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Awkward Boy Week Continues: A Bad Way To Wake Up

Stop. Hammer time.


Perhaps I was dreaming of a world in which I could always peg my pants expertly, instead of merely cutting off the circulation in my legs. Perhaps I was dreaming of a world in which my MC Hammer Pants and Hypercolor shirt were the talk of the town and drove the ladies wild.

Perhaps I was dreaming of a world in which I didn’t want to blend into the background and just make it through Junior High without drawing attention to myself.


Perhaps there are fates worse than death.

What’s so funny?

I sat up and opened my eyes, a bit of drool still clinging to my cheek. I’d fallen asleep in Mr. Himmelspach’s seventh grade science class. Mr. H. had a very soft voice when he taught. I might have continued sleeping if it hadn’t been for the laughing.

Man, it was loud. What were they all laughing at?

Me. Me.

I was wearing my favorite baggy print Hammer time pants. My parents had bought them for me in a mall in Twin Falls. I was so proud. I had put them on in the store and worn them for days. They felt great, especially when I danced in them. They were billowy and stretchy and purple with pink highlights. Hot pink was really popular.

The good and the bad

One of the good things about the billowy pants was that they hid my little chicken legs from scrutiny and ridicule.

One of the bad things about the billowy pants was that they were swaddling my little, inopportune erection which had taken center stage to the great delight of my classmates. It was a really bad way to discover insomnia relief.

What to do? What to do? No way to deny it. It’s a carrot. It’s the remote control.  Oh crap, did I bring my rolling pin to school?

I probably should have said, “U Can’t Touch This” and done some dancing.

Instead, I put on my most serious face, tucked my traitorous weenie into the waistband of those sabotaging pants, and stared down into my textbook with all the gravitas of the faces on Mt. Rushmore, pretending that I’d never heard of anything so fascinating as mitochondria.

The teacher was unable to regain control. I finally stood up and ran out of the room with as much dignity as possible–which wasn’t much, since I had to waddle along with a weird gait meant to grant me some modesty.


I went into the bathroom and sat in one of the stalls. I didn’t cry, which surprised me, but I couldn’t get my breathing under control. I had this thought: If only I had the water of Lethe.

If Greek mythology tisn’t your thing, Lethe is one of the rivers of Hades. It means “forgetfulness.” If a person was splashed with the water of Lethe, he or she would forget everything.

The fact that I knew this was just one more reason that I stood out. I read all day. I was too smart for my own good. I could name the Greek Gods and I wrote poems about robots.

I was already a foot taller than anyone else in the school, including most of the teachers. I was having mild tics that could no longer be ignored. I wore a floor length Triple Fat Goose winter coat just because it had enough pockets for all of my paperback novels.  I couldn’t throw a giant kettlebell around to impress anyone.  I couldn’t tear cards or bend steel.

All I could do was hope for the best, and that hadn’t happened.

And now I was the kid with the worst nickname in school. Until that point, everyone had just called me Twitch.

I never would have believed that I could hate any name worse.

I never told my parents about it.  My mom probably would have said, “Oh, they’ll forget as soon as it happens to another boy.  Maybe they meant it as a compliment.”

My dad would have said, “They were laughing so they wouldn’t cry.  There’s no grander sight than a Hanagarne man with his pants down.”

I wouldn’t have believed either of them, but I would have wanted to.


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  • Julianne Fuchs-Musgrave February 2, 2010, 5:51 am

    Now I get the kinship–that membership, that card-carrying Lifetime membership in the “other” I hear when I read you. It’s the reading. Reading; too early, too much, too young. I think that’s what set our group apart when we were kids. And occasionally nailed our butts. It’s all those voices from all those books running unfiltered through our adolescent brains.
    Some of us grow up, build muscle, tame the hormones, cobble out reasonably socially acceptable lives–but all those voices are still in there and pop out at the most inopportune times.
    Fortunately the rest of the planet rarely gets the reference.

    The principal didn’t get it (years ago) when I referred to my daughter’s teacher as a Circe-wannabe.
    But my 4th grade daughter did.
    Thanks Josh

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 10:54 am

      David Foster Wallace has an awesome essay in Consider The Lobster about kids who only learn one dialect–the smart, alienating dialect.

  • Boris Bachmann February 2, 2010, 7:20 am

    I’m curious – when did you become able to talk and laugh about this one? I’m also very impressed – that would be one of those repressed memories I’d probably never talk about. Did you wear those pants again?

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read Greek mythology – suggestions, or should I just read Mythology?

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 10:56 am

      I did wear the pants again, but it wasn’t for two years. Then they built a school in Spring Creek and I spent High School over the hill from Elko. It was easy to laugh about a couple of years later. I was into heavy metal, I had long dreadlocks, and I wanted most people to leave me alone. Most people did. But I was popular because I had a band and played sports.

