Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Cheese Touch and Other Socially Damaging Behaviors

I cannot believe I am posting this...

We just went to see Diary of a Wimpy Kid, a comedy about life as a middle schooler. I remember this stuff, both as a kid, and then watching it unfold in the classroom from the perspective as a teacher. Things really don’t change. The scene dealing with “The Cheese Touch” was probably based on truth, which, as you know, is always funnier than fiction. I won’t describe it. You simply need to see this yourself. In another highlight of the film, Fregley, whose character probably was inspired by truth as well, hauls his shirt up to showcase a gross, hair-spiked mole. He is exactly the kind of gleefully oblivious child one finds in middle schools everywhere as one or the other gender, and with variations of crass behavior. I went to school with a Fregley or two over the years.

I attended an all-girl Catholic school in uptown New Orleans for both the middle and high years. As the new kid among a set of students that had been bonded since kindergarten, I was certainly not immune to the great social disparity that existed between me and these other girls. I was a little geeky. I didn’t come from money. And I was shy. Somehow, I quickly made friends with Bridget who warned me about certain kids—two in particular. Their names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

“You don’t want to sit near Mary,” whispered Bridget to me one day as she slanted her eyes toward the offending party. “She farts. In grade school, I had to sit behind her and she farted every day.”

It seems as though Mary had her own version of “The Cheese Touch” and I was not about to fall prey. Not once did I sit behind Mary—not in middle school nor the four years of high school that followed, at least not if I could help it. There is a hierarchy of geekdom that even geeks follow. I may not have walked with the perfectly polished pretty set of girls, but I would not be caught getting contaminated with Mary’s gas. I was afraid the stink would stick to me.

There was another kid that existed on the fringes as well, but in a slightly worse capacity. Mind you, we can forgive Mary for the wayward gas that she might not have been able to control, but Cayla lives forever in punitive memory for picking ear wax and eating it.

(Are you dying yet? As I sit here and write, I cannot stop laughing. In fact, I’m crying over this… and there’s more…)

Cayla completed middle school and moved on to another institution. She was conveniently replaced, in Fregley’s ever revolving spirit, with Maddy. Maddy did things with a pencil that just should not be done. By high school, young women are well aware of appropriate social behaviors. Our worst offense should be nail biting or picking at cuticles. Maddy was seen scratching her privates through the slit of our kilt-style uniformed skirt… with said pencil. And on occasion, I did have to sit beside this unfortunate girl. Let’s just say, I never once came to class unprepared. If Maddy was the last person on earth with a pencil to lend, I would have made my own damn pencil by chewing a branch from one of the great oaks out on the school grounds.

Yes, I survived those years, always considering myself an outcast even though, in reality, I had quite a number of nice friends. These girls, who are gathering for our twenty year high school reunion without me as I write this, remember each other far better than I would have thought possible. Most of them seem to have forgiven the worst of the crimes by the Fregleys in our class. Some of them are now coaching their own kids through middle school and may even have Fregleys of their own. Thankfully, we all outgrew our middle school awkwardness.

Girls, I salute you, but take this advice: be careful from whom you borrow a pencil. Fregley is out there… and waiting.

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