No one understood the importance of developing socialization skills in junior high school more than me, as I entered the seventh grade in the fall of 1962. To begin with, things were really bad at home; I had allowed my parents to get totally out of hand. My father’s depression had taken control of the entire household, especially since my mother had succumbed to his dark moodiness and horrendous bouts with rage by developing her own sort of manic disorder. The symptoms must have frightened her so much that she chose to pretend as though nothing was wrong at all. So at thirteen, I found myself the only sane adult in the asylum. As if this weren’t bad enough, there was also a six-year old brother who needed raising and nurturing as well. My older brother had left and joined the service and my mother was now working again, teaching Adult Ed classes, mornings and evenings. I was responsible for cooking our supper most weeknights, doing dishes and looking after my little brother in the evenings while my father sleep-walked his existence through a heavy Thorazine haze. The only positive thing in my life was that President Kennedy was in the White House, guaranteeing that we were all safe from the Soviets at least.
School had always been my great sanctuary and I had just assumed moving from elementary into junior high would only up the ante and be that much more enjoyable. I had been a prince in my elementary school. There were not quite a hundred students in my entire class and I was in the top ten both in class standing and popularity. I had what teachers called a very outgoing personality and I realize now I had learned how to cultivate friendships and win people over to my side at an early age. It was imperative for me to be accepted, because I recognized there was something very different about me when compared to other boys, so as long as I was able to finesse people into my camp, things would run smoothly in my little kingdom. What had me somewhat concerned now was that there was another elementary school in town that would be combining their sixth grade class with ours, doubling the student population. Therefore a great unknown was thrown into the mix and my place in the hierarchy of students stood in possible jeopardy. I had never even considered there might be anything else to cope with as I entered West Buttfok Junior-Senior High School.
I recall very little about the first week of school, except the seemingly incessant amount of bells ringing to herd us through our day and the stale, dead smell of dust and wood that hung in the hallways. The junior high had been the original old high school, built before the Second World War. The new high school was constructed in the mid 50s and was state-of-the-art at the time. The two schools were connected, so we shared the same cafeteria plus a few classrooms and anytime I had to walk through those halls, I was intimidated by its size and the high school grownups who inhabited it. To fish out of the water me, everything and everyone was frightening and all my friends (who only a few months before had been my safety net) seemed swallowed up by this new beast that I sensed my juvenile charms now were powerless to tame. Gone was the wonderfully secure home of school with adoring teachers who held me in high esteem and friendly kids who liked me for who I was. Everything here was overrun with boisterous boy-men carrying on like unleashed animals and girls masquerading as women under the guise of nylons, bouffant hair and bad make-up.
I ate lunch with two guys from my old school. Mark was a good friend since fifth grade who lived a few streets over from me. He was a shy, quiet boy and I genuinely liked him. We had a history together and it felt good having him around. Barry was a kid I knew even longer, nice enough, very bright but always kind of weird. In hindsight, the only thing wrong with him was that he was a geek and now, in seventh grade, he sported a pocket protector to make it official.
Within days, Brad and Teddy joined us at our table hidden in a quiet corner of the lunchroom, boys from my homeroom who came from the other school. Brad was like a politician; he worked a group of people as though he were out stumping for votes. He was absolutely tiny, barely sixty pounds I’d guess, and could easily have passed for a third grader. He was in the marching band and was all excited about football season starting. Teddy was just a hair taller than him. He already had super thick geriatric lenses in his nerdy glasses which magnified his eyeballs, giving him a fishbowl stare. But he hung on my every word at lunchtime and shadowed me to and from classes whenever he could. All four of these guys were small; I was at least a head taller than any of them (while I was being towered over by most of the jocks). Within that first week we formed our clique and I was terrified enough by outside forces to stick close to this odd collection, whether I liked them all or not.
