(This is continuing my “Countdown to 40” series of posts, which I introduced a couple days ago.)
When I was 12…
…I took the SATs for the first time. Why was I taking the SATs in grade 7, you ask? There’s a program called CTY (Center for Talented Youth), run by Johns Hopkins University. It’s what would these days be called “nerd camp”. To qualify for CTY, students of certain ages could take the SATs, and if they got a high enough score, they’d get to take CTY’s college-level courses, on a college campus. Pretty badass as far as nerd camping goes. I didn’t go this year, because while my Math SAT score was high enough to qualify for the math and science courses, I had no interest in those, and my Verbal score wasn’t high enough to qualify me for the writing courses I wanted to take. (I believe I got a 510 Math, 420 Verbal.) I got introduced to CTY via my school’s “ET” (Exceptionally Talented) program, which was just about the only truly intellectually-compelling part of my entire K-12 experience. Certainly the only one in K-8 that I can recall. (Thank you, Mrs. Graham.)
…I had a bunch of girlfriends–but only one that really mattered. My first real girlfriend, Heather Moon. We went out for two and a half months, and it was a pretty classic innocent young love situation. Long talks on the phone, lots of public hand-holding, writing her name all over my notebooks…the whole routine. I can still picture the first time I went to hold her hand. I believe it was during an in-class movie or slideshow. I took probably 15 minutes slowly inching my hand across my desk and over to hers. Our first (and only?) kiss was just as innocent and ridiculous; I can picture that too. We were outside at recess, and I don’t remember why, but there was like public buildup to the fact that we were going to kiss. So there was a crowd of kids all gathered around watching when I finally kissed Heather. It was weird, but also pretty sweet in that innocent-young-love type of way. I think we broke up pretty soon after that. ;-) It wasn’t my call, and I was pretty crushed. Another classic young love cliche–my first broken heart. And probably the first time I punched a wall due to relationship heartache. It would not be the last.
…The rest of my girlfriends that year came in a mad rush, on the rebound from being dumped by Heather. I didn’t mean to diminish their importance above, but as I recall, I “went out with” like 4 girls in the few weeks after our breakup, and most of those so-called relationships barely lasted long enough for a couple of evening phone calls and some hanging out in the hallway between classes. One was like a day, another a couple of days…like that. I counted them at the time because they were official by middle school standards–both parties had agreed to be “going out”–but they were otherwise insubstantial. (No reflection on the girls involved, who are all lovely women now–and were lovely young women then.) And I probably still count them now because that little stretch in 7th grade was the most active stretch I would have in my K-12 years. And also probably because they really were an extension of that first big relationship with Heather. My heart had been opened, and my “love light” turned on. The rebounds afterward were just attempts to keep that light going. And for the girls involved, I think there was probably just some “buzz” around me because I was such a public boyfriend with Heather. How public? She got me–and I wore–a shirt that said “Loverboy” on it. (Loverboy was a band from back then, but in this case the shirt was meant as a label for me…even though, as mentioned, we were actually pretty chaste.) Then when the girls wised up to the fact that they had gotten tricked into going out with basically a nerd, they moved on.
…It may be that I was still 12 when my next huge crush began, on Sherry Green. But I think of that as mostly an 8th grade thing. (In fact, that’s basically what I think of when I think of 8th grade.) But now as I think it through, it probably did start at the tail end of 7th grade and into that summer.
…I think 7th grade was when I fought with Mike Stowers and got suspended from school for the first time. Though “fought with” might be a stretch. He tripped me in class as I was walking past his desk, and I responded by turning around and attacking him. It’s funnier than it sounds, in part because Mike was the tallest kid in our class, I was just about the shortest. The “fight” didn’t last long, and we were both sent to the (vice? I think) principal’s office, and suspended for I want to say 5 days. In a tradition that would be repeated later when I fought with Doug Boyle, Mike and I became friends as a result of the whole experience. Good times.
…If we’re keeping track, I’m nearly certain that I did win the sales contest for my class this year, and I actually feel like this was probably the year I won the boombox. (Not the year earlier as I claimed in “age 11”.)
…Musically, I was a full-on superfan of anything on the radio. I would tape Casey Kasem’s weekly top 40 program–and the year-end top 100 program–and I was beginning to copy any album I could get my hands on to cassette tape (you know, for my new boombox). Most of those were from my sisters’ collection at the time–Billy Squier, Bob Seger, John Cougar, maybe Stevie Nicks, Led Zeppelin IV, Journey, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell, etc. Though there was also Jack Wagner’s “All I Need”, which became a major anthem for me, and began a pretty robust Jack Wagner fanship that lasted a few years. His was in many ways the first “real” concert I went to. (Prior to that I had seen Beatlemania and, when I was much younger, Shaun Cassidy.) That was probably early 1985, based on when “All I Need” was charting.
…I started writing poetry, of a sort, in 7th grade. In homeroom every morning, I would write a limerick in one of those little CVS pocket notebooks. I found some of them a couple years ago. They were terrible. But I was writing.
…In middle school, I came in second place in our school’s spelling bee, I believe it was 3 years on a row. Thus, I missed qualifying to compete in the county spelling bee (and possibly work my way up to state and nationals) by one place (one word actually), three times. This year would have been the second of those three, if memory serves me right. I found this pretty frustrating back then, especially as I felt at the time that there was injustice involved in a couple of those sessions. And I still think of it that way, honestly, even though I only vaguely remember what one of the “injustices” was about. (Damn you, Mr. Sturtevant!! ;-)) But looking back on it, it’s definitely just as well that I didn’t advance to more competitive levels of the spelling bee. I wouldn’t have gained anything, except for a lot of pressure.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’ve scanned in some pics from my yearbook, but they may have to wait until morning. Meanwhile, I’ve got to get this posted, so I can get to age 13, and 14–I’m getting behind!
Perhaps you remember something I did at age 12 that didn’t make the list…feel free to fill in the blanks by posting a comment. :-)
…Oh! I think it was 7th grade that me and a friend accidentally burned down Musante’s field*. That’s kind of a big one to miss. I don’t know for sure when that was, but I do remember my 5th grade teacher Mr. Demick confronted me in the hall a few days after the fire. We hadn’t gotten caught, but I guess somehow the word had leaked to Mr. Demick. He handed me a newspaper article about a fire–a different one–where (I think) multiple firefighters had been injured or killed. I don’t think he said much; the point he was trying to make was clear. Mr. Demick was a good guy. The fire was a mistake (we had been playing around just burning little grass tufts at the edge of the park, and the wind took over and it got out of control, and we took off in a panic), but his sober warning definitely had an impact on me, in terms of being thoughtful about the consequences of one’s actions.
*Musante’s field was a big empty property that filled the center of a huge block of residential properties. Dozens of houses, including ours (and the one where my sister now lives) surrounded that field.