Published Sep 4, 2005

I’ve always been bad with combination locks. This time last year, when everyone else was celebrating the fact that they had a brand new locker and no longer needed to lug around their 900-page Accounting and 700-page Microecon books at the same time, I could only think “oh my god, 250 new people — all of whom I’d like to impress — will now have the opportunity to watch me try to open a combination lock multiple times a day.” And the math is bad: an average of four tries per open, times the three times I go into the locker a day, equals nine unsuccessful attempts to open my locker every day (plus three successful). But then I thought, hey, it’s not likely to be as bad as third grade.

My exceptional lack of skill at combination lock-opening was visible from a young age. One day, in second grade, they herded us into the gym, sent the girls into another room, and made us form a line. Each of us boys got a blue shirt, blue shorts, and a combination lock. Then Mr. LaMonica (a distant, and remarkably dyspeptic, relative of the Raiders’ QB) showed us, just once, how to work the locks, and sent us off to our assigned lockers. Of course, after gym class was over, Mr. LaMonica had to come over and use his special key to open my lock and free my street clothes.

And that was the first day of the same story, over and over again. We’d get out of gym class, head to the locker room, and then I’d struggle and struggle to open my locker while everyone else changed. If I was lucky, I’d be one of the last three or four students to head back to class; if I wasn’t, I’d show up at my homeroom, five minutes late for the next class, still wearing my blue shirt and poofy, elastic-waisted blue shorts. Everyone would stare at me, and my teacher would have to call up the recess teacher, who had a special key that would open my locker.

In retrospect, at least I got to miss a good half of the next class every time this happened. Or, on some days, even more. Like on the day in third grade that Matt and Alex, two more popular — and much bigger — kids dressed slowly, like I did.

Matt always had a bad attitude, and was notable for the very dark circles under his eyes that set off his straight, cornflower-blond hair, as well as for being about a foot taller than everyone else in the class. Alex was shorter and English and had curly white hair — well, so blond that it was nearly white. Both of them owned those Michael Jackson t-shirts, the red ones with the black mesh on them, that I was too scared to ask for (and then, when my parents finally bought me one, that I was too self-conscioius to wear).

Matt didn’t have too many friends, but Alex was a pretty popular kid; I remember, on the last day of fourth grade, Alex told the class that his family was moving back to England, and that he wouldn’t be at school with us in the fall. Then he cried, and all the girls cooed over him while the guys shook his hand goodbye. But I just stayed in my seat; I was happy to see him go.

That day in third grade, I was taking my usual sweet time to get changed. I’d already been behind opening my locker, and I was always a slow dresser too. I was surprised that Matt and Alex were taking so long to dress and thrilled that they were bothering to talk to me. My blue uniform was off and I was sitting on the bench in my street t-shirt and tighty-whities, getting ready to pull on my pants, when they shoved me up against the lockers. Then Alex held me down while Matt punched me in the stomach again and again. I closed my eyes tight and when I opened them my stomach still hurt but Matt and Alex were gone.

I sat there for a moment; I’d never been beaten up before and didn’t know what to do. My locker had been pushed shut during the fight and I didn’t feel like opening it again, so I put my poofy blue shorts back on and walked to my homeroom. When I got there, the teacher asked me why I was dressed so funny, in my street shirt and my gym shorts, and I said “because Matt and Alex beat me up.”

I don’t think that was the answer they expected. I always was a little sell-out.

Now, I think we can all agree that there’s essentially no chance that anybody will beat me up in the Marshall School locker room. But, when I’m on my fifth try at spinning in my combination and the darned thing still won’t open, I sometimes wonder, if getting beat up in the locker room in third grade won’t learn me to open my combination lock quickly, what will?


aw poor little wade. you and i are definitely late bloomers….and werent gym clothes horrendous?…

and i was in a catholic school so we had heinous uniforms too. no wonder i dress the way i do.

You mean all cute and sexy in a plaid skirt and white button-down shirt? Like in Catholic School?

‘Cause I know that’s how all the boys like you girls to dress.