A Pointless Foray Into My Junior High Past
I lived in Smyrna for the first half of 1981 where I attended 8th grade Thurman Francis Junior High. I never found out who Thurman Francis was, but I thought it was a cool name for a school. The colors were teal and orange and their sports teams were the Rams. The school newspaper was called the Ram Page. It had a snack bar and a jukebox in the cafeteria. The 9th grade hall was called "Murder Hall" not because anybody was ever killed there, but because it was so narrow it was murder to make it to class. Freak kids hated the frats and the rest of us tried to not get caught in the crossfire. I went roller skating every weekend in Murfreesboro and my girlfriends all went on to become cheerleaders. My first kiss was on the bleachers in the gym during a basketball game.
Your social standing was about the alliances you kept. What clothes you wore. One kid in my history class named Bucky always wore Izod Lacoste polo shirts. The history teacher once asked him if his family owned stock in the company. You were judged on how well you could feather your hair. How much electricity did it take to power all of those blow dryers every morning as boys and girls across America got ready in the morning. For boys it was okay to bring a football to school, but carrying any instrument case other than for a drum or guitar would invite ridicule and the occasional beat down. Most of all you were judged on your tennis shoes.
It was 6th grade at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary where I first became aware that some kids actually cared about what you wore on your feet. I was changing classes once and a kid who wasn't even in my class laughed at me as he told me I was wearing "buddies." I didn't even know he was referring to my shoes. I knew about Adidas and Converse, but they were just shoes to me. No different from the non-brand name kicks I was wearing. I had no control over what I wore since my parents bought my shoes for me. So it would go until a few months into 8th grade.
I hadn't encountered anymore hallway bullies putting down my shoes, but by 8th grade it became apparent that if you wanted even a hint of a social life you needed name brand shoes. It was also great if you could get the bottoms to squeak on demand. The brand that was king was Nike and the shoe was the canvas court shoes with the light blue Nike swoosh. When school began I was wearing some Trax that my parents got at a Pic N Pay. The only way I was going to get the Nike's I wanted was either wait for my birthday or cut back on roller-skating. This was tough since roller-skating was where everybody went on Friday nights. So I waited until my birthday.
It was only a couple of months or so and I would make do with my Trax until then. I was making friends anyways. Soon the time passed and I went to Agee's Sporting Goods in Murfreesboro and found some a pair of Nike in my size. They were $30. I can still remember the orange box and that new tennis shoe smell of rubber, canvas, and tissue paper. They were the most comfortable and magical shoes I ever owned. I walked into gym class on Monday and everybody was digging that I had Nike tennis shoes. This cemented my position with my new friends and helped me to break the ice with others. I loved those shoes.
I'm sure it was all in my head, but I felt like I was a better athlete with those shoes on my feet. I was taller. I was better looking. I actually now had a reason to use the pay foot lockers at the roller skating rink. The world in general was a divine place as I ran around with my feet a holy blur of sky blue and pure white and what a satisfactory squeak they could make on the school’s tile hallway floors. They were the shoes I had on my feet when I met future cheerleader Christy at the basketball game one brisk autumn night. After the game I flew home on a beat up bicycle filled with the exhilarating rare gift of possibility you are only granted a handful of times in one's life.
Fleeting it is. My Nike's grew dirty over the winter and my feet were growing. Christy and I made it through Valentine's Day as couple, but soon we parted. While I loved my now battered Nike's I was already feeling that sometimes haunting impulse of mine to be different and I went with now fading in popularity Converse for my next pair of shoes. On a warm weekend day in March or April I met the second girlfriend and future cheerleader Lisa playing a pick up baseball game. How great is that; a pick up baseball game. I bet those rarely happen now. Lisa and I didn't last long and soon I would have a string of random girlfriends much like my shoes. A mixture of whim and luck is the only pattern I can detect now.
One afternoon I went with my mother to K-Mart in what was called Stones River Mall at the time. There was an inside mall with many stores, but the best were the Silver Shack game room, Readmore Books, and Port O'Call Records. While my mother shopped in K-Mart I went to the mall to make my rounds. I played a few games of pinball, looked at the latest music magazines, and then went to check out the wall display of the Top 40 45's before I headed back to K-Mart. You had to go outside to get to K-Mart since it was a stand alone store. I ran my fingertips lightly on the brown brick siding as I strolled the long length of sidewalk toward the kiddie rides and phone placed just before the front door. I glanced down and there was my next pair of shoes shining green in the warm afternoon sun.
