Thursday, September 4, 2008

This Is Me In Grade Nine, Baby

Picture day at our school today.

As any teacher can attest, picture day is one of the worst days. The intercom sounds off all day long, interrupting classes to send different groups down for their portraits. Girls fuss over their hair and makeup and boys whose parents made them wear a shirt with a collar fidget and seem umcomfortable. There's always a feeling of being on the edge of chaos.

All day today I've had ninth graders in the library. Ahhh, the smell of freshmen in the morning.

As they file past me in their fashionable retro tight-legged jeans and brightly-colored shirts ('cause we all know that, according to the Lifetouch people, bright colors look best in pictures even if they wash you out and make you look vaguely jaundiced in person) I keep hearing part of the Barenaked Ladies song "Grade 9" in my head:

I got a blue and red Adidas bag and a humongous binder
I'm trying my best not to look like a minor niner...

This is me in grade nine, baby, this is me in grade nine...


It could be that this song is stuck in my head because the Ladies sing part of it at the beginning of the live version of "If I Had A Million Dollars" that I put into my annual summer mix CD this year. Or it could be that every year when I see our freshly-minted and spiffed up freshmen I think of myself as a petite little wide-eyed ninth-grader.

Finding Jason's old ninth-grade yearbook this summer and seeing myself sprinkled throughout it (there's me in the chorus, singing a very wide-open "ah"! There's me out of focus behind a group of mugging seniors, looking like a fashion victim in my high-waisted and pegged-leg pants!) just made me shake my head at myself a little bit. More so than any other time in my school years, I look at pictures of myself and say, "What on earth were you thinking?"

But I can forgive myself, for is there ever a time when we are so divided inside ourselves as that freshman year? Freshmen have one foot in childhood and one foot in the adult world. On any given day, you might write a note of undying love to your first boyfriend and then later go play kickball in your best friend's back yard. It is for this reason that teachers either love them or hate them. You either embrace the childishness or run screaming and ask to have 17 and 18 year olds the next year. I used to love teaching freshmen when I was in the English classroom, though working with mostly seniors the last 8 years has shown me that there something to be said for those students who are truly young adults.

In honor of picture day, here's a glimpse of Cranky in grade nine. I am not a poet, so this will be prose rather than imitating the lyrical song stylings of BNL. I hope to post my actual ninth-grade school picture soon; my hair in the picture is truly a work of art.

Cranky In Grade Nine:

First, the hair. I had grown out the layers from my long, feathered, permed, middle-school 'do and lopped my newly-straight hair into a simple bob a la Dana Delaney from the China Beach years. But this was the fall of 1988, so I couldn't just let my hair, you know, hang there. I had to pump it up. So I curled and lifted and sprayed the bangs into a Kentucy Claw (though I prided myself that I no longer teased them into a standing-straight-up ratty mess like I had done in eighth grade, because that was soooo tacky.) But this wasn't enough. The height from my bangs did bad things for my face shape if the rest of my hair was flat. So I took a cue from Linda Evans's Krystal Carrington look and sprayed the sides of my hair into wing-like structures that I probably could have used to slow my fall from a tall building. This look, I thought, was so mature and so classy. Never mind that I couldn't get a brush through it.

Then there were the clothes. What you see in my school picture isn't so bad; a simple cable-knit crewneck peach sweater. I was dressing simply that day. But other days I was big on layering; later in the fall, that peach sweater would have been worn over a peachy-plaid button-down shirt. Which still isn't so bad. But on cold days, I couldn't stop myself. I wore a peach turtleneck under the shirt under the sweater. I wouldn't be surprised to find a picture of myself with a blazer on top of all that. I just loved the layers, man. And if the layers were all pastels...well, that just made it all the cooler. I loved to wear colors that today you can only find in baby clothes.

My shoes were always a statement. I am sure that on picture day I was wearing pointy-toed shiny-black flats with my acid-washed jeans. I loved to wear dress shoes with jeans and even shorts. But with skirts? Well, I had to wear my Chuck Taylors or my Keds with my dresses and skirts. Because it showed my funkiness. My nonconformity. Which happened to look a lot like everyone else's nonconformity.


This is me in grade nine, baby.

Pull out your old ninth-grade pictures. What was your style? Were you able to resist The Claw?

1 comment:

Mrs. Rob K said...

I owned the claw, I'll admit it! And I added swirls of blue and purple mascara (WHY?!) through a couple strands of the side claw for added funkiness. AquaNet Super-Extra-Hold was the death of my hair and also why I have cringed at the site of hairspray in any form for the last 15 years LOL