On June 15, 2007, Portland's Kellogg Middle School closed its doors for the last time. The school had been in use for over forty years, but due to shrinking enrollment and shrinking budgets, the school board decided to junk it.
Now, I don't know if those who attended the school got a say in this matter, but I imagine they didn't. I'm an alumni of Kellogg from the mid-90's, and I have many memories that come from that place. So if they had left it up to me, this is what I would have decided....
First, I'd close Kellogg. Then I'd drop a bomb on it.
That was one of the most miserable places I have ever been in my entire life. The other kids were awful, the books and teaching materials were dilapidated and ready to bury, and the teachers were useless sacks who were only there to get paid. To give you an idea of just how badly run Kellogg was, a student was kidnapped from the school in 1991 and molested. She wasn't outside, she was actually in class. A guy just walked in and grabbed her away, and the teacher did nothing.
Of course, Kellogg is not the only miserable place a 13-year-old adolescent can be forced to go, and experiences close to what I had are actually commonplace in middle schools across the country. See, something happens to a happy innocent child when he passes through puberty. He turns into a horrible, unspeakably evil demon from the Ninth Circle of Hades whose only feelings of joy in life are absorbed through the pain of others. So vile is he that he does not even need a reaction to be satisfied with cruel acts of torture upon his peers...just the mere knowledge that he has made them miserable gets him off. It doesn't matter how morally the child was brought up or how many good influences are around him. Once they hit middle school, they all turn into Hitler.
Well, most kids do. The unfortunate few that don't become the food of those that do. In middle school, you learn world history, Greek mythology and beginner's algebra. You also learn that if you are not an inconsiderate brat who only looks out for Number One, you'll never get anywhere. The most popular people in middle school are the egotistical jerks; the worse the better. Everyone else has two options: they can either join them and be turned into one of their vampiric legions, or if they have a conscience they can be said jerks' punching bags and footstools.
And it's only gotten worse since I left. Now middle schoolers can bully with ease in the privacy of their own homes, with a few easy clicks. The rise of "slam sites" and e-harrassment doesn't surprise me at all. Middle school is hell. Maybe war is a little bit more of a hell than middle school, but not by much. You can always get discharged from the military. If you're at a lousy job, you have the option of quitting. But you don't have a choice in going to middle school; you're sent to that prison five days a week, seven hours a day whether you can stand it or not. And when everyone around you is constantly belitting you and telling you you're worthless, repeatedly, every single day...you eventually start to believe it. Middle school messed me up pretty badly.
My day would start around eight in the morning. Since the buses' budget had been slashed to the "any kid that lives within five miles can walk" point, my mom drove me the four miles to Kellogg. I'd sneak inside and dart around the less crowded hallways, hoping to avoid the worst of the other kids. But I'd still get "little comments." One time I passed someone who was showing a new girl around the school. "Oh, that's Peter Paltridge, you'll learn to hate him," I overheard.
On the totem pole of school popularity, I was the very bottom. The teacher stapled recent class projects to the outside walls of our class, and mine were sometimes vandalized. That day, someone had erased the A that was on an art project of mine and written in a C-minus. But I could still tell it had been an A, and at least they didn't despise me so badly that they wrote in an F. That's looking on the bright side, right?
I headed to my locker to deposit my lunch inside and get out my textbooks. Since everyone knew it was my locker, it didn't get much respect. Kids who were done with their gum would stick it there after they were finished. Avoiding the gum wasn't hard, but avoiding my combination getting leaked wasn't so easy.
Every other kid had to share their locker with someone else, but I was granted a private one out of the staff's security fears that no one else could resist trashing my stuff--fears that proved correct. As I turned the lock around, I didn't have to look behind me to know there was some guy standing there closely studying my hand movements. He was waiting for me to complete it so he could reveal the combination to all his friends. Oftentimes, I faked one, then before "opening" the locker I turned around and acted like I was surprised he was there. "AHAHAHA, I KNOW PETER'S LOCKER COMBO!!" the kid ran down the hall screaming. "Noooo, that's not fair!" I play-acted to drive the deception home. This only worked for so long, though.
The teacher, Rene VanRooyen, trodded down the halls with his mug and keychain to open the class door to another lousy day. Several times when I've used people's actual names in stories like these, they've found the stories when they Googled their names, and have contacted me afterward. If VanRooyen is reading this, let me just say....you were the second-worst teacher I ever had. You were only outdone by Mrs. Schesinger in Kellogg's art class, whose teaching style was to sit there and slurp coffee while all the kids killed each other. VanRooyen's class had the same discipline level, only he actually taught something from time to time, which bumps him up past her.
