Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

This is Me in ’83 – Seventh Grade

In the fall of 1983, I started seventh grade at Lake Middle School.

8384yearbook

Technically, this yearbook itself is from 1984, since we received them toward the end of the school year. However, since I did pretty much nothing in the way of extracurricular activities, I can guarantee that half the pictures of me in this book are from the beginning of the school year.

I can make this promise because I am only in two pictures. Here’s the first – my official seventh-grade portrait, as it appeared on page 50. Row 6, first column, surrounded by a group of fellow B-name kids that wouldn’t change much over my entire 12 years at Lake. (This guy’s picture is in row 5, column two.)

7thGradeFall

Why yes, those are plastic-rimmed prescription glasses that darkened in sunlight – and apparently, under certain bright indoor conditions as well – because after all, it was August, 1983. And according to my extensive television research, every girl was crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

Digression to the future: That seventh-grade me still regularly read his Fiend Folio – with its unforgettable image of Lolth, Demon Queen of Spiders –

LolthFiendFolio

– and other Dungeons & Dragons materials, even if he never actually learned to play. Those memories add another level of enjoyment to this picture, taken almost exactly 30 years later at Gen Con:

MeAtGenCon

Back to the past, then:

My only other appearance in the yearbook is in the photo below.

7thgradeband

I’m thinking I’m second row, third or fourth chair clarinet. My face is hidden, but I’m pretty sure that’s my unruly hair within the red circle:

ImWithTheBand

Seventh grade at Lake Middle School was also notable in that thanks to a shift in student distribution (the middle school had housed grades 6-8 the year before, but handled grades 7-9 in 1983-84) my classmates and I got to be the youngest class in the building for a second consecutive year. Yay.

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August 31, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

This is Me in ’83 – Dungeons! Dragons! Tomfoolery!

This entry likely begins in late 1982, when I was at my friend Mike’s house, and we wound up watching this movie called Mazes and Monsters on TV. (I say “likely,” because while the movie debuted on Dec. 28, I suppose it’s possible the thing was re-run in early 1983.)

So the whole terrible anti-role-playing propaganda of the movie was lost on us, because not long after, I remember Mike telling me one day in study hall that he had learned to play pencil-and-paper “Mazes and Monsters.” Basically, you’d draw a map of a cave or a castle or something similar, with small, numbered notations that corresponded to a hidden list of treasures, creatures and traps. You’d then guide the other guy through, asking him where he wanted to go, and describing what he encountered along the way. I think there may have been some super-basic sort of combat with plain old six-sided dice, but mostly it was kind of like walking the player through a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

The next step, of course, was Mike getting a Dungeons & Dragons basic set, and showing me the cool dice and the character sheets, and The Keep on the Borderlands module.

Since we didn’t know anyone else our age who had any interest in the game, though it was tough for us to play for real. Most of the time we just created characters with artificially-inflated stats and ran through maps and modules in a souped-up version of our “Mazes and Monsters.”

On a semi-related note, here is a Polaroid of Baltek, the Green Dragon:

baltek

Mike and I built him out of homemade green play dough and wrote a story about him (spoiler alert: Baltek wins) for our “Medieval Day” project that year.

We shared a study hall in sixth grade, and somehow, Mike and I started getting passes from our teachers to play D&D either in the hallways outside their rooms, or in adjacent empty classrooms. I remember in particular sitting on the floor with The Lost City awaiting Mike’s adventurers.

lostcity

Then one day, I happened to see a copy of the morning memo that teachers used to get from the office every day. One note read, “It’s springtime! Practical joke time – how about no more hall passes for John and Mike?”

After a couple days of us trying unsuccessfully to finagle passes, one morning, the school heard this over the PA system: “Attention – if anyone has seen John Booth and Mike ___, please let us know: They are missing from the sixth grade halls!”

So we had no luck. And then, Mike had one of his friends ask a teacher for their autograph. And the kid got it. Just her signature on a blank piece of paper. Above which we then wrote, “Please excuse John and Mike during study hall.” Now, being a dork, while I thought this was ingenious, I also knew that some teachers would think it was funny, and some would, well, not. So I said, “Let’s take this to the office and let someone know it’s a joke first.”

