High School Faux Pas

I remember reading, once, that certain college entrance exams were considered unfair assessments of future performance because they relied too heavily upon cultural knowledge of white middle-class America.  If that was not your experience, then you would not score as well, intelligence notwithstanding.  These cultural shackles work in reverse, too.

I lived a sheltered life.  I remember lying on the carpet one Sunday morning, reading a cryptically written story on the front page of the Quad City Times, rolling over, looking up, and saying, “Hey, Dad, what’s V.D?”

He hemmed, and fussed, and muttered something about, “Ask your mother,” but, when I turned to her, he quickly added, “Later!”

I never did get “the talk”.  Consequently, everything I learned about sex, I overheard in the locker room.

In 1969, the book, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask, was published, Buried in it was one little useful tidbit of information that would, one day, jump out at me, hit me in the face in an “Oh, crap” moment, and reveal the depth of my high school naïveté. Unfortunately, I would not read that book while I was in high school.

As a senior, I found myself assigned to Mr. Robert Smith’s homeroom history and government class. Mr. Smith had a wry and witty sense of humor. I recall he signed my yearbook with a rubber stamp. But, he also was a very approachable man, and my friend, Keith, and I would often talk to him before class.

One day, Mr. Bob started referring to Keith as “Captain Courageous”, and to me as “Sidekick.” (hmmm.)

“I’ll call you, ‘C.C.’ for short,” he said, and laughed.

“Okay,” said Keith, “and I’ll start calling you the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel.’”

Bob laughed.

“Or, ‘Pimp’, for short,” laughed Keith.

Bob didn’t laugh.

…But I did. I thought it was hilarious, for some reason. Over the next several days, I got a big kick out of passing Mr. Smith in the hallway, and saying rather loudly, “Hi, Pimp,” and then scurrying away like O.J. Simpson through a crowded airport. He chased a couple of times, but I always got away. It was great sport. By the following week, I had forgotten about the nicknames…

…until college. On the day my cultural base broadened to include knowledge of what, exactly, a “pimp” is, I felt pretty embarrassed, and stupid. I actually considered writing a letter of apology to Mr. Smith, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that he didn’t know I didn’t know. Why, he probably figured it was just my payback for his calling me “Sidekick”.

And, so it goes.

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