Yet VanRooyen also took every other day off from school, and he seemed in good enough health to me. We got left with substitutes frequently, and I don't need to tell you the kids were a lot worse to me whenever that happened. And VanRooyen, I still haven't forgotten the last day of school, when you made a list of "Things We Won't Miss Over the Summer" and included "____R" as #5. Yes, he really did that. Probably thought I was too retarded to recognize it. I don't feel any shame in slamming him since he never liked me that much either.
Until lunchtime I was locked in homeroom. Random selection had lashed me together with some of seventh grade's most notorious wiseguys, who day after day took every verbal and physical shot at me in the book. VanRooyen looked the other way.
ISAAC KOACH! In basic terms, think Reggie from Archie Comics. An egomaniac with slicked-back black hair and a mission to make my stay at Kellogg as miserable as possible. The leader of the gang, he was not satisfied with popularity. "It is not enough that I succeed; you must fail," goes a famous quote from someone else, but it also applied to this guy. Years after I no longer had to deal with Isaac, I still had nightmares of him coming back.
IAN CHAMBERS! Isaac's right-hand toady, Ian was a fairly creative and humorous guy, but he often used his talents for evil, especially in Isaac's presence.
CRUZ SOTO! The gang's artistic talent and devoted follower of MTV. He could draw Beavis and Butthead, Crazy Daisy Ed, Beavis and Butthead beating me up, Crazy Daisy Ed beating me up, derogatory caricatures of me, and the like. Isaac and Ian made sure to distribute the worst of his creations to everyone in the hallways.
DUSTIN MCMAHON! Unlike the rest of them, Dustin was not in my homeroom, but as bad luck would have it he was everywhere else. Dustin was one of THE most annoying people I've ever met, and to be frank, the only reason he's still alive today is because I didn't want to go to jail. He drove me to absolute frothing insanity one afternoon, and it took every last ounce of my willpower to walk out of the room and cool off instead of tear him to pieces. And if you think I couldn't have beaten him that badly, I had a large reserve of pent-up rage just waiting to explode from being at Kellogg for so long. At this point I could have lifted a desk in the air through sheer Hulkian furor and smashed his skull through the linoleum.
Three hours of abuse, humiliation, and discussion of countries in the Southern Hemisphere later, I staggered back out to my locker to get my lunch. This time, however, there was more than just gum there.
Someone had written, clear as day on the locker door, in reasonable size and with ink....."I LOVE CHRIS."
Graffiti! Vandalism! Who was Chris anyway? ...Regardless, I knew what people were going to say.
"Hey Peter! You love Chris!"
"No I don't!"
"Yuh-huh! Otherwise the locker wouldn't saaaay!"
To a seventh-grader, this kind of logic was absolutely inarguable. And I wouldn't hear the end of this anytime soon unless I could get that ink removed as soon as possible.
"Mr. VanRooyen, there's graffiti on my
locker!" I pleaded.
"So what?" was his response.
"So you have to call someone to remove it!" I said.
"Why can't you do it?" VanRooyen stupidly asked.
"BECAUSE THAT WOULD TAKE HOURS! FOREVER!!" I yelled back.
"So? Take forever." he said, and left for the teacher's lounge. You might wonder why I would call for help to someone so useless; well, he was the only one there, and my only hope. Hope doesn't always float.
Lunchtime! I grabbed my strange thermal-insulated cloth cube thing and ran to the cafeteria. There was a place for traditional lunchboxes, but middle school wasn't it. This was one of the only concessions to popular opinion that I made, though. One of the most picked-on elements of my personality was that I wore sweatpants to school instead of jeans, and I still don't understand why this was such a problem. Jeans are too stiff and uncomfortable. Sweatpants keep you warmer. Sweatpants are elastic, so you don't have to hassle with a belt. Sweatpants are superior to jeans in almost every way, and if we were a true progressive society we would all be wearing them right now. This is still my opinion, but ever since middle school I had to switch to jeans. The sweatpants just got me too much negative attention inside and outside of school, and it became clear that if I ever wanted any form of respect from the world within my lifetime, I had to switch to stiff uncomfortable pants. I still don't get it.
I found an isolated seat on one of the benches,
unzipped the cube thing and pulled out....
a squashed mess of a sandwich, a Ziploc of potato chips that were now crunched into dust, and a leaky crumpled apple juice drink box.
