Saturday, February 23, 2008

i know when i'm not wanted

back in high school, i never really belonged to any of "the groups" or "the cliques." (if you could see me right now, i'm doing that annoying "quotes" thing with my fingers, but only for effect. NOTE TO ACTORS: don't do this in plays. we don't like people who do this in real life, and we like people who do it in plays even less.)

like any normal high school in a small, midwestern town in the late seventies, we had them. "the cliques."

we had the jocks. the jocks. really, nothing more needs to be said about the jocks.

the computer nerds. and by that i mean a computer. singular. as in one computer in a back classroom upstairs in the "annex" building. you had to sign up a week in advance to use it...this...contraption into which you loaded skinny paper tape with tiny holes punched in it. and then you had to get the hamster to run really fast in his little wheelie-thing.

the freaks. the kids who smoked cigarettes behind the dumpster in the alley and wore jean jackets and tie-dyed led zeppelin t-shirts.

and the band nerds. suzanne dinwittle, during third period band rehearsal, reached over and circled -- on my music, in red pencil -- the b-flat i should have played in the sixth measure of "el capitan." didn't say a word, just silently circled the note. that is classic band nerd behavior.

of course, there were other groups too. and then off-shoots of the core groups: the freaks who probably smoked pot (nobody was really sure.) the jocks who were in band, but miraculously managed to escape band nerddom. there were the theater dweebs. we didn't say dweebs back then, i just added that. i was, like, secretary of the theater dweebs.

but i never actually fit into any of those groups, even though i was part of many of them. okay i was never a jock. my one attempt at being jock-like was in the ninth grade: junior varsity tennis. my final match, an away game, involved me and another jock-wannabe from the opposing school trying to finish up a set while the rest of my team leaned out the windows of the idling school bus and yelled "come on you pansy! hurry up!" and alright, i was never really a freak. in fact, in sixth grade two freak girls beat me up on the playground at lunch but we're not going to delve into their sick need to make men look weak and my strict adherence to a pledge made years earlier to my mother: never hit a girl.

and as long as we're at it, i wasn't actually in high school band either. i was in band during graded school (in wisconsin we call it graded school, like normal people. not grade school. please.) in graded school i played first chair trumpet/coronet (i was multi-talented, brass-wise.) sometimes i was relegated to second chair, but only when the band director, mr. verbraken, was trying to pacify becky hegemann and her whiny, annoying father ("it's harder for a girl with a harelip to play the trumpet so she deserves to be judged by different standards, for christ sake!")

so was i a computer nerd? only some of the time. my swedish friend ross was really the computer nerd, and i was his friend. so by association.

the jist of the matter is i didn't belong and i knew it. when my jock friends were going to shakey's for pizza, i stayed silent. i waited patiently for the usually off-handed invite. it didn't happen often, but if it came, i butched up and went along. those were...hmm...exciting times.

when my computer nerd friend was going home after school to listen to abba records, i waited for the word. "oh c'mon tony, you love 'voulez-voux'" ross would say. and we'd go over to his house and talk about which abban was prettier, agnetha or anni-frid. (my secret vote was for benny.)

when the freaks asked me to...okay no. the freaks never asked me anything. two of them kicked me in the back in sixth grade, that's it.

ultimately, the point is this: i knew when i wasn't wanted. i was never that third wheel. the person who overhears you're going to shakey's and laughs while he says -- a little too loudly and with a lateral shh -- "yeah, but no black oliveshh!! " only to get sideways looks of "who asked him to come along?" and then finally, resignation -- "alright, i guess he can come." (sometimes there'd be a different first look -- "who's that?" or "what was that noise?")

i'm proud to say i'm good friends with many of these same people today. (not the girls who kicked me in the back.) as a group, we've lived long enough to grow out of our jockishness, our freakishness, and our nerdishness (true, some are still stuck in the nerd world) and become adults. mature adults. thoughtful adults.

and we've remembered and embraced the lesson learned from those times: when you're not wanted, stay away. when you're not part of the cool group, don't try to be. when everyone else is going to shakey's, go home and open a can of beefaroni. stay in your box. stay in your corner. stay in your room.

what i'm trying to say is this: ralph nader needs to keep the hell out of the presidential race.


