When Etiquette Fails

“We could love and not be suckers. We could dream and not be losers. It was such a beautiful time. Everything was possible because we didn’t know anything yet.” Hilary Winston

I remember sitting on the grass listening to a classmate, Nancy Rasmusson, sing Ventura Highway, while playing the guitar at our final school assembly for junior high. I was thirteen years old, on the cusp of adolescence, and I’ll admit to you, I was under the erroneous illusion that I was rather hip? The evidence was compelling, I had taken a puff off one cigarette, almost choked to death, but I believe it counted, besides I could be cool without Virginia Slims, I had bell bottom pants, days of the week underwear, and a Bic lighter that my parents didn’t know about.

I know, I know, cool on steroids.

Life was simple, innocent in many ways, but the feeling I remember most acutely was this sense of excitement for all that was about to unfold? I was going to high school next year, Dad had agreed to let me go to my first dance, it was my graduation dance from junior high. I almost fainted when Paul, or was it Ben, some really popular guy asked me to slow dance. I borrowed a Gunny Sack dress from my sister and she was going to be annoyed with the new sweat stains on her prized garment, oh well, after the dance we parted ways, ended up at different high schools, and if memory serves we never saw each other again, but whatever his name was, we’ll always have that dance.

At this point in time I conceded I might not be able to marry Donny Osmond (although a tiny part of me held on to that dream), I planned on bleaching my hair during the summer with Sun-In (a hydrogen peroxide spray), and I’d saved up enough babysitting money to buy those platform sandals that were the epitome of fashion in the 70’s. Of course they made me tower over everyone, as if I wasn’t awkward enough, and truth be told they would be the source of an embarrassing fall in the years to come, but I was obsessed with the idea of being trendy.

The summer went better than expected, I started my period which was a huge relief, because now I had something to fill out my training bra. I met this sweet boy at a baseball game and we hung out for the rest of the summer, he introduced me to the Beach Boys, and I had my first kiss. I was more than ready to tackle high school or so I thought?

My Mom was not one to drive us anywhere, she was a product of her time, “why would I drive you when you have a perfectly functional bike?” It was the first day of high school. Really? Nancy got a ride from one of her friends, she was secretly mortified we’d be once again attending the same school, this had not happened since the fourth grade, and although I’d made vast improvements in my general demeanor, they were not up to her lofty standards.

My sister’s reputation for being well-mannered and kind was her crowning glory, I on the other hand was known for my slightly unruly, out of control, and disruptive behavior. Second borns, like vampires, we can lose control with little or no provocation. I learned long ago, when etiquette fails, trust your instincts.

My Dad was forced to drive me to school on the first day as Mom stayed defiantly in her pajamas and robe all morning with curlers in her hair. Mortifying. I thought, that poor woman, pull yourself together. Little did I know the minute we left the house, she donned a swanky tennis outfit, grabbed her Wilson racket, and was on the courts competing with all the other stay-at-home Moms. They’d grab a quick lunch after practice, before racing home to catch the latest episode of As The World Turns, just as we were walking in the door from school.

I thought she never left the house until I was like in college?

Dad took me to school in his old Ford truck, it was white, with roll down windows, which I asked him to shut so my hair wouldn’t be blown to smithereens. As he pulled into the circular drive of Del Mar High School, easing up to the drop off curb, he said, “have a good day.”

I absolutely froze.

“Honey, get out of the car.” Sometimes parents don’t know how to help, they aren’t prepared for some new version of their teenager, such as the doubting, conflicted, refusing to leave the car type?

There are like a thousand kids milling around in these intimidating cliques, laughing, and talking with ease. I do not see anyone I know and I am not getting out of the car. I was petrified, and with the conviction of a fourteen year old, I demand, “take me home.”

If my Dad was anything, he was practical, so he tried a new approach, “I have to go to work, get out of the car.”

“I’m afraid.”

I see his sensitive side kick in, he says with a little more compassion, “You’ll be fine, honey,” then he reaches over and pushes my door open almost knocking over some student in the process, who was not pleased, she turns and glares at me through the window. Perfect.

“Dad.”

“Go on, you’ll be fine, I promise.”

Slowly I emerge from the vehicle, hanging onto the handle until Dad pulls away, he waves to me from the back window, and I believe he was smiling.

This was the 70’s, parents were unemotional, they encouraged independence, you found your own footing in life, stumbling was considered formational. The good old days.

