Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Piece of the In-Crowd

     When I was in junior high school, and in high school, there was nothing I wanted more than to be part of the In-crowd. The idea consumed my life. I tried to hang out with the "in" people as much as I could -- as much as they would let me -- and I felt a deep hole in my stomach when I was left out of one of their activities.

     Honestly, I don't know why I was so obsessed with that crowd. Most of those people didn't do much that was very interesting -- although as we got a little older they were the ones who had parties, where you could drink as much Coke as you wanted, eat as many potato chips, and slow dance with the coolest, best-looking girls.

     Maybe it was the chance to slow dance with the best-looking girls. For the best looking girls definitely formed the In-crowd on the female side of the aisle, led by Julie, the prettiest girl in the class. But, honestly, must of those good looking girls were not particularly interesting or smart or unique in any way -- although, to be fair, Julie was nicer to me than she ever had to be.

     There was one girl, though. Her name was Sharon. She had striking reddish-blonde hair and ... well, she had developed physically, which captured the attention of the boys in junior high. She was definitely part of the In-crowd.

     Obviously, I was attracted to Sharon, and was thrilled when we were assigned to be lab partners for biology class, which we took in 8th grade because we were in the honors section.

     In our third or fourth lab session, the teacher introduced us to the concept of cells. I remember standing there at the lab bench next to Sharon, when the teacher directed one member of each team to swab the inside of their mouth with a little stick. Sharon volunteered to be the swabber for us. And so she took the stick, opened her mouth, and wiggled the stick inside her mouth, scraping off some cells from the inside of her cheek.

      She took the stick out and proudly held it out to me. There was the stick, with this glob of goop hanging off the end, all drippy and shiny and looking kind of like snot.

     I took one look at it -- and immediately lost my attraction to my lab partner. But that was actually a good thing, because from then on I could concentrate on biology instead of Sharon. And as I remember, we both went on to get A's in that class (well, Sharon did anyway).

     It was also in 8th grade when I caught wind of a rumor. The four coolest boys in our class were forming a club. They called themselves The Mamas. They let it be known that they had a secret handshake, and met together after school. Of course, all this made them even cooler than before.

     As soon as knowledge of The Mamas got out, another group of boys who were almost as cool decided to get together and form a second group which they called The Papas. One of the boys, Larry, approached me to see if I'd be interested in joining The Papas. I was thrilled to be asked and told Larry, sure, count me in.

     But a day or two later, Larry found me in the school hallway, and informed me that they'd decided to offer someone else the fourth spot in The Papas. I was out. I was rejected. Just one more leftover loser in 8th grade.

     A few days later another friend of mine, a neighbor named Mike, started making fun of The Mamas and The Papas out on the playground. He snickered at them -- not to their faces, but to me and another friend of ours, David, who lived up the hill behind my house. Then Mike suggested the three of us form our own group. I, of course, feeling rejected, jumped at the chance.

     We called ourselves the Three Little Pigs -- an obvious reference to the two groups that were more "in" than we were. But it was also obvious to everyone that we were making fun of the other guys who thought they were so very cool. Which, we thought, made us cool.

     The whole thing burned out in a few weeks, and was soon forgotten. But the next time we all convened for a party on a Saturday night, the lights went down, the slow song came on, and I summoned up the nerve to ask Julie to dance with me. I was floored when she said yes. And we slow danced under the dim lights for the length of the next record.

     But then, a few minutes later, I saw her with Larry. They were talking. And giggling. Then they were dancing. And I was back to drinking Coke and eating potato chips with Mike and David.

     Finally, when I got to college, I lost interest in trying to be in the In-crowd -- partly because there were too many people in college for there to be a single In-crowd. There were athletes who were cool; there was a theater group that thought it was cool; the kids who ran the school newspaper were cool in a certain way; and a lot of fraternity brothers thought they were super cool.
     I finally realized what I needed to do was not try to be cool, but to do my own thing -- which I eventually did, and found my own group of friends who liked me and accepted me, and who were interesting, and even cool in their own way.

      In other words, what I learned was, I'll always be a Three Little Pig.


DJan said...

I guess everyone wants to be cool when in school. I remember being one of those kids who was always outside, but that was because we moved all the time, with my dad in the Air Force. I went to four different high school, making it almost impossible to fit in. I enjoyed this, Tom. Even if you made it all up. :-)

Anonymous said...

I could care less about being in the IN crowd I moved so many times and lived with so many people after my Mom died all I could think of was moving to California to be with my one constant in my life my Grandmother..I moved went to college and sadly she died just before I graduated from college I was just 21 and I was devastated, one makes plans and God laughs is the saying I remember most after my Grammie's sudden death, she could not hang on anylonger she was in her late 80's or early 90's and hung in there to see and I lived with her, we had a grand time of it and for all the bs I edured as a foster child I was the better for it! I did not feel great after her passing and moved from san diego to a beach side place then to san Francisco area for my brother, having to go back to God-forsaken Oregon I was devastated but I met my hubs and we have had a wonderful marriage of over 40 years, he moved tons too and was always on the outside like me, when one door closes a window opens!!!! The Mamas and the Papas were the song I heard on the bus to California they were my favorite on the am station of my tiny transitor radio, good times indeed!

Anonymous said...

I am now, the same as I always was: I couldn't care a rats behind about any 'in' crowd.
As Groucho Marx once said: I wouldn't want to join or be part of any membership that would have me as one of their members.

I am my own 'in' crowd.

Anonymous said...

