One day of junior high school in the mid-80s in Redmond, Washington

I wake up to the sounds of 101.5 FM, Seattle’s top-40 station. Billy Ocean, perhaps. Or maybe Wham!, if I’m lucky.

I am 12 years old, in 7th grade—junior high.

I shower, brush my teeth, apply mousse.

I attempt to select the right outfit—no easy task, as the incorrect combination can and will result in instant outcast-status. I am certain of this. Forgoing the parachute pants I was given for my birthday (I actually begged for them), I decide to play it safe: black Levis, navy Polo shirt (untucked), Generra jacket. My usual preppy uniform. I’ve learned to avoid risks. This is serious business.

I eat cereal, drink OJ, barely make it to the bus on time.

On the ride to school, I overhear the usual sleepy banter, which then escalates at the whim of the 9th graders, who start talking about sex. When did you lose your virginity? I don’t even remember because it was so long ago. Yeah? What about you? Etc. I know nothing about sex. I know almost nothing about girls. (I know that they flock together, always whispering, pointing. I know that, at the end of the year, they write in your yearbook that you should “stay cool” and “never change”). I pretend not to hear, hoping the older kids don’t decide to turn their attention towards me, hoping that I won’t have to lie and then, surely, be labeled The Virgin Liar. I am convinced that I am the only virgin on the bus, and I am even more certain that, if I have to admit this, my life will be over. I wonder what will happen if they discover that I’ve never kissed a girl, that I’ve held a girl’s hand only once, at a 6th-grade dance, and that my hand got so sweaty that I let go as soon as I could. I look out the window at passing cars. I try to make myself very, very small.

The bus arrives 15 minutes before school starts, and I go straight to my locker because it’s something to do. I need to look busy. Paul and Mike aren’t here yet, and I’m done shuffling books in my locker, so I walk, with purpose, towards Home Room with Mr. Mackey, aka “Chester the Molester.” I am not sure why they call him that. Everyone seems convinced that he’s a Big Perv, though no one can say why. Why is a mystery.

My morning classes are a blur: Home Room, English, Civics, Geometry, Spanish. My Spanish class has seven students and is taught by the mother of one of the students. She’s a housewife, not a real teacher. The class is in a small conference room and only exists so that my school can say it has a Foreign Language Program. Every time I say “God!,” which I say whenever I mispronounce something, she chastises me, threatens to send me to the principal for taking the Lord’s name in vain. I tell her I can’t help it because I can’t help it. My other classes have regular teachers and are in regular classrooms, where I can usually sit in the back, where I can be anonymous; the one exception is Civics class, but that’s OK, since I get to sit behind Stacy Fletcher, who, for some reason, thinks I’m sorta kinda cute, or so she says, though she’s popular and I’m not, and what am I gonna do about that?

Lunch happens in the cafeteria, where Paul and Mike are eating fish sticks and crinkle-cut fries. Before bringing his food back to our table, Mike licks everything on his tray in case any 8th-grade jocks try to pull a grab-and-go. I lick nothing since nobody wants my lunch, which comes in a bag from home. It is a ham sandwich, a banana, and two Oreos. I buy a milk from the milk lady, even though what I really want is a Coke. My conversation with Paul and Mike revolves around video games and the wrestling team. I am thinking of trying out in the 85-pound weight class. We are afraid to talk about sex or girls, none of us wanting to be exposed for our ignorance.

After lunch is P.E. We play “Kill The Man,” a game invented by our P.E. coach, who used to play for the Seahawks. I actually enjoy the mindless throwing and catching and dodging, the respite from the mindful machinations of junior high school, though it doesn’t dawn on me that this activity could be a nice, tidy metaphor for junior-high survival. It also doesn’t occur to me how incredibly funny it is that my black P.E. coach has taught a bunch of suburban white kids a game called “Kill The Man.”

