The Journey

20 Signs That I Was A Complete Geek In High School


Picture it. Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Late 70’s, early 80’s. We didn’t have any money. And GO…

1. The fact that I would go out in public looking like I did in the photo above. Some of us led sheltered lives. And some of us marched blithely into the headlights of reality and didn’t see the headlights or the reality or the fact that we shouldn’t be walking in front of speeding cars. Ah, the ignorance of small-town life. How sweet it wasn’t.

2. A female friend had to pull me aside and discreetly inform me that my clothes were supposed to match. This was an astounding revelation. It also partially explained why I was a late-comer to the dating scene. By about 10 years. (For the record, this discreet conversation took place whilst I was wearing army-green cargo pants topped by a lime-green jersey. Both of these incompatible items were purchased with my employee discount at the low-end department store where I worked in the men’s department. Clearly, somebody up in that human resources grill didn’t know what the hell they were doing by hiring me.)

3. I drove a beat-up, wood-paneled station wagon to school, parking next to the souped-up hot rods that everybody else had, and my stepdad’s empty beer cans would clatter out when I opened the door. Yay. If you ever needed to visualize what a psychotic break might look like, visualize me trying to kick clattering cans under a car that belched and hiccupped for ten minutes after you turned off the ignition while all the cool kids were walking by and taking full note of my ineptitude.

4. When the untrustworthy station wagon wasn’t running, I had to ride the school bus. No one else my age did this. No one. I was a lumbering, poorly-dressed giant that served as a solitary target for hyperactive third-graders with good aim and a steady supply of juice boxes. (Okay, they weren’t quite juice boxes back then. They were juice bags that looked like psychedelic breast implants, and you had to stab at them with the accompanying straw until you hit a vein. In any case, either version hurt like hell when they walloped you in the back of the head.)

5. I wasn’t just in the library club, I was the president of it. And I was the state treasurer. Clearly, I took my literary duties quite seriously. It also meant that I continued to not date.

6. I had absolutely no interest in football, despite the fact that the entire state was essentially founded just so we could have schools that played Friday-night football games. Taking land away from the Native Americans was only a secondary reason for statehood.

7. I completely missed out on the whole “everybody who was anybody goes to the roller-skating rink on Saturday night” thing. Of course, I also missed out on the things that went on behind the building, like drinking Strawberry Hill and getting pregnant. I think I’m okay with not having experienced that.

8. I thought the cafeteria food was excellent, and I would race to be the first in line at lunch time. And that cake the hair-netted, white-shoed cafeteria ladies would make, using beets of all things? With the white frosting? Best cake ever. I was quite shy, but if you were sitting nearby and it appeared that you were not going to touch this delicious confection, I would make friends with you just to get your cake.

9. I was always offended by people who took the “freebie” elective classes like Study Hall and Eraser Cleaner. What academic benefit are you getting out of that? (I was a total scholastic snob.) What I didn’t realize is that we simply had different life plans. I wanted to go to college. They just wanted to be old enough to buy alcohol without a fake ID.

10. I would slather Clearasil all over my face (horrible acne for a while there) but not bother to rub it all the way in, with my pasty face making me look like Toe Tag #814 in the county morgue. Still no dating.

11. I loved math class. And it loved me. Until the fateful day when my lover went through a mood swing and turned into Calculus. I didn’t understand this Calculus or what he wanted, try as I might to please him. Our relationship soured and my GPA was at risk. I had to move on, and so I dropped him. We did not stay in touch, and we never had Paris.

12. Just like many of my classmates, I had a brief career working at Woodland Hills Mall, a behemoth shopping complex in nearby Tulsa. (86,000 stores? Something like that. It’s still there, 40 years later.) This was my third successive position in menswear retail, despite a questionable track-record in such a profession. (There’s a story behind how I got this job, but this is not the time or place for such.) Most of the kids my age would spend their breaks and free time in the massive Food Court, participating in the Hormones-on-Parade of high-schoolers trying to hook up for a weekend date. (“Hey, you wanna go skating on Saturday? I got some Strawberry Hill!”) But on my breaks, I would race to the cacophonous video-game arcade and play “Ms. Pacman” until my quarters and my dignity ran out.

