The days started calmly at Cow Country High for my brother and I. We both had long hair inspired more by bands like Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana than by a figure like Crazy Horse. At first impression, I’m sure we looked like scary girls with caveman posture but we soon jumped columns to just plain Wild Injuns.
People at the school were excited for our arrival because we represented the 97th and 98th souls in the student body from 7th grade through 12th. It was so close to 100 that the town was ready to burst or something. I was a little upset because they were making me repeat a World History class that I had already taken for the sake of being with my lame sophomore class. The U.S. History class I was SUPPOSED to be taking was the single credit I needed to finish high school in a three year period, but apparently you only learn U.S. History as an 8th grader in Cow Country.
*This is by Utah standards. Much more schooling is required in California to be accepted into a University of California school. Mormons have setup the public school system in a manner that students can miss an hour of “public” education each day to attend a nearby mormon seminary class during regular class time. To adjust for this, students in Utah take a semester less of Physical Education, a year less of English, etc. than students in California are required to take for college acceptance.
Another thing that really upset me was that this was the semester that I was supposed to attend Driver’s Education in California, but Cow Country High only taught Driver’s Ed during the fall, meaning I would have to wait for my Junior year to get my license. You can imagine my dismay as someone who formerly hitchhiked to school and currently traveled over 40 miles, one way, to get an education.
I also find it puzzling that we rode a bus over an amazing engineering feat (the dam), past a destroyed ecosystem and the newly created one that replaced it, through a complex mountain range that had pyramidal, glacier cut peaks on one side and weathered rounded peaks being pushed up from underneath on the other end with a river cutting right through the high mountains instead of traveling around them, past numerous geologic wonders where the horizon would whip its head back until it was vertical like an ocean wave made of layer upon layer of sandstone, past historic ranches, past moose and bobcats and bighorn sheep, in the opposite direction of the biggest quarry of dinosaur bones in the entire country… to a cinderblock box… with windows too high to see through… in a field of sagebrush… to learn stuff. But what do I know? Maybe a class of deflated spirits and row upon row of dead eyes is a better learning environment for bright young minds yearning to blossom.
People are strange but these people were stranger. Instead of drug deals in the halls like my previous school had, it was:
“My dad wants to know if you have any hay for sale? Really? How much alfalfa is in that hay?”
The first locker room banter I heard was:
“You’re not a man until you’ve pulled a calf. Well, I haven’t pulled a calf but I watched my dad do it.” (“Pulling a calf” being a reference to putting your arm inside a cow’s womb and pulling the baby out.)
In P.E. we played basketball. In the entire class, excluding myself, there was one… ONE single guy who could do a lay up or jump shot without landing flat on his face. When the first couple of guys tossed up the ball and proceeded to eat the floor, I thought it was funny. When they all did it, I thought it was a practical joke on the new guy. When they all ran to the one guy who could plant his feet and make the ball hit the rim to ask him his technique it was unbelievable. I still can’t believe it. Friends were the main reason I never “tried out” for the basketball team, but another haunting feeling was the embarrassment I would feel sitting on the bench while these clowns were out bumbling around the basketball court during the basketball season. If you are thinking to yourself: If you can do a lay up and a jump shot without falling then you would surely make the first string… then please adjust your thinking. This was a small town. The people come to see their kids play, not some wild injun making a mockery of the sport with his long hair and all.
Outside was frigid winter, but inside they all looked like California Girls. Every girl seemed to be tall and blond and they wore shorts and t-shirts regardless of the season. The heaters must have been on at full blast. If the Special Ed teacher was on our bus, bundled in her thick winter coat with her window down on a morning that made chunks of ice form in your showered hair, I guess the girls would just pile into a seat and huddle for warmth.
There was a girl who was not normal in the sense that she was not blond and she stared at you like a bird about to pluck up a worm. She stared and stared. You could stare right back and she wouldn’t flinch. She would lock onto you for minutes at a time. We came to call her Mental Woman.
On one of my first bus rides to school we were deep in the snow covered forest and I saw a peculiar spot in the snowy terrain. I turned to anyone who might hear me and asked, “Is there a pond out there, underneath that snow?”
Mental Woman cocked her head towards me. Her stare penetrated me like a knobby elbow. She squawked the word, “DUH!”
Yes. Duh on me, everyone. I forgot to look out of the window with my x-ray snow goggles. The new guy is an idiot, pass it on.
I will tell you that I probably looked funny so that I can make light of my fellow students without rebuke. First, I was an Indian with long hair – like something out of a cartoon. I was also hitting a growth spurt and all of my pants were too short for me. I probably also wore a steady facial expression of “What universe am I in?”
Most of the other boys in the school wore cowboy boots and painted on Wrangler jeans. Sometimes the jeans had a ring worn in the back pocket from a can of Skoal but most of the guys had stolen their grandmother’s silver platter and were using it as a belt buckle; they hid their can-o-chaw behind their gleaming waist shields. Learning names was made easier because many of the guys had their names punched into their leather belts. “Okay, that guy’s name is Dewey.” (I wish I could tell his last name, too.))
The shirts varied from Brooks & Dunn to something with a cow skull and the slogan “Hooked on an 8 second ride.” If a guy was feeling fancy he would wear a “Brushpopper” shirt, which is a button up shirt with colors brighter than any rainbow and patterns inspired by the tread on a new set of Uniroyal tires. Even as I was running to find a garbage can to throw up into after being taken off guard, girls would compliment the boys on their Brushpopper shirts, “Nice shirt, is it new?”
I saw a textbook owned by Lucifer, but let’s call her Lucy. She had written on her book: Gomez is a sex machine. I call him Gomez because, I discovered later, the “sex machine” looked nearly identical to a 15 year old Gomez Adams, of the family Adams. He had the mustache and everything.
Seeing all of this, I figured it wouldn’t take long before the girls found me to be a breath of fresh air but it turns out I felt stifled and alien for quite some time.