Now it was possible I might have done this myself by absentmindedly piling a hundred pounds of textbooks on the cube, even though I didn't remember doing that. So I didn't get clued in to what was really going on until someone found the note included with the ruined meal, which had fluttered to the floor.
Another kid read the note aloud. "It says, 'Peter sucks and so does his dad.'"
Now it was clear my methods to hide my combination had failed, and that my locker had been compromised. And with no justice around, it looked like I would have to start carrying all my things anywhere I went from now on. And my bookbag was heavy enough as it was.
Recess period at Kellogg was interesting in that they gave you multiple choices. You could go outside, but there was barely anything there other than acres of blacktop. You could go to the computer lab, which only me and a few other nerds ever did. Or you could go into the gym and play dodgeball. Most of the time I went for dodgeball, despite being such a target. You only get so many chances in life to play a fun, honest, good ol' game of dodgeball, and by seventh grade the clock was clearly ticking.
The games went fine, but they were kind of...slanted. Dodgeball would be played as normal until someone from the other side of the line announced, "Okay, hold on, I wanna hit Peter." Then everyone on my side would move out of the way, he'd have a clear shot and throw his ball, and usually he'd hit his target. Just to silence any doubt, I'm really not making up any of this. I never did find out who had broken into the locker because the suspects numbered in the hundreds. Everyone at middle school hated my guts, and if I ever needed someone to talk to the only option was the school counselor. Unless she wasn't there, in which case I'd settle for sitting in the empty conference room and crying.
My life hadn't always been like this. During elementary school I grew up in an apartment complex the size of several blocks that had about a million other kids in it, and I was never the most unpopular person there. It was a pretty healthy and socially uplifting situation, really. With such a high population, and the apartments being adjacent to a large park, there was always something going on outside. This is why I think the notion that video games are addictive for kids is bunk. This was the time of the NES, and your average NES game had no save points and required hours of endless practice just to make it past one level. Most kids there had an NES (but not me). And they all spent most of their time outside with everyone else. Kids today are only sedentary because they have to be--everyone's isolated in their own houses because if they take two steps outside they might be abducted. But it doesn't matter how many high-tech gizmos you have indoors....if you set up the right elements, no kid can resist the call of nature.
That place was awesome, but then my family moved into a house, which was in a completely different area of Portland (Portland's a large city; you can be moved from one part of it to another and never see your old friends again). I was told not to worry; that I'd make plenty of new friends at my new school. That never happened; I became the most hated kid there and the abuse didn't let up until I was finally pulled out, and eventually homeschooled. I used to be one of the most outgoing people around until I had it beaten out of me.
After lunch came electives, such as shop. I usually made it early to the locked doors. Unfortunately, so did Dustin McMahon. His pre-class activities included things like pulling on my ears while singing about how stupid I was, or jabbing me with a plastic fork over and over while saying "Poke the Peter, Poke the Peter, Poke the Peter!" Dustin was shorter than I was and his voice hadn't even changed yet. Anyone else would have reduced a mosquito like him to a smear on the wall, but I had a perfect record and my desire to avoid a referral was stronger. And besides, whupping Dustin would probably have made his jackass friends angry, and some of them were much bigger than me.
The shop teacher, Mr. Hess, only gave us one project that semester: making a bank out of wood in the shape of a common object. I made a very square tomato. After that was finished we were told to just make whatever we wanted to make (great teaching, huh?) so I began creating wooden figures of Platypus Comix characters. My skills didn't go far beyond cutting out outlines of them, and Dustin was there to make them worse, adding encouraging words as I handled the power saw, in a tone of voice that clearly implied he wished the opposite and wanted to make me nervous. "Don't slip, Peter! Don't slip! Don't wanna cut your fingers off! Don't slip! Don't...."
His efforts were in vain. I made it through the cutting process unscathed and most of the figurines (which everyone else jokingly called "Peter's dolls") were finished. Of course then they were stolen.
But it wasn't due to the locker. In a rare show of competency, VanRooyen had heard about my break-in incident and passed the word on to the janitor, who changed my combination. Now the locker smelled like motor oil, but at least my things were safe...for another month. Yet it still said "I LOVE CHRIS." And I was still getting accused of loving Chris because of it.
The figurines I had out in a sack during math class. One minute they were on my desk, and the next minute when I turned my back they were gone, and nobody knew who had swiped them...at least that's what they claimed. Everyone besides me in that class had seen the act, but none were on my side. I asked around in shop the next day, but the closest thing to the truth came from this actual dialogue exchange between two kids:
"Yeah, I saw the guy who has them. But I
can't tell you his name, because he'd kill me if I did!"
