Humiliation is a part of daily life. No one is immune to this torment, however some receive more frequent and intense doses than others. Humiliation was part of the curriculum when I was in sixth grade. A typical day would start at 8:30am with religion class, reading, math and mental anguish to round out the morning. Believe it or not, the teachers set aside a time to inflict some serious psychological scars on their pupils. Make no mistake, degradation and embarrassment were a part of every class particularly those that included oral exams and mental math tests. These torture sessions in particular made certain that the makers of Mylanta will be in business well through the next century. Students, including myself, would give themselves stomach aches worrying if they would be cut down after incorrectly responding to the teacher's rapid-fire questioning. I'm certain that my town will soon be designated an ulcer pocket.
The boys-against-girls or class-against-class competitions were bad enough but nothing could top the talent portion of the Mortification Olympics in terms of emotional and gastrointestinal distress. We never knew when it would happen but every now and then, the two sixth grade nuns would mutually decide to take us down a notch. The phrase, "Okay everyone, put your desks in a circle," signaled the beginning of the end. We would all suck in our breath as we waited for the rest of the instructions hoping and praying for a grammar drill or a history pop quiz. No such luck. "You're going to come up one by one and sing, recite a poem, dance or do something to entertain us in some way. Who's first?" We'd all panic and jog our memories to remember a song or joke that was suitable in a parochial school setting. The worst was when I locked in on a good poem (I refused to sing) and while waiting for my turn, someone else had the same idea and performed it first. There were no repeats, you see. It was devastating.
It was a pitiful sight to behold as this group of ragtag, talentless (for the most part) performers favored the rest of the class with their selections. The only things missing from this scenario were Chuck Barris and a huge gong. The Unknown Comic looked like a master of his craft compared to some of the acts on display here. One student was so desperate to quickly end his misery that he skipped around the room while pretending to shampoo his hair and sang, "I'm Going to Wash That Gray Right out of My Hair." Like many in my generation, he had NO idea that the jingle was based on a song from South Pacific. Had he known the actual words included "man" instead of "gray," he might not have picked that song. After he was done, we were promptly told, "No commercials!" The mad scramble for original material resumed.
Little did the nuns know that their little exercise in humility was also a showcase of the backstabbing, manipulative streaks that lay beneath the surface of even their sweetest students. Hidden under the layers of sunny conformity and the authority-pleasing eagerness lay a dark side of me that put the scheming wenches of Melrose to shame [ed note: remember, this was written in '97 and Melrose was the model example of bitchy behavior.] I'm not proud of it but I did the unthinkable one day. I was having one of those three-alarm stomach aches worrying about my turn in the scorching spotlight. I had no idea what to do. My panic was only making it worse -- I even considered singing but I couldn't remember the words to any songs. I couldn't remember what I had done the last time I went. Then I had an idea. I feigned curiosity and interest and got the girl next to me to tell me what she was going to do. I actually knew the poem she was planning to recite!! As soon as the stage cleared, my hand shot up in the air and I volunteered to go next. I walked to the center of the stage and began: "I saw a lovely arc of rainbow span the sky..." I might as well have stolen her boyfriend and made out with him right there. As I was talking about sunshine and rainbows, the look on her face suggested death and destruction. It was quite a contrast.
I think my younger sister was instrumental in bringing this horrifying practice to an end. Two years later when she was in this class, she had the cojones to get up and sing a song she learned at Girl Scout Camp. Oooh! "Girl Scout Camp"!!! I should have sung that. Anyhoo, the younger sister and two of her friends took the stage and sang a ditty that goes a little something like this:
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap (bar of soap)I think when they got to the verse about being a keg of beer (going down with a slurp and up with a burp), the two nuns had heard enough and brought an abrupt end to the talent show. Yet again, the wee sis had done me proud.
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap (bar of soap)
I'd go slippy slippy slidey over everybody's heinie
Oh I was I was a little bar of soap!
Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)
Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)
I'd go bitey bitey bitey under everybody's nightie
Oh I was I was a little mos-qui-TO (mos-qui-TO)!