Triple-Six, Pagers, and Skateboards…Growing Up In Memphis (NSFW)
About a month ago I took a class and was asked to write about my high school experience as an assignment. I thought it might be an interesting addition to the blog. (Which, BTW, I know I’ve been neglecting.) I threw a few photos in too, for good measure. Oh, I reference pagers. Google it if you’re too young to remember. They were the size of VCRs and made out of wood and let people contact you remotely so you could call them back on a pay phone. Jesus, Google “pay phone” while you’re at it.
For most of my adult life and part of my teen years I tried to forget high school. There were no particularly awful experiences, I honestly feel like I had the normal experiences of being rejected by girls, acting awkward, smoking pot and wishing I was someplace different. It was always a place that I viewed as a necessary evil and a transition between being a child and being an adult. I knew these weren’t going to be my glory days and that I just needed to get through it.
In 10th grade I was friends with a kid named Eric Franklin Bartek who would not have been considered cool, ever, but he had a car which made him pretty popular. Eric knew he wasn’t very cool. He was almost 6ft tall, clumsy, and overweight. He desperately wanted to be a skater and a stoner, but only succeeded at the latter. Genuinely, he was a good person, but high school standards are largely unreachable and he was always trying to find the thing that would rocket him to teen stardom. Dealing drugs, skateboarding, carrying a gun, and acting a lot tougher than he was.
Eric would meet our little group of skaters at the mall where we would have been shooting ice though straws at old ladies and generally being assholes. We’d pile in his car, sometimes comically, sitting in each other’s laps, crammed into the back of his hatchback even. We insisted in smoking cigarettes in these conditions, inevitably burning one another with dropped cherries. Triple Six Mafia was more than often our soundtrack and in 1994 they were the world’s first underground Satanic rap group. We thought we were terrifying, and in retrospect, we were, but probably not for the reasons we imagined.
Some nights we’d find an empty parking lot to skate, or we’d go with Eric to pick up or sell whatever drugs he was holding. Other nights were just about sitting in Perkin’s Restaurant eating hash browns and smoking, saying “fuck” too loudly hoping someone would kick us out. Some nights we’d try to find girls to hang out with which was more often than not an exercise in futility. One fortuitous night Eric got a page from someone asking if he could give some girls a ride. His car was maxed out, but he agreed anyway and we stopped to collect two classmates that needed to get home. I knew Bekka and Ashley from class but not exceptionally well. But as they got in the car Ashley climbed in my lap, put her arms around me and we drove off. I put my arms around her, not necessarily as a romantic gesture, but because there wasn’t much of an option otherwise. We held each other for the entire ride as her face gently pushed into my neck and her hands casually rubbed my shoulders. As we pulled up to her house she detached herself from the tangle of our limbs and held my gaze as she got out of the car. I remember reaching out through the window to touch her hand as we said goodbye. I fell in love a little bit that night although I believe I was the only one. Ashley and I never spoke about it and our paths didn’t ever really cross again.
That was the embodiment of high school though, for me. Late nights in Memphis doing things that would have given my parents heart attacks, driving around with guns and drugs like we were such badasses, when we were stupid and childish at best. Often I wonder how we all managed to get out alive, relatively unscathed, despite our every attempt to the contrary.
As I was trying to remember high school it occurred to me that going back and describing yourself as a nerd or awkward is kind of en vogue, especially for people who’ve reached a certain level of fame and beauty. Everyone loves a story with humble beginnings. The fact is, though, that high school was awkward for nearly everyone because there was just no other way to be in high school. It’s not a place you can succeed because all the decks are stacked against you. If you’re too smart, you’re a nerd. If you’re too stupid, you’ll never amount to anything. The pressures of being the popular kid are just as painful and real as the pressures of being the lonely outcast. In many ways it’s a shame to pile that stress on a child, placing the burden of their future on the tumultuous years prior to 18 under the guise of success. We all deserve a round of applause for surviving.