Thursday, March 1, 2012

In which I don't let the popular boy cheat off my government homework

You know that we moved the summer before my senior year of high school. I went from a school full of military and embassy kids who were used to being the new kid and to having other new kids to a school with students who had known each other since kindergarten. Of the 648 students in my senior class, only two of us were new.

That is not a good formula for making friends, especially if you are a bit of a shy nerd.

But there were a few really nice people at school, so I wasn't completely miserable. Michelle W was so nice to me. She told me about the water safety instructor class she was going to take so she could teach swimming.

I was already certified as a lifeguard, which I think you had to be before you took the WSI course. I had done that in Panama, where I had my first lifeguard job and where I was either fired or chastised for reading on the stand but there was nobody in the pool! There was nobody at the pool except me!

Still, I will agree that my supervisor had a legitimate point - that reading on the lifeguard stand Is Not Done.

I wanted to teach swimming as well. It paid better than guarding. Guarding paid minimum wage, which was $3.25, I think, and for that money, not only did I guard but I also had to clean the poop off the floor of the boys' restroom. We had one summer where a bunch of kids thought it was really funny to defecate on the floor rather than in the toilets and we guards had to clean it up.

There is nothing like cleaning poop for minimum wage to make you think that maybe college isn't so hard after all.

The good thing about that job was that the snack stand sold Frito pie. Once or twice a week, I would treat myself to a Frito pie. If you don't know what Frito pie is, I feel sad for you. You slit open a small bag of Fritos - I have a large bag in my freezer right now that I bought as my Thanksgiving treat for while Primo was at his mom and dad's for Thanksgiving (as if not being with Sly and Doris wasn't enough of a treat) - pour chili on top, then garnish with chopped onion and shredded cheese.

If you eat that, you don't get hungry again anytime soon.

Michelle not only told me about the class, but she gave me a ride every day to class. I had neither a license nor a car. Then she got me the teaching job that I had for the next three summers.

There were a few other nice people - actually, I'm sure there were many nice people, but when you are a shy teenager who is one of the new people in school, everyone looks like the enemy. Better I should say that I did not make many friends and maybe part of that is because I didn't make the effort. Oh I hate to take any blame for anything, but this is a two-way street.

But I was new and I felt completely out of place - I hardly had socks! we had just spent three years in Central America! I wore sandals and flip flops to school every day. The fashions in the Canal Zone were not the fashions in San Antonio. Not that I had been fashionable in the Canal Zone, but there seemed to be more leeway in the Zone because there was such a big mixture of people: embassy kids, military kids, Zone kids, rich Panamanians, poor Panamanians.

I was academically out of sync as well. My high school in Panama had been staffed with teachers who all had masters degrees in their subjects. Texas teaching standards at the time were not so high. (Witness the yearbook advisors.) At the time, to be a high school physics teacher, I think the teacher needed only six hours of college physics. I had six hours of college physics and I was an English major.

OK, I was an engineer turned English major, but still. I would expect more than a college freshman knowledge of physics from someone who is teaching at the high school level.

I had already covered everything we were studying in Trig in the last six weeks of my Algebra II class. I should have taken calculus as my counselor had suggested, but I was scared of ruining my GPA. How dumb was that? When I got to college calculus, I didn't have a clue. Better to screw up in high school than in college.

My English teachers - I took three English classes that year - were excellent, though.

I didn't know how to be popular. I didn't know how to fit in.

And I did not help matters the day that I refused to let Kevin whoever cheat off me in government.

I always did my homework. I almost never had to do it at home because they just didn't give that much homework back then. I feel bad for kids now. They have all this homework and then they have to "volunteer." It was a lot easier to be a teenager in the late 70s. And the music was better. I think we can all agree on that.

It was a few minutes before class. The teacher was outside of the room. Kevin, who had never said a nice word to me and why would he? He was one of the Popular Boys - football player, etc - looked at me, looked at my homework sitting on my desk, and said, "Let me copy that."

I was not a fan of copying.

When I was in second grade, I let a classmate copy my workbook. The teacher found out and ripped my workbook in half. That will scare a little kid.

Still, despite my principles, I used to let Gerry, my 11th-grade physiology lab partner, copy my lab notes. We were dissecting the worm, the frog, and the pig together, so I justified it by telling myself it was joint work.

But I was really letting Gerry copy my notes and homeworks because I had a crush on him, not that I could admit it back then because my friend J had a massive crush on him and had for years, so she had first dibs.

But Kevin? I didn't have a crush on Kevin. He wasn't my friend. He hadn't escorted me to the stage at the National Honor society thingy even though Lisa S thought he should escort her and she didn't talk to me again after that, not that we had ever been friends. Even at our 20 year high school reunion, when I saw Lisa in the Ladies and said hi, she ignored me.


Kevin had never been nice to me. What was in it for me?

I put my hand over my homework. Kevin looked toward the door. "Give it!" he said.

I picked it up and pulled it toward me. "No," I said defiantly.

The girl behind me gasped.

His eyes widened.

"Bitch!" he hissed at me. His posse glared at me. I was dead to them.

The teacher walked in. I was safe. Kevin gave me one more dirty look before turning around. The rest of the week, he and his friends glared at me and whispered when I came in. Good thing there wasn't facebook back then. I did my best to ignore them, but I knew I had made myself a pariah.

The best I can hope for is that he ended up in prison.

What do you guys think?

Which pen name do you prefer? Helen Tennesen or Sylvia Stasek?