The intellectual equivalent of a ham sandwich.

Posts tagged ‘middle school’

Come On, Tiger!

A coworker of mine has a sign hanging in her cube that reads “I’m so far behind I thought I was first.” I like it. It’s funny in a dorky way. On the downside, it occasionally makes me remember a less than enjoyable experience … my track “career.”

In the 7th and 8th grades my middle school had track and cross country teams. I ran both. For cross country I think I could say with a small amount of confidence that I was one of the fastest slow kids. If you split us up into two groups, fast and slow, I’d be a pretty competitive slow guy.

The cross country coach was also one of the track coaches, so when spring rolled around he decided I should do the 400 meter. It was a choice based on … I don’t know what. I was and am awful at sprinting. I suppose he thought it was a sort of mercy rule – let the kid run for a shorter amount of time so that his agony of defeat is quick.

In the 8th grade the coach decided I should do the 1,500 meters. That’s just shy of a mile. On the plus side – I’m better at longer distances. On the minus side … the agony of defeat could take a while.

I had a bad habit of not paying enough attention to the race itself. In cross country this didn’t matter because you were out in the woods or some fields and you were just going along. For track the very first meet of my 8th grade year I didn’t pay attention and it didn’t work out so well.

The 1,500 meter race is basically 4 laps around the track. Everyone started and we were bunched together. Pretty quickly the pack was separating based on skill. In other words, I was drifting to the back. I had one or two people behind me which I was ok with. I hadn’t expected to win, I just didn’t want to get last.

I settled in and was pushing myself a bit, and my mind went to a blank place. Bad idea.

On the fourth lap I was rounding a turn when some dad yelled out to me, supportively, “come on, tiger!” Come on TIGER? I thought. The heck is that? It was so … supportive and … wait, full of pity? Pity? WHAT? I took a look around and saw that I was in last place. This is an embarrassing thing to have happen. To be in last and not even KNOW you’re in last? Not impressive.

So, while my co-worker’s sign is not exactly accurate, I wasn’t delusional and thought I was in first, I really didn’t know I was in last.

In the end I finished that and only that race in last place. The pity cheer, that tone, was the exact thing I needed to motivate me to never finish last. I wasn’t good, I didn’t try hard enough at practices, but I was good enough to not be last.


Attn: Ellen (9/4/13)



Back (apologies for my handwriting!)


The text of the postcard is

Dear Ellen,

I remember going to a movie when I was in college and there were two middle-school-ish aged kids near me on a date. They managed to have the least romantic kiss almost the entire movie (almost like someone super glued their lips together).

These polar bears are instead going for the eat-your-face-off kiss. Romance!


Why am I doing this?

A Boy and His French Horn

In sixth grade I had the pleasure (pfff ha ha) of playing in the East Middle School brass section. How did I get awarded this honor? Hard work? Stick-to-itiveness?
In gym class one day we were told we could sign up for band. If you were in the band you got to miss gym two days a week.
Thus began my music career.

At the first ‘lesson’ we were told we could pick whatever instrument we wanted but we’d have to supply it. Or we could pick one of the instruments the school had.
I had already gone through a period of my life known as ‘Tears of Sadness, Tears of Pain’ aka when my parents bought my sister a violin and she was learning (was she, though?) how to play. I remember going to my sisters ‘concert.’ When they warmed up it sounded like someone had taken the emotions associated with being an abandoned orphan and put them to music.
Thankfully, my sister’s violin sat useless in its case. My parents decided, having learned their lesson, they would buy me an instrument if I demonstrated a real passion for it. The school had the following options for instruments to borrow from them: French horn.
Thus began my rather inauspicious French horn career.

I was none too pleased with the pick. I had asked my mom to buy me a saxophone. They have tons of keys and they’re not that big. Instead I had the French horn.
Had Lisa Simpson played the French horn, maybe I would’ve been more excited.
Another thing that was unfortunate was that there were a grand total of three keys. Three keys and I am supposed to move my lips into different positions to generate different notes with the same key combinations.
Le what? Le did you just tell me I’m supposed to move my lips to make different notes? I’m not French and I’m not a miracle worker, so let’s get real, French Horn.

On days where I would not have gym, but instead music class, I had to bring in the beast. The beast had a carrying case which was huge. This did not make me happy. As though I was not dorky enough already, I now had to ride the bus home with a huge black case sitting next to me.
“Is this seat taken?”
“Oh yes … this is where my French horn sits …”
“You’re lame.”
“Yeah … like I said, French horn.”

One day I realized the following. I hate the French horn.
1, I’m not good at it.
2, I’m only going to become better with practice.
3, I suck so bad I get angry when I hear myself play.
How do you solve such a tough dilemma? Ah, but I am a creative problem solver!
French horn? Check. Music? Check. Dorky stand thing? Yes fine, whatever. CD player? Check! Headphones? CHECK! Let’s do this!
Beautiful music came flooding into my poor little ears – you really have to turn the music up really loud if you want to be able to drown an instrument you are, simultaneously, playing. At the end of practicing a song for the French horn I’d happily yell out, “hey mom! That any good?”
This style of practice did not last very long at all.

At some point the school invited parents to come out for a show. A large part of the show would be musical – with groups separated by grade. Over there are the eighth graders. Over there are the seventh graders. And here us lowly sixth graders sit.
We filed into the gym and took our seats.
My friend sat down beside me. After a bit of time he politely asked, “hey Brad do you mind if we switch chairs?” I of course obliged. I could care less about this music show. I wanted to not be there.

At the shows end parents came up and smiled and probably pretended to scratch their ears – while secretly pulling out ear plugs. My friends dad came up and congratulated him on being ‘first chair.’
Huh? First chair? What does that mean?
Later I learned what this meant and I was, frankly, impressed and stunned. Impressed because – well done, you little sneak. Stunned because, really? You do know we’re in sixth grade. And we play the French horn. Maybe he got ice cream for being first chair or something, in which case that move was understandable.

The bright spot of moving at the end of that year was that my new school had no such program, and no French horns. They were out of my life forever. Such raw, animal talent lays in me still – sometimes at night I purse my lips and hear someone saying, “no … no … no that’s still not right … try to make the note … no … no … try emptying the spit out … ew … that was a lot of spit … ok … no … no …”

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