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As they say, the more things change, the more things stay the same, trends come and go and technology evolves, but the social hierarchy of high school is a tried-and-true standby of American life. Today’s author takes us back in time with the class of 1969.
1969 was a turbulent year. Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon had just started his occupation of the White House. The Beatles gave their last public performance on a New York City rooftop. Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired their first episode on BBC One. The Zodiac killer murdered his last victim and then disappeared into thin air. But I was well-prepared to face this topsy turvy world because I had fortified myself with the wisdom and comradeship of my high school friends. Besides the requisite scholastic pursuits, there were other lessons to be learned there: Insights into the joys and pitfalls of interpersonal relations; How to know your place in the ever-shifting hierarchy of high school society; Who to avoid and how to avoid them; Understanding the double-edged sword of procrastination; and the mysterious and indecipherable enigma of girls.
Not wanting to attach any notoriety or embarrassment to any individuals, living or dead (and many of them very well could be), I will use first names only in the telling of these tales.
Lesson One: Know your place
In most high schools, once incarcerated for their three-year sentence, the inmate population quickly undergoes a sort of mitosis, splitting into various groups with distinct characteristics. At Warren, among the 650quasi-adult humans, there were five sub-species:
Always guys. There were no girl Jocks. Those would come a bit later. These were the ones on the sports teams that got the most baskets or scored the most touchdowns, or at least were just too handsome to ignore.
They set the standard for what to wear. V-neck sweaters with tan jeans and red tennis shoes for the guys (unless you were a Jock. Then you ALWAYS wore your letter sweater (it was entirely possible to be a hybrid Jock/Fashionista if you had a high Jock score and could afford the brand name clothes). Girl Fashionistas controlled hair style (straight blond Surfer Girl or Page Boy Bond girl) and managed the color du jour for dresses. But bear in mind, you could not become a Fashionista simply by wearing the wear. First you had to be invited in.
The Cool Ones
This was a small group. You had to be genuinely cool to qualify. That magical mix of humor and self-assuredness combined with an honest-to-goodness “I really don’t give a shit” attitude was a rare occurrence. Other attributes like good looks or nice clothes didn’t seem to make a difference achieving success as one of the cool ones. It was the vibe that made them. Unlike the other groups, who swam in schools, these people were sharks and usually cruised alone.
This group was unconcerned with the trials and tribulations of the caste system. They were too busy with Math Club or Choir to trouble themselves. Their disdain, of course, drew the animosity of the other groups, making them “outcasts.” Some were condemned to Geek status by the other groups simply on the basis of their physical appearance.(Those people did not understand the concept of real beauty).
The Great Unwashed
Not extremely handsome or beautiful. Lacked the budget (or the inclination) for red tennis shoes. Liked sports well enough, but didn’t expect high praise for shooting a three-pointer in a pickup game. Liked chemistry, not because it was technical but because there was a slight chance you could make something blow up. These were the “just plain folk” that I hung out with.
I didn’t have to stay after school for football practice. I saved a fortune on clothes. And I avoided the Algebra Junkies who had meetings where they sat around and did math…and actually enjoyed it!
In this vast ocean of sharks and lion fish and electric eels, I was just another mackerel.
But even us mackerels were a diverse lot. And as a fingerling freshman, I soon learned that big fish will often eat smaller fish of the same species.
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