All-Girls School Confessional #2

…. in which I continue my list of “Stuff I Picked Up at Catholic All-Girls School That May or May Not Be Good For Me in the Long Run.” (Still taking suggestions for a better title).

See Part 1 Here.

6. As much as anyone ever wanted to know about Karen Carpenter.

I guess it stands to reason that when you get a bunch of girls together and they’re at that point in their lives where they start to notice the things about their bodies they don’t like, you might start to focus on eating disorder prevention. Focusing on self-esteem and healthy habits is all fine and good, but Catholics also enjoy scare tactics.  And this is why I watched The Karen Carpenter Story, a nearly forgotten TV movie from 1989 chronicling the songbird’s struggles with anorexia. In fact, I watched it twice. From a recording of the original broadcasting complete with ’80s style commercials.   As an actual  part of my high school education.

I’m pretty sure an official health class exam included questions about the Superstar.  I was only subjected to repeated study of a form of media one other time in high school– when my AP English teacher decided we didn’t really get Go Down Moses and made us read it a second time.  If you asked me to give you a rough plot for Go Down Moses, I couldn’t do it.(Looks like you were right, Ms Balkam.) But I still remember the opening scenes to The Karen Carpenter Story with visceral clarity.  We open on her room of musical trophies. We pan across smiling photos. We find her unresponsive body on the floor. BAM.  EATING DISORDERS ARE BAD, LADIES. DON’T DO IT.

I believe the health teacher even made us watch the E! True Hollywood story the next semester.  While I certainly remember that Karen Carpenter is an excellent reason not to restrict my eating, I also mostly remember hanging out in a CD store with best friend looking for a copy of The Carpenters Greatest Hits. I’m not sure this was the best way to communicate the message.

If you’re curious, here’s the opening scene as found on YouTube from user EDzMyHomie

7.  Pep rallies are brutal battles.

I’ve seen Grease, so I know what a pep rally is supposed to look like. Kicky pleated skirts, hand-painted banners, the occasional bonfire…. If there was a fire at any of our high school pep rallies, it was probably the senior class burning an effigy of the junior class mascot.

A pep rally usually involves lauding your athletes and getting people psyched to go to the Big Game.  Not to be a traitor to my gender, but generally, it was pretty hard to get students at my school to go to female sporting events. Frankly, I didn’t want to go to any sporting events, regardless of who was playing. Some where along the lines, the concept of the pep rally mutated; it became an excuse for aggressive class warfare. I suppose The Powers That Be realized it was hard to get the students rallied around sporting events they had no intention of attending. The administration still wanted to support the athletes, maybe even fool them into thinking we all cared. So they pushed the idea of friendly competition among the classes. Who can show the most support for our athletes, ladies? Who can cheer the loudest? We’ll give you a trophy!     Well, you know us girls– we like nothing better than shiny things and an excuse to form an in-group whose sole purpose is to defeat an out-group.  So pep rallies went from cheerful events full of waving pom-poms and half-hearted chants to contests of insanity.

(from YouTube user Leonard Desir)

Planning would start weeks in advance. Skits would poke not-at-all-good-natured fun at other classes. There were costumes. Flashlights decorated to look like UFOs. Wacky hairdos. Lyrics re-written to reflect both the theme of the pep rally and one class’ superiority over another. We eyed our teachers for  sabotage and double agents. People would put more effort into their appearance on pep rally day than on picture day. My mother once remarked that our pep rallies were, “a little bit savage.”   Losing classes would stomp from the gym snarling, “I can’t believe they won. That was totally rigged.  They are such BITCHES.”

Pep Rally? More like Death Rally. As in, “Death to everyone else because we are going to rule this mothereffin’ pep rally.”

So, I don’t know. I guess some people see pep rallies on TV shows and smile in remembrance of their high school team. I just hear a yodeling tribal battle call.  I recently found out that most schools don’t view pep rallies as competitions. I just feel bad for them because they’re missing a valuable life skill.

8. Hugging people when you enter and exit rooms.

When I got to college, my friends there informed me of several things I did that were weird. Wearing blue and black together was one of those things. Hugging everyone upon entry and exit of a room was another. In all-girls  high school, you arrive at a party… you hug everyone. You meet your friend for coffee… you hug. You see your best friend at her locker before school… you hug. You run into someone at the mall… you hug. You win a pep rally… you hug.   I guess girls are just really affectionate. I still do this and I still get some weird half hugs from non-believers. Whatever, people. We could all stand to get a little more love.

9. Bubble letters.

I have a handful of truly useful life skills. Following a recipe. Reading quickly. Defensive driving. Bubble lettering.  You get a lot of experience bubble lettering in Catholic all-girls school. If you run for any kind of office, you’re going to need to make a handmade sign. You are not valued if you use a computer for this. If anyone you kind of like is having a birthday, you are making them a hand-lettered card. Anytime you have to give a presentation, you might need a PowerPoint…. but you also need a hand-lettered sign.  If you go to a dance with someone, you obviously need to paint him a cup with his name and your name in bubble letters. I’m not totally sure why this is because we were too young to drink and it’s not like the boys brought those suckers to class to use as water bottles. And furthermore, I never see any of those prized cups on anyone’s adult bookcase. Regardless, you have ample opportunity to master the craft. You learn tricks- bubbling in script, bubbling robot letters, bubbling with curlicues, bubbling with shadows. You think it’s all for naught. And then one day, your boss looks at you and says, “Dabski, you’re kind of artsy, right? Could you make a sign telling people to use the other door?” And this is where you shine.

A modern example of my mad skills as held by my friend Melissa. I'm not even that proud of it. My skills are not what they once were.

10.  That sperm can get through jeans.

Okay, you know this one has a good story behind it. It deserves its own post, which it will get later this week. You’ll just have to wait with bated breath until then. I don’t want to build it up, but it’s pretty classic.

Stay tuned…. more on the way.

Posted on May 10, 2011, in Real Life and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. Still loving this…

  2. I still have a bubble letter cup on my adult bookcase that you made me in 2001 M. Just sayin’.

  3. The people demand the sperm story!

  4. This makes me laugh so much. I swear, last week I was in the car with my husband and a Carpenter’s song came on. I asked him if he knew she was anorexic? It led to a 30 min discussion about her life; he was in complete awe that I knew that much about her and her personal life. Yet I can barely remember anything I learned in English, Math or Science. Oy.

  5. I have this memory of watching a Karen Carpenter movie in health class, but I swear it was the acted-by-toys Barbie version…

    And I *hoped* it would be the sperm/jeans story. Can’t wait.

  6. Having attended PCGS (private, catholic, girls school) on the west coast in the 60’s, I’ve learned that they haven’t changed much over the years or over the miles. I’m fairly shocked to learn that sperm might permeate jeans — I only had to worry about them on toilet seats. keep writing! 😉

  7. I went to 13 years of coed Catholic schools, and you’re right–many of these life lessons apply even for those of us who did worry (however minimally) about makeup and shoe selection.

    To this day, I cannot see a grown man wearing grey slacks and a white/blue/yellow Oxford shirt without laughing to myself and thinking, “Seriously? That’s real fashion?”

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