Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Gulf Stream

The only way for society to rationalize the junior high experience is that it was designed to test the amount of cruelty adolescents can handle in a two-year time span.
Someone must have deemed that puberty on its own was not tough enough, and so it was teamed with daily doses of ridicule, embarrassment, and physical torture to give it that ironic bite that we all got to know and love.

The junior high where I was schooled would fall somewhere between the sixth and seventh levels of Dante's Inferno.  It was three floors of dark hallways that sucked the joy out of all who entered.  The average student age was between 12 and 14 years old, but I can recall at least three classmates who drove to school.

I was supposed to learn reading, writing and arithmetic, but my true lessons were in extortion, victimization, and pain tolerance.  I was taught that life could be cruel.  Do not fear the reaper, but fear the boy's restroom between fourth and fifth periods on the second floor.  Scan.  Look around.  Danger lurks around every corner.  Cigarettes.  Drugs.  Indian rug burns.

The above painting is entitled The Gulf Stream by Winslow Homer.  A copy of this work hung in the main lobby of my junior high school.  Every morning when my father dropped me off at school for another round of angst, I walked in the front doors and made it a point to stare at it.  It portrays a young man adrift at sea on the remnants of a battered boat.  He is surrounded by killer sharks.  On his right, a tornado looms.  On his left, barely visible on the horizon, is a ship and possible salvation.

If a visitor to the school happened to notice this picture they probably would have wondered why such a painting was on display.  I, however, knew full well why it was there.  Mr. Homer may have titled his work "The Gulf Stream," but I am quite certain that he almost called it "Junior High."


  1. Great post...well written and poignant...and close to home for all...I must say I tried to be on the giving rather than receiving end of the treatment described.

  2. The last time I saw a Winslow Homer painting was in grade school. I wonder what the connection was with Winslow Homer and schools?
    Fortunately for me I was neither on the recieving or giving end of such cruelty in school. Only twice in high school did someone try to bully me. Kenny Van Lew in 7th grade and Lew Wilkerson in 8th grade. I punched back. No one ever tried again. Not bragging, just stating what I was not and could not let happen to me.