My little locker slip is crumpled in my sweaty palm, as I go in search of locker number 237, at least I have a destination. Freshman were assigned locker buddies their entire first year. I prayed she wasn’t from Blackford Junior High (our arch rivals) with braces and bad breath. I suppose this was because high school campuses were designed to hold around 2,000 students, and I believe Del Mar was hovering around 2,500 at the time, hence the locker sharing policy.

When I approached the row of lockers with my number sequence, I found several students milling around, looking as lost as me. I notice locker number 237 was hanging open, there’s a lunch box and several books organized on the shelves.

One of the girls with same hair style, long, parted down the middle, pushed behind her ears, says, “hi, is this your locker?”

“Yes, are we sharing?” I could only hope this posh girl was my locker buddy?

She laughs and says, “yes, my name is Conni, I think we went to the same junior high?” Clearly we ran in different circles, but she had her shit together, sparkling eyes, beautiful smile, and it was like. . . everything’s going to be alright.

“I’m Cheryl, how about you take the top and I’ll take the bottom,” which really never became a reality as we jammed our things wherever they fit, eating each others lunches, sharing notes from our classes, kept a stash of change at the bottom of the locker for cokes and coffee. Soon Conni and I would become the best of friends, within months she allowed her boyfriend John, or was it Jack, use of our locker. It was a chaotic jumble with three of us using the same small space, not to mention the bottle of Tabasco we had to catch every time we opened the door, but we happened to be strategically located on the main quad, and it became our hangout.

I spot my sister chatting with a gaggle of upperclassmen, I notice she avoids making eye contact, probably hoping I won’t run over screaming her name. I thought about it, but being my first day and all, I showed considerable restraint, and just waved, which she barely acknowledged, sisters.

It was a fine high school, as far as high schools go, typical of the era, miles of covered corridors, criss-crossed with rows of identical blocks of classrooms, a large open quad was located in the center of campus, with the warm stench of cafeteria food filling the air. This was the 70’s, there was a designated smoking area in the back of the amphitheater, with the quadruple door entrance to the gymnasium to the east of campus, behind the gym were the locker rooms, pool, sporting fields, and tennis courts.

This was the suburbs, every school had the same boring design, basically these were holding tanks until our acne cleared up and we were old enough to go to college.

The senior guys were dreamy, the senior girls wore annoyed expressions, the rest of us practiced being cool, some more successful than others. You could easily delineate the nerds, from the jocks, the glee club, from class council, the marching band from the spirit commission, the parking lot kids, from the academics, everyone had their uniforms, and established hangouts, and under no circumstances were freshmen to wait in the senior lunch line or use the senior bathroom without reputational death or worse, pantsing was a popular antic.

“There are a million rules for being a girl. There are a million things you have to do to get through each day. High school has things that can trip you up, ruin you, people say one thing and mean another, and you have to know all the rules, you have to know what you can and can’t do,” says Elizabeth Scott

The first bell rang and like Pavlov’s dogs, people started rushing around, filing into the halls, except the seniors of course. Reluctantly we head off to our first class, scouring our printed schedules, so we wouldn’t mistakenly end up in the wrong room, humiliated for the rest of the year.

I had Spanish I, two buildings up, last door on the left, near the student parking lot. To my utter surprise my cousin Karen was sitting in the back of the room, she’s shy, and looked slightly alarmed to find us in the same class. I wave and offer a friendly hello, as if my ship had arrived at Gilligans’s Island, and I was about to be rescued. She waved me off so her friend could sit next to her, being a year older, she didn’t take to fraternizing with freshmen, and there goes my life raft.

It took me less than a minute to get comfortable, I had an easy going nature, what can I say?

We had those typical student desks, a chair attached to the desktop, one unit with a rack under the seat to hold our things. These will be our cages for the next four years.

What happened next may have led to my cousin’s decision to transfer out of Spanish I within a week, who knows, we’ll call it a hunch.

So this adorable head of dark curls takes the seat right in front of me. I’m admiring the tangle of thick wavy hair when without warning, my wayward hand reaches out and tugs one of those tempting locks, like I said before, “when etiquette fails, trust your instincts.” It wasn’t meant to hurt, just tease the occupant, let him know I was behind him.

The young man turns around in his seat, his eyes as big as saucers, if I had to describe the look I would call it arrant fear.