13. I was so not into the hair metal bands that the cool kids were playing in their fancy cars as they dragged Main street. My 8-track collection? Things like Barry Manilow, Helen Reddy and the original cast recording of A Chorus Line. Uh huh. I don’t think anybody should have been surprised by a certain announcement I made later in life.

14. I would drive into downtown Tulsa late at night, which one shouldn’t have been doing at that time as it was not the safest place to be, just to watch foreign, art-house movies at the only theater around that played such things. It would just be me and maybe five other people in the vast expanse of otherwise empty seats, sitting there, enraptured, dreaming of a magical life-change that would get us the hell out of Oklahoma.

15. Of course, I would also go see the Rocky Horror Picture Show on weekends, with me and my friends piling in a car and driving en masse to a much closer theater where they hosted those audience-participation free-for-alls. (Yes, despite the geekiness detailed in the above items, I did have friends. Good ones. The square pegs always find one another, eventually, and those bonds are tighter than the Strawberry Hill connections.) But, try as I might to pay attention and make notes, I could never get the shouted dialog just right. I was always yelling out the wrong line at the wrong time, and half the audience would turn and throw leftover rice at me. In hindsight, this probably prepared me for life as a blogger.

16. One of my best friends was an amazingly rebellious woman who didn’t take anything from anybody. She didn’t suffer fools, she had little respect for authority, and she would ride her horse into town just for the hell of it, clomping along and sitting at stoplights, waving at astonished people in their cars. Sometimes her actions thrilled me, sometimes they scared me, but she always had my back. Always. And we all need someone like that in our lives, especially in the messy pain-world of high school.

17. I had usually read the book before the movie came out. Even the adult films.

18. The best way to spend a Saturday when I wasn’t working? The downtown branch of the Tulsa Public Library. It was five stories, people. Five stories of discovery. I’m actually becoming a little bit aroused thinking about it, even after all these years.

19. I drove to the Senior Prom in another of my family’s questionable vehicles, one that managed to up and die while sitting at one of the busiest intersections in Broken Arrow. Cue the faded image of my date and I frantically running through that honking intersection, she hoisting her beautiful dress and me groaning with shame in my tuxedo, as we tried to keep from getting killed on our way to the Otasco parking lot so we could find a phone. Help arrived in the form of her best friend and another man in a tuxedo, one that the friend would eventually marry. A few hours later, still on edge as we ate at a fancy restaurant, I realized that I didn’t have enough money to even cover the bill, never mind a tip. Rains, pours.

20. But still. Things could have been better, things could have been worse. In the end, the foundation was set. I’m a firm believer that if everything always goes your way in your life, you aren’t really living. The best people are the broken people who patch themselves up, the folks who find just enough glue at just the right time, and then they keep going. And here we are today…



(Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 07/20/12 and “Bonnywood Manor on 11/03/13, revised and updated with extra flair for this post.

Story behind the photo: That’s me in my eighth-grade class photo, just prior to high school and fully ensnared in my ugly-duckling phase, before I learned about “matching clothes” and “brushing my hair”. Luckily, there was a swan phase. It would just take a few years…)


62 replies »

  1. The closest I ever came to being in love with math was a very brief flirtation with Pre-Algebra. Alas, math, that relationship was too complicated for me, with far too many factors and interfering variables. Instead I chose English lit, a steady lover to this day, when I realized I’d rather read about someone’s torment than directly experience it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Amazingly enough, in our little suburb-of-Tulsa school system, we had an astonishing number of advanced writing courses to choose from, so all of the pain of my mathematical ineptitude was assuaged by the constant challenge of stringing words together in an intriguing format, something that was much more satisfying, so I guess I did have a constant lover in high school. (But he apparently didn’t properly teach me how to avoid a run-on sentence.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • I attended Hillbilly High, the result of some parental social experiment by which we moved from the city to a tiny backwoods town just in time for puberty. I mostly amused myself by planning escape plans to distant colleges, and eventually that is what saved me from ending up like everyone else.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, there was a swan phase. (I might dig out an archaeological photo from my blossoming time and make a separate post, just to prove that I didn’t always look so dazed and confused.) And yes, in that town at that time, any confessions you might want to share about reading a book were muttered in hushed tones, or you might end up in a compromising situation at the next Saturday Night barn dance… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “I drove a beat-up, wood-paneled station wagon to school” My God you drove a woody. You would have been too cool at my school, La Jolla High. They still have a facebook page and post photos of themselves at seventeen. God! Thank freaking God for graduation!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, to be fair, the pivotal factor here is the “beat-up” angle. That vehicle only stayed together as long as it did because of the rust on critical bolts. I certainly would not have been featured in a glowing manner on a Facebook page for folks who never accomplished anything after high school… 😉


