last night my friends and i hung out at in a suburban high school gym.
it’s been a long time since i could say that.
as i said yesterday, a group of us got together to head out to Dancing with the Cougar Stars, a pep-rally-ish event at the school where one of our troop is a math teacher. he was one of the event’s contestants, and thus putting on a dance routine with one of the varsity cheerleaders to the tune of “ice, ice, baby”.
needless to say we were pretty excited to attend.
when we arrived, the parking lot was jammed, and the beer we’d enjoyed down the street (as a result of finding no traffic on the highways, what?!) immediately began to feel sacrilegious.
miniature humans smothered in school spirit and letterman jackets scurried around in gyrating packs of stereotypical profile, squealing at one another and turning to gaze at the gang of over-sized not-parents coming through the atrium doors.
we felt old.
we felt huge.
the men had five o’clock shadows and the women had less makeup on than their pubescent counter parties, lined up along the hallway walls, mouths hanging open.
the gym was packed. a toiling sea of children (since when did high schoolers look 12 years old?) so…so…active that we stood out in the hallways for a bit to compose ourselves as a group.
what did we just sign up for?!
we heard the crowd roar as introductions began, and we climbed up to the balcony level and found an open plot of bleachers at the far end.
not a single kid didn’t notice us lumber across their view as we made our way across.
who are THEY?
the show began, as couples took the floor and performed their rehearsed (and mostly awkward) dance moves. each couple was teacher/student, and immediately it was obvious that each corner of the cheering section was adamantly supporting whomever it was that came from their particular subset of the school’s subculture.
ah, high school…the never-ending popularity contest.
some of the performances were genuinely entertaining. since we didn’t know anyone but our friend, the novelty of certain participants was lost on us…one of the older teachers appeared to shock the crowd on a level i think might be related to his classroom demeanor.
to me, he was just an old guy dancing…which is funny enough on its own.
then came our buddy, and his little cheerleader partner, and the goodness that is vanilla ice.
immediately we all got that uncomfortable feeling you get when someone is about to embarrass themselves; an empathetic cringe washed over us.
he began hopping around, dressed as a gangster (oh, i didn’t mention the outfit? lord.). they kicked and bounced to the beats and flipped their baseball caps to the side in unison. they…
…when did he become a decent dancer?!
i use the term “decent” liberally, but he was almost not embarrassing himself out there!
and with all the build up, and the fact that nine of us drove more than half an hour just to see him dance for sixty seconds…well, not completely embarrassing yourself is QUITE an accomplishment.
and he looked up at us when he’d finished and gave a gangster nod.
we laughed and yelled our support as the judges voted and awarded the two of them 9’s across the panel.
not enough to place, in the end, but enough to save face among your friends.
the show continued, and we laughed and cheered along the way, having what turned out to be a great time.
i looked around at each oasis of style and expression…the lines drawn between groups clearly marked by clothing choices, body types, and uniforms.
athletes, musicians, snotty bitches, and guys who shun bathing.
you name it, and each little microcosm of expression was present and fully owned by its respective group or individual. it was a jungle of paradox: you could taste the desire to fit in and the desire to be different in each little person…both forces competing within the individual and the subgroups.
nothing more important than the world that exists inside that gymnasium.
it took me back…i gotta say. it was heartwarming, and it was laughable, and i think the way i put it, halfway though the show last night, was:
“look at these retards. it’s awesome. every kid here looks like a retard, and yet most of them will probably contribute to society at some point. that’s literally amazing.”