High school cool difficult to comprehend

STANFORD, Calif. (U-WIRE) — This weekend I was 17 all over again. For an evening I returned to the land of social awkwardness, where everyone works hard to act way too cool.
Being a dashing woman with many seemingly useless skills, I often find myself making cash in some of the most obscure ways. This weekend I filled in for a local youth orchestra that was short a percussionist.
Such an engagement is not all that unusual in the life of a music major. Calls come in from everywhere, San Jose to San Francisco. Most aren’t glamorous, but they are a good way to get to play and pay for dinner.
So while most of the campus was heading off to the senior formal, I passed over my long, green sequin gown for full blacks. Black skirt, black nylons, black shirt. I looked ready for the streets of New York.
Arriving at the performance center, I found the director, who gave me my music. Being schooled in works from Beethoven to Berio, I felt ready for anything.
The conductor told me we’d start in a half hour, so I went to the rehearsal hall and took a seat in the back. I began looking over the mallet part for the ever-so-moving “Themes from Jurassic Park” and the timpani part to the always exciting “James Bond Medley.” Members of the orchestra began to drift in.
Forty kids from seventh to 12th grade straggled through the doors in their concert best, lugging instruments, stands, bows, reeds and cello cases weighing half their body weight.
I felt a rush of nostalgia. Of being 14 again. Of dressing up and playing music. Of taking myself and other adolescents so darn seriously.
I watched a boy and a girl talking in a corner, the boy leaning on the wall, trying hard to look cool in his oversized tux. The girl, with her Jennifer Aniston hair and 2-inch soled shoes, played with her bow and gazed around the room, apparently disinterested in the works of the compact Casanova.
An oboist, apparently the leader of her section, began yelling, trying to get some attention as two other members of the woodwind section remained deaf to her pleas. They had thrown off their jackets and were whacking the crap out of each other with their collapsible metal stands.
I tried my best to blend in as the group pulled itself together, but it wasn’t long before they sniffed me out. As The Outsider, I was quickly identified and began receiving scattered looks. For some reason the tall blond girl sitting in back holding mallets and grinning didn’t look like one of the team.
Two boys wielding violas began whispering, pointed at me and then started laughing. I blushed and looked down at my music, a little flustered that these pint-sized people could make me feel self-conscious.
As I diligently attempted to absorb the intricacies of the timpani part to “Live and Let Die,” I felt a tap on my shoulder.
I looked up and found a boy standing in front of me, holding a stand and wearing a suit bought to be grown into.
“Hey,” he said, flashing a dazzling braces-laden smile.
“Hey,” I responded.
“What’s up?”
“Not much,” I said.
He looked at the pile of sticks on my lap and said, “Percussion?”
“Yup.”
“I play the clarinet. Section leader.”
“Cool,” I said.
“My name is Josh. I go to Paly. I’m 17 and I have my driver’s license.”
“Really,” I said. “Well, my name is Vanessa, I’m in college and my boyfriend is 22.”
“Oh,” he said.
“So, do you know those two girls down there?” I said, glancing at a couple of big-haired French horn players who were talking to each other, flashing me a “Just-who-do-you-think-YOU-are” look.
“Yeah, I guess. I’m sorta, ya know, seeing one of ’em. You know how it is.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
The conductor walked in. My clarinetist gave me a sly nod and said, “Well, I probably should go.”
As he returned to his seat, the first French horn player sent me one last dirty look.
Soon we headed to the concert hall and began our portion of the program. The group played its heart out. I have never heard the James Bond theme song sound quite like that.
I got caught up in the energy. I muddled through my parts, madly sight reading and watching the conductor like a hawk, grateful for his deliberate downbeats.
When we finished, the audience of parents and families clapped. We took a bow. As the members of the group found their families and ran off to eat ice cream and be cool, I headed for my car.
Before I left I saw the French horn player corner my clarinetist and give him a kiss. The woodwind boys again started cracking each other over the head with their stands. And the violinist struggled to look cool in his size-too-large tux.
As I got in my car, the clarinetist shot me one last wink. I turned the ignition and said a prayer, thankful that I had survived 17 and ended up as normal as I am. It’s not easy being cool. And one night made me remember why you couldn’t pay me to do it again.

Vanessa Bartsch’s column originally appeared in Wednesday’s Stanford University Daily.