  3. Thanks for a great accompaniment to my morning coffee. I was spared the experience of American High-school (Irish convent boarding school a whole other ball game ) so I’m using your story to relate to my teen that it is survivable !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Why, thank you, Darina. I hope that this account of fumbling through my teen years can help in some small way. And, if necessary, I can have my publicist provide shocking “before and after” photos to show that good things come to those who persevere… 😉


  4. I’m reading this post and having a few flashbacks of my own as a teenager in Neodesha, Ks. (about 45min. away from Tulsa)

    7. Good thing you didn’t go to the skating rink, cause I did and I have my 40yr. old daughter to prove it! Neodesha can blame Boone’s Farm, Strawberry Hill for the High School Baby Boom of 1976!

    8. I would have starved if it weren’t for the kindness of the lunch ladies and their fantastic food!

    11. I too was in love.. with the hot algebra teacher! Had I finished school and went on to college I would have become an accountant thanks to his great teaching skills. LOOVE MY MATH! ♥♥

    18. I lived at the library when I was pregnant. In fact I spent so much time there, the librarians all chipped in and bought my daughter her first stroller!

    20. It took 20 years of my life to become broken and 2 days to glue myself back together and move on, but had I not been broken I wouldn’t be where I am today!

    Another GREAT post as usual!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I can’t help but respond to your responses…

      7. You have a 40-year-old daughter? But you don’t look a day over 35 in the artistic glamour shots on your blog. (I say this with no sarcasm intended, although I should probably mention that I am guzzling from a bottle of Boone’s Farm as I type this…)

      8. I loved the lunch ladies, really did, even if they did give me matronly glances of disapproval as I tried to snatch an extra helping of their life-changing, butter-drenched rolls…

      11. My biggest crush was on my Civics teacher, a forbidden lust that actually led me to write sordid, never-shared stories about how he could properly teach me…

      18. The librarians at the Tulsa County Library were not as supportive of my visits, more along the lines of “that hayseed from Broken Arrow is here again. Lock up all the important stuff.”

      20. It’s the breakage that makes us stronger. My heart would not be as resilient as it is if pieces hadn’t been chipped away…


  5. Very few people escape that awkward, pimply, bad-hair, ugly duckling phase, we just used different colors. Thanks for sharing yours. It’s helpful to remember those feelings and experiences when we’re (grand) parenting, or even talking with today’s kiddos.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Please write a screenplay. This is like That 70sShow crossed with Napoleon Dynamite. If it’s any consolation, I was called “FourEyes” and “Flatsy” and wore polyester stretch denim with white top-stitching. I blossomed when I latched on to Cheap Trick. 😉 (Autocorrect nearly slipped in “truck” there.)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Ha. I too, loved the cafeteria food but I couldn’t afford to eat it. They had this cake with green icing that I coveted. A few times, I watched somebody throw away their “brought” lunch and ransacked their bag, looking for a half-eaten sandwich and once, a girl let me have a bite of that illusive cake. Wow. It was delicious!
    Funny, the memories we have. I enjoyed reading yours….as I always do. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • In my younger years, mid-70s, there were many times when my single mother did not have the two dollars we were supposed to turn in on Mondays for that week’s lunches, so I know all about that mess. Later on, things got a bit better, but the lean days gave me a fortitude that is still with me…


