Growing up as a Generation Xer, I had to take my compliments where I could get them. There were no medals for participation or small trophies for taking eighth out of eight competitors. We had to earn our praise, damnit.
However, sometimes that praise had to come from our peers. And that didn’t always work out so well.
First example: Sixth grade, December, 1985. My teacher, Sister Marion, had this idea where we’d all make paper stockings and write our names on them. Then everyone’s stocking was passed around the room for people to write on. Everyone was supposed to write something nice about that person on his or her stocking, such as “funny” or “good at basketball” or “best Bobcat Goldthwait impersonator.” At least that was the idea.
So the stockings went around the room and we all got our feedback from our classmates. I don’t really remember much about my own stocking because the whole exercise was overshadowed by “The Donald Incident.” Somehow word got back to Sister Marion that Donald’s stocking had a not-so-nice word on it. I think Donald clearly knew it was a joke, but Sister was not amused. (By the way, the word was “d*ck”, which still makes me giggle. Because here you had this stocking with all these kind adjectives written on it, and then right smack in the middle was “d*ck”. What can I say? Sixth-graders are quite eloquent.)
The obvious guilty party was Shawn, Donald’s close friend as well as the only fifteen-year-old in the sixth grade class. It was his writing, it was his brand of humor, and it was just his style to do this. This was the kid who was perpetually stuck in “Observation Row”. That is, if you missed some assignments or otherwise screwed up, your desk would be moved to this separate row of desks by the teacher where you would “observe” the other well-behaved children – and thereby strive to get out of embarrassing observation row. Shawn was out of observation row for approximately two days out of the entire school year. And yet he still was allowed to get his temporary driver’s license. In sixth grade. (And on a side note, can you imagine something like Observation Row existing today? The parents would probably sue the school for public humiliation and distress.)
We all had to post our stockings on the bulletin board for everyone to see, and now Donald’s had a big scribbled blotch in the middle where d*ck was blackened out. It was basically Ken-dolled, if you will. Every day we’d walk by that stocking as if it were a registered sex offender, trying our hardest not to stare at it while still catching a glimpse. That stocking was legendary. Only I doubt that Donald’s parents saved it for the scrapbook. (Side note: If I were those parents, I totally would have saved it. These are priceless memories, people. And note to self: Contact Mastercard with new idea for their “priceless” campaign.)
Needless to say, Sister waged an extensive interrogation to find out who had written the nasty word. We were each called into a separate room where she would look us in the eye and ask “Do you know who wrote the word on Donald’s stocking”. (Me: “No.” Sister: “Do you?” Me: “No.”) And then my knuckles were rapped and I was forced to eat cafeteria Shepherd’s Pie until I gave her a name.
Okay, not really. But to this day no one ever confessed; it remains one of the great mysteries of St. Joseph Middle School. I’m still waiting for the DNA evidence, and I’m pretty certain that Shawn has already supplied that to the authorities on several occasions, given the path his life was headed.
Another time this same compliment-fishing exercise was performed, it was more successful yet still personally disappointing. My eighth grade year I was taking Spanish at the high school. My Spanish teacher decided that we would make paper hearts for Valentine’s Day, then we’d (you guessed it) pass around the hearts so others could write a kind adjective on them. And the adjective had to be in Spanish of course. Now this was exciting. Not only could I get compliments, but maybe some cute boy would be so inspired by the romantic holiday and write “muy bonita” on my heart.
Of course all the girls in class were hoping for a juicy compliment from the one super popular, super cute boy in the class who also happened to be a senior. It turned out he was going to be part of an exchange program in Colombia, South America, after graduation, so he was quickly enrolled in our class in order to learn some Spanish, pronto. (Side note: that trip never happened; he was later caught drinking and was kicked out of the program. And then I think he was accepted into another more “lenient” program where he was likely shipped to that place where the cast of The Gods Must Be Crazy lived.)
The day of the Valentines exchange, I waited with bated breath to see what kudos I would receive. There were a lot of “inteligentes” (boring) and “simpáticas” (again, boring). A few “bonitas” from friends whose handwriting I recognized. A “bonita” from a gross boy (again, I knew the handwriting). And then there it was…the word from the senior boy was…”Colombia”.
It turned out he was too new to the class to really know any adjectives, so he just ended up writing “Colombia” on everyone’s heart.
I guess that’s what happens when you ask adolescents to compliment each other. Disappointment and d*ck jokes.