As I suspected, the changing of the calendar from 2016 to 2017 has not seemed to slow down celebrity deaths. But the passing of memorable and influential individuals hit home twice within the last couple weeks. A coworker of mine who taught special education and was involved in a number of student activities left two months ago for medical reasons and ended up being a lot sicker than anyone thought. I found out Tuesday morning that she didn’t make it. There is much I could say about her, but my thought for this week concerns someone else who passed this month. I hadn’t seen this other individual in over 20 years.
Mrs. J, as I’ll refer to her here, taught English at the high school I attended. I never actually had her for a teacher myself, but I knew her because she was our class advisor. Also, I knew her daughter, who was the same year as me. I haven’t stayed in touch with her, or her daughter, so I just found out about this a few days ago when a friend from high school posted Mrs. J’s obituary on Facebook. Although I never had Mrs. J as a teacher, she was involved with one of the most significant memories I have from that era, one which I still mention now as a major turning point in my life.
I wrote a bit about my high school experience a couple years ago (Highway Pi #26), and as I said before, I was pretty sheltered, and I kept to myself a lot. I did homework during lunch, and I pretty much never saw people from school outside of school other than the occasional sporting event or dance that I would attend at the school. A lot of people were nice to me, though, encouraging me to get more involved with the school. About a month into senior year, I was sitting in the walkway reading when two other seniors walked by, reminding me that we had a class meeting during that lunch period to discuss Homecoming activities. I didn’t usually get involved with that kind of stuff, but for some reason, I decided to go with them this time. Maybe because it was senior year, and it was my last chance to get involved with school activities. So I followed them to the meeting, in Mrs. J’s room.
I know that I have a few readers outside the USA… I’m not sure how it works everywhere else, but homecoming is a time in the fall when a variety of school activities are planned, usually in the week leading up to the first football game played at home against a league opponent. It is tradition for alumni of the school to return home to watch that game. At the school I attended (this part is not something that all American high schools do), we had a rally during homecoming week in which each class would perform some sort of skit, and planning the skit was on the agenda for this meeting that I attended. Our class usually did a skit involving characters from some movie or TV show that was popular at the time (the early ’90s). As juniors, our skit was based on the movie Wayne’s World, for example.
When the time came to talk about the skit, Mrs. J suggested we do something based on popular characters again. “Like, maybe, Beavis and Butthead?” she said. Several people started laughing and expressing their approval. I scrunched my face into my best Butthead impression, and said, “Huh-huh. Huh-huh. That would be cool. Huh-huh.” Someone pointed at me and said, “I think he’s going to be playing Butthead!”
Beavis and Butthead aired on MTV between 1993 and 1997. It was the brainchild of the brilliant dark satirist Mike Judge, who later brought us other brilliant satire like King of the Hill, Office Space (note: link contains inappropriate language), and Idiocracy (note: link contains a bare butt farting). It was about the misadventures of two dumb teenage boys, their obsession with bodily functions and dirty jokes, and their commentary on music videos. For me, the quiet kid who helped people with their math homework and sat in the corner reading during lunch, to get up in front of the whole school and act like Butthead surprised a lot of people.
And it felt so freeing.
It was the first time I had ever done something like that in front of a crowd. And it was awesome. Not scary like I expected. To this day, people often ask me why I like Beavis and Butthead, because it’s so stupid, and after saying something about Mike Judge’s brilliant satire, I add that it reminds me of the first time I ever got up in front of a crowd and did something silly and out of character, and how it really did feel like life was going to change once I realized that I was capable of doing this.
Thank you, Mrs. J, for the suggestion. May you rest in peace.