I was a freak, but I should have been a geek. If you've ever seen The Breakfast Club or watched an episode of the cult classic TV show Freaks and Geeks, then you know the '80s were all about social categorization. If you've ever seen The Outsiders, which hit the big screen in the Reagan era and starred some of the day's biggest young stars (Swayze, Cruise, um, Macchio), then you know the '50s were too. It's a common theme in teenaged society: Who are you and who do you think you are?
In 1985, I had no idea. Because my family relocated when I was a sophomore in high school, all I really cared about was finding some friends, not necessarily myself. And the easiest crowd to fall in with — if you knew how to party — was the freaks. Long-haired, moccasin-wearing, Pink Floyd fans weren't so bad, I decided. They spent a lot of time listening to music, driving around, and smoking weed, things I found enjoyable, even if classic rock bored the hell out of me.
Unlike the movie stars who claim they found their charisma in childhood because their families moved around a lot, I discovered a distinct talent for not talking to people. Really, I was considered a bit of a snob, even though my outside veneer was simply a cover for my quivering, fearful inner dork. And that inner dork was being completely ignored by me as I tended to my spiral perm and rocked out a badass pair of black moccasins. My quietness played into my new outer image — behold a full-fledged freak, a.k.a. stoner, loser, delinquent.
In addition to my concert T-shirts and denim jacket, the other freak credential I carried was an on-school smoking permit. Yes, they used to let you smoke at school if your parents signed a permission slip. I think it was my mother's way of helping me fit in.
Trouble was, I didn't really fit in with the freaks. First of all, I was too smart. Sounds snotty, I know, but many of these kids had been held back, were flunking out, and were definitely not much into reading books. As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I dumbed myself down in order to blend. Secondly, I wasn't fearless about the drugs (perhaps this has something to do with my aforementioned intelligence). Smoking pot was fun, and I did some ecstasy, but acid scared the crap out of me, mainly because of a book I'd read called Go Ask Alice, which chronicles the life of a girl who moves to a new town and gets turned onto drugs. LSD causes her wicked flashbacks, and she ends up dead. It was an eerie enough parallel that I eschewed the harder psychedelics.
Had I had the luxury of finding myself and the confidence of knowing what I liked, I would have done a better job at locating my tribe, the geeks. You know, the creative kids. The art students, drama club nerds, yearbook editors, and, yes, even the band members. Instead of big hair, I should have had a sleek bob. Instead of Pink Floyd, I should have been listening to R.E.M. Instead of barely graduating high school, I should have had all As. All that stuff was inside me clamoring for release, I just suppressed it all and partied on.
As I made my way through high school, the geeks overlapped the freaks, particularly the goths, and when they did, I always felt a pang of recognition — my people, the quiet inner dork would squeak — but I was too busy listening to Whitesnake at full blast to pay much heed. And it wasn't so bad, really. For one thing, the stoner guys were way hotter. They really milked that bad boy image, mainly because they really were bad boys.
And despite masquerading as something I really wasn't, I did find that the freaks were usually misunderstood (particularly the bad boys who looked like Freaks and Geeks head freak James Franco). Their scary outer image didn't reflect the positive qualities they hid from public view. On second thought, maybe I was with the right crowd after all.