The following is an excerpt from "Week 2" of my recently released book, Chasing Glenn Beck.
Back in 1970 Mrs. Loftus, my 7th-grade math teacher, first taught me about the dangers of social networking.
Mrs. Loftus and I both spent our days at John Burroughs Junior High School (now John Burroughs Middle School), she as faculty and I as student. John Burroughs (or JB, as we called it) is a beautiful brick building nestled on McCadden Place between Wilshire Boulevard and Sixth Street, in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Many of you are probably familiar with the school though you may not realize it; its grandeur—and proximity to Hollywood—led to frequent appearances in movies and television shows including Pleasantville, Pretty in Pink, Teen Wolf and Family Matters. It was quite lovely as Junior High Schools go, set as it was in an upper-middle class residential neighborhood. There were plenty of trees, several large grassy areas and a pretty decent field in which I sat more than once as wet morning grass soaked through the green and gold shorts we wore in gym class (and which we only occasionally remembered to take home for laundering).
I was twelve years old in the 7th grade, the second youngest in my class. I was still on the short side of puberty and was pretty sure (in retrospect) that I hadn’t a clue as to what it was all about; nevertheless I was starting to show some interest in girls. Just one girl, actually. Her name was Miri Day. (What a great name. It’s real, too. I’m hoping that if she ever reads this she doesn’t mind.) Miri was quite beautiful in a twelve-year-old sort of way. She had skin that tended toward olive and pitch-black hair cut shoulder length, which she sometimes swept to one side so that you could just see the skin on the back of her neck. She was thin but not too much so, and had athletic arms. Miri and I shared Mrs. Loftus’ math class.
Mrs. Loftus was a hard, hard woman. Red-haired and middle-aged, she spoke with a faintly leftover Irish accent and looked a bit like an overworked washerwoman, rather like a cartoon Carol Burnett though not quite as attractive. As a teacher she was like something out of a Victorian orphanage: drill, drill, slap a wrist (you could do that then), drill, embarrass publicly, then drill some more. Every day she would begin class by randomly calling on a few students and lashing questions at them. Each, when his or her turn came, would rise to a crisp military stance and loudly shout back the answer. “Janice Walker! What’s the decimal equivalent of 3/8ths?” Janice, who was quite tall, knocked her knee on the desk’s underside as she leapt up and barked out “Point-3-7-5” as quickly as she could. A stern nod sent her back to her seat while the rest of us sweated, wondering if we were going to be called on next and how long today’s torture would last.
God help you if you were wrong. Mrs. Loftus had raised public humiliation to an art form. With carefully scripted glaring expressions, dismissive gestures and lip curls, she was like some mutant out of the X-Men comics that could wither your limbs from twenty feet away. Legs turned to jelly and spines cracked under the pressure. Mrs. Loftus was not to be trifled with, yet every once in a while someone tried.
Social networks in 1970 operated like this: A boy would slowly and ca ref ully rip a small piece of paper out of a notebook and while pretending to do multiplication exercises scribble a few words onto this tiny scrap, then fold it into the smallest possible package, but certainly no larger than what could effectively disappear inside a his fist. Then, carefully, while the teacher’s back was turned, he would surreptitiously glide his hand forward or backward and pass the note to his nearest desk-neighbor, who would then hopefully pass it to his nearest connection, and so on, until the note reached its destination. Any one of those connections might decide to read the note so one needed to be careful what was written on it. There wasn’t any security back then. Sending a direct message might have made more sense but that was very, very chancy. It meant either leaving your seat or attempting to toss the note while Mrs. Loftus wasn’t looking. Neither was worth the risk.
Eventually, that note passed from me to Miri Day. While it wasn’t a love note exactly, it was certainly a like note. I had been lucky so far; the note had gone unread, and, given that Miri and I had exchanged a few odd glances now and then, I was thinking that perhaps by the following Tuesday or so she and I might be holding hands or kissing cheeks or something. But as Miri opened the note to read my sparkling prose, Mrs. Loftus began to turn around.
I’m going to skip ahead a bit now. It’s just too painful and embarrassing to recall. But I will say that the bench outside any principals’ office is just as hard and uncomfortable as you remember it. I will say, also, that tears did nothing to establish me as an apt suitor in Miri’s eyes.
Most importantly, through our extremely simplistic, very slow and highly insecure 7th-grade version of tweeting and linking-in, I learned that, once an idea is out there, it’s out there. Everybody—and I mean everybody—now knew about my infatuation with a girl. My friends looked at me funny, as if I had somehow betrayed not just them but the entire male pre-teen demographic. In the meantime Miri’s friends swarmed her with giggles, each punctuated with a glance in my direction. What was I doing at the time? Attempting to eat my lunch while melting into the hard bench on which I sat. It was not until several days later than the furor had died down, superseded, no doubt, by some equally distracting blunder committed by someone else with early stage hormone rage.
[Footnote: Miri and I did finally have a very short and highly platonic romance. It included some cheek kissing and a very long game of Monopoly on her living room floor while her mother no doubt smiled to herself from where she stood making lemonade in the kitchen.]