I looked around and there wasn't anyone there so I scooped up the cash I saw and ran into the store. I didn't even know how much was there. I just knew that I had found some money. I took a deep breath and saw that I had found a couple of 20 dollar bills. I was rich! But, I thought, maybe I should turn it into the store's lost and found. But, I thought, I had found it outside the store. But, I thought, I bet some kind parent had lost the money while digging in their pocket to find money for their kid to ride the mechanical horse or merry go round and they would miss the money and would come back for it to find it gone. I debated in my mind for some time, before I finally found my mother and told her about my find. Her advice was simple and easily followed. She told me to keep the cash and spend it however I liked.
The first thing I did was march right back down to Port O'Call and purchase Styx's Paradise Theater album. It had been high on the charts all year and I really liked its mixture of hard rock and sentimental balladry. The record even had laser etched drawings on the vinyl you could see if you held it up the light and tilted it just right. I'm surprised I didn't go straight to Silver Shack after this and blow the rest of the dough on pinball, but I guess my mother was ready to go back to Smyrna. Maybe I should have spent some of the money on my current girlfriend, but an only child can be selfish so the thought never crossed my mind. Besides, girlfriends came and went during the first half of 1981 with the regularity of spring tornado warnings.
I should have bought another pair of Nike, but instead I went for all white, all leather Pony's with a red mark on the side. Pony was on the upswing then and it made a little stir when I came to school with them instead of my Converse. I basked in this glow for a time, but soon found the Pony's to be uncomfortable, clunky, and nowhere near magical. The leather scuffed and the sides became fouled with black and gray scratches. I spent the remainder of my money I had found at a carnival in Murfreesboro held at Jackson Heights Plaza.
School was winding down at Thurman Francis and I moved back to Murfreesboro. My father would drive me to Smyrna in the morning and I would hang out after school or at the public library until my mother picked me up in the afternoon. It was weird since we had lived just a block or so away from school. I was in some teenage limbo knowing that I'd attend Oakland in the fall, but not wanting to give up all the cool friends I had made. I fell in with a new crew of kids that liked to study at the library that went to Thurman Francis, but I hadn't met yet. This was odd since the school wasn't that big.
There's no real point to that last bit and if there is a point to any of this I doubt I'll find it. It's just strange in retrospect to me how I would fall in with a completely different set of friends after school was over. I mean go to the trouble of doing this when I knew in less than a month school would end and I probably wouldn't see any of them again. It gives it all such a summer camp golden afternoon hue, but even that's circumspect when you consider all I know of summer camps is from movies and Peanuts comics.
I do recall that the library kids weren't hung up on shoes or much of anything really. They didn't care about the Oakland Raiders winning the Super Bowl or the Smyrna High School baseball team's record. They were just a mixture of boys and girls that happened to be friends. The world didn't break down into a binary system for them. That didn't stop me from trying to get yet another girlfriend. That may be the shadowy ulterior motive for me after all, but I believe that was the result of my befriending the group and not the root cause.
My lucky money Pony’s were giving out at an alarming rate whether I was sprinting in gym or playing four square with this kid Napoleon and a pair of girls I wished desperately to roller-skate with soon. The turmoil of the end was getting to me. I wouldn’t get to be a 9th grader at Thurman Francis on top of junior high, but instead I’d get to be a “greenie” at Oakland where the social barriers were rock solid. It wouldn’t matter what shoes one wore.
Things there would be divided into racial, economic, athletic, and cultural (or agricultural) classes there and I wasn’t prepared to negotiate those social constructs. My freshman year would be filled with teenage angst and pathos. It was made up of situations that would make me a fan of The Catcher In The Rye. I can’t even remember what brand of tennis shoes I wore that year. I wore construction boots most of the time with jeans, flannel shirt with a heavy metal t-shirt on the outside, and an ag-boy cap with the duck bill. I started smoking cigarettes and had zero friends at Oakland.
Even in this dismal scenario I still managed to have a girlfriend. She went to Riverdale and we’d catch glimpses of each other during the week as our school buses stopped at Central Middle after leaving each high school. She’d come over to spend the weekend with her father right down the street from me and we’d hang out on the Mitchell-Neilson Elementary playground and maybe go roller skating or to a basketball game and dance. Of course, I treated her like crap and by the time I moved yet again and switched to Riverdale we were kaput even though her ex-boyfriend from her junior high days kept challenging me to fist fights. I resigned myself that life must be filled with such perilous complications and it does seem so. But life is also filled with great moments too. Some of them might even include an orange box.