Not long ago, a friend who became a teacher and had recently gotten licensed and done his student teaching was applying for teaching positions. Over dinner one evening, he was quite glum about his prospect of finding a job. He said, with a deal of unhappiness, that if he did find a job it would probably be in a middle school because middle school was the least desirable assignment. That pre-teen age, must be one of the least loved by people who work with children – too old for the people who like little kids, yet too young for the people who enjoy the company of teenagers.
My mother, being the good conscientious sort or working class girl who was trying to be middle class, made sure that my sister and I had all the requisite enriching experiences. As summer approached, the question became what to do with the little one. My sister, was easy. To the extent she was passionate about anything, she was a dancer. A few times, I recall my family schlepping into New York City so my sister could attend a master class. My mother, my father and I would take in a movie and spend a lot of time in a coffee shop waiting for the hour the master class would conclude so we could pick my sister up and head back across the river. There was rarely a question about what to do with my sister, whether it was after school or the summer. There were always lots of dance classes for kids. Jazz, tap, modern and, of course, tons of ballet.
In my case, however, there was a problem. The previous year, I attended a science and nature group throughout the summer. That was for younger students. I was now at that awkward age when there was a notable lack of things on offer. Complicating matters was the fact that I was a little bit precocious and many of the things directed at my age group were unappealingly juvenile while the things that sounded interesting wouldn’t allow children my age. I don’t know if it was desperation, but my parents finally lighted upon the notion of sending me for acting classes, something in which I had never expressed an interest.
In a town about forty minutes away from where we lived, was another town that had a small equity theater. They put on very high quality, serious productions. In the summer, they had theatre classed for a very narrow age range which, as luck would have it, was mine.
The theater was located in a little commercial strip in an otherwise suburban town. The entire summer had a different feel, much less sheltered, than I was used to.
The were two girls with whom I bonded, so to speak, when one of them raided the costume storage. She found three corsets that must have been costumes for a period piece and we helped each other lace them up. One found a bottle and started parading around as if she was a woman from Storyville. Suddenly, one the teachers went into overdrive, snatching the bottle and ordering us to take off the corsets.
It was notable in an environment where there had be next to no discipline. We had crossed a line, and that line was clearly about sexuality.
There was a postage stamp size bit of green space adjacent to the building. One morning I arrived early and sat there waiting for the door to be unlocked. One of those two other girls, not the one who found the corsets, also arrived early. Her jeans had safety pins running up and down the sides. After a few minutes, she asked if I had noticed the safety pins. I said I had.
Did I want some safety pins?
Well, I hadn’t really thought about it. Why would I want safety pins?
It was supposed to be punk.
It means that it’s cool.
I nodded okay and she took some safety pins out of her pants and pinned up my shirt so it hung awkwardly on me.
You’re cool now, she declared.