“What was he wearing? Well, uh, let’s see…he was wearing a red argyle sweater, and tan trousers, and red shoes………Hmm? No, he’s not retarded!”
Don’t spend another second feeling sorry for Long Duk Dong. For a “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”, he had an epic first day as an American high school student. Sure his taste in “appetizing food fit neatly into interesting round pie” was square, but his style was all his own. And he rocked that style harder than the Porsche-driving, sleeveless-swea ter-wearing object of Samantha Baker’s affection. “Donger’s here for five hours, and he’s got somebody. I live here my whole life, and I’m like a disease.” Yes, for those who kept score, Long Duk Dong nabbed a “new-style American girlfriend” before Jake Ryan did.
It’s back-to-school-time again, and we want to tell our children that the content of their character matters more than the contents of their closet. And it does. But we’re talking about the first day of school here, and you always remember your first. So whatever first-day fashion statement your child is about to make…be sure it’s one of their own making. I know this may not be the best lesson to preach, but I preach from a painful personal pulpit.
“Why do you think you’re a dork? I don’t think you’re a dork. I don’t think Mom thinks you’re a dork.”
My mama always said that I was born with Forrest Gump feet…so my fashion choices were limited. She had the option of sending me to school with braces on my legs or with special shoes. Back in those days, “special shoes” was the medical term that podiatrists used to describe saddle shoes. And “saddle shoes” was the politically correct way of saying Shane dressed like a f**king cheerleader.
While it took a few years, and some ribbing from my classmates, I managed to grow out of my Gump feet. In time, I also rose above my reputation as Morristown’s cutest cross-dresser.
In mom’s defense, I had medical issues that forced her to dress me like Cindy Brady boarding The Good Ship Lollipop. My sister Sherry, on the other hand, had no such reason to send me to school looking like the love child of Steve Urkel and Punky Brewster.
[NOTE: Before I continue, let me just say that I adore my sister Sherry. I idolized her growing up, so I had no reason to question her fashion advice. She wanted her little brother to avoid all the trappings of high school. The trappings that could turn a “super-cute boy” like me into…well…a teenager. So I took her “Stay gold Pony Boy” advice to heart, and I never gave the outfit that she picked out for me a second look. And since I was able to charm the parachute-pants off girls in middle school…I really didn’t think one outfit could change all that in high school.]
“Take those ridiculous things off!”
I can still recall the most minute details from my first day at Morristown High School: a school where they brew a melting pot of more than just John Hughes clichés. We’re talking white, black, and yellow; straight, gay, and crooked; clean, burnt, and extra crispy. Scared freshman struggled to doggy-paddle their way through a sea of hacky-sac circles, decked suede Pumas, and cigarette smoke rings. You could feel their uneasiness. Desperate to climb the first rung of the high school social ladder, yet fearful of belly-flopping into the shark-infested waters of the high school fish bowl. And then there was me…
As soon as I stepped off the bus, it was clear that I had committed a wardrobe malfunction of Janet–Miss Jackson if You’re Nasty–proportions. I wore Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants on my first day of high school. Not pre-school. High school!!! Belted just below my nipples, the clown pants made me look like an anorexic alcoholic who hadn’t eaten since the Irish Potato Famine.
I’m not sure about the rest of my body, but my cheeks were flaming more than my favorite WHAM cassette. I considered hiding, but I had already drawn attention from two of my former girlfriends [let’s call them Blonde and Blonder]. I knew I was fried the moment Blonde and Blonder waltzed up to me and started surveying my wacky khaki package.
As Blonde squeezed my flaming cheek, Blonder plucked my suspenders like Eddie Van Halen. And to this day, I haven’t forgotten the looks on their faces or the eight words that Blonder uttered in jest:
“Ooooh, look at Shaney! Isn’t he so cute?”
But she didn’t say this in a “Chachi’s so cute” kind of way. No, these were the words of a grandparent squeezing the cheeks of an infant who’d just discovered the joys of eating poop. I was the infant, minus the diaper. Hell, who needed a diaper when I had Hefty-brand suspender pants to carry my shit.
By the time I crossed the entrance to MHS–like a threshold between boyhood and manhood–my Bozo T. Clown pants had already made me public enema #1. I clicked my Jaclar high-tops and mimicked Dorothy by heart. “There’s no place like [middle school]. There’s no place like [middle school].” But I wasn’t in middle school anymore, and the great and powerful Oz was about to eat me up before lunch.
Speaking of lunch, that’s where my next huge embarrassment awaited.
“This information cannot leave this room. Okay? It would devastate my reputation as a dude.”
If you are what you wear on the first day of high school, then I’m convinced the rest of your social existence rides on who you share a table with at lunchtime. I prayed to the gods that I’d share a lunch period with at least one of my best friends, but no such luck. Actually, I think all my friends took one good look at my suspenders and begged for a schedule change.
Fearing fashion guilt by association, I imagined they stormed into the Principal’s office and pleated their case:
“You don’t understand Mr. Rooney, he’s wearing Bugle Boy khaki suspender pants.”
“I’m pretty sure they’re the same pants my brother wore to kindergarten.”
“I mean, what’s next? An Alf lunch box?”
“Boys, I’ve heard your statements. And quite frankly I am horrified!!!”
“You mean, horrified that we’re such awful friends?”
“No! I am horrified that Bugle Boy makes suspender pants for high school students.”
The office erupts with laughter.
Meanwhile, I was looking for at least one familiar face in a cafeteria filled with sophomores who ignored me and freshmen who pretended not to know me. Christ, with the get-up I was wearing I had a better chance of scoring a seat at Chuck-E-Cheese.
I finally set up camp next to several harmless-looking gnomes who must have raided Alex P. Keaton’s wardrobe. We’re talking Izod sweater vests and Jox-brand velcro sneakers. The closest thing to a jock among them was wearing a varsity jacket with a harp on the back. I offered a faint hello to my new best friends, buried my head in my tray, and started eating. Until suddenly, and inexplicably, I found my bony index finger was lodged in my proboscis.
As luck would have it, my quick pick caught the attention of [let’s call him Biff], a sophomore whose brains were in his love handles. Destined to work in the school cafeteria upon graduating, Biff couldn’t let this opportunity pass him by. So with all the dimwitted passion of Rocky Balboa calling out to his equally dimwitted Adrian, Biff let out the following cry…
”EEEEEW! Look at the Freshman picking his nose!”
Knockout! Before I had a chance to get up off the canvas, all eyes were glued to a suspender-wearing, booger-picking freshman in need of a standing eight count.
Naturally I did what any other proud high school student would do in that situation. I dropped my tray and ran straight the hell out of the cafeteria and upstairs to the library. The library became my lunchtime sanctuary during freshman year. It was my quiet place, where I could reflect on the most humiliating first day in high school history. A day that began, and ended, with a fashion statement that wasn’t of my own making.
“It’s really human of you to listen to all my bullshit.”
If there’s a lesson to learn here, it’s that we all tell our children that the first day of school is about being respectful, paying attention, and making new friends. And it is. Unfortunately, making new friends and making the appropriate fashion statement aren’t mutually exclusive. When in doubt, just be sure the fashion statement your child is about to make is one of his own making. If that doesn’t work, rent Sixteen Candles, or tell him the story about the “Chinaman named after a duck’s dork”…and the numb-nuts who let his sister dress him like White Urkel.
P.S. Sherry, I still love you. More importantly, I forgive you.
Now will you forgive me?
“SOFA CITY SWEETHEART!”