Being Cool in School

It’s been a while since high school, which I attended in Calgary and included grades 10-12. We had junior high schools for grades 7-9, and I attended grades 1-12 in one very large city block. In some cases I saw the same kids for twelve years, even if we weren’t friends. The schools were large and there were hundreds of kids.

It was common to know your homeroom classmates and some of the students from other classes, especially if you took an elective that mixed the classes. And sometimes friends were in different homerooms so you’d know maybe half of your year to some degree and the rest of the students barely entered the zone of friends or classmates.

There were times in high school when everyone hung out, during breaks between classes and at lunch. Our high school had a major entrance (for students) that had been named the Pit. There was one to either side of the main entrance on the south side, which also had names. The actual grand entrance to the school faced the west and very few students ever seemed to use it, partly because it faced a shopping center and most of the homes were on the south and east sides. The east side also had a couple of entrances and one faced into the school field. We called this one Apple Crisp I believe. Another one was called Numbers and I think one was called Colors. I forget the rest of the names.

I’m not sure who named them and it could well have been the group we hung around with. Everyone knew of the Pit because it was the entrance used by almost everyone, open in both directions (as opposed to the side entrances, which were usually only exits) and where the students were allowed to stand and smoke. So it was always stinky and overcrowded. I never really picked up smoking. For awhile my girlfriends and I tried smoking wine tip cigarillos, more for the flavor and the look than for actually smoking. When everyone started to get into smoking I tried but had to be drunk to do it. (Shhh, yes we actually drank [without our parents knowing] during those high school days.) I don’t think I ever bought a pack of cigarettes and gave it up rather quickly.

Now the Pit, the center of our universe in many ways, was where everyone could socialize, smoke and hang out. It was known as the place where the jocks and cheerleaders gathered, a collection of the studly and maturing boys and the girls with bodies and legs and pompoms that they knew how to move. So we, who thought we weren’t the cool kids, tended to go to the quieter entrances and hang out. They were far less crowded and brighter, especially Apple Crisp, which faced the field. And if you happened to be skipping a class teachers wouldn’t find you there. In fact they probably would only find you in the Pit.

And of course, should you be skipping school (but not able to go home because a parent might find you) and still hiding in an entrance, it was a place to drink elicit alcohol, smoke pot or even try something like acid. Though the more hallucinogenic the drug, the more quiet and out of the way you wanted the entrance. Numbers I believe was the favorite for such activities.

We never thought we were cool. We weren’t the geeky studious ones, nor were we the jocks. We were also not the deadbeat losers that missed so many classes they failed. Fighting and knives and guns were still pretty much unheard of while I was in school except maybe for one or two boy on boy fights, though I never saw one. So we were a bit like nomads, flowing through, not quite part of any group.

Or so we thought. Of course we had formed our own group. But when you were in class, no one was a group. You were an individual under the watchful eye of the teacher. We were required to do a mandatory counseling class in high school. The girls would gather or the guys and it obviously wasn’t everyone because it was at the counselor’s office. Maybe it was 12-20 girls total.

I vaguely remember one session where there were a number of the cool cheerleader girls and then my friends and me. We ended up talking about belonging and being cool and we said how we knew they were the cool ones. And they said, but it’s you guys who are the cool ones. I don’t remember the exact details but I remember the feeling to this day.

Never had I felt cool, in control, the one people looked to for fun or leadership. And yet, that was my perception, not the perception of others. It was a very eye-opening experience for all of us. I wondered how many other people were either faking it or didn’t think they “were the ones” whatever being the one might be. I wrote about my experiments in changing myself in “You are Who You Pretend to Be” and in fact I was changing before this in high school. But it attributed to my change and I think the counselor who got us together from different cliques was very wise in letting us see how the other half lived, or acted. It truly didn’t put us all on a more even level. I sometimes wonder how much impact it made on my other classmates.

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