The athletes hung out in front of the beautiful glass-walled media center at the Jock Wall. Not just jocks, but student senate members, drill teamers, cheerleaders, foxes, and other popular kids. I cautiously ventured out of the book room, away from my tiny gang of Chicanos, and onto the Jock Wall. I hoped that as a letterman, I belonged, and I waited for the kids to approach me, which was typically my thing—to be chosen rather than to choose. It was safer. The other distance runners were on the Jock Wall already, at the end by the trash can that had an anthropomorphic cartoon eagle painted on it. For the first time, I fit in with a large group of peers. Soon I, too, laughed too hard and apparently had the most marvelous time between classes, all of us spindly, fast as hell, and faking popular. Yeah, things had gotten much better for me.
Since jocks and freaks were supposed to hate each other, I found myself in the middle as I transitioned between the two groups. When I ran past the freaks, they shouted, “Go, Ostrich!” as a slam on my awkward appearance. Just wearing my letter jacket on the Freak Wall got me harassed; sassing back would’ve gotten my ass kicked. It was very turf-like. The stupidity of it all was as obvious then as it is today, but when almost everybody buys into the same paradigm, you either go along with it or suffer for your contrariness. Similar to being in a penitentiary, I had to choose a side, even though the stereotypes were absurd, and I knew it. Still, I went full-on with the jocks. I felt safer in a gang of athletes. Plus, as I said, I respected people who tried to improve themselves. I guess I still do. I like it when people try, and I exercise patience when people don’t try. What tries my patience is when people don’t try but still criticize those who do.
That year, the biggest jock beat up the biggest freak, so all the freaks came down off the Freak Wall, stood in front of the administration building, and mad-dogged us on the Jock Wall. I didn’t know if it was like the student union occupation at the university a few years earlier or an all-out rumble like the one I’d avoided in junior high by remaining on the bus. Neither being bayoneted nor being beaten up sounded like much fun to me, so I ditched my letter jacket and wore my red Falstaff beer T-shirt that Mom hated so much. I got no grief for those few days when no one knew if the campus would explode into a melee. I walked anywhere I chose without being harassed. The narcs made themselves more obvious, and eventually the principal talked the freaks into returning to their wall. I put my jacket back on, and again freaks spat, “Damn jock!” at me and dared me to react. I was both fascinated and worried about how I’d moved between the Chicanos, freaks, and jocks; how I’d slipped in and out of my colors. Was it shameful to remove my letter jacket, like a soldier removing his uniform during combat? Was it cowardly to wear my Falstaff T-shirt to move through freak territory unmolested, or was it resourceful? Was I the only one who obsessed about such things?