Anyway, the school day ends with my elective, woodshop. I am making a box. The sides aren’t fitting together properly. I wonder if making this box will help me in the real world. I really hope not.

When the bell rings and the day is over, I find Paul and Mike so we can ride bikes and play Atari. Instead, breathlessly, we examine Mike’s dad’s Playboys in the woods behind his house, finally sort of beginning to realize what all the fuss is about.

34 responses to “One day of junior high school in the mid-80s in Redmond, Washington”

  1. ks says:

    These cleverly organized reflections made me shutter just a bit, reminding me of the total sense of discomfiture I felt every single day of 7th grade. This is undoubtedly a terrific, if slightly painful, way to jog memories we’ve mostly filed away in the dark, omni-pubescent recesses of our brains. I had completely forgotten about how many Generra clothing items I once owned. Where I went to school, little polo players (not lizards or foxes!) on shirts were THE mark of prepitudiosity. And Sperry topsiders. And Shrink-to-fit 501s. And the idea of still being a virgin at 14 was too horrifying to contemplate. (The only thing scarier was the idea of actually losing the “big V” within the next two years. Yikes.)

  2. Bryan says:

    I loved this. It did for me what it did for ks — jog a bunch of memories. But I’m quite sure no one in my junior high was talking about *actually* having sex, let alone actually having it. Maybe joking about it or using various sexual slurs.

    I’ve come to love the mildly self-deprecating “anyway” moments in your pieces, Jeremy.

  3. cynthia says:

    I too loved this pieces. Were we at the same junior high lol? It totally reminded me of mydays at Junior high. In my days were the big bright florecent shirts and the plastic purses and shoes. Shutter the thought. You actually owned a atari. lucky you

  4. Scotty says:

    I just loved it to pieces.

  5. julie the ping pong queen says:

    Ahhh 7th grade. Or better yet ugh. Nice piece of outsider writing JZ.
    We had shorts day at my 7th grade even though we could wear shorts any day. I wore some red shorts that had snaps up the side though I safety pinned them for fear that Jeff Bottomly would run up and yank them off as if I was a chippendales dancer.
    Near 5th period I got called to the principals office where when I enter the room I saw Mr Johnson sitting behind his desk looking angry with a metal desk chair propped in the middle of the room. Mr Johnson then harshly told me my shorts appeared to be too short. He then ordered me to prop myself over the chair so he could see if my shorts were in fact as short as he believed. I followed instruction and left his office without protest.
    I went straight to the girls bathroom and joined a few other girls to play the fainting game. I hyperventilated on my knees and then quickly rose up leaning against the concrete wall where my best friend Karen pressed her palms as hard as she could on my chest. Swooning as the voices turned to echoes Karen would catch me and guide me to the dirty tiled floor. Only to come out of my daze a minute later focusing up to 4 young teen faces looking down with awkward smiles some with braces.

  6. Mikey says:

    Very very real. I spent a few moments wondering why we never hear the perspective of the popular kids, the jocks, the ridiculously confident kids that seemed to surround us, and I realized it’s because they don’t write. And thus you, and we, are the winners.

    I hope you’ll continue!

  7. Bryan says:

    JTPPQ: I love that your potential shorts snatcher was named Jeff Bottomly.

    Mikey: Doesn’t the Breakfast Club go a little too far toward redeeming the jocks and popular kids?

  8. alan says:

    cynthia, where did you attend high school? And didn’t everyone own an Atari, at some point in time?

  9. Jeremy says:

    Bryan, I know–in retrospect, I see that the 9th graders were full of it regarding losing their respective virginities. But they had girlfriends, ruled the school (yes, we had 9th graders at my jr. high)–how was I to know? Also, I do use that “anyway” transition a lot… it’s one of my favorites.

