Here's what used to be my junior high school auditorium. At the time, it was named after some guy "Wood." Now, as with pretty much everything in Mount Vernon, New York, it has been renamed to honor some Black leader who's probably bilked the city of thousands of dollars. But, I slightly digress...
While Washington Junior High was about 65% Black, my two years there were fairly calm and all the students played nicely in the sandbox. There was a decided Motown flair to all of our class assemblies in this cavernous theater. Pretty much, every gathering included three of my Black female classmates lip syncing to the Supremes. And they would dress the part. With gold sequined evening gowns perhaps lifted from Mom's closets. I didn't think much of it at the time, but, in retrospect, I now wonder just how bizarre it was that three seventh graders would be strutting the stage like a couple of street walkers on 110th and Lenox. These days, I am thinking this kind of performance would be provoking a parent-administration conference or two.
Beyond that, my junior high years were fairly calm and innocuous. Half of my class had already been with me since the second grade. The other half were from different elementary schools and we bonded nicely. Those of us who were the smartest kids in the class in our early years were now merging with some whiz kids who might actually be smarter than us. The change in the IQ pecking order was sometimes a little unsettling. But, despite the intelligence reset button, all was free and easy.
I had one of those public moments that a seventh-grader can't possibly live down. The type of embarrassment that never goes away. Obviously, as I write it, it has lasted to this very day.
It started all very innocently. We were in our social studies class, which was taught by a young man named Mr. Clarke. The girls loved him for his movie star good looks. Granted if he was that handsome, one could argue what the hell he was doing with his maps and globes in front of a bunch of schlumps like us. But, still, Mr. Clarke had the kind of dimples that made even these eleven and twelve year-olds swoon.
And he knew it. Because he particularly liked to tease/flirt with some of the smartest girls in the class. One of those "lucky" ones was Kathryn.
She was one of the newest brainiacs in our midst. And she upset the balance because her presence just set the bar higher for those of us who used to be the big cheeses when it came to report cards.
And, apparently, Mr. Clarke thought she was the flavor of the month as well. Thinking back, his behavior was probably a little suspect. Today, he would be a whole segment on "Dr. Phil." But, in the old days, he was just a giddy nuisance to Kathryn. Until the day he decided to playfully chase her around the room. All of a sudden, I was being taught geography by Harpo Marx.
The class laughed gleefully as Mr. Clarke tracked Kathryn up and down the aisles. He was like one of those lions stalking a gazelle on the Animal Planet. None of us were old or bright enough to realize how inappropriate this all was.
As my bad luck would have it, I was seated at the head of the aisle right next to the classroom door. Kathryn winded her way around the back of the room and then started down my aisle. Headed for the door. I was the last line of defense for Mr. Clarke.
"Don't let her get out."
I always did what my teacher told me to do. I stood up and firmly placed myself in the aisle. It was as if I was a tackle and the offense had the ball on the two-yard-line. Except this wasn't O.J. Simpson barreling down on me. It was a skinny twelve-year-old with mousy brown hair.
It all happened way too fast. Kathryn charged toward me and the door. I held my ground and my entire body to stop her. The next thing I knew she was in my arms in a virtual hug. An unintentional public display of affection that certainly got the reaction of everybody around me.
It was just like how the Friends studio audience first reacted when Ross and Rachel kissed.
Neither Kathryn or I could live down that moment for the next two years. This five second slip in judgement manifested itself over and over into every possible joke imaginable. We were a couple. We were married.
"Did you and your wife study together for the algebra test?"
Oh, fuck off.
At this tender age, there is nothing worse than a perceived social life. And it got worse when the mothers in our class started to talk as mothers frequently do. And damage control was activated one afternoon when I came home from school.
"What's this I heard? You were hugging and kissing Kathryn in class?"
D'oh! Let me go and drink that Clorox right now. And then the news got shared in the house. And more questions. From Grandma.
"You got yourself a little girlfriend?"
D'oh! We can't possibly be out of Clorox, can we???
It was a scar that didn't heal for the duration of junior high school. The only perk?
Mr. Clarke gave me an A+ for Social Studies.
Dinner last night: Garlic chicken at South Point.