Lost Journal: No Class Photo is Complete Without a Complete Lack of Class

Journal entry: September 28, 1978 (age 9) – Class Photo

It’s another humiliating school-picture day at St. Thomas Aquinas, my elementary school in Binghamton.  Every year, the kids in each class have to line up in order of height.  I guess they do it so that the photographer has an easier time adjusting each shot.  But is that good enough reason to make some kids feel like freakish giants, and other kids feel like pitiful runts?

We’re in fourth grade now, so some of the girls, like Ellen Cheevers and Kirsten Quanne, are getting taller than the boys.  This makes being at the runt end of the line even more embarrassing.  Luckily, one boy in my class, Pat O’Neil, is even shorter than me.  At least, it looked that way this morning, when I stood next to him in line, stretched up on the balls of my feet.  (Sorry, Owny.)

I was a little worried to take my turn in front of the photographer.  For my third-grade class photo, I wore what my mom told me was a very distinguished suit.  It was dark brown, with two rows of white stitches outlining the lapels and pockets.  To complete the look of a man-about-town, I wore a fat, brown necktie with an orange-and-white floral print.  I had never felt so grown-up, and sat down in front of the colored backdrop with a confident smile.

Then I saw the photographer coming towards me, brandishing something unspeakably horrible.  It wasn’t just our school’s occasional lice scare that made me fear his comb.  A child with fine hair has nothing to fear from a strong wind, compared to an adult with a comb and an opinion.  When I saw the proofs weeks later, I sobbed at the sight of a huge, goofy part right down the middle of my forehead.  I had walked in feeling like Mr. Roarke, but left looking like Alfalfa.

This year, I’m wearing a shirt so hip, so cool, so downright groovy, that it will be impossible to mistake me for a kid who should have his hair parted down the middle.  I got it on a summer trip to Wildwood, N.J., at a wicked cool store on the boardwalk.  Like anyone who has played Monopoly, I knew it was a classy place to buy clothes.  The shirt is silk and wide-collared, with wavy, pastel-colored bands stacked on top of each other like sand art.  It even has a row of little black palm trees across the chest, as if to say, “This shirt is no mirage, it really is this good.”  In it, I’m more the Fonz than Ralph Malph, more Fred than Shaggy, and more Barbarino than Horshack.

But before our individual portraits, we had a group class photo taken of the entire fourth grade.  I was pleased to look around and see that my fashion-forward friend, A.J. Stillitano, was one of the few guys wearing a silk shirt like mine.  A.J.’s Italian, so I knew we both looked cool.  Most of the other boys looked like clowns, with their clip-on ties and Christmas sweaters.  Meanwhile, the girls were all jumpers and bows, which is cool, I guess – if you’re going square dancing.  We’re going to learn how to square dance in gym class next week.  If I get a cute partner, I may have to break out this far-out shirt again.

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