Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Italia


I was thinking about my high-school trip to Italy the other day. I cashed in the savings from three years of babysitting, bussing tables, and working cash at the local fruit market and spend it all on a week of visiting Verona, Pisa, and Padua, with overnight stays in Venice, Florence, and Rome. I wrote a travel diary about the trip which became my Magnum Opus for my Writer’s Craft class that year. It was full of colour-words like salmon and terra-cotta, full of reflections on Roman Catholicism and gelato and randy Italian men. What I left out of that journal, though, is what I remember best: it was the first time I could really relax in a group of my peers.

High school is a time of constant vigilance: one must be continually on the look-out for insidious snubs, subtle clues to the shifting tribal allegiances that govern a pack of teenage girls. No one enjoys high school, of course, but I was among those unfortunate enough to be in Ontario during the years of grade 13. It’s bad enough having to suffer through three or four years in that Darwinian environment, but a fifth year is just insulting. It’s taking things too far.

For all that, I can’t regret that fifth year of high school, because it was the year I beat the system, or at least witnessed its breakdown. The Berlin Wall was coming down, communism was crumbling into oblivion, and at my high school it was as if the world outside began to infiltrate the cafeteria, busting up the tables, redistributing all of us into new groups, new friendships. Reality began to sink in: we all realized, simultaneously, that the rigid social dynamics of high-school popularity were oh-so-close to becoming totally obsolete. In a few short months, no one would care whether you sat at the coveted lunch table beside the window or skulked in a corner by the kitchen.

In September of that year, I managed to infiltrate a group of friends I had admired from afar since grade 9. Some of these girls were charitable, others were mean – but by the end of October I was no longer there on sufferance, the pathetic brainiac who had no one to eat lunch with. I was genuinely liked by somebody other than my mother and my best friend, and it was a giddy experience.

My trip to Italy occurred over the March break. We were a mixed bag, mostly senior students, a few from the highest echelons of popularity. And while our feet were on European soil, nobody saw any point in maintaining the codes of high-school social behaviour. We hung out in herds, tramped around Florence bargaining for leather coats and tapestry bags; we flirted with Venetian gondoliers and snapped pictures of each other on the Spanish steps in Rome.

One afternoon in Florence a group of us girls were lounging around our hotel room, resting our aching feet. The room contained five single beds and opened out onto the dining room where we would sip lattes in the mornings, nibbling sections of sweet blood oranges. Its windows were the old-fashioned kind: you could throw them open and look down into the streets lined with tented stalls peddling paper and pottery and everything in between. As we lay sprawled on our beds, my best friend told a story about a confusing incident that had occurred before we left home. She had been chatting in class about a car repair, and when she said, "I need to get my tires rotated," a boy sitting beside her had snickered meaningfully.

What did it mean? Was "getting your tires rotated" a well-known euphemism for some kind of unspeakably embarrassing sex act? Was this one of the many things that everybody knew accept us? Nobody knew the answer, so when Deanna – popular, in-the-know Deanna – got back from her shopping spree we put the question to her: did she know what it meant to get your tires rotated?

Her face lit up. "I know what that means!" she exclaimed. We leaned forward, anticipating something deliciously salacious. "It’s when they move the rear tires up to the front of the car so that the treads wear down evenly."

I wish that, today, there were anything at all that could make me laugh like I did that day, until my sides hurt, until tears poured down my face and I was gasping for breath. And I wish, to this day, that I knew what it meant. Does anybody know the euphemistic significance of getting one’s tires rotated?

29 comments:

Christine said...

I have no idea what the whole rotating tires means. But I do know how much fun it is to be free and easy with a group of friends. Sounds like this was a pretty special time in your life. Thanks for telling us the story!

Luisa Perkins said...

What a GREAT story; thanks for painting the picture.

I have no idea on the tires thing. Clueless.

natalie said...

I don't think it refers to any specific sex act--just to the idea that a woman needs to be (oh yuck, am I saying this?) "serviced" periodically in order for her to continue to run smoothly.

