notquiteold

Nancy Roman

The Popular Table, Part 1

I had excellent friends in high school.

They were smart and funny and generous. We went to basketball games, and talked about boys, and complained about parents. We sat at the same lunch table every day and laughed and cried over our tunafish sandwiches.

But still, there was this tiny disloyal part of me that wanted to sit at a different table.

The Popular Table.

That was the table two up and one over to the left from where I sat. That was where Janie sat. With Beth and Libby and Marcia and Jeanie.

How I longed to have sloppy joes with those girls.

There were five levels to the social hierarchy that was high school.

1. The Very Popular. This is where Janie was Princess. She held court. Janie was blond and blue-eyed and unblemished.. She had fair isle sweaters to match her heather a-line skirts. She had expensive loafers. And most amazing to me, her house had ivy growing on it.

Janie and her friends had all the main parts in every play and every club and every dance. They held the starring roles in Life.

2.  The Fairly Popular.  This was the next echelon. The girls in this group were pretty enough to have attention from the athletes, or had some special talent that got them the supporting roles in plays and runner-up recognition in  talent competitions.  They usually had dates. They didn’t sit at the Popular Table, but they giggled with the Very Popular in the hallways and bathrooms. They could move through the other strata both up and down – without self-consciousness or cross-contamination.

3. The Acceptably Average.  This was most kids, including me. We sometimes had boyfriends, but mostly we just dreamed about boyfriends. We had two good outfits and three more that were pretty bad, but we could get through the week. We always did our homework. Most of our parents were hard-working factory folks who didn’t chauffeur us around. We walked.

4. The Oddballs. Artsy-types lived here. And the nice, but very shy. The girls whose parents didn’t speak English. The girls who wore clothes their mothers made. These were interesting people. I liked these girls. Of all my Acceptably Average group, I was the one most likely to cross the line occasionally into the Oddball category. I wrote poetry – good enough poetry to win little awards, but that made me precariously close to Oddball.

But I didn’t want to permanently join the Oddball group. I wanted to sit at the Popular Table.  I wore a record-short-skirt to my 1969 National Honor Society induction. I thought it might thrust me to the Popular Table. But it was a statement better suited to the Oddball Table.

5. The Ostracized. There is always someone at the bottom rung of the ladder. It’s unfair, but who ever said high school was fair? These were the girls with absolutely no social skills. Or on the other hand, had such an abundance of social skills that antibiotics were often required.

There was one girl in my homeroom with huge breasts, and she squeezed the left one quite emphatically every morning during the Pledge of Allegiance. I wanted to tell her to stop it, that the boys laughed at her, but I couldn’t be seen with her. I just hope she married someone with an appreciation for her breasts and her patriotism.

I wish that high school was like a morality play (or a Hollywood movie) – where the Very Popular are also very nasty and get their come-uppance one day. And get fat. And that the Ostracized transform into swans.

But Real Life isn’t usually like that.

Most of the pretty girls are still pretty. Most of the ostracized are still outcasts. The oddballs are still eccentric. And the average are still average.

Almost no one is a mean girl. Most everyone – at every table –  is just A Girl.

I remember getting a call from my best Acceptably Average girlfriend the day my grandmother died. Karen couldn’t wait to tell me about Biology class. Janie the Magnificent asked Karen where I was, and Karen told her about my grandmother’s passing. “That’s too bad,” said Janie. “I like Nancy. She’s cute.”  Well, ohmygod! Karen and I were both thrilled. Janie thought I was cute. It’s been forty-four years, and I still remember it.

And I admit it. I’m still trying to sit at the Popular Table.

But I have also realized that the Oddball Table is really fun.

lunch line.jpg

32 Comments

  1. I, too, was acceptably average. Hubby likes to tell our kids, “You know what we call all the nerds we had in high school now?” *collective eye rolling because they’ve heard this one a million times* “Boss.” I always follow that with, “Sometimes. But, sometimes we still call them nerds.”

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    • Some folks can change, but a lot of us are exactly like we were at fourteen – for better or worse.

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  2. dragonhavn (@dragonhavn)

    apparently I was an oddball at an interesting point in time, we got along with everybody … which was incomprehensible at times but kinda cool, too.

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    • This wasn’t the Sharks and the Jets. Everyone got along, but stuck basically with the others on their strata.

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  3. I, too, remember yearning to sit at the popular table, but my clothes wouldn’t accommodate that transition. A hundred years or so ago when I was a sophomore in high school, I had to wear one of my Grandmother’s two-piece rayon outfits to school (I can no longer remember the reason), a choice that permanently excluded me from that coveted table. Ah, the ‘sins’ of youth. Loved your piece. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Oh no! I would have never worn anything of my Grandma’s. I actually had very cool clothes – always the latest crazy fad. The wardrobe at the Popular Table was always the classics. I wanted to sit at that table, but those boring clothes were, well, boring.

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  4. I suppose I can only be thankful for the Summer of Love, I simply did not care. I belonged (according to someone other than me) in #2 and they were constantly trying to drag me along but I mostly hung in #4 because this was where I was most comfortable and who I liked. I never aspired to be popular but because of the shift in culture, counter-culture became the new thing, suddenly all of us Hippies were popular, gak.