      • It does give us strength and appreciation, doesn’t it? My children never knew what it was like to do without.
        They used to make fun of me when they said “you had to walk five miles to school, up hill both ways, in six feet of snow, with a broken leg and a hole in your shoe.”
        That was true.
        But I did (I think) instill a sense of “be grateful” in them and they are, for the most part, decent human beings. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Library club president? That is ok. I was best friends with the AV Club. I never dated & was fine with that because I didn’t much care for my poedunk hometown. I could really identify with everything on your list. Since I was the class clown & a Catholic school renegade we would have been fast friends.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing these vivid memories with us. My random thoughts…

    1. A cake made with beets?! I’d never heard of it before, so I looked it up on Martha Stewart’s site. Fa-bu-lous! I must try this!!
    2. Likewise with Strawberry Hill. New to me, so I did another online search, and I see there are different flavours. They look quite tasty… But I can imagine, back in the day, their slogan might have been the old “Come Alive for a Buck Ninety-Five”?
    3. Bahaha! 8-tracks! Although music purists have told me that they had better sound than cassette tapes. Would you agree?
    4. Number 20 was beautifully said and quite touching. I think I have something in my eye…

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1. With all due respect to Martha, her recipe probably throws in some ingredients that are completely unnecessary and/or very expensive. She has a tendency to do that. For the REAL recipe, we’ll have to get in a time machine, warp back to Broken Arrow in the early 80s and track down one of the Lovely Lunch Ladies. I’ll call my travel agent here in a sec…
      2. I beg of you, don’t pursue the Strawberry Hill dream. You will be disappointed. But your slogan is quite appropriate…
      3. I agree to a point. It’s fair to say that 8-tracks had a richer quality than cassettes, even if the songs on 8-tracks were often cut off in mid-song and then would continue on the next track, which DROVE ME CRAZY. But if I had to pick, I’d go with vinyl albums. There’s just a “warmth” with vinyl that is missing from the purely digital recordings we have on CD today…
      4. Getting something in your eye just proves that you have a soul… 😉


  10. I didn’t take the beating until I requested it, several years after high school. Of course OKC was SO metropolitan. I was not one, but went to school with silver-spooners and juvenile gold diggers and they broke my young romantic’s heart often and early. So when I rejected it for beat up cars, rich men’s daughters and electronic music I was old enough to have known better, but what the hell. We belong where we belong…At the peak of my downhill into the arts slide I also sold men’s clothing, only at a high end store. I wore a gray Pierre Cardin double vent jacket suit and people called me sir even with my long hair when I was twenty-one. That was probably the last time anyone called me sir. I did it again in Norman and sorority girls turned and ran the other way. Wolf in sheep’s clothing. I sucked at math, excelled at geometry (they aren’t the same thing). I was cool, a player, and woke up and walked it. One way or another some of us get to ride the on the social abuse train while others walk the path from infancy to grave. I’ll take the embarrassment and the beating. The price is too high the other way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a great comment. In fact, if you expand it just a little bit, it would make an excellent blog post. I, for one, would happily read an extended musing on how we slide in the directions that we do. You’ve got the analog warmth instead of the digital coldness. Now get your ass to work and put out more blog posts. Sir. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  11. You clearly struck a chord with this post, given the number and quality of comments!
    I don’t mean to bring down the mood, but this made me think of a conversation I had with my kids yesterday.
    I mentioned an incident from high school, when as a freshman I made the foolish mistake of walking a little too close to a group of jocks. I won’t go into what happened – it wasn’t like a huge deal but it was mortifying enough for a shy 14-yr old, and I told the story to my kids in a kind of off-handed manner. But my daughter said, “my God, WHERE did you go to school?!”
    The weird thing is, I took a city bus to go to that school because it was considered “better quality.” Maybe the academics were, I don’t know, but I’m rather happy my kids attended a much more diverse school and that my daughter never had such experiences.
    My hunch is that you and I share similar opinions of high school jocks?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I don’t think that’s bringing down the mood at all, since I started the whole conversation about the random unfairness of high school life. And yes, we share the same opinion about jocks. A few years ago, I actually considered attending my 30th high school reunion, even though I hadn’t been to any of the others. In the end, I opted out. A few days later, the Facebook page for our class (yes, I’m a member, because you can’t help but be curious) was filled with photos and videos from the festivities. And some of the same jocks who used to torment me were prominently featured, with attendees fawning all over them. Some things change, some things never do…

