Monday, August 20, 2012

Back To School

[The Gilbert Stuart, my grade school. Note spelling on the photo, no doubt done by a gradjooit.]

Back To School. Never have sadder words been spoken.

Oh, OK, I suppose, "We're going to have to amputate your penis" might be worse. Also, "Man, we were so drunk! Remember that girl from last night? I think it was your mom!" However, those would be specialized situations not affecting the entire population. Back To School was for everybody.

[Most of us look happy, but it's a lie. Our parents told us to be sure to smile or else we wouldn't get any supper that evening.]

Now, I realize there will be some lunatic in the crowd who will opine, "But, I loved school! Those were the best years of my life! I couldn't wait for school to start again each September!"

Shut up, you pervert. We're here to commiserate, not indulge your twisted memories.

The reason "Back To School" was so miserable a thing to hear was because "School's Out!" was the most joyous phrase ever uttered.

(Cue Alice Cooper!)

OK, maybe not THE most joyous phrase ever uttered. "We're not going to have to amputate your penis after all" and "No, that was your mom", etc., but still, it ranks right up there. Was there ever a kid who didn't know when the date of liberation was due? I used to mark it on the calendar in red ink. When I woke up on the morning of that final day in the school year, the knowledge that it would be the last time, for more than two months, when I would have to pay attention to an alarm clock, gave me a day-long orgasm.

(Yes, even when I was five. After I was past puberty, it only got more intense. On the day I graduated high school, knowing that I would never again be compelled to sit in a classroom, I had to change my pants five times.)

[Me immediately before graduation. Note the vacant expression and uncool attire.]

[Me immediately after graduation. Note whatever you want.]

I'll be realistic, but only for a moment. It's possible some of you found worth in your schooling. I, on the other hand, detested every stinking minute of it. The only thing I ever wanted to get out of school was me. It was unrelenting drudgery, with the occasional stunning embarrassment thrown in for good measure, and the only reason I endured it for as long as I did was because my otherwise wonderful parents were adamant about me getting my high school diploma. While they were intelligent and loving people overall, they had a warped view of what they thought that piece of paper would mean to my future. I think they envisioned it as the key to opening doors behind which I would be allowed to swim in rivers of cash.

Not quite. I can honestly say that having a high school diploma has never meant a damn thing in my life. There has never been a job I've held for which producing that diploma was integral to securing said position. And the things I actually learned in school? I have no doubt I would have learned them more readily, and with a better attitude, had I been taught them by my parents, my friends, and/or via my own reading and experimentation.

My Mom, bless her, taught me to read before I ever entered a classroom. I have no doubt that she and My Dad could have combined to teach me everything else I learned in grade school. And by the time I hit the latter years of my schooling, I was a voracious reader who often played hooky in order to go to the library.

It's true. While other kids were at the ballpark, or swimming, or stealing cars, I was at the library with my nose buried in a book. I learned more when I skipped school than I did when I attended. I'm now indulging in self-congratulatory hoo-hah, however, and my apologies for that. The original thrust of this piece (if you'll excuse the pelvic image) was to reminisce about how hideous it was to face the prospect of having to return to school each year. Let's get back on track.

[Not only did school warp my mind, it also warped my basketball.]

I'd be sitting in our living room, watching TV, and suddenly an ad would come on screen touting a "Back To School Sale". My Mom can tell you that I would literally yell at the television to stop torturing me. I felt it entirely unfair that my reverie would be disturbed by thoughts of impending doom.

(Of course, the fact that the clothes being advertised were the most un-hip and disturbingly geeky items of apparel ever seen had something to do with it. The miniature cretins seen skipping and hopping into the schoolyard, idiotic grins spread wide on their fallow faces, did not make it easier to swallow. Also, My Dad was likely to see such an ad and feel obligated to buy something for me to wear that would completely mark me out as an outcast. He had marvelous taste in clothing for himself, but not so much for a kid. He liked to trick me out in full three-piece suits, a regimental tie with a Windsor knot, wingtip shoes, and perhaps even a handkerchief in the breast pocket, which is all well and good if you're the son of an English Earl, but not so much when you're the youngest one in your class and being picked on to begin with, even without the added ammunition of a Little Lord Fauntleroy suit.)

[My First Communion suit, but you get the idea.]

