I have spent many years of my life trying to figure out what it means to be cool. When it most mattered in middle school I was definitely not cool. This may be because I had seen Titanic in theaters only once, whereas the most popular girl in my class, Adrianna, had seen it seven times and had ticket stubs to prove it.
Maybe I wasn't cool because I purchased most of my clothes at a second-hand shop called the Children's Orchard, or because I was not, like so many of my classmates, fascinated by Hanson. Ironically, I now consider "Mmm-Bop" to be one of the finest songs ever recorded, but I'm about a decade late to that particular cultural phenomenon.
Most people, I think, are not particularly cool during middle school the exception, of course, being Adrianna, who Iím sure spends her adult life wishing to return to autumn 1997, when she discovered eye shadow and when
Leonardo DiCaprio was totally hot. The rest of us, though, cringe whenever we stumble across photos from that time period. This eventuality occurs far too often, since the rabbis, wanting to play a fun prank, declared 13 years old to be the ideal bar or bat mitzvah age.
This is one of the more unfortunate decisions made in religious history, with the possible exception of the Salem Witch Trials. It's like, "Yo, let's get a bunch of prepubescent boys, whose voices are starting to change and whose faces are breaking out, and then let's videotape them chanting Hebrew before an audience of hundreds. And let's get some adolescent girls, who invariably and inexplicably hate their parents, and let's make them work together with their parents to select color schemes and invitation fonts." Seriously, whose idea was this?
The best explanation I can think of having bar mitzvahs at the age of 13 is that adolescents need some excuse for holding weekly co-ed dances and for making out with each other. Kids in their bar mitzvah year dance and make out way more than I have done in my entire college career.
So, yes, I will admit that, for however uncool I was in middle school, I probably am not much cooler as a college student. I'm sure the cool college students go to weekly boy-girl dance parties. Right? With punch and balloon arches and stuff? I'm not invited.
Really, I think the height of my coolness was between the ages of seven and nine: a short, but glorious career. I owned an American Girl doll. I was very good at hand-clapping games. And I had the biggest sticker collection in the entire world.
The sticker collection consisted of 27 notebooks of slippery paper, each one carefully indexed. Page 1, a table of contents would read, ìsparkly horses. Page 2: fuzzy horses. Page 3: plain horses. And so on. I had an entire notebook devoted to hearts, in all their various sizes, colors, and textures. I had dozens of those plain white stickers typically used for marking folders, which I would steal from my mother's office when she stepped out for coffee and left them unguarded.
Of course, these stickers were subject to a strict hierarchy. Shinies were worth more than plains but less than sparklies, which were worth less than fuzzies, which were worth nowhere near as much as those deities of the sticker world: oilies and puffy googly-eyes.
Intriguingly, this hierarchy holds true in every sticker collecting state in the union and, I daresay, in every nation in the world. You can sit down any pair of eight-year-old girls, and no way is one going to try to trade a shiny sticker for the other girl's oily sticker. Unless she is a conniving little twit.
Sticker trading ate up maybe 78% of my childhood. In the years since I have given up my collection, I have accomplished a number of things, like having human interactions and writing for a newspaper and periodically making my bed. None of these pastimes were options when I was in elementary school. They would only have distracted me from my ultimate goal: obtaining and hoarding every valuable sticker in the metro-Boston region.
So that I could be a contender in the sticker trading world, my parents had to take me on weekly trips to the toy shop, where I would spend $10, even $20, on poorly drawn barnyard animal stickers. Sometimes the local toy store was not sufficient. Jennifer owned two sparkly swans which I never found in Boston and which she was never willing to trade. Where did she buy these swans? Why were they not mine? I still want to know.
Today, coolness seems fleeting and intangible; I have no idea what I would present to indicate my worth as a college student. Probably I would have to quote Nietszche or something. But if ever coolness were once again a question of who owned the most oily Saturn stickers, I think we all know who would be the awesomest girl on the South Side. And it's not Adrianna.