Now the really weird coincidence is, when we got to the office – over Mike’s quit-being-such-a-nerd objections – and I told the secretary my name, she said, “John Booth? Your mom just called: She wanted us to remind you that she’s picking you up early today, and you have a dentist’s appointment. She’ll be here in about 10 minutes.”

We never got to find out how our clever fake hall pass would have been received.

Our shared exploration of D&D was pretty brief. In seventh grade, I traded away ten bucks plus my copy of The Lost City for a Timex Sinclair.

It would be 17 years before I created my next Dungeons & Dragons character, and while the game – and I – are different, rolling those polyhedral dice still takes me back, on some level, to 1983.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | 1980s, geek, Ohio | , , , | 1 Comment

Thinking About Our Younger Years

The night before my daughter’s first day of middle school, she and I went up there after dinner to make sure she could open her locker. She also brought her three-ring binders and stuff so she wouldn’t have to haul it all on the bus the next morning.

We found her locker, and I looked at the piece of paper with the combination typed on it, then closed my fingers and thumb over the tumbler to give it a twirl.

Uh-oh.

I didn’t even have to think: My fingers just knew the rhythm, even though the numbers were different, and as I pinched the metal grip to lift the latch, I anticipated the small ka-chunk from inside the door of the mechanism sliding into place and then the memories of middle school started coming down like rain.

The locker didn’t open, though, and we had to ask a passing custodian for a little help – you have to kind of jiggle the handle a couple times, it turns out – but this whole middle school thing wound up engulfing me for a few days.

See, we live in the same neighborhood where I grew up, so ever since preschool ended, my daughter has been going through the same halls, classrooms, playgrounds, gymnasiums and cafeterias that I did. When I was a kid, we moved to this school district the summer before I started first grade, so I got the whole 12-year experience here. By the time my daughter graduates, she’ll actually have a year’s edge on me, since she went to kindergarten here, too.

Point is, I’d gotten used to visiting the elementary school and being in those rooms and halls again. Even though there were still some weird, sudden flashbacks from time to time – “See that cupboard door with the hinges that look different from the rest? I broke those when I was in first grade, swinging on it.” – I was comfortable with going back and seeing my kid in those surroundings while still remembering what it was like when the locker tops were above my head.

This year, though, is sixth grade, and talking with people this summer about it, I found myself thinking that the middle school years probably represent the extremes of the social atmosphere.

By the time you’re in high school, I figure, you pretty much know who your friends are and who to steer clear of, and there’s a general looking-ahead attitude since graduation’s on the horizon and you’ve got that whole landscape beyond to think about.

Middle school, though, things were back-and-forth seemingly by the hour. On the one hand, these were the years when I think my friends really started becoming my friends. When we started talking about stuff we could never imagine saying to our parents, pondering actions we’d never have considered just a year before, riding the elementary school bus.

On the other – man, people can be total dickwads in middle school. These were the ear-flicking years; the years of getting shoved for no good reason by someone you barely know; the years when God forbid, you tell someone about a girl you like and sonofabitch suddenly you feel like you’re wearing a big “I (heart) D.B.” sandwich board walking between classes.

The subtle differences between elementary and middle school showed themselves in small places: When my daughter and I sat in the orchestra room, one of the old music stands next to us had the words “dick” and “peckerhead” scratched into the black paint.

Oh, I am NOT, notnotNOT ready for this.

When I was in sixth grade, a friend of mine told me the hottest girl in the school was this eighth-grader I’d never heard of. Toward the end of the year, I think on a dare from this guy, I went to her table in the cafeteria and asked her to sign my yearbook. “To a really sexy guy,” she wrote.

Oh, dear God, that’s not embarrassing, at all, is it? Dad got a kick out of that one, finding my yearbook at home after school. He and mom were also especially interested in my friend Larry’s inscription: “To John, a nice kid who loves insults, D&D and dirty jokes.”

Man, we did know some foul-mouth material, didn’t we? Crap.

