Back in the dark ages, I was a snot-nosed kid in high school. I was small in mind, stature and self-confidence. I was perhaps a few inches over five foot tall. That winter of my freshman year I wrestled at 105 pounds. I had no trouble making weight.
I hated my thick wavy hair. If I wore it too long in the early days of 1977 it looked like a tangled shrub. My hair would not part and feather like the cool kids*. Worse, just about every girl in school was taller than I was. Even if I bought the cool shoes with the big heels, I was still just an invisible shrimp floating at the bottom of a big high school ocean. Like almost every kid in the school I struggled to blend in and be noticed.
I was trying to toe that delicate line, get good grades without being classified as a nerd. I had no athletic prowess. If you did not play basketball and to a significantly lesser extent, football, you were not an athlete. There was no chance I could play either sport. I played in the band, mostly because my Mom was pretty adamant about it. I did not fight too much, it was an easy "A".
So it came to pass the Advanced English teacher started a unit on poetry. She explained that there was poetry all around us, from the old Burma Shave signs to advertising jingles to songs to traditional poems. She asked us to find a poem that really "spoke to us" and bring it in to class on Monday.
I was really a closet geek. I hid it as best I could. I spent my weekends and late nights reading history and westerns and anything else I could find. My walls were wallpapered in National Geographic maps (really). Books and book shelves covered almost every inch of floor space.. I had read an entire set of encyclopedias the summer before (really). I was a secret loser with a capital "L". I pretended to be anyone but that person at school. I thought I was reasonably successful.
I had just finished a book of writings on the Revolutionary War (I know). Contained in those thin pages was a poem by Emerson called The Concord Hymn. It was perfect. Everyone would love the paean to the Minutemen! I carefully copied the first few stanzas for class.
Monday came. The class was atwitter to read their favorite poem, me included. The first girl read lyrics from Frampton Comes Alive. So did the second. The next student, a boy, did too. A few read lyrics from Kiss songs. Kenny read something by the Beatles.
I tried to sink into my seat. How had I misjudged the situation so badly? I paged fanatically through my spiral notebook to see if the lyrics from a popular song had somehow been magically deposited overnight. Honestly, it never occurred to me to choose song lyrics. Apparently, I was the only person in class who missed the clues. When Mrs. Pletch finally called on me, I had no choice but to read my Nerd Poem. I only read the first stanza. It was enough. Even the teacher stared at me for a few seconds. She just managed a weak "Very nice, Joe" before the bell rang.
I would like to say that was my first and only brush with nerdism. Unfortunately, the drummer that keeps the beat as I march through life never learned to keep proper time.
* Every one of those smug f-ers is bald now. My hair is not as thick as it once was, but I still have most of it!