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    • That leads me to “Popular Table, Part 2” coming by later in the week….

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  5. I remember my school days as unhappy, mostly because of the cruelty of some other kids. Sad, but true.

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    • No one was cruel to me – thankfully. But there is a cruelty to being ignored. I always felt invisible.

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  6. This brings back memories. I was most definitely at the ‘oddball’ table. We actually referred to ourselves as ‘outcasts’. Not popular, not into sports, mostly into drama and singing. But we did have fun with our little crowd. For some reason, I look back now and think I really belonged there and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

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    • I think I would have had more fun at the “Oddball” table – and I was always on the verge of landing there. But I didn’t have the courage.

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  7. Like you, I was a member of the “Fairly Popular,” though I did get the lead in the Senior Play. But, I enjoyed mingling with the oddballs from time to time. Their parents allowed them to be more adventuresome than mine did. Sharon High, Class of ’56. BTW, I love you blog.

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    • I would have been pretty happy as “Fairly Popular.” But I was mostly “Acceptably Average” – the difference was mainly the lack of attention by BOYS.

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  8. Marcie

    Always amazed from where you manage to draw your inspiration. I was one of those at the ‘oddball’ table…wishing and dreaming and hoping that someone at that ‘very popular’ – might just offer me a seat. Now – I’d pick the oddballs over the popular ones anyday!!!

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    • I am happy now that I have embraced oddballness (oddballity?). But there is still a tiny part of me that yearns for Pretty & Popular. But the economy benefits – I buy a lot of clothes and makeup!

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  9. My school was so small (graduating class 110) that the edges of the groups blurred. I was in the big middle group (no leads in plays but on top of my math class) and we could move up and down at least in school. Parties and dating were a different story though. It was almost like the caste system in India. There was a geeky guy that I thought was interesting. He was incredibly smart. Yep, he’s in Silicon Valley these days, a gazillionaire! I wonder if he still has pimples!

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    • My high school was medium-big, I guess. 450 in my graduating class. And the geeky boys are still geeky, but I can see through to their sweetness now.

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  10. I loved your post and had so much fun going through the list of five and reliving why I had such a love/hate relationship with high school! I too was in your group although being involved with certain things such as the plays and musicals, I could shift into the popular group based on other talents. I think everyone should attend at least one high school reunion however, because it is there that we see how little has changed for some, while some of us have only gotten better – maybe even a little more popular and that our best days were after high school!!

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    • I feel very good at my reunions. I haven’t aged, I’ve blossomed – in my own eyes anyway. But I am still too shy to talk to the Popular Table girls.

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      • I have challenged myself to do that and have found many of them to be as self conscious as I am and sometimes even more fragile. The only thing that matters anyway is what we see in ourselves that is blossoming and right!!

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  11. Doesn’t THIS post bring back memories! I belonged to the #4 group. In Grade 12, I screwed up my nerve to ask second most popular guy in Grade 13 to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He said he already had a date. Would he have said yes if he hadn’t already been taken? Ha ha. He DID look rather startled.

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    • I asked a boy to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. He said yes, and I was very excited. A few days before the dance he told me he changed his mind. I never asked anyone again.

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  12. I was in the Oddball group I think and the ladder to “popular” was insurmountable. Yes, Drama, NHS, NFL,FTA, Band – all that and nothing helped. I am sure I am in the same place now – hundreds of years later, yearning for an invitation to be in the “in” group, I even feel the same way at reunions! Your post is amazing because it captures exact feelings of the times and shows that we never really grow up. 🙂

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    • If my novel ever gets published, I may use my maiden name. And send copies to the girls at the Popular Table.

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  13. It’s funny, I remember my high school days fondly but reading this I really didn’t fit into any of these groups. I never ate lunch in the cafeteria. I’m not sure I could have told anyone where it was had I been asked. I brown bagged it and spent as much time outdoors reading or walking as I could. I spent a lot of time on my own for several reasons. I had skipped grades so I was younger than most in my classes. I had lost my Mom just prior to entering high school and was living in foster care. I do remember being told once by a little friend that she wasn’t allowed to hang around with me anymore because I didn’t have a Mother. That wasn’t her being cruel it was her own Mother being ignorant and somehow I knew that even then. I still have friends today from high school along with very fond memories. Perhaps we could add a category for “Mysterious Loner (in a none threatening psycho way) Who Liked to Eat Outside and Read”?

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    • The Mysterious Loner group is, I’m sure, a subset of the Oddballs. But isn’t it interesting – almost all of us writers and bloggers were a part of that group. I guess the Oddballs are the most creative.

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  14. There were mean girls at my high school. A couple of them got fat. And one of the “geeks” that was picked on a lot turned into a Greek god. But by our 15th reunion, we were all just regular people.

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  15. You nailed the levels perfectly. You’ll always be Above Acceptably Average in my book. (love the knee socks).

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  16. Chris

    I remember Jane’s sweaters and your short skirts. But those glasses!! You caused a sensation – and I’m sorry – but those glasses put you in the Oddball category – and I know you’re secretly proud.

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  17. Loud applause from the Oddball table!

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    • I tried really hard not to be part of the Oddball table, but to no avail. I’m an oddball, and (now) proud of it.

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