Friday, July 01, 2011

Speaking of Isley

While researching for the last post (memmmmories!) I found a folder that contained within it such treasures that I had to share, immediately.

First, let's talk about our bodies.

The first and last in-school sex talk happened at Isely. There was even a helpful calendar in the back to help me count down to my next ladies-time, month to month...

...back when I was born or, possibly, time traveling.

The materials were adorably old but hey, they tried. I do remember our teacher's patience being tested when, during Q&A, one of the girls raised her hand and asked "What is a 'blow job?'" Though, to be fair, I do believe she really didn't know...just like I didn't know what a certain phrase meant and, assuming it was an insult, screamed it at two teenaged boys while fighting over a raft at my grandfather's typographical union picnic. The look on my mother's face could be described as both "horrified" and "classic" when I screamed "Eat me, eat me RAW!" This happened. All I can say is: Thank God my mom was there and not my grandfather. I would still be humiliated to this day. Funny now, though.

Anyway, I obviously kept the booklets...I am not sure how they made it all the way to now as I've had many reckonings where countless knickknacks of memory and once-held, now-dead value were bagged and trashed to make way for new things, less sentimental, more adult.

I remember the image of this girl in particular tapped into my ever increasing sense of jealousy for all things I did not have and simply was NOT: athletic, shining, perky, preppy, and lovely. Imagine that, whilst the Tampax corporation was only trying to teach me about my body, myself, they instead gave me another--completely fabricated--visage to detest and idolize, an act so common and fraught during any girl's teen years.

Finally, related and unrelated, the Isely Contract. As I've mentioned, there were no grades at Isely...there were technically no grades on two levels: no letter grades and classes were mixed 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. Now, I hate to think I saved this particular contract out of some self-flagellating punishment for errors made so long ago, but I also hate the idea that I saved an average contract of mine showing my basic level of commitment. I will say there was a drawing on the back, I think of myself as Boy George, so that's probably why this, out of all the contracts I had, was the one that survived. So, here it is. Try (only try) not to judge.

To my credit, the "cave in" was very challenging. I admit the principal did have to come and talk to me about my performance--not just for this contract, but in general. I was not called to her office. Oh no. She came to my class and, while my classmates worked quietly (very quietly) around me, talked to me at my desk. They would hate to have to excuse me from Isely to attend another school because I could not complete the work. Isely made not have had grades, but you'd better do the work. That shamefest motivated me (the point, obviously) and they never kicked me out. Even so, I doubt I was ever the star, the runner up, or even high in the lower half of the class. Whatever the case, I got what I needed from Isely. Wonderful memories of a cutting edge school and knowledge of My Changing Body.

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The Choice

I was out running errands today in the hood and passed by by the bike shop en route to the pharmacy right next door. The door to the bike shop was open and the smell of fresh bike tires filled the air. I love the smell of fresh tires, by the way. I genuinely considered going in just so I could hyperventilate on that sweet, sweet, toxic perfume. But it also reminded me of a conversation I had with my peeps a couple of weeks ago about envy and material things.

Between 5th and 6th grades I was given a choice for my birthday: a new bike or $100 worth of new clothes. Before I begin, let me clarify: I had known jealousy before. One of my mother's favorite nicknames for me was "The Green-Eyed Monster" which worked out well for her because I have green eyes. Here is evidence of the green-eyed monster:

But it was near the end of 5th grade when I realized I had a terrible problem outside of the familiar realm of wanting my adored grandpa all to myself: There were things in the world that other people possessed that I did not or, worse, could not have. As I mentioned before, I went to a fantastic school, Isley, where all the kids now seem to me both charmed and certainly rose-colored through my memory, but a great number of them were very well off. It was in 5th grade that I became increasingly aware of Jordache jeans, Izod polos (now Lacoste), deck shoes, and a rolled, blue or red paisley bandanna used as a belt. I eventually procured some of these items at the time (the jeans via begging, and the bandanna raided from my mother's closet) but there were so many things I wanted and could not have. So many things. ALL the THINGS.

What was worse was the galvanizing influence Mtv began to have on my life during that summer. At the time, I had an old, lavender banana seat bike that seemed to weigh 50 pounds. It was my first and only bike, the one my grandfather taught me to ride. It was a tank and took a lot of energy to get rolling, but once I was off I could tear around my neighborhood (or my grandparents') with relative ease. It looked similar to this:

I was eleven going on twelve and I have no doubt in my mind that the purple tank kept me in fantastic shape. Being a child, I did not care about being "in shape" (ah the ease of lanky, long-legged youth when I was still taller than most of the boys in my class). All the year before I'd wanted what my cousin Neil had, which I believe was something like this:

A BMX bike. His was too small for me, but it moved like a mothertrucker and it cornered--you guessed it--like it was on rails. I wanted a bike like that and BAD. I imagined myself jetting everywhere, cornering excessively, and possibly seeing the curvature of the earth due to my a.) speed, and b.) awesomeness.

Then my friend Brett introduced me to Mtv and, worse, Duran Duran's video "Is There Something I Should Know." Something snapped. Or clicked, depending on how you want to see it, I guess. The growing weight of coveting all the shiny, preppy things crashed together with a new level of envy (desire, obsession, idolatry) mixed with a level of desperate urgency I could barely cope with. I'd never seen such pretty boys, such clean lines, and what I interpreted as the very height of class and exclusivity. They were musicians. They were gorgeous. They were BRITISH.

Suddenly, the idea of tearing around on a BMX bike seemed both juvenile and wasteful. I spent that $100 on all the fashion I could get. I still remember two of the outfits, mostly because there are pictures. Here's one:

Yes, that is a blousy matching top and shorts, pink with red lips all over and a damn bow tie. This is the tippy top of fashion! The other outfit I remember was lavender shorts and a white and purple top with horizontal, broken lines that I believed looked like a Duran Duran cover. The next year, I even tried to get a haircut just like Nick Rhodes, "my" Duran Duran band member and future husband, based off of this photo:

This was the result.


Though at the time I thought I was quite deprived of all the coveted things, as I look back I know that I had more than I should have expected. Not as much as my classmates, but certainly enough to get by: Unfortunately, through hormones, circumstance, and timing I came to a crossroads where I had to decide between something smart and something superficial. I saw it then as something irrelevant and something vital to my survival as a preteen American female, but you get my drift. I should have picked the bike. For my social weakness only went in decline after that (and some shifts in fortune that complicated matters, but that’s a story for another day): Learn this parents! A choice of clothes over a bike leads to choosing friends over family, then smoking, then drinking, then, well, an education and career but no matter! The bike was a better choice.

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