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Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Animal Farm"

Back in the early 60's in Peoria, Illinois, I was a clueless 5th and 6th grader, but I still knew who were the popular kids and who were the kids with "cooties." Everybody knew that stuff. Sharon Sturm was the prettiest girl and she had four other pretty girls who went wherever she did. Back then madras prints from India were the coolest shirts and the five of them would frequently come to school wearing the exact same print. Back then, dressing alike was cool, at least in Peoria. The popular guys would ride bikes in a pack by each of the girls' houses as a sort of daily ritual. They called it "making the rounds."

Sharon's group pretty much decided which girls in the class had cooties. The girls with cooties included a couple of kids from foreign countries along with some ugly girls who were either fat or had braces or wore clothes that were obviously picked out by their mothers or their minister. You'd know if somebody had been added to that group if their house would get TP'd during the night. TP stands for toilet paper. Many of us knew when it was coming because there was an abandoned shed near Sharon's house and they'd start stockpiling rolls of TP there for days before it would happen. But nobody ever told on the popular girls.

There was another girl, Debbie Jeffords, who didn't have the looks, but definitely had the smarts. Every year the teacher would choose her to direct the class play and she even got to help write it. Her mother drove an Oldsmobile and often picked her up for some kind of after school activity. That stood out in a neighborhood where most kids' dads worked at the Caterpillar assembly plant. Not unlike Sharon, she had some girlfriends who followed her around too.

Everything changed when we got back for school after summer vacation following sixth grade. The girls had boobs. And all the boys - even the clueless ones - noticed. The girls wore bras and some of the daring boys would snap them as a way to flirt. Believe it or not, one of the only girls in the class who didn't get any boobs was Sharon Sturm. The boys noticed and some jokes were made at her expense. Sharon's deficit was not lost on Debbie Jeffords and she wrote a mean, but clever song that you could hear her friends singing over by the basketball court.

One fall day all of Sharon's girlfriends showed up at school with matching lime green windbreakers that were given to them by Debbie Jeffords who was holding court right in the center of all the popular girls. That's how it went for the next few months and the boys altered their route when they made the rounds to reflect the new pecking order.

One day in March when the trees were still bare, Sharon noticed a bunch of toilet paper rolls in the shed by her house as she walked home alone. The next day she confronted two of her former cronies on the field before school and demanded an explanation. She may have lost her popularity, but she could still fluster all those other girls when she yelled in their faces. They assured her that the TP was destined for the house of a new foreign kid, the first Japanese person most of us had ever seen outside of TV and war movies. Her family came in January and her mother walked her to school every morning, holding an umbrella on sunny days. That sparked a bunch of "retread" jokes. Sharon didn't believe them. She'd had a lot of time to stew about Debbie Jeffords and think how hateful she was. She'd been thinking that Debbie would try something really evil against her.

Sharon passed notes to several of the cootie-kids inviting them to her house after school. Three of them showed up, looking pretty sheepish and uncomfortable. Sharon told them they could end cootie-bashing and teach a lesson to those who acted superior. She told them Debbie Jeffords and her gang were planning a TP attack against her and she wanted them to help her thwart it. Sharon had them enlist older brothers and cousins to show up at an ambush site she'd specify. Sharon was no slouch when it came to planning combat. Her plan worked to perfection except for the consequences. By keeping tabs on the TP stockpile she figured out the night the prank would happen. The older boys, armed with rocks, were in perfect position as the girls emerged with their bags of TP, and showered them with an attack they wouldn't soon forget.

Unfortunately, one girl got hit squarely in the eye and an ambulance had to be called. She lost her vision in that eye. Police came to our school and subsequently to the high school where a couple of the boys attended. Three kids ended up going to juvenile hall which we hadn't even heard of before. There were parent meetings and it was a big mess. Sharon Sturm ended up leaving our school and going to a Catholic one. About a year later I heard she had developed pretty big boobs.....

(This story is the blogger's feeble attempt to create an Orwellian "Animal Farm" parable that speaks to the previous post about the Cold War.)

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