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s a sad truth that while we pretend to value academic achievements and good character, we continue to praise beauty, wealth and physical ability.
        Maybe our consolation can be that history books rarely mention the beautiful, wealthy or athletic. When all is said and done, they’re not all that interesting. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Actually, something HAS changed, if you meet those former glittering stars in the high school firment. I have been to ONE reunion of my Senior Class (a different high school than I attended in 10th and 11th grades…long LONG story). This Senior class has only ever held one reunion (to my knowledge) and it was for the 20th year ‘anniversary’. I was a very weird and awkward young woman in high school, at 38, I was someone entirely different (still weird, but now I didn’t give a shit) The jocks and glamourous girls I had known were all fat (most of them anyway), grey haired or hair a faded simulation of the original color; and some of them were really pathetic if you want to know. Some of those ‘stars’ peaked in high school. Nothing sadder than a former ‘star’ who never went any further than they were at 18. And three examples: one of the baddest boys in the whole class had become an evangelical minister; the quarterback was a felon and in prison and the homecoming queen weighed more than I did and looked like hell. One reunion was enough to convince me that we ALL changed. Some for better and some for worse. It’s kind of enlightening.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh the DAYS!! #15! Where I found my eventual ‘tribe’ as a matter of fact. We’re only a few years apart in age (I’m older), and therefore this whole post struck ancient chords in my memory closet. I suppose I was a ‘geek’ too, although females were excluded from being referred to as such in my day. Nerd would apply too. Except the whole math part. Algebra came to school and I was f*cked. In those days in Utah, math was for boys. Period. It’s been admitted (on public record) that the teachers began to skew their lesson plans to teaching male students exclusively, because the female ones were only ‘going to get married and produce and raise children’ because that’s ALL girls did, right? I loved science though. Ah wasted potential. “Regrets I have a few, but then again too few to mention…” And I never went to any prom during High School. Weirdo became my nickname through Senior Year. Well I WAS. I preferred reading some really thick book and being by myself to mingling with my peers and mooning after young men that I knew (secretly) wouldn’t like me anyway. Didn’t help that I had an extremely popular sibling who was a year younger than I. He went into a deep denial throughout high school, and mostly claimed never to know who I was. A precursor of things to come. NOw I pretend not to know who HE is, because he’s the loud-mouth at the local grocery store arguing with the sales clerk over the price of a can of tuna or something. Life is so odd…. Thank you lovely man for the stroll down your adolescent past. It was most interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yet another thing we share, this “war of the roses” situation with a younger sibling whilst in school. My sister had a long list of reasons why she did not care for my existence at that time (and some of them were actually valid, to be fair). One of her biggest peeves was that she constantly risked the possibility of having a teacher that had previously had me (in a chaste way, of course), and said teachers would expect her to give the same academic performance as I had done. She had absolutely no interest in giving one, not caring one whit for the education process. We’re fine now, but I was Enemy Number One during those delicate years… 😉


  13. My god. We MUST be related. The sibling one year younger than I was a popular fellow who was academically challenged. I was a trial to him because teachers actually did what your sister worried about – they’d have me for a student and then the next year get him and there’d be long angst filled conversations with my parents about ‘what was wrong with brother” and “why isn’t he more like Em?” In 5th grade I was teacher’s pet (the sole time that ever happened) and my unlucky sibling got her the next year. he had to be transferred out of the class and to the other 5th grade teacher because there was an unseemly incident where she (teacher) came sobbing to my 6th grade class, called me out in the hall, and unleashed an odd diatribe at my 11 year old self. I do believe it left psychic wounds and it begat the firm belief that even people who are ‘edducated” can be psycho sometimes. Highly embarrassing for everyone concerned.

    Liked by 1 person

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