Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's Humorous Now, But It Sure Wasn't Back Then!

When I think back to my K/12 school years, I have many fond memories. I enjoyed school and I was a good student. I had lots of friends but I wasn't in the clique with the "cool" kids. My friends and I were not "jocks" or "nerds" or "frats". We were pretty much nobodies who hung with our friends from elementary school and those that lived in our immediate neighborhoods. One of my best friends throughout my school years was Pam, who lived next door to me when we were little. Her family moved about 4 blocks away at some point in our upper elementary school years but we remained good friends all through high school. 

Back in my K/12 years, "middle school" was known as "junior high" and it consisted of 7th, 8th, and 9th grades. I attended Thomas Edison Junior High School  for the years 1967-1970. (Don't bother to Google it. The school building was razed years ago and you won't find anything of interest about it.) Yep, those were the years of  Hippies, peace signs, free love, the Vietnam conflict, mini skirts, and the budding years of feminists and much political activism.  

Like most kids in the pre-teen years, Pam and I couldn't wait to grow up. We were boy crazy from a really young age. Our hormones had us bubbling over with our budding sexuality. By the time we entered junior high we were excited to go to football games and Friday night dances like the high school kids did. And like most kids at that age we were very self conscious. 

I had very few classes with my friends. We were at the tail end of the baby boom generation and there were a lot of us in school at that time. (There were over 600 in my high school graduating class.) However, I was lucky and happy to have Pam in my 7th grade Social Studies class. We sat next to each other and competed, in a friendly way, for top grades in that class. And when we weren't competing for grades we were getting into mischief. 

Mr. John Cotter was our Social Studies teacher. As I remember him, Mr. Cotter was tall and stocky and had an ordinary face until he was pissed off at which time he appeared very intimidating. He had a commanding personality when he was conducting class and he didn't tolerate much nonsense from his students. He wasn't one to crack jokes but he did throw around a bit of sarcasm that made us smile from time to time. All in all he was a pretty serious guy. 

I have a couple very precious and comical memories from Mr. Cotter's class and they both include Pam. The first one was really Pam's comical moment, not mine. The second one was the most embarrassing/horrifying incident of my K/12 years. These aren't the kind of incidents where you had to be there to "get it". These are the kinds of situations anyone can relate to. And smile about. 

One day, when we were having a class discussion about the meaning of democracy, Mr. Cotter asked a question. When no one raised their hand with the answer he called on me. As you would expect, everyone in class turned to look at me. And just at that exact moment Pam, sitting right next to me, sneezed. She tried to cover her mouth but she wasn't fast enough. Big long strands of mucus shot out from her nose to our desk/table and her hand, which was still quite a ways from her face. And those strands were still attached to her nose too! What a mess! She was mortified, of course, but couldn't really move without dragging the mucus with her. The class erupted in laughter. Gales and gales of laughter!!! Mr. Cotter, in his most commanding voice said, "Don't just stare at her! Get something to clean her up!" I reached down for my purse, which was under our table, and grabbed a couple tissues for her. But it was obvious she needed more than that. This was a super booger explosion! Pam ran out in the hall, and I went after her, to the nearest girl's restroom to clean her up. Thankfully, by the time we were done the bell had rung and that class was over. Once she was out of the classroom, Pam could see the humor in the situation and we laughed long and hard about that one! I've never forgotten it and I'll bet Pam hasn't either. 

And then there was my moment of mortification in Mr. Cotter's class... and after school. Pam and I were sitting next to each other, as usual, and I passed her a note during class. A paper note. You know, the old fashioned kind that kids used to use to communicate before cell phones and text messages. Mind you, he had warned us that if he caught anyone passing notes he would confiscate said note and read it aloud to the class. So I should have known better! But I didn't think I'd get caught!!! (famous last words before your goose is cooked ;-) He saw me pass the note and got up from his desk and walked over and stood in front of the table where Pam and I sat. He didn't say a word he just reached out his hand, palm up. Pam looked totally embarrassed as she handed him the note. I looked like I wanted to die because I did want to die. He opened up the note and opened his mouth to read it then thought better of it and said, "I'll see the both of you after school in my office." I knew I was in big trouble at that point because I had written something good Catholic girls didn't write in notes. What did the note say? "Mr. Cotter is T.S.T.S.A." 