And what about the girls who had always been a compatible community where I could find companionship and solace? Even they seemed mired in this transition from childhood to the next level that all seemed to be barreling towards in their puberty frenzy. It was as though a wedge had been suddenly driven between us. A few months ago we were all kids – some of us boys and some of us girls. All at once it had become an us and them – a black and white situation, which simply made no sense. Making it all worse, at this point there were twice the number of participants in the charade, aiding to the confusion. Some of the less attractive or overweight gals seemed the only ones to still deal openly with boys on a friendship basis. The advantage was these young ladies usually had better personalities, a sense of humor and were far more appealing than the more popular bitches. But even these boy-friendly girls would not eat with anyone but other girls in our cafeteria. The only boy/girl mixing was done by couples and it was amazing how many had paired up already. These duos were what everybody else talked about and cared about (when they weren’t engrossed in discussing the upcoming game or pep rally) and that sort of drivel already bored me. Although it was in a state of great confusion and brought much anxiety, I knew this sexuality I was struggling with had nothing to do with holding some girl’s sweaty hand or prodding and poking a budding breast.
Brad decided what we needed was to have a party to enlarge our own circle of friends to include females with the possibility of finding steadies of our own. I didn’t quite know how to break the news to him that there weren’t any girls in the seventh grade shorter than him and very few even his height. So I used the excuse that most seventh grade girls were hoping to meet an eighth grade boy and that none of us stood much of a chance in the romance department as I saw it. He was an optimist though and felt there was no harm in trying. Brad Schultz was an only child and evidently his parents were keen on him using their basement rec room for a party. They lived in a newer section of town, a development built at least a dozen years after our little cracker box houses were thrown up. Their houses were ranch style, many brick and all with three bedrooms instead of two, and “L” shaped living room/dining rooms. My mother described the area as “the ritzier” part of town. It was still shit hole West Buttfok in my book.
The Saturday after the Varsity’s first home football game was Brad’s choice for the party, creating a whole weekend event for us, because evidently EVERYBODY was going to the game Friday night. Well, I certainly had no plans to attend any such game. I had never been to a football game. In fact, I had never even seen a football game on television. All I knew about football was that the ball really wasn’t even a ball, but rather a strange ellipsoidal thing. Somehow, although the game was of absolutely no interest to me, the party did seem curiously attractive. When asking my parents for permission for the upcoming big weekend, my father’s comment went something like “What the hell do you know about football?!?”, yet they allowed me to go to both events. I looked at it as a means to escape from the nut house for two whole evenings.
We all met at the stadium. I thought we would choose seats like you did at the movies, but was instructed by Mark and Teddy that the cool thing was to walk around during the game, visiting with everybody and gossiping about the people who didn’t show up. Some of the girls who were coming to the party planned on meeting up with us at some point during the game. Diane was a new girl from our homeroom who had transferred from the Catholic school in town. A real carrot top, she was gregarious and looking to make friends. She was one of those unpretty girls and I felt sorry for her, because none of the girls were being very welcoming to her. I think I identified with her ‘foreigness’ because I didn’t feel I belonged at this school either. She tried to explain what the game was all about. We were doing okay until it came to explaining “downs” and then she totally lost me. To this day, I still have no clue how football is played, yet I have led a full and very rewarding life despite my great ignorance. By half time, there were about six of us hanging out chatting and eating junk food and Brad and Aaron (who were both in band) joined us once the game was over. I don’t know for sure, but I think our team lost. It didn’t seem to matter to anyone in our expanding group. Everyone was more concerned about the party at Brad’s the following night. I had to admit I was looking forward to it a lot more now myself.
Saturday night I met Mr. and Mrs. Schultz for the first time. They were nothing like my parents, nor any of the parents in my neighborhood. They were very polite, obviously well-educated and sincerely interested in absolutely everything and anything Brad was interested in. That was something unfathomable to me and nothing I had ever expected to find in West Buttfok. The Schultz basement was furnished far more beautifully than our living room. In no time there were maybe a dozen of us, remarkably divided half guys half girls and Brad was all but rubbing his hands together in glee that his plans had worked out so well.