There are no doubt some women in the audience thinking, "Oh, but you were so cute!" Well, that's the point. Boys do not want to be cute. Boys want to be tough. "Cute" is for sissies. And even the sissies didn't want to be called sissies. If boys had their way, they'd go to school in a leather jacket, an eye patch, a good crusty scar in some noticeable place, fingerless gloves with studs on the knuckles, some sort of weaponry hanging from the belt, and sneakers. Even the nanciest of nancy boys would not choose wingtips, for goodness' sakes. I'm not saying that the grooming lessons My Dad gave me when I was young haven't stood me in good stead; they have. I know how to dress well. That I choose not to do so most of the time is also a direct result.

I could go on, but you all know the bottom line - school was dreadful. There was nothing that happened in school that wasn't better outside of school. Sports, for instance, were fun, but in school you always had some ogre of a gym teacher forcing you to climb ropes and do other uselessly silly shit like that, when all you wanted to do was run around or throw a ball through a hoop. Is either one more intrinsically valuable? No, of course not. But that bastard would make damned sure you climbed the rope before you got to shoot some hoops. Outside of school? Shoot hoops as much as you want and not a rope in sight. Same for every other activity. Nothing was better or more fun in school than outside of it.

(I will now go against just about everything I've said by naming a few teachers who were wonderful. On the off-chance that you are still alive, I will let you know that if you see your name on this list, I'll gladly remove it upon notification. Disavowing any knowledge of you having taught me is the least I can do to repay you for your kindness.

Mrs. Hickey
Mr. Russell
Mr. Doucette

I think that's about it. I could name a couple more borderline cases, but why drag their names through the mud?)

One last thing. There are now an alarmingly large number of schools that resume classes in August. I realize that the summer vacation is a vestigial holdover from a more agrarian society where children worked the fields on farms, but still... I would have blown up my school before allowing myself to be dragged back to class prior to Labor Day.

Do you have some wonderful and happy memories of your school years that you'd like to share in the comments section?


Soon, with more bitter stuff.


Daryl said...

There were some years when I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to get out of going to class and others when I actually wanted to be there .. it was totally dependent on the teacher and if I had a crush on him or her ...

Anonymous said...

Ha - we had to do it, so it makes me happy that today's kids'll be miserable too.

You're the one next to the kid holding the sign, right?

i beati said...

I loved school too but I lived far out in the country and never saw kids this was my reason to live to see other homo sapiens.I had a glorious school career very well- liked ,lots of honors and therefore real life was quite a let down hah

joeh said...

No thanks for the memories...very funny stuff!

We ended the last day of school chanting "No more pencils no more books, no more teachers dirty looks!"

Do they still do that Or do today's kids just give the school the finger?

Christina RN LMT said...

Thank you so much for making me laugh so hard! Nice way to start my morning. :)
I loved elementary school, but once I hit middle and especially high school, all I wanted was for it to be OVER. I went to school in Germany from 8th grade on, they only had six weeks of summer vacation, AND I had to go to school on SATURDAYS.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I like school on Wednesdays. There were hot dogs in the cafeteria ...and peanut butter cookies.

Joan said...

Being compared to an older, who made better grades brother, was not good. Shame on the teachers who do that!
Yes, much prefer learning on my own.
Played hooky to go to the library.... that was great!

Craig said...

Well, Sully, I was as enthusiastic for the Last Day of School as anyone (well, OK, you were WAY more enthusiastic about it than I was; that whole changing-pants thing. . . eeewwwww. . .)

And I also have to confess spending time at the library over Summer Vacation. Seriously. One summer, I taught myself the Russian alphabet, and how to sound out a page of printed Russian (learning the actual language was, um. . . a tad more complicated. . .)

'Cuz, see, I really LOV. . . Never mind. . .

Ami said...

I hated school. I still do. I think that learning can and does happen everywhere, and that it's limiting and short sighted to sequester children away from the world to 'teach' them.

I like the line from Paul Simon's Kodachrome..

"When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it's a wonder I can think at all."

I homeschooled my own children for reasons that had nothing to do with my own school experience, though.

Interesting to see the road traveled in the rear view mirror, isn't it?

Tabor said...

I really liked (not loved) school. I also loved summers. Please do not punish me because your school did not cater to the genius that you are/were. You needed to be in advanced classes...the kind where you could blowup stuff in chemistry. Lets see...penis, sleeping with someones mother, all day orgasm. All in the same post....hmmmm!

