An email from my mom has reminded me of this ridiculous thing that happened when I was fourteen.
Each fall my middle school had a “spirit week” where each day was some themed thing and we could all break dress code and dress up for class. I think this usually happened around football season and I guess was one of those things somehow meant to “inspire” “the team” although I’m not sure thirteen-year-old boys ever really need much inspiration to wail on each other. Anyway, this was a big deal because I went to a public school but we had to wear polo shirts and non-denim pants every other day of the year—yeah, I know. And this was all before the Columbine business (that happened the spring of my eighth grade year), which only confirmed the notion that kids allowed to make their own sartorial choices were doomed to shoot or be shot by their peers (I remember seeing footage of kids fleeing the school and being like, oh my gosh, they get to wear JEANS to class!). Pointless and stifling.
But, OK: In eighth grade one of the spirit week theme-days was the pretty standard “Career Day,” on which we were supposed to dress up like whatever we wanted to be when we grew up, or at least some reasonable proxy of a respectable adult occupation. There were doctors and nurses and firemen and rockstars and stuff like that, mostly just costumey stuff. I am sure there is about a 13% overlap between What People Dressed Up As On Career Day At OMS In 1998 and What Those Peoples’ Careers Actually Are Now. I wore jeans and my favorite t-shirt. When my homeroom teacher—who was also my science teacher, who I think was only like 24 and just biding her time in the wasteland of public middle-grades education until she got knocked up (I feel relatively OK saying this because the next year she became pregnant and left and never came back)—asked me what I was supposed to be dressed as, I told her I was dressed as a writer.
This was true but she was skeptical.
And thus was kicked off a series of events that first involved her consulting with her next-door teacher-friend, another ridiculously young teacher who I think also was lured off by a baby sometime soon after, who helped her decide that I was “abusing the privilege of spirit week” and that I needed to be brought a set of dress-code-compliant clothes to change into, or else go home for the day. They sent me to the principal’s office. This was the second time this had happened to me—the first time was in seventh grade, also for a dress-code violation (that day I was wearing an oversized fisherman’s sweater—a grandpa sweater, literally, it had previously belonged to my grandfather—but not along with the dress-code mandated collared shirt underneath, so I was dispatched to the office to call my mom to bring me something more appropriate, though I think she just wound up taking me out for a sick day—a RAGE day, I guess).
So, yes, I was sent to the principal’s office on Career Day and I called my mom and I probably cried out of embarrassment and confusion (I am still this same person) and then just sat there for a while, and then my mom arrived with my change of clothes and—well, it occurs to me now that in neither of these instances was I actually sent to the principal’s office, just to the regular front office where the calling-the-parents phones happened to be, but that both times my mom was so infuriated with the preposterousness of sending a straight-A’s-except-for-math (every damn time) student to any office anywhere just because she wasn’t wearing an extra piece of folded-down fabric at the top of her neckhole that she asked to speak with the principal while she was there delivering my “appropriate attire.”
On this occasion we sat down with the assistant principal, who I think became regular-principal soon afterwards after the first regular-principal got in trouble with some kind of church-related money laundering thing. Anyway, we sat down with this guy and discussed the matter and he unshockingly sided with my homeroom/science teacher and her ridiculous cohort. My confusion and embarrassment was slowly morphing into disappointment that I was going to have to change into dress code, stuff my too-big Old Navy polo into my dumb khakis and strap on a belt (this was part of the deal, too, the tucking-in and the belts) and go back to class while everyone else cavorted around in their old stained Tweety Bird print dental hygienist scrubs or whatever. My mom was demanding to know why it wasn’t OK for her daughter, who wanted to be a writer—who was in fact quite a good writer, who had earned good grades and won awards at that very school for her writing—why her daughter, on career day, the day the kids are supposed to dress up as what they want to be, could not dress up like what she wanted to be.
And this was this vice principal’s reply, and I remember this so clearly: he said, “Well, when you think of a writer you think of an old guy with white hair and glasses and, say, a tweed coat with elbow patches, you know?”
I think she just took me home after that.
Anyway, I didn’t really need my mom’s email today to remind me of this, because I still think about it a lot.
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