      I’m on a big Norse mythology kick right now.

  • Heather February 2, 2010, 7:26 am

    Water of Lethe. . . . by the Gods, don’t we all wish we’d had that in middle school. Sometimes it would have been helpful if Zeus had just shown up and levelled da joint.

    MC Hanagarne, we hardly knew ye. . . . hammer pants. . . . I still shudder. Thanks for this one, Josh, one geeky librarian to another. And on that note–NEW READ YOU AND JANETTE MIGHT DIG: Esther Freisner’s “Nobody’s Princess.” It’s a re-telling of the story of Helen of Sparta nee Troy. WAY better than the original myth, IMHO.

    Thanks for this one, Josh. Middle school STILL sucks!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 10:57 am

      I’ll look up that book. Thanks.

    • Janette H February 2, 2010, 5:56 pm

      I’ll check it out, too. Thanks!

  • ami February 2, 2010, 8:54 am

    It takes courage to share painful memories. You reminded me of how awkward that time can be. Yikes. And even though I never had the particular experience you describe, girls like me went through different kinds of awkward. And yet we – guys and gals – survived, sometimes with help from the gods 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 10:58 am

      It doesn’t feel like courage:) I’ve set it before, I’ll say it again: it’s worth any indignity to have a good story later. I’m not scarred by anything that ever happened to me. Good stuff.

  • Megan Horton February 2, 2010, 9:09 am

    I remember those pants you had. They were awesome at the time.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 10:58 am

      They’re still awesome. I’m wearing them right now at work.

  • Srinivas Rao February 2, 2010, 10:47 am

    I love this Akward boy week series. This stuff is making me LOL. Some of your funniest stuff I’ve read has been this last two weeks. Keep em coming :). Looking forward to tomorrow.

  • Sherry Gray February 2, 2010, 11:01 am

    We girls used to point at the boy’s crotches, whisper and laugh when they walked past. No reason, just to torture them. It was remarkably effective.

    but look at the bright side. Imagine your nickname if you could achieve a woody that no one noticed…at least you had a viable tent pole.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 11:07 am

      You’re right. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

  • Stacey Cornelius February 2, 2010, 11:06 am

    Why is it we always come up with the classic one-liner after the fact?

    I’m wincing and laughing and wondering why those pants ever entered the Known Universe to begin with.

    I was one of “those” kids, but I was lucky to have spent most of junior high school too sick to attend. I suspect the Gods may have saved me from being scarred for life.

    REM sleep. Best for the boys to refrain from doing it in public view. Great post, Josh. Thanks.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 11:07 am

      A lot of strange things happened in the name of Hammer Time.

  • Randy February 2, 2010, 11:45 am

    Awesome post.
    When I was at that awkward age in the early 70’s, polyester double knit was the pants fabric of choice and worn snugly. A wardrobe malfunction by design. Oh dear God. The spontaneous wood appearing in high bas relief coincidentally just before being called on to go to the board to solve a math problem was awful enough. Worse was the constant barrage of mixed emotions: embarrassment, fear and self-loathing, that came with not being able to honestly explain to my girlfriend that while I did very much want to hold her hand walking down the hall to the next class, to do so would have resulted in another thinly veiled (and entirely automatic) totemic display of my affection. And certain death from humiliation by teasing. (There were only 400 kids in my entire high school…there was no escape by anonymity)
    Teresa P. if you are reading this, I’m so sorry.

  • Patrenia February 2, 2010, 1:15 pm

    They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I think we are ALL proof of that. You crack me up, Josh!

  • Justin Matthews February 2, 2010, 1:15 pm

    You are so brave to post things that embarrasing. You continue to inspire. And as for hot pink, my dad nearly burst a vein in his head when I came home with my hot pink Chuck Taylors. Funny as heck now that I think about it.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 1:19 pm

      It doesn’t feel brave, it almost feels like it happened to someone else at this point. It is impossible for me to feel embarrassed about it now, in the same way that I can’t feel the pain of a sprained ankle from that same year. My dad would not have approved of pink chucks, either.

  • Todd February 2, 2010, 1:15 pm

    “Hammer, don’t hurt ’em!” Damn, I used to love those pants, although I never had any as extreme as MCH. His were EXTREME. My wife called them happy pants… probably for the same reason as that fateful day in class.
    “mitochondria”, my new word for the day. I must use it in a Tweet right now

  • Andrew February 2, 2010, 4:15 pm

    Your dad’s response is amazing. I may have to remind him of it to see how much he laughs.

    My dad would have said, “They were laughing so they wouldn’t cry. There’s no grander sight than a Hanagarne man with his pants down.”

    Great post. I laugh and cry with you every time I read. Keep up the good work.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 2, 2010, 4:25 pm

      Andrew, it was a fictional response, but if you know my dad, you can probably hear it coming out of his mouth.