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…)
Categories: The Journey