The in-crowd at our high school included the white kids whose dads were the professionals, doctors, lawyers, etc., or executives with local businesses. It broke down along religious lines. I was Catholic and part of no crowd except kids from my church. With all the talk of racism these days folks forget that the KKK stood against Blacks, Jews, and Catholics. I hated growing up where I did in the heart of Rebel country. Painful memories. However, I despise people who lump all "southerners" into the same group and critiicise us as "racists." Bitter memories indeed.

Tom Sightings said...

I grew up in the Northeast, and while we didn't have any blacks in our town, we were otherwise pretty ethnically mixed. Our In-crowd did not break down along ethnic or economic grounds. I never knew why some kids were "in" and others were not. It was always a mystery to me. Julie and I were both Catholic, and nobody held it against us -- in fact it was the one thing we had in common. And I have another story about that, but for later.

Meanwhile, DJan, I did not make any of this stuff up. It's exactly the way it happened ... or at least, the way I remember it.

Stephen Hayes said...

Your tongue-in-cheek story reminded me of a girl I had a crush on in junior high school. Her name was Cathy and she played the French horn. One day I met her in her empty music class where she was practicing. At one point she opened a glass jar and drained spit out of her horn's mouth piece. That was it; my infatuation vanished like piss in a swimming pool.

Karen D. Austin said...

I was bookish and didn't know how to make friends very easily. I was always too overt about it. Awkward. The most painful memory was being nominated by the other honors student as homecoming queen as a joke. I walked home early from school that day. But as I grew older and attended larger and larger schools (HS and then a large college), it was easier to find "my tribe" of bookish, socially awkward people. Thank heavens middle school / junior high is such a small percentage of my life. But it felt like never-ending torture at the time. I'm glad you moved on pretty quickly from your piggy days. You've come a long way, baby!

Olga Hebert said...

The "Mamas" and the "Pappas" gave me a giggle. But I realized that middle school really has changed. Just before I retired a group of boys "North Pole" and "South Pole" groups. One was a brand name shirt and the other was plain t-shirts with hand written designation. (I have forgotten which was which.) The administration went into full lock down mode--zero tolerance for gangland activity and all.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I didn't know you were Catholic. So was I, and obviously not anymore. As for in-groups, I tend to be a loner.

Gabbygeezer said...

Don't remember a lot of splitting into groups in junior high, but the cliques certainly started forming big time when high school rolled around. Although the community was about evenly split between Catholics and Protestants, the kids didn't form their groups along religious lines. There were no minorities except a few American Indians, who were well accepted, during my school days.

Anonymous said...

Went to school in fairly small town in the segregated South. All white school. Town had one Catholic family and one Jewish (they attended services in neighboring town). There was plenty of racial prejudice back then but no religious prejudices in our town. I did not know such a thing existed until I went away to college. There was an "in" crowd. Looking back, I was in the "in" crowd but did not think much about it. It was just the natural way of things. Don't even know what it was based on, but I know it helped to be good looking or a good at sports or a good dancer. Money was not an issue. Being smart helped but was not necessary. Self confidence was a winner, but were you in the "In" crowd because you were confident or were you confident because you were in the "in" crowd? Anyway in another time and place, I thought it was interesting that my daughter went out for cheerleader when she entered a large high school. She hated the sport, but she admitted that she did it so she would be in the "In" crowd. She later dropped the sport, when her social position was secure. Or maybe she just matured, I don't know. Most of us crave acceptance by our peers.

Douglas said...

We called them "soshes" (long "o") when I was in junior high. They wore no socks and were the children of the mildly affluent. Yes, they did have the cutest girls and the best-looking (and athletic) boys... so I was always "out." Instead, I hung out with the usual hoodlums.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

The "in-group" was always such a mystery to me, then and now. I went to a parochial grade school and then a small Catholic girls' high school that was mostly a boarding school and the differences were very interesting. I grew up in a snotty little suburb of Los Angeles where many of my classmates were kids of the newly affluent. They used to exclude those of us who were from the wrong side of town and whose parents weren't rich or powerful in the parish. The in-group -- none of whom anything going for them except looks and parental money -- even had their own language that was meant to exclude us outsiders.

When I went to high school, however, most of my classmates were from families with old money or kids of Hollywood royalty who had stashed them in boarding school. They tended to make friends based on personal qualities and many of them said they were envious of me -- one of the few day students -- because my mom came to pick me up and take me home every day. A number of classmates confided in and cried on the shoulder of my mother. It was a whole different experience.

And, of course, you're right: in college, you're truly free to find your own friends and be yourself, which is so wonderfully liberating!

Oddly enough, I find that in this "active adult" community where I now live, there is an element of aging mean girls who are trying to fashion an "in-group" that excludes and intimidates others. Sad. Some people never grow up!

Musaraigne said...

Interesting; I grew up in Paris (Fr.) and it was fairly close to your in-crowd society but as a less dominant feature. I guess parents and educators were stricter there and then, and they had more influence on our decision-making.
I was always the “ugly duckling” of any school I attended but by age 12, I stopped caring about it and I was sufficiently arrogant to feel that these groupies were dumb and I was smarter. (Which was partially true, since I studied better)
When I reached high school I had nothing but contempt for such groups and a strange reversal happened: THEY came to me and tried to entice me to join them. I even accepted at first only to find out that I was partially right: I was bored with small talks and pack behavior. I had become the swan and I found three others and we made a tight group of friends needing no one else. We studied, one played the guitar, we took day trips and we had a wonderful senior year. We all graduated with honors and I made my mark in research as a scientist in molecular biology.
Sometimes you need the courage to follow your own star.