One of the biggest disappointments about my adolescence was that none of the boys in my grade school looked like the boys on TV. I don’t mean in terms of general attractiveness, because even then I realized that the people who got to be on TV were preternaturally attractive in a wholesome (at least in our house because we didn’t have cable), stylish, symmetrically-featured sort of way. I mean that the boys on TV looked much older than the boys at my school. They were taller, cooler, and moved with a self-assuredness that I’d never seen on boys in real life. Even now that I’m almost 30, I can watch re-runs of the freshman year season of Saved By the Bell and I swear that Zack Morris Then is older than Me Now. This annoyed me back then because all the boys I knew were pubescent idiots, and the only show that got a pass was Beverly Hills 90210 (possibly because even then, I knew Dylan McKay was like 35).
Because I went to a Catholic school in the city, the number of boys I knew in real life – meaning the boys I would talk to on at least a thrice-weekly basis – was limited to two, maybe three grades (us, the year above us, and the year below us). Catholic schools weren’t as large as the public schools, and because some of our teachers were nuns, there was some pretty heavy age- and gender-segregation going on when they could get away with it. I wasn’t incredibly interested in dating boys at this point, anyway, but the girls who were into that sort of thing were attracted to boys I figured would be in prison sometime before 2004. This is why opportunities to see other boys from other schools was a top activity, both for me (since the boys I knew were dumb) and for the other girls (who were really into being sluts).
Let me tell you about Camp Don Bosco. To Catholic kids in St. Louis, Camp Don Bosco was pretty much the only non-Scout camp you could hope to attend. If your parents were wealthy and/or experiencing divorce-related guilt, they could pay lots of money to send you to camp for two weeks during the summer. If your parents were not wealthy and/or still married, they could pay a couple of hundred dollars to send you to camp for one week during the school year with the rest of your class.
(To some extent, I think growing up parochially-schooled set me up to feel a combination of pity, sadness, and loathing for grown salespeople. In no other school system (that I’m aware of) does a summer camp representative present a slideshow to a group of fifth graders in the hopes of selling a sleepaway camp package. Like we’re all supposed to run home and nag the shit out of our parents because they’d totally believe our sound financial judgement? Camp Representative and Josten’s Salesman, you guys need to find real jobs.)
At my school, we went to Camp Don Bosco in 6th grade. This was the ideal time to get us excited about meeting other kids. Very few of us were interested in having sex yet (at least I wasn’t), but everyone was excited by the prospect of making out. If that making out happened in the woods instead of inside a broken photo booth at Exhilarama in Crestwood Mall, so be it.
Each week, three different schools went to Camp Don Bosco. During my turn, it was my school in South City and two schools from Baden. For non-St. Louisans, while the City of St. Louis is almost universally worse than the County (ahem, suburbs) and Baden is technically in North County, I would never choose to go up there for any reason that involved stopping and getting out of my car. While my school was mostly German, Irish, and Italian kids from the neighborhood, the Baden schools had a shitload of black people from the ghetto. I was thrilled by this. None of the black kids in my own neighborhood went to Catholic school, which might explain why my first camp friend was a gigantic black kid named Jason. Who, um, barked at people. Whatever, he was hilarious.
Because the girls at my school had convinced themselves that the boys at camp would be cuter than the boys at our own school, we were all very much looking forward to going. Once we arrived and were broken into school-mixed groups, I was disappointed. The girls at my school lost their shit over a boy named Corey from St. Jerome’s, but I didn’t understand the appeal. I guess he was good-looking (whatever that means in 6th grade), but, and I don’t think I was too terribly sophisticated back then or anything, he was just meh to me. Like all the other boys my friends already liked, Corey seemed like a retarded asshole whose main experience with sex was (I assumed) staring at titty magazines and intimidating some insecure girl into a 10pm fingerbang after she’d gotten drunk off of 3 of his out-of-town stepmom’s Zimas. If that, even, but he was totally the kind of pre-adolescent boy who talks shit all the time and scoffs at you if you refuse to answer a question about whether or not you’ve been felt up yet.
I should point out that boys at camp did not like me in that way any more than boys at my own school liked me in that way, which is to say not all that much. I and other girls like me had weird hair, did not wear makeup, played sports, and read things that had not necessarily been published in Seventeen magazine. If this were Never Been Kissed and my teacher had been a smokin’ hot but wildly inappropriate Michael Vartan, I may have been comforted by his assurance that boys in what passed for adulthood to me (ahem, anything over the age of 17) would be crazy interested in me. But I had no such teacher, and no one ever told me this. Instead, I was forced to prefer the boys at my own school. They may not have been any more attractive than the other boys, but at least they knew me. When I said “I will seriously kick you in the dick if you call me a lesbo bitch one more time,” they knew I meant it. The other boys didn’t and called me a lesbo bitch again, and I kicked them in the dick like I said I would. This didn’t help my apparent reputation as a lesbo bitch, but at least I’d warned them.
It’s not like this was entirely not my fault, anyway. In 6th grade, your spectrum of attractiveness isn’t too developed. What you find attractive is what everyone else finds attractive. There are no deviations, no allowances for character, and no realizations that until everyone grows up a little, no one is going to find cuter boys anywhere else. I wish I’d understood that no one looks like anyone on TV. I wish I’d found the nerdy boys attractive before midway through high school. Maybe if I had, there would have been some reason for them to be attracted to me. And maybe people would finally stop thinking I’m a lesbian, because that and a smoker are the two major assumptions people make about me to this day.
While I know that I’m now a reasonably well-adjusted adult and that my adolescent experience had a lot to do with it, I do sometimes wish I could go back to Camp Don Bosco and give 6th Grade Me a little advice:
Everyone is stupid right now. Nobody looks good. People on TV are genetic freaks. Wait until you’re older. It will be okay then. Periods aren’t ever going to get less gross. Continue to warn anyone before kicking them in the dick. That’s just good manners.