  1. Dear Tony,
    I found this on your front page, and couldn't resist clicking on it...there you are in the yearbook! (I was rarely in the yearbook.) I find it hard to believe that someone who didn't "fit in" was voted for so many things that are usually reserved for the "fittest". Quoting from the WHS 1981 yearbook (our senior year) CLEMENTS, TONY: W-Bits 1,2,3,4; Clerk 2; Secretary 2; Newspaper 2,3,4; Editor 3,4; Student Council 3,4; President 4; Class Treasurer 3; Swing Choir 1,2,3,4; Tennis 1; Musical 1,2,3,4; Leads 2,3,4.

    I'm so sorry that you felt so alone while you were surrounded by so many people who adored you and affirmed you at every turn. :(

  2. Tony,

    Here, I've got to agree with Angie, even though, blog-wise, we don't seem to agree on much (with apologies to Angie!) But while "checking in", like Angie, I saw the linkage on your "Front page". Clicking through, I was a little distracted - hoping to find the latest Favre joke, or observe an Ircink meltdown, but landed the past. And really surprised as this version of revisionism in action.

    So, to the uninformed, this observer would suggest that you kind of 'owned' high school, didn't you? Well, okay, Rick 'owned' it, but you were definitely in the high rent district. Angie showed the proof - as you were on top of just about everything. Is there some kind of "badge of gay honor" to have come up through heavy persecution and derision, or is it just a "New York" thing? But if there was anyone who navigated through the challenges of growing up 'different' in suburban WI successfully, votes would put you in the running for 'most likely'.

    One might even suggest there was one other "clique" not mentioned in the assessment - the "Tony clique". Even in your "awkwardness" you seemed to have a tribe of followers (Mark B, Angie, Anne J, Tracy S, Ircink, and a host of others) who pretty much hanged on your every word and deed. Not mentioned is the band you led that dominated our culture, crude and shallow as it was. Geeky, quirky, yes, but gosh, it seemed like we were all having fun!

    Perhaps, it was even broader than you - extending to your family and home. A "Tony party" whether small and tethered to some extracurricular event (your paper or your play) or the "big ones", were extensions of your popularity, and no minor mention, the fantastic hospitality of your parents.

    Did you not belong, or did you just choose a different path? We all moved on to college, or jobs, or new lives. You stayed around, chasing your band, doing the piano thing, etc. Might you have reflected differently at that whole time with a progressive path to new challenges and opportunities? For a lot of us, we moved away, or stayed, but began a new stage of life. But it seemed you kind of got stuck "sticking around", and it all got very frustrating for a while.

    Sorry, buddy. We all had moments of awkwardness back in the day, regardless of how we turned out. And like Angie, I'm sure we can't entirely relate to what you were going through - but that's part of growing was never a question of belonging. You had (still do, by the posts on this blog) a terrific support group, family, and network of friends, that by my account, were there for you..for the taking. You chose your own path. Good for you.

    But painting the early years with a "poor me" stereotype brush isn't really right. We grew up in a freakin' protected, suburban white-washed "Wonder Years" suburbia that was a "bubble" shield between the weird wacky 60's, and the yuppie 80's. No guns, no gangs, plenty of money, recreational drugs, and freedom of choice. Yes, we suffered from a lack of diversity - racial and otherwise. Gender models were not far removed from the "Happy Days" tv show we were weaned on, and the music was shockingly awful. But it was a good ride - too bad you didn't enjoy it, as you had a front seat!


  3. i don't understand angie's or your comments, "B". it's like you both read a completely different post other than THIS one.

    no where in tony's article/post did he ever say he felt "alone", as angie pointed out. or did i miss something? or that he didn't enjoy it, as "B" pointed out. i'm assuming tony's intent was a simple narrative of the groups he encountered in high school and his reaction to them.

    i wish i could say more, but it was all pretty straightforward to me. and i wouldn't say i "followed" tony around. he was my friend. we worked together on the paper. we had some common interests. high school was a long time ago. weren't many of us trying to find out way - in different ways? i look back at lots of things i wish i hadn't done (or did). hell, i was 14, 15, 16, and 17...what did i know?

    coincidentally, i could probably say i felt the same as tony in many ways. though the group i hung out with was the "popular" group in my grade (a year younger than all of you for other readers), that didn't mean i always felt comfortable within that group. there were many instances were i'd bypass the lobby, choosing NOT to hang out before classes start with my group and go hang in the library with warren miller and mike fields and ron kasper. it wasn't until my senior year where i finally felt the most comfortable within my main group of friends.

    whatever. it's only my opinion but i think angie and brian missed the gist of the tony's post.

    i better go before i have a meltown. GO FAVRE IN 2009. Packer GM Ted Thompson can suck my hind teat!

  4. "...trying to find OUR way..." dammit!


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