Is there any worse time of life than seventh grade? Maybe if you get drafted at eighteen and sent to Vietnam, which, fortunately didn’t happen to me. They waited until I graduated college then went after me, and I joined the Air Force instead. But that is a different story.
In Chillicothe, Missouri, my hometown, they built a new Junior High School next to the High School, I suppose to accommodate the pig in the python demographic of the baby boomers, of which I am one. The first day of class in Junior High I went to the band room. Back in the day there was no such thing as orientation, or if there was, I missed it. Anyway, I thought that the band room would be a strange place for me to be in Junior High since there were no desks, and I didn’t see how that would work. At the end of the hour the bell rang and kids began to get up and leave. I sat there bewildered. Apparently I got the message and I packed up my coronet horn and went out into the hall and followed the crowd. I stopped by the office with a confused look on my face. The secretary asked my name. She told me I was assigned to section 7-2, and handed me a schedule. She told me to go to the first class to the room number on the schedule. Okay. I shuffled into the room and looked at the schedule. It had the name of the different classes and room numbers, and it dawned on me that I would have to change classes every hour with different teachers. This was not elementary school any more. No one told me how this was going to work. Later I found out 7-2 was one of two sections for smart kids. That day I didn’t feel so smart.
In math class I was given a book: Modern Mathematics. It was blue with some geometric designs on the cover. Inside the front cover there was a number. Mine was number one. So I was given the first math textbook the first year of the opening of the new junior high. Quite an honor for someone not so good at math, much less modern math, which I never did figure out. I had a hard enough time memorizing the multiplication tables in fourth grade. To this day I can add, subtract, multiply and divide, and even do percentages, which is all I really need to get by.
Mister Jones was the history teacher. Or was it Social Studies? No matter. He was compulsive, hyperactive, and overly enthusiastic. We sat alphabetical by last name in rows. He assigned us numbers. I was one-one. Another number one! Apparently no one with a last name that started with an “a” was in the class, so me with the beginning of my last name a “Ba” made me number one. He was fun. He would ask questions, and many in the class who knew the answer, or thought they did, would throw their hands into the air hoping to be called on. I was called on a lot, so I guess more evidence of my smart-ness. To avoid teacher’s pet-ism, he would draw a number out of a hat, and if it was your number, you got to provide the answer. While the kids in the back rows squirmed, smart-alecks like me would smile and throw hands in the air to answer. It was a game show, but in retrospect it probably gave some a complex. Junior high was designed to give kids complexes.
In case the classroom didn’t give you a complex, there was always Physical Education, also known as Fizz Ed, or PE. The boys all had white shorts and t-shirts, and would spend an hour or so in the gym playing basketball, doing pushups and sit-ups, playing dodge ball, or otherwise horsing around. I’m not sure what the girls did, but later was told they attended classes on menstruation in between volley ball. Afterwards we’d all strip down and shower. We all noticed whose genitalia was enlarging and growing hair, and whose wasn’t. More inducement of complexes. One day as we were getting dressed the coach came in and admonished us for pissing in the shower. He said the place smelled like a boar hog. I’ve never smelled a boar hog, but I took his word for it.
After surviving seventh grade, I moved on to eighth grade. In math class I was given a book—oh no!—entitled Modern Math 2. I never did get Modern Math 1. Anyway, it was taught by an excitable bald headed middle-aged teacher named Ben Something or Other. We called him Bongo Benny. He would prance and strut in front of the chalkboard throwing numbers and formulas up on the board, his arms flaying wildly while his voice rose in timbre. We stared in astonishment and thought: what the hell? We were in his class before and after lunch hour, which was about thirty minutes. One day someone snuck back into class and wrote a word that rhymes with duck on the board, and slid the chalk board panel over it. When we all returned to class, Bongo started in on his lecture, turned around and slid the panel back. The word that rhymes with duck was revealed in big capital letters. There were gasps and squeals. Bongo turned around and saw the word. He (I swear) grabbed two erasers and attacked the word, pounding it off the blackboard (which was green). Red faced he turned around and shouted that he knew there were only one or two people in his class who would do such a thing. Then he proceeded to glower over his suspected culprit’s desks, grab the edges, and move them and the desks back and forth all the while proclaiming that there were only one or two who would do such a thing. Then came the inquisition. He made suspects stay after class and told them to squeal. Turns out he never did find out because it wasn’t who he thought. I think it was one of the goody-two shoes he never suspected. I learned later that he cracked up and had to retire a few years after we’d gone on to high school. I’m not particularly proud of what happened, but I can tell you this: it wasn’t me.
Somehow most of us survived junior high. We later on lived through high school and for some college, and others the military. Then adulthood. There was some attrition along the way. It’s all about survival isn’t it? But ask yourself this: If you had junior high to do over again, would you? Didn’t think so.