"Oh, you mean GEORGE??"
"George" wasn't enough information, so the investigation ended there. I just made new figures to replace the ones that were lost. And hid them.
Time to head back to homeroom! I once again made my way down a treacherous hallway filled with cruel vultures. Even if some didn't have the time to antagonize me, they could still contribute in their own little way by nudging me roughly with their elbows as they passed. One of them, however, nudged too hard.
Who knows if it was on purpose, but I fell to the floor and my books scattered. Hyena-sized laughter and calls of "you love Chris" resulted. I was fine, and so were my books, but...the floor was filthy, and now so were my hands.
Which meant I might have to....gulp....go INSIDE THE BATHROOM.
Throughout my years at Kellogg, I never once visited the men's room, because I knew better. If even one other person was in there, I might wind up with a swirley-created hairdo for the rest of the day. But today was the day I'd have to break that streak, and I'd have to be as fast as possible!
I put down my books and darted inside the door. Three other boys were there, but they hadn't noticed me yet. I turned on the faucet, nervously lathered up....yeah, so far, things were going good.
I ran into some trouble on the last lap. As I reached for the paper towels, I heard one of the kids yell, "HEY! IT'S PETER!!"
I'd used the soap already--my hands could dry in class! I headed for the door, but two of the boys grabbed me. They were all bearing the same evil grins, and the third reached for the large tin garbage can.
"Mister Peter, meet Mister Garbage Can! Garbage Can, meet Mister--HEY!!"
I had escaped their grip and was already out in the hall. That was a close one! It was my first and last trip inside the restroom. I never had to go when I was at Kellogg--call it instinct.
When I got back inside, I was greeted with a gigantic chalkboard mural of Peter-related insults that had been drawn anticipating my arrival. It must have taken at least 20 minutes to complete, and the effort might have included several people. I pretended like it didn't bother me and grabbed an eraser to wipe it all away, but as I was doing this Cruz Soto grabbed the other erasers and pounded them on my back, creating a mess on my shirt and laughter from Isaac Koach and Ian Chambers.
It was the last period of the day and I was entering the home stretch, but that didn't mean the fight for survival was over. This time, to get everyone to shut up, I had concocted a brilliant plan...a plan that, in retrospect, was the stupidest plan I'd ever come up with.
It was a folded-paper sign that said "DON'T BUG ME" on it. Yes, I seriously did this. I placed it on my desk and turned my eyes away from the monkeys. Yeah, that oughta shut 'em up.
Of course, it didn't. The sign not only
encouraged them to make their antagonizing efforts louder, they
started making their own signs in response.
"DON'T BUG ME PEATER."
"PEATER DON'T BUG ME."
"GO HOME PETER."
"EVERYBODY HATES PEATER."
The fact that many of them couldn't even spell "Peter" was of little consequence. It was the thought that counted, and the thought was disturbing. The signs got more numerous, more vicious and more profane as the minutes went by, and eventually they started upping the ante by throwing things at me and whispering insults. The teacher, meanwhile, was droning on about Kenya. And silently, the final straw fell.
That was when I got up,
walked out the door (the teacher still continued to talk as if I hadn't just done this),
shut said door,
stood in the hallway....
.....and started SCREAMING.
I screamed and screamed. I screamed as loud as I possibly could. I could hear every class connected to the hallway laughing at me, and I screamed louder. I hadn't screamed so much since I was six months old. And I couldn't stop screaming if I wanted to. They'd finally snapped me completely.
I screamed and screamed for a long time, and eventually someone from the front office was called down to haul me away. I was evaluated by the counselor and it was decided I would stay home from school the next day. My home class, meanwhile, would be given a talking-to. I don't know what was said, but they actually stayed off my back for a full two days.
Having recovered a bit of my sanity, I returned to my locker for one last trip to gather my things and leave. The only other person in the hall was Jaime Finch, who usually took Isaac's side in matters, but would occasionally throw in a kind word for me as long as no one else was around.
"Man, Peter, you're such a whiner,"
"It doesn't matter what I do. When I come back they'll just torture me again. And my locker still says 'I Love Chris'!"
"Then why don't you clean it off?"
"I DON'T HAVE THE TIME FOR THAT! Do you know how long it would take to-----"
Jaime licked her finger and wiped it off in two strokes.
"THERE, ya big BABY," she yelled angrily, and stormed off.
......The ink was Vis 'a Vis.
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