I smile, “hi, I’m Cheryl, I’ll take notes this week, you’re up next week,” what’s not to like?

He looks as if I slapped him across the face with the palm of my hand, he takes hold of both sides of his desk, and scoots as far away from me as possible. Seems a little rude, but those curls….

I scoot my desk right up behind him, and give those dreamy locks another yank, just to be ornery, I know I’m hard to endure, elude, escape ~ not much has changed.

Bobby yells from across the room, “I think she likes you, Oreglia.”

No truer words have ever been spoken…

“Did you meet your soul mate? That always happens on the first day of school, right?’ Francesca Zappia

I’m Living in the Gap, revisiting the past, when did etiquette fail you? Drop me a note in the comments!

Anecdotes:

  • “It was only high school after all, definitely one of the most bizarre periods in a person’s life. How anyone can come through that time well adjusted on any level is an absolute miracle.” E.A. Bucchianeri
  • “For the record, I would like to point out that it is NOT being obsessive to memorize a boy’s schedule so that you can accidentally bump into him. It is called being efficient.” Jess Rothenberg
  • “Do you think that every single thing that happens in high school can be categorized as either gossip or stress?” David Levithan
  • “Damn, if I could go back, I would say a lot of things. And I would laugh more.” K.B. Ezzell

38 Comments

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  1. This sounds like I am watching one of those American High School films. Seems like they are close to the truth after all.
    Very different for me of course. We go to ‘secondary scholl’ at age 11, and stay there until we can legally leave, or are 18. There were 1,500 kids at my school, boys and girls all in identical uniforms,(excpet the girls wore skirts) and the ‘first years’ (11) are standing out because all their stuff is brand new. No lockers, we have to carry it all around in a school bag. And no driving to school. A ten-minute walk from home, across the busy main road, and I’m there.
    I stayed there until I was almost 18, and loved every minute of it. I still see friends I made there, 58 years later. None of us went on to go to university, (college) for many different reasons.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. High school was certainly an interesting time in life, it had it’s ups and down, but I did end up marrying that boy! And like you I still have friends from high school who are in my life and I have treasured through the years. Our high school is 4 years and students are expected to apply for university or a vocational school. Some don’t go on, they get married, or get jobs and move on with their lives. Larry and I went to different universities so that caused some separations in our relationship but it worked out in the end. Your secondary schools had uniforms? That would have made life so much easier! Thanks for sharing about your school system, some things were simular and some very different! Warmly, C

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Kim, high school was a world all it’s own, and I really did cherish my time in school. Made a lot of lifetime friendships and certainly learned a lot about life in the cooridoors of high school. And yes, my cousin was horrified by my behavior and transfered to another spanish class! Bahaha, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it would really difficult as a teen to have to pack up and move a lot, leaving friends and memories behind. It makes sense that you learned how to make friends quickly Fraggle but not deeply as you say. Larry and I became good friends after he decided I wasn’t a huge threat! We started dating around age 16 and married at 23. It was a long romance for sure. But honestly the most interesting changes happen after the high school years are well behind us! Warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Love love love this!! What a great memory you have. 🙂

    I look at my son now, who is turning 16 this weekend, and he’s in his second year of high school and has spent it in his room, basically, due to Covid. Grade 9 was to get comfortable with the new, much bigger school, grade 10 was to start DOING stuff in school…but it was not to be. I feel like the kids today are missing out exactly this sort of thing you talk about so well in your little anecdote…and it breaks my heart.

    You must write a memoir, if you haven’t already. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, I believe my memories of high school are strong because so many monumental things occured in that cooridoors of that life. I teach high school now and we’re finally going back in a few weeks. I have never met the students I have been teaching all year on Zoom! I can’t wait. My students are really struggling with remote learning and I totally agree with you, they are missing out on so much more than academics. My heart breaks for our teenagers along with you.

      I am considering publishing a short memoir of sorts, repurposing old blog posts, and maybe adding a few chapters if there are gaps that need addressing. I might need a quote from you for the cover! Warmly, C

      Like

  3. Loved this post Cheryl. I was with you, and The Breakfast Club, and Ramona the pest pulling Susan’s sproingy curls in kindergarten!

    The last paragraph was a delightful surprise!

    ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Gail, thank you, so glace you enjoyed this one. High school was certainly a right of passage, the fact we all got out alive is a miracle! Such great memories of juggling love, friendship, sports, trends, clubs, expectations, and a little academics on the side! And the times when all those balls landed in a pile on the ground…those were the days. C

      Like

  4. You hit the memories of my high school days perfectly. I also had platform shoes called “Get There’s” with a thick gummy wavy sole. Do you remember those? I was at a high school basketball game my freshman year and tried to get a peak at a guy who everyone had a crush on. I lost my balance and tumbled down the flight of stairs between the auditorium seats spraining both ankles. That’s my platform shoes embarrassing story.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those platform shoes! OMG thanks for sharing your tumble Elizabeth! Ouch, not to mention embarrassing! I tripped and went slidding down the hall head first in a dress! Mortifying. It seems many of us had the same experiences in high school and with fashion! I remember them both fondly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this article! Brought back some good and not so great memories! High School was easier back in the day but I do remember the clear boundaries of being a “freshman”. It didn’t matter how awesome you were, you had to prove yourself in the new pond!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “You had to prove yourself in the new pond,” oh my isn’t that the truth! Thank you Leigh, I appreciate your kind words. I have such fond memories of high school but that first day took some courage. All my best, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Okay, likely being one of the few (only?) readers of your blog that is fully, deeply, and intimately conected with this stuff. . . As such, you can guess it was particularly special to me, and I enjoyed reading every word. few special moments –
    1. Absolutely loved “I scoot my desk right up behind him, and give those dreamy locks another yank, just to be ornery, I know I’m hard to endure, elude, escape ~ not much has changed.
    Bobby yells from across the room, “I think she likes you, Oreglia.”
    No truer words have ever been spoken…”

    2. From Anecdotes: “Damn, if I could go back, I would say a lot of things. And I would laugh more.” K.B. Ezzell
    No regrets here neighbor! I said ‘a lot’ of things and did ‘a lot’ of things that allowed me to spend more time than most getting to know dean Punti. And lastly, I laughed my A$$ off while there at the Dell, especially in Miss Orozco’s Spanish class that year!

    3. This would have been Sophomore year for me. Were we in the same class???

    4. it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge the relational nostalgia that your prose stoked: I met Cindy in Spanish class that year. . . I was originally more interested in her friend, Carolyn Counts, but Cindy was definitely interested in me from day one. Sadly, after being molested at home in Virginia by a family member, Carolyn was sent out to California to live with her older sister. Then, poor Carolyn was molested again by her sister’s husband! 😦 She promptly moved back to Virginia to live with another relative. All this in the first couple of months of living here for her. I did not find out about this until after she had returned to VA. Carolyn was so fetching, so genuinely sweet, and had the cutest accent. She deserved better. I don’t remember Cindy ever pulling my hair, but apparently, she did eventually pull on my heart 😉 shortly after Carolyn left.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Chris, you really are one of the few Del Mar Dons who reads my blog and I’m greatly appreciative. I always enjoy your comments and take on things!

      We spent a lot of time on that old campus, we’ll call them the ‘crazy years’ and I can’t believe you remember the name of the dean! Punti, how could I forget? Bahaha, I was a goodie two shoes, but Larry on the other hand was quite close to the man. I remember how furious Punti was when Randy Alves and his buddies streaked across the quad, naked, with bags over their heads. It was a thing at the time, but the boys couldn’t really see where they were going, and Randy ran right into my sister Nancy. They ended up in a tangle on the ground with naked Randy trying to scramble off Nancy while she flailed about under his naked body. Punti grabbed hold of a leg, trying to pull him off, which only made the situation worse! Oh that was a hoot, my sister was traumatized, I was laughing so hard I almost peed my pants. Oh, the good old days.

      I can not for the life of me remember if we had Spanish together? Although a lot of things are not crystal clear from that time. Larry and I remember things totally differently, can you imagine? But it’s my blog, so wrong or right, we go with my version of the truth!

      I am sorry to hear about Carolyn, she certainly got dealt a bad hand in life, no one to protect her, make sure she was safe. I had a very protective Father, which I resented when I was young, but now I’m so grateful to have been raised by a good man.

      I do remember you and Cindy, connected at the hip if I remember right? She was adorable, long blond hair, sweet smile.

