Though I was fairly well integrated with my classmates in grade school, by the time I reached junior high I had gravitated toward a clique of geeks. Junior high is a time of cliques. I spent all of high school striving to transcend these cliques and never quite succeeded; all I did was alienate my existing friends. (Fortunately, college offered a fresh start.)
During my recent “clean and purge” binge, I took time to browse through my old yearbooks. I thought’d be fun to scan in some of the old photos. The birthday entry for Denise came of that, as did last week’s collection of my school pictures. I also scanned in pictures of all my geeky friends.
Our little clique comprised:
Dave and I were best friends from fifth to eighth grades. We lived close enough to do a lot of stuff together. And we did. We played D&D, we went hydrotubing, we argued the merits of comic books (I liked Marvel, he liked DC), we played computer games together on our VIC-20s. Later, we listened to music together. (The first time I heard Michael Jackson’s Thriller was in Dave’s room.) Dave and I had a falling out in high school. Or, more precisely, I underwent a drastic change, became (as Dave puts it) “a Bible-thumping sheep” and discarded old friends. For a time, we hated each other. We’ve patched things up over the last decade, though, and now we do geeky stuff again. Dave is a lawyer operating out of Salem. (For a time, he was the “youngest partner in the state”.) Dave’s a regular commenter here, though he thinks weblogs are an exercise in narcissism.
Andrew and I were in Mrs. Onion’s first grade class. We weren’t geeks then, of course; we were squirrely little munchkins, just like all the other boys. As we grew, I spent some time at his house. I remember seeing Star Wars with him once. I remember fishing for crawdads in his creek at one birthday party. I remember that his family owned a single-volume version of The Lord of the Rings made up to look like The Red Book of Westmarch. I remember that in the late seventies his father had, in the house, some sort of computer that could dial in with a modem to play a networked D&D game with wire-frame graphics. As we grew older, Andrew became less squirrely, more stoic. Still, his birthday parties were always fun. One year, Dave and I pitched together to buy Andrew the live Styx album, Caught in the Act. That was the year we all stayed up late watching Octopussy. Andrew left Canby for Lakeridge (or Lake Oswego?) after his sophomore year of high school. He went to Stanford for college and now brings the world lots of exciting gadgets as the VP for product development at The Sharper Image. Andrew comments here from time-to-time.
Ah, John Kern. I haven’t seen John in twenty years. I always thought John and I were very similar — smart but prone to stupid things. He and I could be very silly together. John lived in Charbonneau, a wealthy community between Canby and Wilsonville. I loved to go over to his house because it was so enormous and beautiful. John didn’t go to Canby for high school; he went to LaSalle, and gradually the rest of us geeks lost touch with him. In junior high, he held two computer parties. We all brought our machines over to his house and stayed up all night doing geeky computer stuff. (Or at least as geeky as you could get with VIC-20s and Commodore 64s and TI-99/4As and, yes, even a Timex Sinclair 1000.) Once we played Pitfall to the wee hours of the morning. Another time (possibly the same time), we snuck into his parents’ bedroom to get their copy of Flashdance. We watched ,it hoping to find some dirty parts. There weren’t any. I think John eventually did something with ROTC, joined the Navy or Air Force. I’d love to see him again. He’s probably married, with five kids and a crazy life.
I met Darren in fifth grade, drawn to him because he was interested in comic books. For a couple of years, we were pretty good friends. I spent a lot of time at his house playing D&D (and Villains and Vigilantes — or was it Champions?), leafing through his comic books (like Dave, he preferred DC), and playing on his TRS-80 (he had a great dinosaur game for it). We spent Halloween together our sixth grade year, trick-or-treating up and down his street. Nobody was home. We smashed a lot of pumpkins and took a lot of candy from dishes left on porches. Darren drew his own comic books and tried to sell them at the school store, but his only potential customers were his fellow geeks, and he usually gave us copies for free. I always liked Darren, but he was tentative, unsure of himself. He seems more confident as an adult. Like Dave, Darren attended Whitman College. He’s now the bookbuyer for Powell’s Beaverton.
Mitch was a strange duck, but I liked him a lot. (After all, he introduced me to Bloom County!) He didn’t always hang with the geeks, because he was kind of a loner. Mitch was hard-rocking, Stephen King-loving kind of geek. He liked D&D too (kind of a requirement to be a geek in the early eighties), but he was more interested in the life-and-times the game emulated. He liked the armor and the weapons and the castles more than the actual gameplay. (He’d be a perfect candidate for the SCA.) Because Mitch was somewhat different than the rest of us, he offered a unique perspective. He could argue a position that the rest of didn’t take. He was passionate. Mitch and I stayed friends throughout high school, and kept in touch a little bit after we graduated. He called me one Christmas break but I never returned his call. I’ve not heard from him since. I’ve been trying to track him down without much success. (Dave thinks he might have a connection that would lead us to Mitch, but, to be honest, I’m a little apprehensive.)