Most of the kids in class groaned and encouraged Mr. Cotter to read the note but he refused and said he'd deal with it later. When we walked out of class after the bell had rung Pam asked me what the heck T.S.T.S.A. meant. I told her and she said, "I can't believe you wrote that! We're in big trouble now. What are we going to tell him?" To which I said, "You just tell him you don't know what it means because I didn't tell you and you won't get in any trouble. I'll think of some kind of explanation by the time we get to the meeting after school." That class was our first period after lunch so I had to worry about that after school meeting all afternoon. I couldn't concentrate on anything the teachers were saying in my other classes because I kept trying to come up with a reasonable explanation for T.S.T.S.A. It was all I could think about because there was no way I could tell him the truth. 

All too soon the school day ended and I had to go back to Mr. Cotter's classroom and face the music (his office was in the back of the classroom). I was so scared I was shaking. I hadn't come up with anything that T.S.T.S.A. could stand for besides what it stood for. Remember, I was only 12 years old when this happened. ;-) When I got to his office I could see that Pam was already in there and the door was open. I walked in and sat down and looked at Pam and she looked as scared as me. Mr. Cotter addressed us both and said, "Who wrote the note?" I admitted I did and he looked at Pam and said, "You can go." She got up and practically ran from the room. I'm sure she was hugely relieved that her time with him was over. I was hoping and praying a hole would open up in the floor and I would fall through it. No such luck. 

Mr. Cotter produced the note from his pocket, opened it up, and laid it on his desk. You know what came next... "What does T.S.T.S.A. stand for?" he boomed. 

My heart was beating so hard I thought I was going to have a heart attack on the spot. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I looked down for a moment and one tear rolled down my cheek. I was absolutely mortified. I wiped the tear off my face, looked up at Mr. Cotter, and told him the truth because I couldn't think of anything else to say. "Too Sexy To Sleep Alone." 

I don't know what he was expecting to hear but it certainly wasn't that. He didn't say anything. He just stared at me for what felt like forever. He was probably trying to decide if I had the gall to be telling the truth. And he was trying desperately to keep his face from cracking a smile. He was pretty successful but I could sense his mirth just the same. Finally, he cleared his throat and said, "I'm not going to punish you any more than you're already punishing yourself. I think we're about done here." And with that he stood up and I stood up and I turned to leave the room thinking, "I can't believe that's all he's going to say!" He did give me one admonishment as I was leaving the room, "I don't want to see you passing any more notes!" "Okay!", I shouted back as I ran out into the hall to find Pam and share my mortification. But Pam wasn't there. She had gone on home and left me to face the wolf alone. I didn't blame her. I'm not sure I would have waited around if she'd been the one to write the note. It was a long walk home and I was a nervous wreck the whole time. I kept wondering what I would say if my mom saw how upset I was and asked me what was wrong. Telling her the truth would be even worse than telling Mr. Cotter. But I wasn't comfortable lying to her either. 

I guess I managed to pull off a serene face because I have no memory of talking to my mom about the incident. And I'm sure I would have remembered that! 

So how did I come up with the T.S.T.S.A.? It was something I'd overheard one of older girls in my neighborhood say in a conversation with my older brother. She was referencing a high school teacher she had. I thought it sounded cool and mature to be talking about a teacher that way. I was sooo naive. ;-)

Looking back, I think Mr. Cotter was a pretty cool dude. He could have dealt much more harshly with me than he did. I was never able to look him in the face again without feeling my humiliation. And I had him again for Social Studies for all of 9th grade! He was a good teacher though and I remember more of my assignments and class discussions from his class than from any other classes I had in my formative years. 

I can't help but smile when I think back to that note though. T.S.T.S.A.! What was I thinking, LOL!!!

[Written for the 122nd Carnival of Genealogy]