"I know, I know - Grass doesn't grow on steel."
It was a spring afternoon in 1977. I was sitting at one of the back tables of the room, but it was obvious at whom Mister Clements was directing his comment. My new polyester blend shirt was rakishly unbuttoned and a larger than usual amount of my hairless pubescent chest was exposed - hence the reference to grass and steel.
I was mortified. I wanted to climb directly into the backpack under my chair and disappear until eighth period was long past, and no one would be in the halls to snicker or point. I did so desperately want to be cool. I had finally gained some small measure of acceptance by finding my way onto three sports teams in my ninth grade year, and even the odd group of friends I surrounded myself with had moved from the periphery of the social structure to just outside the norm. I was the leader of a quirky but somewhat acceptable group of misfits, and now all I wanted was to feel comfortable in my surging hormonal presence.
Not in Pete Clements' room. Looking back, I should have seen it coming. I had seen the rapier wit of Mister Clements eviscerate a number of my more socially adept peers. Even the "grass and steel" comment was an old bit that I had heard before. I just made the mistake of showing up as a target at exactly the wrong moment. When I was in seventh grade, I had learned to fear Mister Clements, and sat quietly on the side of the room and learned my geography lessons from his thundering authority. By ninth grade, in early May, I thought I had it all figured out. I wasn't exactly popular, but I wasn't merely a punching bag anymore. It was 1977, why not take a chance with that extra button?
To this day, when I am checking my appearance, I check that top button. Mister Clements is just one of the voices in my head.