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August 30, 2012 8:06 am

CULTURE SHOCK: Back to school: It’s like I never left

Written by Dante Geoffrey

High school wasn’t my favorite time spent at public education. I don’t know if I do even have a favorite time, but it wouldn’t be more than a few hours long, and it definitely wouldn’t have been during high school.

High school also wasn’t the worst time in my life. High school was to me a lot like I was to high school – unmemorable.

I wasn’t a popular kid. I wasn’t a jock. I also wasn’t one of those kids who dressed all in black, wore chains, liked Invader Zim and followed the rest of the Idiot’s Guide to Teenage Rebellion.

I was just an insecure kid with poor social skills (compensated for by sweaty palms and talking too loud) and bad skin who played volleyball (a “girl’s sport”) and got decent grades.

Two C-list celebrities who I greatly enjoy were discussing their experiences at high school reunions on a podcast I listen to regularly. Neither experience was particularly great (one was particularly bad and involved two drunk male friends taking their shirts off and fighting) and left me with little desire to attend my first reunion — still four years away.

I was already pretty sure I didn’t want to go back and relive shameful memories with some awful-to-decent people that will always think of me as the same person I was at 16. Granted, it may be hypocritical of me to assume they haven’t changed — but how often do people who dye their hair platinum blonde grow as people?

Those thoughts were running through my mind when I walked into Powell High School on assignment last Thursday — the first day of school.

The first hour or so of my assignment — which was to cover the freshman Ignition program — went as smoothly as I could have asked for. Talked to some upperclassmen about the challenges facing incoming freshmen; took some photos of said freshmen sitting down, much too afraid to speak even when prompted; bumped into a few helpful faculty members.

I was getting everything I needed for my story, and only a select few of the freshmen could easily beat me up. It was more than I could ask for.

And then, out of nowhere, I was transported back some 10 years, back to when I didn’t even know kids at my school had parties, let alone drank regularly. It’s not that I was out of the loop, it’s that I didn’t even know the loop existed.

I was standing in the middle of Powell High School’s cafeteria holding my camera and taking the occasional photo when an opportunity presented itself. I must have looked lonely, because a student, a male sophomore, walked right up to me and goodheartedly asked, “What grade are you in?!”

I looked at him, made a Jim-from-The-Office type face, and said, “I don’t go to school here; I’m a reporter for the Tribune.”

He didn’t seem to care all that much, and we spent the next five minutes making small talk. He was a nice kid, probably the type of guy I’d have made dumb jokes with in chemistry class.

Realizing I still had more work to do, I told him it was nice to meet him and I had to go. I left the cafeteria and wandered the halls, which was where I ran into Ben, a high school student I actually already knew.

I stopped to chat with Ben and his friend, who were just loitering in the halls waiting for the upperclassmen’s delayed school day to start. Midway through our conversation about mostly nothing, a man I would later find out is the wrestling coach walked between Ben and I, tapped me on the shoulder and said something I did not hear. I assumed I had met this guy before and had just forgot his name and who he was. This happens often, and I apologize to anyone who remembers me after our first meeting, because it’s unlikely I’m capable of repaying the gesture. I’m normally so self-conscience when meeting people that I am momentarily deafened by my anxiety and therefore never actually hear, let alone comprehend and store to memory, their name.

So this man passed, said something, to which I responded, “Hey!”

He stopped, probably confused, turned around and said sternly (and crystal clear) “Lose. The. Hat.”

He was referring to my San Francisco Giants hat, which I sometimes wear when I’m out on a more casual or outdoors assignment, and which I always wear when I’m off the clock and out of my apartment.

So I hadn’t met this guy before. OK, he’s probably giving me a hard time because he’s a Rockies fan or something.

“What?” I say.

“Your hat. Take it off.”

“Are you serious?” My incredulity wasn’t born out of disrespect, but a state of utter disbelief.

“Yes. Take it off.”

Completely confused, but unwilling to cause a problem, I slowly took off the hat.

But why would this guy tell me, a fellow adult American male, to remove my hat? I turned back to Ben and his friend, who are both doubled over laughing now that the wrestling coach has walked away, and it hits me. It’s as obvious as it is sad. He thought I was a student.

I’m almost 10 years older than Ben, but as the wrestling coach walked by, he saw us as contemporaries.

In his defense, I was standing in a high school hallway, talking with two high school students and wearing fairly casual clothes not too unlike the surrounding teenagers. Also, employees of various institutions that request identification have too often remarked about my “baby face.”

But still, it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to stand out amongst the native Panthers.

The embarrassing episode expedited my exit from campus, and I just felt lucky I didn’t get beat up for my lunch money on the way out.

I don’t blame the coach. He was just doing his job (and it’s been scientifically proven that hats decrease a student’s ability to learn). In fact, I had a good laugh about the whole thing just a short while later with my coworkers here at the Tribune.

Yet, it confirmed something I already knew. High school was not "the best four years of my life.”

But, thankfully, it was only four years of my life. And each subsequent four years have been exponentially better. So thanks, high school; you set an easily reachable bar when it comes to quality of life.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m off to Google “Rogaine on face.”

2 comments

  • Comment Link August 30, 2012 10:38 am posted by Janice

    This was a fantastic read, DanGeo! You're quite the writer :)

  • Comment Link August 30, 2012 4:03 pm posted by Jeff Vargen

    I heard you had video production skills in high school.

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