    Anyway! Wow, Jeff Bottomly indeed. (Was Jeff Bottomly the same person as your principal?) Julie, we had “shorts day,” too, on Fridays. The rule was that the shorts had to be knee-length…

  10. T-Dub says:

    It’s always amazing to think back to days like these. Thanks, J-Dog, for describing one of them so eloquently. When I was in junior high, I don’t think I could envision anything outside of suffering through my little world of routinized mundanities. Thank god (oops, sorry, to your Spanish teacher) it changed for the better.

  11. cynthia says:

    alan -lampson junior high and pacifica high school, but we didn’t have shorts day at our school and no we did not own a atari

  12. stephanie wells says:

    Sam Weir, is that really you? Welcome to TGW!! I look forward to your future posts!

  13. Jeremy says:

    I probably wasn’t quite the victim that Sam is, but I totally relate to Sam Weir–much much more than anyone else on F&G.

  14. Scotty says:

    It also doesn’t occur to me how incredibly funny it is that my black P.E. coach has taught a bunch of suburban white kids a game called “Kill The Man.”

    Pure genius, Zitter, pure genius.

  15. ruben mancillas says:

    Jeremy, we just saw The Darjeeling Limited and didn’t like it one bit but I couldn’t help but ask, these are all fictional characters, right?

    And what kind of upbringing would you have had if you actually attended Billy Ocean concerts?

  16. what kind of upbringing could lead one not to like TDL one bit?

  17. Scotty says:

    And what kind of upbringing would you have had if you actually attended Billy Ocean concerts?

    I think some of us know the asnwer to this question.

  18. Marleyfan says:

    It was in my uncle’s Playboy that I learned about WHAM UK, a year or so before they hit in the U.S.

    I REALLY liked this post. And would have told you I loved it, but didn’t want to get in trouble from TGW gods…

  19. Dave says:

    Our month-long experiment in not saying “loved this post” has ended. Compliment when moved to do so, especially when you also add to the discussion.</godlike pronouncement>

  20. Rachel says:

    great comment dave

  21. Bryan says:

    that’s the funniest thing i’ve seen in a long time.

  22. Bryan says:

    even funnier is that i tried to cut and paste the mock code:

    but the editor read it as actual code and so it didn’t appear in comment 21.

  23. Bryan says:

    didn’t show up again. dave, are you really god? how did you get it to appear in your comment?

  24. Dave says:

    You have to use the HTML character codes for the pointy brackets; otherwise the whole thing gets interpreted as a (non-functioning) XHTML tag.

  25. Jeremy says:

    yay, inflating my comments with HTML technical jargon!

  26. Dave says:

    You know, you people are all technically “bloggers” now. HTML should not be a foreign language to you.

  27. LP says:

    [sound of knuckles being rapped with a ruler]

  28. Jeremy says:

    Yay, further inflating my comments with admonishments from Dave/God!

  29. lt says:

    is this another good vs. evil discussion?

  30. Literacy says:

    Aren’t they all, really, at the core?

  31. cynthia says:

    yes they are

  32. AW says:

    Been working some extra shifts and trying to get my own post up and am just now catching up on reading other stuff. Loved this piece–painful and a real hoot all at the same time!

  33. julie the ping pong queen says:

    would it obnoxious to share my story with being a child who discovers porn?
    well then…
    My neighbor Mr. Cordoba decided to throw away his porn. Little did he know that I was going through the neighbors trash where I’d find accounting books and play secretary in our entrance way.
    Well, on my next venture I found Mr. C’s disposed Hustler Mags. I then took some scissors cut out the pornographic hairy woman doing unmentionable things and put them in a long Lego box.
    Later that evening when my mom was having a party for my dad’s work I walked around with the box and told each adult party goer to reach in and pull out a picture and that my mom had a game that she wanted them to play.
    I have always sweared my older brothers must have had something to do with it.
    They have always shook there heads proudly saying it was all my idea as my mom listened perplexed most likely wondering where she failed.
    She was a really good mom. I was just going thru my phase of being the Bad Seed.
    That’s all.
    Thanks for letting me get that off my chest.