New School Jitters

Note:  I kind of got this one bass-ackwards from my previous blog post.  I apologize.

Moving from one school to another is always traumatic.  No matter how good (or bad) you were doing in your old school, there is always the wondering if you will fit into the hierarchy at the new school.  I knew my move from the US school in Germany to the new school in California was going to be an eye-opening experience.

The major difference in schools was that every kid in my old school was a dependent of military parents.  In my new school there would be very few dependent kids – if any.  The nearest base, which was Hamilton AFB, was about twelve miles south of Petaluma and had quarters on base for most of its personnel.  My dad just wanted to live off base this time so we bought a house in a new subdivision in Petaluma.

While we were moving in, it was decided that we didn’t have to go to school so but we had to pitch in and arrange the household as desired.  This only took a week to do properly so by the time the next Monday came around we were off to school.

I was entering senior high school in the middle of my junior year right before the Thanksgiving break.  I’d have two weeks of school and then a week off for the holiday.  As it turned out, this was a good thing because I was able to figuratively dip my toe into the water before jumping in feet first.

My first day did not go well.  I had to stop at the office and make sure I was registered.  As I suspected, someone had made an assumption and changed my name from Tom to Thomas.  This was usually the first thing I noticed every time I looked at an official form with my name on it.  My parents, not being dummies, figured that if they named me Thomas that everyone would call me Tom anyway, so they just made the shortcut and named me Tom.

Fortunately, I had a copy of my birth certificate with me.  It didn’t cut any ice with the stern-faced desk person who insisted that I give her my “real” name despite being shown a copy of my birth certificate.  This escalated into a virtual shouting match which me, as a lowly almost-student, was destined to lose.  My parents were called.  The office troll’s disposition was not improved by my mother’s response to her (which, fortunately, I did not hear).  Exuding extreme displeasure towards me, she signed me in as a student and handed me a class schedule and a map with a huge smirk.

My locker was way the hell and gone down a dead-end hallway and had no relationship anywhere near any of my classes.  I could imagine the glee at which the office troll assigned me this locker.  If I wanted to use it I would have to sprint (No RUNNING in the HALLS!) to and from it in the thirty seconds allowed between classes.  I resigned myself to being forced to carry a book satchel.  This would guarantee me nerd status in seconds.

Speaking of which, I was tentatively placed in the ‘nerd’ subdivision of official outcasts.  This was due mainly to my ability to say or do something wrong no matter what I said or did.  It didn’t help one bit that I had been a high-B or low-A student in Germany; in fact, it just dug a deeper hole.  I managed to enroll in German class and, while the teacher was a good one, she just didn’t have the total grasp of a native German speaker and would occasionally say something that caused me to suppress a snort.  In one memorable instance, I didn’t suppress it enough and she heard me.

As punishment, she assigned me a little extra homework – translating a seven-paragraph chapter from German to English.  I guess it really didn’t help my case that I did it in class that afternoon and handed it to her when class let out.  She asked me what it was and I told her.  Now she was the one that snorted.  By the time she read my translation she was pretty ticked off.  Word spread rapidly around that I was a wise ass.  In some groups this was a good thing and in others a handicap.

There were possibly seven or eight major cliques in school.  Most notably were the jocks, the nerds, the cool guys, the cool girls, and the surfers.  I tried my best to steer clear of the jocks because they liked to run over people in the halls and generally make everyone’s lives miserable.  I don’t think they really did this out of spite, but more because they just wanted to, or were too big to be expected to move.

Some of the cool girls were merged with the jocks, especially the cheerleaders.  As a whole, the cheerleaders were very, um, wholesome.  With their hair just so, wearing short dresses and tight sweaters, and hanging on every grunt of a jock they defied anyone’s attempt to pry them away.  The rest of the cool girls made life miserable for the uncool girls.

There were three major hangouts in town for teens.  The first one, located only a block from school, sold everything from pencils to sodas.  There was a short fountain area behind which were various siphons for water, Coke, and three or four flavors of ‘sweet gunk’.  The rage at the time was a lime-Coke.  First you took some Coke syrup, spritzed in some lime gunk, and then added sparkling water.  It would foam up and over the sides of the glass before it ever got to you.  It had it’s unique flavor though and, after several of them, you got used to it.

The other two places were out near the highway.  One was called The Burger Barn even though it looked nothing like a barn and the other was named the Dog ‘n’ Suds.  The latter was affiliated with A&W Root Beer.  This was the place I hung out mostly because for fifty cents you would get a huge mug of almost frozen root beer and a fat hot dog on a bun.  For a quarter more, you could get a huge tub of French fries.  Pretty much every girl I got to ride in my car wanted to go the Dog ‘n’ Suds because of the root beer.  I was not popular because most of the time I showed up because I usually had more than one girl in my car.

They loved to ride in my convertible.  I’ve had as many a six kids in the car at one time; mostly girls.  They thought it was “cute” which I exploited to the max.  With the short-throw stick shift resting between the front seats, I almost always managed to run my hands along a thigh when I hit third or fourth gear.

Eventually, I got settled in and found my niche.  At first I was a niche of one, but after six weeks or so I built it up to ten or twelve of us.  We were the ones that didn’t fit into any other category so we started one of our own.  We called ourselves The Group.  Pretty catchy, eh?

It was through a backyard pool party with The Group that I talked with a couple of my neighbors who were with the Surf group.  They both lived within a few houses of me and I’d seen them around a few times so I just invited them.  This is probably how the surf bug bit me.  It sounded way cool to be able to ride waves to shore and I wanted to try it.  The fact that surfing required the girls to wear swim suits didn’t enter into it at all.

T.O.M.

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