquietness, as evidenced by the behavior section of my dossier length Newton report card. I was pretty happy when my mother came home from the 5th grade teacher’s conference with my report card showing 16 above averages and one superior in academic stuff, out of 27 academic ratings. Mom was proud to share this check-list with me. The only evaluation item that bothered her was the “seldom” rating I got in “demonstrates self-control.” in the behavioral section. This did not mean that I was a bad seed who started endless spitball fights in class. But it did mean that I engaged in conversations at inappropriate times in class, like when my teacher was conducting a lesson.
I know that my mom would add her one constructive criticism, “Billy you need to pay more attention to what’s going on in class and not talk to your friends. I promised Ms. K I would bring this up with you.”
My dad also chimed in on this along the harsher lines of “what’s the matter with you, just zip it.”
It was odd that I racked up quite a detention record for conversing at inappropriate times in that I was and am an introvert. In my tween years I had no aspirations to be the life of anyone’s birthday party. Actually, my problem was that I was clueless as to when it was safe to chat in a classroom. I don’t think that I realized that the optimum time to talk to your friends was not when the homeroom teacher was explaining important stuff akin to what to do in case of a nuclear attack during recess or, more importantly, laying down the rules for exchanging Valentines.
Stay tuned for part 2!
Hi, I am a 69 year old retired IT professional who grew up when there was no such thing as NLD and thus in school I was sometimes annoyingly quirky and with peers occasionally out to lunch. The enclosed memoir slice tries to capture my predicament.Share your own story