Being 13-years-old is awkward. First of all, since the number 13 is enshrined in our culture as unlucky, we have that inauspiciousness in the background at all times. Unlike the hotel floor numbering system, we cannot skip 13. The 13th year is when adolescence kicks in for boys. This is accompanied by as much self-consciousness as we will never again experience.
The one numerical saving grace is that for many of us, being 13 meant we were in seventh grade–lucky seven. In the mid 1960s, when I was 13, seventh grade meant no more elementary school. It was the first year of junior high. We went to different rooms for different subjects. The only constant was home room.
Irving Junior High (now Irvingdale Middle School) is located in the south section of the older area of Lincoln, Nebraska. Each day, I walked more than a mile north on 20th Street. It is a relatively narrow street lined with tall, antique deciduous trees. An upper middle class neighborhood with lovely brick homes is on the western side and a large, lush golf course borders the east side of the street.
I enjoyed the daily walking commute on 20th Street because it was a pleasant transition from our family’s “prefab” tract home, further south, to the hulking brick school to the north.
I can still visualize the spring morning of the second semester of grade seven. The sky was sunny, the air was warm but had just a hint of chill, just the way I love it. Plus, I was looking forward to my first class of the day, art. The class was working on creating mobiles out of paper and metal foils. The school day appeared to be starting out perfectly fine.
As I was daydreaming about art class, I felt something wet plop onto the top of my head. The loud chirping of a robin told me that I had just been bombed with bird poop. It was mortifying and sickening at the same time. Panic began to settle in, too. I was only a couple of blocks away from school, it was too late to turn around and return home.
I had to get rid of the bird poo soon before any of my classmates saw me. Then I spotted shrubbery in the back yard of a stately three-storey English style house. Luckily the bush grew hand-size leaves. I hurried over to the shrub; tilted my head into the branches; and squeegeed away as much of the poo as possible.
I dashed back onto the street, hoping that nobody saw what I had to do. I then reached into my dungaree pocket, pulled out my handkerchief and dried the hair as much as a person can do with a small square of cotton fabric. Then I wadded up the handkerchief and shoved it back into the pocket.
My hair was tousled and messy, but there was no way I wanted to pollute my pocket comb. I’d just have to enter the schoolyard looking like a slob. Moments later my best pal Jeff spotted me and laughed at the state of my hair. I invented a lame excuse as we both walked towards the school doors.
Fortunately, I made it past Lisa, the class gossip, without her even noticing me. Then I made a bee-line to the nearest boys’ restroom to wash my hair.
I had to improvise for shampoo. The only soap was powdered Borax from a wall dispenser. I made a paste out of it and lathered it well into my scalp then rinsed and rinsed. There was a cotton roller towel nearby. I dried my hair then took out my comb and finished grooming just before the first-period bell.
I don’t remember much of the rest of the school day, except that I wondered if there were any spatters of bird poop on the back of my shirt that other kids might see.
The bird poop incident seems minor to me now, but it was traumatic enough to my 13-year-old sense of vanity for it to embed into memory. It was a classic case of “Someday I’ll laugh about this”.