Monday, March 7, 2011

Monkey Bars Are Evil: How to Become Unpopular in Three Easy Steps

It was laundry day. That meant my 90s-cool burgundy stretchy crushed velvet stirrup pants were the only pants I had to wear. They were clean because technically, they were too big for me. That meant they fit in length, but not in width. I had to spend my days pulling them up, knowing that with each leap or bound I made, the straps beneath each foot would pull my pants down.

The stirrup pants weren't the problem. This was the 90s, after all. Stirrup pants were cool.

The problem was that I had to wear the stirrup pants with a shirt that had red-not-burgundy accents. That meant I DIDN'T TECHNICALLY MATCH, which was perhaps the most traumatic thing a fourth-grade Laura could envision. I had, after all, been the only perfectly color-coordinated Hobo in school for our third-grade Halloween party*.

I argued, I begged, I pleaded, but I was stuck with the horrible outfit.

Recess came. We were playing games, running around, and I climbed on the monkey bars and let my legs dangle beneath me. My friend Shannon** decided this was hilarious, but not as funny as it would be if she grabbed my legs and yanked on them, pulling me to the ground.

Naturally, she tried it.

It would have worked, it really would have. But it didn't, because I wasn't about to let go of the monkey bars. My pants, however, were more than happy to let go of me.

Horrified at the sudden breeze, I dropped to the ground and brought my stirrup pants back to their correct position. Shannon was horrified, she kept apologizing again and again. My classmates were laughing, which was horrible, but perhaps worse was that the fifth grade had just started their recess early, so I had flashed all of those students as well.

I went to a distant corner of the playground, where I waited for recess to end.

Later that day, my fashion-faux-pax self went to use the restroom. I sat alone in the stall, contemplating my misery, wishing I could stay there all day, hating my cursed crushed-velvet pants and the horror of being forced to wear them with a shirt that didn't match.

But I wasn't alone in the bathroom.

"Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle!" A voice rang out.

I froze. I could not believe what I was hearing. Someone was singing along with me as I...utilized the facilities. This was BAD. This was NOT COOL. people were not supposed to--

And I--


Would a teacher--

If I just--

"Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle!" Another voice sang along with the first. I now had two people serenading me.

I flushed.

"Baby is all done!" Giggles erupted.

"Yay!" The first girl said. "Now it's time to wash our hands!"

There was no hiding. I slowly walked out of the stall. It was like a scene from one of those prison movies, when the convict is walking to the room with the chair--you know the one--accompanied only by his own certain death.

My brain does this thing in some situations, where it says, "No way is this real. I'll just wait for reality to start back up again!" Then it turns off, and I am left slack-jawed, staring at whatever inhuman creature I've come in contact with, unable to give a retort.

What I wanted to say was, "Good, I'm glad you're practicing. Any time now, you'll be able to go all by yourself too." Or maybe, "Sorry, you're in the wrong bathroom. This one is just for humans." Or even, "You can remember this and laugh in a few years, when you have kids of your own and I'm starting high school."

But my brain doesn't work that way.

What I said instead was this: "........................................."

Only, with my mouth maybe wide open and a look on my face reminiscent of an inebriated goldfish.

There they were, my two abusers, Carrie, a fifth grade girl, and her equally obnoxious friend, whose name I don't remember anymore because she didn't have a sister in my class like Carrie did. Unfortunately for me, they were as loud as they were...mean. Laughing hysterically, they walked out of the restroom and I could hear them recounting, loudly, the story of my depantsing AND their tinkling song. More laughter erupted outside.

And all of this when my pants and shirt didn't so much exactly match.

Clearly, my only option was to take my own life. But my shoelaces weren't long enough, and anyway, I didn't know how to tie a noose. Also, I wasn't very strong, or very tall, so I doubted I could wrap the end of the noose around anything high enough to actually be able to use it.

The entire school was about to know my shame. I would never be cool now. I would always be Toilet Girl, Underwear Girl, #NoPants Girl, or Clothes-Don't-Match Girl.

My fellow students would line up and yell, "Taking your pants off won't make them match your shirt! Also you are never getting married! Also you won't get into a good college!"

I was mortified. I waited for the fifth graders to be called back to class, and I meandered, late, back to my classroom. I spent the rest of the day not talking to anyone, reading my book and wishing I was old enough for Mom to let me use the washing machine myself.

And I swear that's why I never got asked to prom.

*This was A Very Marxist Halloween, because everyone in my class was ordered to come as Hobos. You couldn't dress like you normally did (unless you were a Hobo normally) and you couldn't come as Spider-man or as a My Little Pony or as Karen from The Baby-sitters Little Sister books. Nope. Just Hobos.

**No, Jen, this is not Unconscious-Bear-Tagging Shannon, this was a different Shannon.

"monkey bars" photograph by David Kessler, © 2005


  1. Thank you for yet another oh-so-interesting story from Laura's past. Makes me miss my teal stirrups...

  2. Those stirrup pants were so comfortable...and so horrific.

  3. You read my mind, I was thinking of our friend Shannon the whole time. Also, I knew a boy in seventh grade who peed his pants. He'd asked to go, but was told no, and he was too scared to defy the teacher. He outlived the shame, but he was in an entirely different social class than us, I'm pretty sure they made allowances for him...

  4. Yes. If he could outlive the shame, he either had to move or be much, much cooler than me.

  5. Oh, my. I once wrote an that details a similarly horrifying episode from *my* fourth grade life. It's called "If You Are Lucky," published in the collection Silent Notes Taken.

    So, I empathize completely.