Kat said...

I both loved and hated school at the same time. I loved being with my friends and the times I got to do stuff I liked (being in the theater shows, singing, etc) but I hated actual school. Having dyslexia made most of my classes a major headache. No fun.
This post, however? Fun. FUN. :)

Buck said...

...the clothes being advertised were the most un-hip and disturbingly geeky...

You got stuff that was advertised? MY parents bought my school clothes in the basement shops of the stores (that's an ageist thang, you may or may NOT know what it means). And when we were overseas I was clothed out of the Sears catalog... shit that NEVER fit.

Count yer blessings, Young Man.

("Young Man," for the date on yer class pic. My oldest was born in '66.)

Michelle H. said...

What do you think of the new Back to School clothing ads that target teachers? I think they are Old Navy ads, where teachers are suppose to look good (i.e. sexy) in jeans. Talk about capitalism at its best. Not that I'm bashing capitalism. Just that societies focus on school fashion has gotten a bit more extreme.

Hated school from elementary to high school. Interesting, as in eerie, thing is that I just couldn't get away from my gym teacher, Miss Leese. I had her every year from 4th grade to 12 grade. I even saw her about 8 years later (after graduation) jogging at a park.

stephen Hayes said...

I didn't hate school, but I agree that, for a kid, the most beautiful words in the English language were: School's out for summer. For parents, the first day of school is cause for celebration.

Anonymous said...

Heh. Just even having a Snow Day was cause for celebration.

IT (aka Ivan Toblog) said...

I just read this and had a flashback. Now you've gone and compounded it
I may need therapy
School in August should be unconstitutional

messymimi said...

Even i wished i didn't have to go, and i did well in school, as i loved learning and getting great grades. If i could have been home-schooled back then, it would have done me more good.

Babs said...

Where do I start? Okay...loved your post! You wrote what the majority feels about school. It's not a wonder those homeschooled kids do so well ( the majority anyway) They don't have to endure all the crap.

I think you read where we just had our 40th reunion. I didn't go, for some personal reasons. I have reconnected with some and am glad I have but for the most part... :) I'll leave it at that.
Loved the photos too. You cleaned up slick

Jenn Flynn-Shon said...

Here in Phoenix most schools started back TWO weeks ago. Its still 105 here almost every day. 2 out of 3 people in Phoenix have pools in their yards. You do the math on how much that sucks. Or better yet, don't, that's too much like being in school.

Bag Blog said...

Did you get beat up after your first communion? That suit sucks, but it did make me LOL.

silly rabbit said...

I had crazy hair. Summertime crazy hair did not matter. going back to school meant torture. I hated having my mom paste my hair in place and pin it every night. It made me feel like a cow had licked my head.
No more bare feet or red ball jets high tops. No more shorts and tee shirts... back to dresses and making sure no one saw your underwear. Made rolling in the grass difficult. Playing mush ball wasn't the same in a dress either.

Reena said...

I loved school but always looked forward to the last day!

Absolut Ruiness said...

....(applause)....Thanks for taking time out of your life to write such a gem today Jim. (gem,Jim pretty similar i say.) Especially "The only thing I ever wanted to get out of school was me"...I laughed all the way, which is very painful right now because iv recently started regular gymming and my upper abs feel like they'll explode any minute. But the pain was welcome. You are very very funny.

Suldog said...

Haphazard (and anyone else wondering) - Yes, I'm the kid with not quite enough socks to reach his pants, next to the kid holding the sign.

Suldog said...

Buck - Sometimes I got the stuff advertised, usually not. It was the cringe-worthy thought of possibly being made to wear that crap that I was afraid of.

We had THE basement store here in New England - Filene's Basement. Automatic markdowns every 15 days until the stuff was given to charity after 2 months or so. Still, that was high end. All the others had them, too, so I know perzackly what you mean.

My Mom occasionally bought clothes from Spiegel (Chicago 60609) and I don't believe I ever saw anything come from those packages that I was thrilled with.

Suldog said...

Michelle - Ugh. If I saw one of my gym teachers year after year I would have had to shoot him or something.

Back-to-school clothing for teachers? Sexy teachers? I'm for sexy teachers, but only in the abstract. I know from experience that having a sexy teacher means that a boy will learn nothing whatsoever. He'll spend the entire class fantasizing about her and not hear a single word she says.

Suldog said...