      Thanks for walking down memory land with me Chris! If you are in the area, you have to stop by and see your old house, the kids have made it their own! They’re so happy and so are we! C

      Like

  7. Ahhh! So cute! And that you made the first move–oh yeah, who could not give beautiful those curls a little tug. Repressed, type A, shy and retreating first born here, so I didn’t have any fun until college. Sun-In and that white Ford truck though–very familiar! Great story!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Rebecca, poor guy, never had a chance to escape! Hey, but it turned out okay! My sister was voted shiest senior and I was voted most spirited, so there you have it, birth order is a real thing. Crazy how our memories become a source of connection! I so appreciate your comment! All my best, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you LaDonna, I ended up marrying that boy about 9 years later! He finally came around. He remembers high school a bit differently than I do, he does remember me pulling his hair the first day of school, but his memory of me is foggy the rest of our freshman year? I remember a budding friendship during that time as we started dating the next year. Who knows for sure? Oh my, yes, Sun-In was a huge rage of the time! Thanks for the note LaDonna, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. For the life of me Diane I don’t know why I wandered down memory lane this week? It could have been the anthology of music I was playing for my granddaughters, when Ventura Highway came up, it sort of threw me back in time. Oh my ~ how can we forget those hip huggers, they were all the rage, I had several pairs back in the day. Currently it would not be a good look for me! lol, C

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Crystal, I got dragged down memory lane and I just let it take me where it wanted. It’s interesting how differently we remember a collective past like high school and how we assign meaning to our memories? xx, C

      Like

  8. Hey Cheryl,
    Enjoyed this one, though it sure brought back some terrifying memories. Going to that first day of class in a new school, pure torture. How did we survive? I can still remember my first day of English Class in 9th grade. My mom had pulled me out of intro English when she realized it was too easy and moved me into Honors English. The class had been going on for 2 weeks, and I had to be the new, new kid. Ouch. I did not fit in to any clique. Nerd, band, wrestling, and a non-stoner to boot. A virtual high school pariah. On top of that, I was the youngest in my class (Why did you do this to me mom?) Though it worked out well as I would not have met Gail otherwise. Somehow, I managed to endure. Lived outside of the school district (a negative.) Got to drive myself to school every day (a positive!) Put a killer stereo in the car (even more awesome.) And don’t even talk about acne. It appears you got comfortable in your classes after a few minutes, while it took me about 4 years. I would say from the looks of things, you thrived in high school.
    Really loved this post. Loved the quote “Do you think that every single thing that happens in high school can be categorized as either gossip or stress?” David Levithan. I think it is both.
    I agree with Pete (in your comment section,) totally reminiscent of a teen angst flick, such as the Breakfast Club.
    My memories of high school grow fonder with the passage of time, and it was not nearly as bad as I make it seem.
    Love your song choice.
    Thanks again for the fascinating well written flashback.
    Of course, any blog post about high school in Campbell California requires the following song:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Mike! I have no idea what drew me back to that old story from high school? I’ve been struggling with material as our patterns are much the same as they were months ago. We hang with the same small group, rarely going out (although recently restaurants have opened up in our area), and although it’s been crazy, not much of interest is actually happening. High school was as if running a daily obstacle course where the obstructions (teachers, bullies, queen bees, older sisters) could take you down. Seriously. I was oblivious to the rules, for the most part, I allowed my instincts to drive my behavior and that had its consequences, Larry would agree. Bahaha

      Interestingly I became a wrestlerette in high school, I didn’t wrestle, but I kept the score for the team, which meant I traveled to all their matches. My locker buddy Conni kept scores with me so we enjoyed what we considered a rather important position, at the very least all the wrestlers would check in with us after matches to confirm their score! Win, win. And yes, Larry wrestled all four years. Love the little leotards he was required to wear.

      Sounds like your high school experience was like mine, we had our good moments and our challenges. Overall my memories are pretty positive, with lots of special relationships, and experiences.

      Enjoyed the scandalous song from the Bastards!

      By the way, the second shot is now behind me, not too bad, my arm is still sore! Hoping Gail was able to get her shots? Larry qualified because we had young children in the home who he was responsible to care for on occasion. So we’ll both be good to go in a few weeks. Love to you and Gail, Cheryl

      Like

      1. Always love your replies. A wrestlerette? Was that to watch the guys in their singlets, or to guard your turf? To be answered over a glass of wine.
        As far as that song goes, every time he sings the line “I dropped out of high school in Campbell, California,” Gail and I wonder if he was in class with anyone you know (not likely.)
        Cheers.

        Like

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