I was just watching the Shoutcast Family Guy station (Family Guy Episode 305 – And the Weiner Is…). In this episode, Meg finally gets her foot in the door with cool crowd. Sort of. She tries out for the cheerleading squad, but gets relegated to the flag girl team, with the rest of the mutantsnot-so-flattering girls. She thinks that now that she’s a flag girl, she’s finally in with the cool crowd. That is, until during a game, the cool kids catapult raw meat at her. She tries to be cool about it, and it eventually pays off (or so she thinks) when she gets invited to some popular brat’s birthday party, only to be embarrassed at the party during a game of “7 minutes in heaven.”
As I watched the episode, I couldn’t help but think of the first time I got to hang out with the “in” crowd.
It was the summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, and I was participating in a summer orchestra camp. Like usual, when I wasn’t playing my violin, I was hanging around the awkward kids, the ones who were so shy and insecure about themselves that the only way they could get accepted anywhere was to form their own crowd. These were the outcasts. These were the geeks and nerds, before they were considered “cool.”
And for better or for worse, I was firmly entrenched in that culture.
(FYI: These groups are the birthplace of just about every theater group, dungeons & dragons troupe, and Renaissance fair worker you’ve ever met. I should know, I’ve been all three.)
Although I was accepted in the nerd-group — what can I say, I was a natural — I always longed to be part of the cool crowd. After all, they always seemed to have more fun, were always in demand, and always seemed to have the inner track in the networking game.
Oh yeah, and they didn’t act like weirdos to attract attention, but I digress…
It was during this summer that I finally got to be part of the cool crowd. I had finally made myself known well enough throughout the camp that I at least felt somewhat comfortable hanging around the cool kids, especially this really cute girl that had just moved to town, Kim. I made sure to befriend her as quickly as I could.
To be honest, I really don’t remember Kim that much anymore, other than her hair; golden blonde. Although we had a lot of experiences together in the years following (we kept running into each other, strangely enough), if I saw her today, I probably wouldn’t recognize her. I also remember her voice; She always talked like her nose was stuffed. To me, that was just fine. She was cute, friendly (towards me, which was of utmost importance), smart, and man could she play that fiddle! That pretty much guaranteed her a seat in the pantheon of the cool, since in orchestra, how cool you are is tied in pretty closely to how well you play.
As for me, well at this time I wasn’t all that great a violinist. I wasn’t bad, at least not by those standards, but there was a lot of room for improvement, even in that crowd. Still, what I lacked in skill I made up in versatility. I was always good at picking up instruments quickly, something that came in very handy in later years. Socially speaking, I was also pretty awkward, something I made up for in the manner most befitting an outcast: through comedy. This bordered on silliness and stupidity at times, at least until I found my rhythm with that crowd.
Anyway, as I said, it was this summer that I became part of the cool crowd. How did I know I was part of the crowd? I finally attained one of the most important keys to coolness for any twelve year old: phone numbers. Lots of them, even Kim’s! (Yes!!)
Man, this was going to be so cool! That is, until I decided to use them. Again, I was a pretty awkward kid. Combine that with the fact that I’d never really gotten phone numbers, and my eagerness to become part of the cool crowd, and I had a recepie for… well, for something bad.
Thinking I was part of the crowd, I decided I should maybe call some of my cool friends. So I called…
…all the numbers…
…Over and over again.
In fact, one of the conversations, the guy (I don’t remember his name) said “Yeah, I’ve heard you’ve been calling everyone.” Uhmm, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?
Of course, the answer was no. But I wouldn’t figure that out for at least another three years.
Anyway, eventually I was invited to go with these guys to a local water park. It was the end of the summer, and we were all there for a good-bye bash of sorts. “This is great,” I thought. “I can hang out with my friends, have a blast with the cool kids, and… look at Kim… in a swimsuit.” (The problem here was that she would also be looking at me in a swimsuit. I wasn’t exactly what you would call “in the best of shapes.” Unless round was the shape you were thinking about. Then I was in great shape.)
In retrospect, I don’t think I was invited so much as I invited myself and made them feel guilty for not inviting me.
I didn’t get to spend much time with the cool kids. During the day, I was walking around with them when a couple of strangers asked if one of us played volleyball. They needed an extra player for a team game, and though no one had seen my (non-existent) volleyball skills, I was put on a pedestal by my “friends”, and sent off.
Needless to say, I sucked. Big time. More importantly, like “Meg,” I had been figuratively pelted with raw meat by the cool kids. Daing.
The rest of the day was a bit of a blur. The only other thing I remember that day is meeting a cute Brazilian girl while waiting in line for a ride. She didn’t speak much English or Spanish, so if I wanted to talk to her, I had to learn Portuguese, fast. I did what I could, and even got to kiss her hand, but that was about it.
At the end of the day, I finally met up with the group. We said our goodbyes and went our own way. I never saw most of those cool kids again. (Of course.) Of the ones I did see again, only Kim lasted as a friend, and even that was only until about 10th grade, I think. (No, we never went out. I never had the guts to ask her. It’s called self confidence — lack of it.)
Looking back at it, hanging out with the cool kids that summer wasn’t really a defining moment in my life, though I thought it would be. I was still the fat, awkward nerd who was, whether by choice or fate, relegated to hanging out with the nerds, playing Dungeons & Dragons, watching Monty Python (and at least at first, pretending to like it so I’d fit in), and just waiting for the chance to dress up as a bard for my next Renaissance fair, where I chould show off my mad recorder/viola-da-gamba skillz. In other words, I was still me. I tried to hang with the cool kids, and… it didn’t work. It didn’t change me. I wasn’t suddenly breeming with social graces.
I’m tempted to say that “well, it just wasn’t me,” but I guess I really can’t say that. At that time, I really didn’t know who I was. And it would be years before I figured that part of out.
For the time being, hanging out with the dorks would have to do.