When I was in seventh grade – and still in the youngest class of the three-grade building, thanks to a summer shift that brought the freshmen over and bumped the sixth-graders back to the elementary building – I had another encounter with the girl who’d mocked me with “sexy.” This one was total chance happening – I was older and wiser now, naturally, a cool seventh-grader who’d gotten over thinking she was hot ­– as I passed her in the cafeteria and had to duck her purse as she swung it crazily over her shoulder in a wide arc without even looking around.

“Shit!” I heard myself say, “What the fuck are you doing?” (’Cause swearing’s cool, dammit.)

“Awww, don’t swear, little boy,” she mocked as she walked away with her friends.

“HEY.” Oh shit. “COME HERE.”

Voice of doom; tell my parents I loved them: Mr. Fetters was on cafeteria duty, sitting at his little table a few yards away, now beckoning me with his booming voice. I heard in later years that Fetters was a fantastic guy and a great coach, but since I never played sports and never had him as a teacher, this would be my only meeting with him, and at this point, he was still one scary motherfucker, stocky and red-faced and intense and with this shock of long, curly rockstar hair.

“What did you say?” Ohshitohshitohshit…

“Um, that girl, she almost hit me with her purse and –”

“What did you say?

“I, uh, said some words –”

“What. Did. You. Say?”

“IsaidShitWhat’reYouDoing.”

“Think your mom would want to hear you talking like that?”

“UmNo.”

“I don’t want to hear it either.”

“UmOkay.”

And that was that.

The rest of the day, I found myself thinking that I should go home and tell my mom that I’d almost gotten hit in the head with a purse and that I said the F-Word in response, but I thought she’d understand, given the situation, and then I could take her approval verbally back to Mr. Fetters the next day… of course, I did no such thing.

Last week, after the third day of the school year, there was an open house night to meet the teachers that started with everyone gathering in the gym that the school also uses for band concerts and dances.

Those are the bleachers where I sat at one Halloween dance talking with a girl I think might have liked me even if we were both too freaked out to actually dance. And through that door is the hall where there used to be a pay phone, and during another dance, I called this girl who was a friend of my neighbor. She went to a different school, and we’d had kind of a moment the previous summer and I asked her if she wanted to come up to the dance. She didn’t. And over there, in front of the stage…

When I was in seventh grade, a new girl came to our school. Long, dark hair, freckles and serious brains. I admired her from afar that year, mostly across the three rows of desks in science class.

Spring Dance, last big social event of the school year, and they’re announcing the winners of the annual Class Poll. You know the drill: We spent two minutes in homeroom one morning writing down which boys and girls were Best Dressed, Class Clown, stuff like that.

Suddenly, I’m stunned to hear my name called.

“Most Studious.”

Oh. Freaking. Joy. This is an “award” only in the sense that I was “sexy” the year before. Honestly, it’s like handing me a Big Giant Nerd shirt. I tried to be nonchalant, failing miserably, I’m sure, threading my way to the stage to receive my purple-inked, mimeographed award with my name written in blue ballpoint. So wrapped up am I in getting this humiliation over with that I hear nothing for the next few minutes while I grab the sheet of paper, fake a smile, then slink back to my spot along the bleachers with Most Studious folded and crammed into my back pocket.

Almost 25 years later, I can remember that exact spot on the floor where I was standing when my science-class crush well, just appeared out of nowhere, clutching her own “Most Studious” award.

And then she said, in an almost-squeaky but still cute-and-kind-of-assertive voice, “So, would Mr. Studious like to dance?”

You know that shot from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when the perpetual loser is asked to direct the Christmas play, and his eyes go all googly and he just goes, “Me!?!?” I may have responded in a more collected manner than that, but just barely, because that’s
how I felt inside.

We slow danced to “Heaven,” by Bryan Adams.

The song still gives me faint flip-flops in my stomach, and there’s an echo of strange calm from a long-gone afternoon when the world stopped around me for one dance with a dark-haired girl voted Most Studious in her seventh-grade class.

Then my daughter and I are walking around some more.

There’s the industrial arts room where we built gumball machines out of wood and Mason jars and where I tried to make a ceramic chess set for dad but the shelves inside the kiln collapsed, leaving me with just two pieces that he kept in the den for years anyway. I also slept through an earthquake in there one year during study hall.