Stephen - Not to become all serious here all of a sudden, but I've never understood that. Assuming having children was a choice for someone, why are they so damn anxious to get away from them? I think there's a disconnect in the parent - child thing somewhere if it's a great joy to be rid of your kids. I can honestly say that my folks tried to hold on to me more than they tried to rid themselves of me, and for that I am very thankful.

Of course, I don't have kids, so maybe my thoughts would be 180 degrees if I did! :-)

Suldog said...

Bag Blog - Interestingly, there were way more than just me wearing suits like that. My neighborhood was about 99.5% Catholic, and strongly Catholic at that, so the white suits probably outnumbered the "No White Suit" crowd.

Suldog said...

Silly Rabbit - YES! I went barefoot every chance in Summer, even on the sidewalks and asphalt of Dorchester. Shoes = torture.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

I figured it out...
They're gonna keep moving the first day of school up to the point where it comes right after Christmas so they can promote the Christmas sales and Back-to-School in the same ads.
It's all a marketing ploy.
And, hey, isn't sending a kid, who doesn't want to go, to school, child abuse?
(and does that punctuation make sense?)

Cricket said...

...they'd go to school in a leather jacket, an eye patch, a good crusty scar in some noticeable place, fingerless gloves with studs on the knuckles, some sort of weaponry hanging from the belt, and sneakers.

In my neighborhood, this was kind of the uniform, minus the eye patch... unless, of course, you were also minus the eye.

They eventually banned studs, and belts which could double, chains and the like. Really.

That was later though. I was on the cusp, so I also remember plaid rayon pants and a doubleknit shirt with a zip collar. Probably with a pair of hush puppies. Yikes.

I was quite happy to trade that for a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, and work boots... a solid and hard-to-ban double-duty item in themselves.

Our song:

Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to school we go...
With a hand grenade and a razor blade,
Hi-ho, hi-ho, hi-ho...


Jackie said...

I bet that you were probably very bored in school. Just a thought, but knowing how bright you were and are, I think it's a safe bet to say that.
Too bad that you didn't love school, (that makes me sad) but it is what it is. As a teacher, I always strove to make sure that school (my classroom) was not only a fun place to be, but an absolutely wonderful place to be!
After reading this blog, it makes me wonder if some of my students felt the same way as you do (did.) I have to be honest and say they probably did, even though I never knew it.
Thank you for another smile... Keep 'em coming.
Hugs to you, my friend.

Anonymous said...

My summer vacation days were magical and seemed to last forever and ever and ever. By the time my kids had summer vacations, it seemed like there was hardly any time for them to just relax and be kids! I confess there were parts of school I liked (and I wasn't as smart as you - I needed that diploma!) but nothing beat summer vacation!

lime said...

i had a love/hate relationship with school. parts of it i loved. parts i hated. the teacher who nearly killed me (literally)....definitely not love. the 2nd grade teacher who saw me through the year my parents divorced....she was a godsend, pure and simple.

oh, and i did derive disproportionate joy from irritating the teachers who thought i was too outside the box.

Julie said...

ROFL ...

If I were God... said...

So I guess Pink Floyd's The Wall was you theme album? No a bad one to have (just to have lived through) As long as you got comfortably numb when it was over...

Hilary said...

Hated school as a kid. Like you, I dreaded any mention of returning. Labour Day was like a big threat looming over my beautiful summer. I still feel similarly about the end of summer. Probably a throwback to those days.

Deb said...

I still think of my 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Doctor. She taught me a love of math (or maybe nurtured the beginnings of my Dad)and it has served me well over the years.

rhymeswithplague said...

Where else but Algebra class could you learn the quadratic equation? I can still recite it today, 57 years later: "Minus b plus or minus the square root of b square minus four a c over two a"

And to think some people say what good is algebra!

rhymeswithplague said...

Where else but Algebra class could you learn the quadratic equation? I can still recite it today, 57 years later: "Minus b plus or minus the square root of b square minus four a c over two a"

And to think some people say what good is algebra!

Matt Conlon said...

So uh, it occured to me that you emailed me some time back to let me know about this post, as I sparked the fire... and I never came to read it. I'm fairly sure I didn't even respond to your email.

Well, I'm here to say, Yes, I'm an asshole, and excellent post! I love it when people hated school as much as I did, and I think I was dressed in the same damn thing as you, only 20 years later.