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.