Those I can remember in attendance were: Brad/Mark/Teddy/me/Diane/Marsha and Laura. Marsha was a tall skinny Polish-American girl, so flat-chested that she was concave and if that wasn’t bad enough, she wore braces and hence earned the nickname Marsha Metalmouth. She was a great dancer and a wisecracker. Laura was in our homeroom. She was not especially pretty, but elegant and aloof and very, very intelligent. She didn’t go to games, or tease her hair, or dress like a greaser. Her mother was divorced and owned a business. She lived in a house just up or down the street from Brad. Laura came because she was the neighbor girl, not because she wanted to, I could tell. Of all the women in the room, I recall she was one I wanted to get to know. There were several more kids present, but faces and names have been lost in the years.
We all brought our favorite 45s to dance to. I don’t remember any wall flowers. Dee Dee Sharpe’s MASHED POTATO and Little Eva’s LOCOMOTION stick out in my jukebox memory as playing over and over. Here was this dozen or so terminally white kids dancing to the Detroit Sound. There were no people of color in West Buttfok, the reason many of our parents had chosen to move and raise families here. After a couple of hours or so, Mr. and Mrs. Schultz came downstairs with boxes and boxes of pizzas. I had never seen that many in one place outside of a pizzeria. In these days, pizza was not the staple in the American diet as it is today. It was something sort of special, at least in our world. The Schultzes chatted awhile with all of us, then disappeared back upstairs. Brad looked devious. Something was up and I asked him what was going on. He said it was “game time”, and quietly got everyone’s attention. We were actually going to play Spin the Bottle. I had heard of it, but never knew anyone who ever played it. Everyone pretended as though they were totally cool with the idea, but many faces seemed to pale slightly, and I was sure palms were getting sweaty. Looking about the room, there wasn’t anybody I had the least desire to kiss.
There was a large storage closet at the far end of the room. We moved our chairs quietly into a circle. Brad would spin the bottle and the chosen person would go into the closet and wait. The bottle was spun again and when it stopped at a person of the opposite sex, they went into the closet for X amount of time (maybe three to five minutes – who remembers this shit 50 years later?). Once they were finished, they sat out of the circle so that everyone got one chance. I believe Diane, the Catholic red-head was first chosen and Teddy was her partner. I remember this because they did end up going steady soon after the party for a while that year. I felt stupid, sitting there waiting for them to do their thing behind the closed door. Once out of the closet, the still red-faced couple was applauded. When Laura was chosen, very soon into the game, she announced she thought the whole thing was ridiculous and moved her chair into the corner contemplating her fingernails while the rest of us played the game.
The bottle chose me next. I had hoped Laura would be my partner, not because I wanted to make out with her, but because she seemed to be the most simpatico and maybe we could have just sat in the dark closet and chatted until our time was up. I knew it was not going to be that easy, so I sat in the closet, closed the door, and awaited my fate. In what seemed like seconds, the door opened, and I saw the tall, thin silhouette of Metalmouth. Oh man, I wanted to make out with Marsha Stokowski about as much as I wanted to make out with Brad Schultz! In half -a-heartbeat, her lips found my mouth, her tongue was shoved halfway to my tonsils and I literally tasted tin as she probed my innards for what seemed like a lifetime. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, she was pushing her non-existent breasts into my bony frame, shoving me up against the back of the closet while orgasmically groaning and moaning. She could not have possibly found it that satisfying. I was embarrassed for her and pissed at myself for even going through with this silly exercise when I knew better. How would I ever live through six more years of school seeing Metalmouth everyday after this tragedy? When she was done with her gyrations, we walked out of the closet together and she acted the same as she had before we went in. We even danced some more before the party broke up. We got along fine and neither of us ever mentioned it again.
A few weeks later, Laura invited me to her house for a party. She was having a hootenanny. She knew some kids from a very hip school in another Cleveland suburb who played guitars. She said she thought I might enjoy meeting some different people. Most of them were high school age. She asked me to please not tell Brad about it. It was not going to be his kind of party. And it wasn’t. It was very different. We sat around and sang folk songs, drank coffee and smoked cigarettes and it was all okay with her mother. It was a different experience, but I can’t say it was a fun party either. I was still a fish out of water, and I believe I knew why that was, but, just like my mother who was afraid to face her particular demons, I was not ready to take on mine. I had not yet met the right kind of people, and I feared I never would as long as I stayed in West Buttfok.