A memory lane paved with Tums

Janet's World

May 22, 2010|By Janet Gilbert

To me, the high school experience is a glass bottle shattered in a hundred irregular pieces and scattered in the ocean. Each particular event starts out sharp and shiny, clear and painful, but over the years becomes a sea-glass memory that is less transparent, with worn edges, a thing to collect and hold.

I've come to this excellent AP English-level metaphor after months of revisiting my high school experience every weekend since mid-January. It is no wonder I have gone through an entire bottle of Tums. Because some of my sea-glass pieces still have unexpectedly sharp surfaces.

No, I'm not in therapy, because who needs it when you have a weekly humor column? Actually, I've been sitting in a little room every Sunday afternoon at WYPR with 10 other people, sharing memories in comedy skit format for an upcoming show at Centerstage: "Cool. Cruel. High School: The Stoop Summer Live Radio Show."

And though the cast is all different ages and comes from diverse backgrounds, it turns out we all remember what it was like to be dumped just like it was yesterday. We formed heavy metal bands and had sleepovers and took a lot of pop quizzes. We had clueless parents and well-meaning teachers. We posed for endless awkward homecoming photos in the backyard.

We were — and to some extent still are — the nerds and the jocks and the emos. But we are all high school survivors. And each week, I am struck by the universality of the experience. Pass me another Tums, will you?

Still, you know how some writers can exaggerate and embellish? Why, you might be tempted to think that some of the incidents depicted in the show's skits are not 100 percent truthful, like this column!

So, for the record, I'm going to share some of the surreal things that happened to me in high school — first in the soft, pleasant, sea-glass format of my memory. This reads like the kind of stuff you would say to people on the subject of your high school experience if you were a successful guest reminiscing on a morning talk show. Immediately after these gems, I will share the same event in the raw, sharp original format we know to be the truth. Please enjoy my awkwardness.

Gem: I tripped going up the stairwell and the guy I had a crush on was right behind me and he sort of caught me. It was awesomely romantic.

Truth: I tripped going up the stairwell and the guy I had a crush on was right behind me and he handed me the heel of my cheap platform shoe, which had broken off. It was mortifying.

Gem: I was a leader in athletics.

Truth: I was in the "leader corps," an athletic department club where I got to wear a dorky white gym suit, lead the P.E. class in exercises, pick up the equipment, and run errands for the teachers.

Gem: I played violin in the orchestra.

Truth: I practiced the art of matching my bow strokes with the section leader's, basically playing air violin for four years.

Gem: I went out with the captain of the basketball team.

Truth: The captain of the basketball team asked me out, and I discovered the next day that I was instantly transformed into a popular girl by his asking, so I said yes — even though something about him made me highly nervous. I managed to bask in my newfound hallway notoriety while consistently avoiding him for about two weeks, after which we broke up.

Gem: I was a gifted student.

Truth: I was a gifted memorizer of facts and taker of tests. I only learned to think somewhere around, say, 2009.

I could go on, but I've got to grab a Tums. And save my energy for a show where the funny comes, as usual, from the truth.

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