Jonathan was a kid that everybody loved. He was certainly a geek, and part of our group, but he was also cool enough to hang around with the regular kids. The teachers loved him because he didn’t goof around. Rather, he goofed around, but he knew when to stop. He was the funniest in our group (though John Kern was close). He was a great joke-teller and song-singer. One day in TAG Science he taught us to sing “My lover, he was a logger, there’s none like him today. If you’d poor whiskey on it, he’d eat a bail of hay.” We were supposed to be working on plant propagation, but we sang goofy songs instead. Though we all like him, Jonathan never did much with us outside of school. He was a member of a private church, and I don’t think he was allowed to mix with the riff-raff. I didn’t see much of Jonathan in high school, and have no idea what happened to him after graduation.
Poor Jeremy Martin. He was most certainly part of our group; he was a geek, and in all of our classes. But just as the other kids picked on us, we picked on Jeremy. He carried his Dungeons and Dragons books with him to every class. He didn’t try to hide his geekiness. Most of us knew enough to try to pretend we weren’t geeky, even though everyone knew we were. Jeremy had no shame. So we picked on him as others picked on us. Still, I liked him. I went over to his house to play Runequest. He came over to my house to play our made-up version of life-sized D&D back in Grandpa’s woods. Jeremy was a good guy, but nobody was willing to give him a chance. That’s too bad. I don’t know what happened to him in high school and beyond. When Kris and I still lived in the apartment, just after moving to Canby, we ran into Jeremy and his mother one day. He was moving from a house in town to someplace in Portland. That’s the last I saw or heard of him.
The following were not geeks, but they deserve special mention:
Dave was my best friend for the four years beginning in fifth grade. Paul was my best friend for the following four years. Neither of us can remember how we met. Apparently we knew each other in junior high because he signed my yearbook. It wasn’t until our freshman year that we began to hang out together, and by our sophomore year, he was my best friend. (Tom Stewart was another best friend for Paul, I think.) Whereas I was staid and liked planning, Paul was all about spontaneity and fun. The combination worked well. We also had great arguments about life, the universe, and everything. Once, after a Newberg-Canby football game, we sat in the car and argued about the nature of God for more than an hour. (I was for God, he was against). By our senior years, we were so in-sync that once, while were driving down a country road, he began to tell me something and I said “I know” — “How do you even know what I was going to say?” he asked. We compared notes. I had known what he was going to say, though it was a completely unrelated to our previous conversation. Paul and I have kept in contact (with varying degrees of closeness) all our adult lives. It’s always great to get together with him. He still brings spontaneity to my well-ordered life. Paul’s a regular commenter around here.
I never knew Tamara well. She was a sweet, good-natured girl who was in all of the advanced classes with us geeks. We had a teasing kind of acquaintance, each of us making fun of the other. She was important to me mainly because first Dave and then Paul had a crush on her. It was strange to go from one best friend to the other and to have both of them infatuated with Tamara. I didn’t keep in touch with Tamara after high school, but for a couple of years in the mid-nineties I’d bump into her at concerts and events around Canby. She was happily married, had adopted a child, and was running a Montessori school near Banks. She’s a good person, and I hope she’s doing well.
While both Dave and Paul had a crush on Tamara Brunson, I had one on Tami Sale, my dentist’s daughter. Tami made my heart ache, and I’ll bet she never knew it. She was beautiful. She was smart. She was popular. And, best of all, she was nice to me. She didn’t treat me like dirt. We had a computer class together in eighth grade, and sometimes we’d collaborate on projects. I went to the eighth grade graduation dance — my first dance — solely because I knew she’d be there. I asked her to dance three times, and she said “yes” every time. We danced to “Open Arms” by Journey, and for the entire summer I melted whenever I heard that song. Poor Dave had to put up with me pining for Tami Sale all summer long. Then high school came along and I forgot all about Tami. I saw her in class, of course, but my crush had evaporated. Ironically, we were cast as husband and wife in the play our senior year (You Can’t Take With You — we were Ed and Essie Carmichael). We gave each other a perfunctory kiss during every performance. And I didn’t even care! Four years earlier I would have killed to give Tami a kiss. Such is the way of young love.
I think most of us in the geeky clique suffered terribly during our junior high years. (Maybe everyone does.) We were the bottom-feeders on the social ladder, and well aware of it. School was miserable, except when we were with each other. I wouldn’t trade those years of pain for anything now. They helped make me who I am today. I like myself now. To hell with all the popular kids!