Here’s the rust-orange sixth grade hallway where Mike and I used to play our two-man abridged version of Dungeons & Dragons when we could wheedle passes from teachers to get out of study hall.

And there’s my kid, walking ahead with one of her friends, laughing, their heads tilted close together, down a hall that once seemed a lot longer.

September 1, 2008 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Ohio | , , , , | 2 Comments

Echoes

It’s been more than a decade and a half since I even pretended to have any sort of musical talent, and that last time hardly counts, because it was a brief period in college when I bought a used saxophone and taught myself to play it one summer. And even then, the stuff I’d learned in four years of playing clarinet and then bass clarinet at Lake Elementary and Lake Middle schools – fifth through eighth grades – was pretty well gone and buried.

My daughter’s in fifth grade now, and she plays the viola. Practices four or five nights a week in the back room of the house, but the sound carries easily through the kitchen and into the living room. Her first orchestra concert was a little over a week ago.

The mental trips between past and present began as soon as I got home from work at six that evening. It’s December, so it was already dark. My daughter had eaten her supper already and was upstairs getting cleaned up and dressed, and my wife and I had a hurried dinner so we could leave by six-thirty. I caught a faint pull in my gut of that “something special on a
school night” feeling, like the little thrill of seeing that old CBS “Special Presentation” logo spinning on the television screen that meant it was time for a Charlie Brown or a Rankin/Bass holiday show.

The school district – yes, we live in the same school district where I grew up, and my daughter has actually had classes in some of the same rooms I did, and being back in those halls on meet-the-teacher nights is still a fun and kind of a surreal experience – has a real community theatre these days, just a few years old. In my band years, we played in the middle school gym, two bands on the floor and the oldest group of kids up on the stage.

Watching my daughter file in with the other fifth graders and take her seat on the stage, I thought about the half-hour before our band concerts, how it was weird to see kids from school but not actually in school, and everybody a little dressier than normal. (The next day, you’d see a lot of us wearing those same outfits in school, minus maybe the ties and jackets if we had them. We had sensible moms, I guess, and an outfit worn for a couple hours during a band concert clearly doesn’t count as being worn at all.)

I remember being in fifth grade and thinking how OLD those eighth-graders looked. My God, that guy had a beard! And those girls – they were, uh, shaped differently than the ones in our band.

In sixth, seventh, and eighth grades, about a week or two into every summer vacation there was a weekend band festival in the parking lot behind the high school. Seeing kids there was even more odd than seeing them at night, but it was also more fun because we didn’t have to dress up, and when it wasn’t your turn to play, you could run around and play all the goofy carnival games like Chuck-A-Luck and the ones where you threw ping-pong balls into miniature goldfish bowls.

My daughter’s up on stage and the orchestra’s tuning up, and the kids are plucking their strings while the teacher goes around and makes an adjustment here or there, and I remember the utter dread that came with playing a woodwind: The fear of SQUEAK!ing on concert night. Solos were never for me, thanks very much, I’m happy to sit here in the second clarinets with my buddy Mark (we’d both take up the bass clarinet in seventh grade – the only two basses in the band – and get to move back by the tubas) and let others run the risk of public SQUEAK!ing.

The fifth graders played their songs (all plucking, no drawing of the bows at their first concert), and I watched my daughter’s
concentration and her fingers and her chin tucked onto her viola and I wondered if I ever looked that serious, because wow, do I remember band as being a place to really goof off. (Which would probably explain why I never really considered my playing a ‘talent.’) Maybe the strings just come with a little more class than I had between the ages of 10 and 13.

After they finished, they left the stage and sat in a few rows of seats down front, and the other three orchestras played their sets, and eventually, the concert was over and we wedged our way into the narrow halls behind the auditorium, wading into the chaos to find our kid. And here she came, music folder tucked under one arm, viola case in hand, winter coat on, shuffling
through the packed and noisy hallway.

Outside, it was easy to breathe, and cold, and it was a quiet ride home.

December 14, 2007 Posted by | 1980s, eighties, geek, Music, Ohio | , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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