Tuesday, April 14, 2009


As I was heading home after school today, I ran into four girls in the quad. They looked like they could use a little cheering up, so I said, "Hmm, what do the four of you have in common?"

"Very funny," one of them said. "You know why we're in trouble."

I did know, and it turned out that they were waiting for the head of high school to personally hand deliver letters of apology. Over the weekend, they had been caught with a bottle of booze. "We just hope that you and the other teachers don't think any less of us because of this," one of the girls said.

"Don't worry," I smiled. "It's impossible for me to think any less of you than I already do."

"Ha ha. But seriously, you probably did worse things when you were in high school."

I wasn't about to admit it, so I switched the subject. "You know the trouble with getting older," I said, easing into lecture mode, "is that you become more conservative. And you worry about young people. And you try to protect them from the dangers of life."

One of their guy friends walked by, and I called him over. I asked him, "What do these four have in common?"

"I don't know," he said. "They're all beautiful?"

Smooth kid. Not bad for an eleventh grader. Of course he did know why they were in trouble, and he stuck around and chatted, talking about all the drinking he and his friends did in Delhi over the weekend.

"See how unfair all this is?" one of the girls said. "So many people do a lot worse than what we did."

"Yeah," I said, "but you got caught. Plus, you're girls." Eventually the conversation turned back to me. "Oh sure," I said, "you can try to ignore your crime by talking about a helpless older person. Or better yet, blame it on me and the book I assigned. You could say you were so influenced by Holden Caulfield that you wanted to see what drinking was all about."

I didn't stick around to see how their apology went. Probably they'll get dorm-gated. I'm not sure what that means, but I think it involves not letting them out of the dorms except to go to school.

I did tell them that eventually they'd laugh about this incident, but in the meantime, I would continue mocking them, just to make them feel bad enough not to be stupid in the future. I was tempted to tell them about my first drinking experiences, but I'm past trying to be cool in front of my students. I'm also past trying to be a bad influence. Plus, I'd have to go deep into my past to talk about my first drinking stories ...

In eighth grade, some girls used to have parties where we played games like "spin the bottle" and something called "catch and kiss." Of course there was always liquor around. Seems odd. When I look at eighth graders now, they seem so young and dumb, like such babies, and I can't imagine them drinking. But I clearly remember thinking I knew it all back then; plus, I remember kissing a girl named Vanessa in her basement, slightly buzzed from a couple of shots of vodka. I also remember how dirty this girl was, what she used to say she would do if she ever met the lead singer of Motley Crue.

I also think about the first time I got sick from drinking. Freshman year, over at Mike's house. A third guy--probably Mark--Mike and I drank a bottle of whiskey in about 20 minutes, then headed off to a nearby park to throw around a football. I started throwing up soon after we got to the park. Then, on the way home, just for good measure, I threw up all over the CTA bus.

Pretty disgusting. And stupid. But why is it that I'm supposed to act shocked when a group of eleventh grade girls quietly want to experiment in the safety of their dorm room? Is it because they are "good" girls? Because I see them as children?

At one point in our conversation, one of the girls said something about me not really understanding how any of this feels because I'm not a parent. "Yeah, thank God for that," I said. "But I'll tell you one thing. It seems to me that, from everyone my age that does have kids, the wilder they were when they were young, the stricter they are now. So watch out. Some day, if you have children, and they get busted for drinking or doing drugs or something, you will be the one that does not understand. You will punish your kids swiftly and severely."

Or, if they're really unlucky, they'll become teachers, lecturing teenagers about this kind of thing.

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