Eww.

Andrea said...

I think Natalie's got it--it's not a euphemism for anything, just a teenaged boy being, well, a teenaged boy, and seeing sex in everything.

Julie Pippert said...

No I don't know, other than what natalie said, but oh how hilarious that story is! Also love that you "infiltrated" in high school.

nomotherearth said...

I love a good punchline. I laugh over it for months.

I didn't know what "pass the dutchie" meant, so I'm sure I wouldn't know anything about tire rotation.

andrea from the fishbowl said...

Great story.

It's funny how standout some memories can be, even though they're so long ago. I vividly remember dousing our fingers/hands in alcohol and setting them on fire on our HS trip to Austria. Ah, those were the days. :)

Jenifer said...

Great story. Getting to Italy is one of my life dreams...we just talking about when a good age might be to tackle Europe with girls. Yes, we really are that crazy.

"Rotate the tires" no clue sorry other than what I guess might be right, I what Natalie said could be it. Who knows though.

Thanks for the reminder that I still have dreams to see more of the world.

Beck said...

To have one tires rotated means, as Natalie said, to be serviced sexually. Why do I know this?
I was such a non-entity in high school. Grade 13 was my best year by far and it was still pretty miserable.

slouching mom said...

Oh, god. So funny.

I love those (rare) moments of laughing so hard and so long.

They are restorative.

Veronica Mitchell said...

I don't remember which comedian it was, but he was popular around the time I was in college (which would be your high school years, I think?). He had a bit about how men could turn anything into a sexual innuendo, and tried random phrases as examples. One was "yeah, I'll rotate her tires." So that's its origins, I think.

Mimi said...

High school. Shudder.

Mad Hatter said...

Hey!!! You promised a post about Italy and it was about high school instead. What the...?

Loved the Berlin Wall analogy.

Kyla said...

One day Josh and I plan to visit Italy sans children...and I do plan on having my tires rotated while I am there. Heh.

Lawyer Mama said...

I think Paulie Shore is the one Veronica's talking about. When I was in college, Paulie Shore was doing a stand-up routine where he said you cold turn anything into a sexual euphemism. And he's right!

What a fun time you must have had.

bubandpie said...

You guys are awesome. Not only do I now know what it means, but also why and who to blame!

NotSoSage said...

Yes, others beat me to it. 'Cause there just aren't enough "getting serviced" jokes out there. At least in this one, the tables are turned slightly.

OAC was like that for us, too. Not so much in the high school I was in, which was always much more open, but for my friends at the high school I had left, which was terribly cliquey.

mcewen said...

Yep - Natalie's right = 'needs a good seeing to' would be another.
Cheers

TrudyJ said...

There's a great Whose Line game called "If you know what I mean," in which they try to make the most innocuous-sounding everyday phrases sound like sexual innuendo. "She had to get her tires rotated ... if you know what I mean!!" sounds like it comes straight out of that game!

Re Italy: My goal is to go back to Italy as something other than a broke 21-year-old with a backpack, so that I can afford a place to sleep at nights, rather than taking night trains from place to place and arriving cramped, dirty and exhausted in the morning. Still not a trip I'd trade for anything in the world, but I'd like a more civilized visit next time.

Of course, on the current Life/Travel plan, my next trip to Italy will be WITH teenagers -- my own teenagers -- so it probably won't be all that civilized. But at least we'll sleep indoors, in something that doesn't move.

wordgirl said...

I've heard the saying but have no real clue what it means. And Grade 13???? I thought you were joking there for a moment. You're right when you say that five years of high school is taking things too far. Waaay too far.

Bon said...

you've made me wish for a laugh like that too.

and for those windows, open to the air and the street and so freaking romantic i could just die.

i learned the phrase "get (one's) tires rotated" in my thirties, so despite every effort to be cool, i'm obviously seriously delayed.

Catherine said...

I wish we'd gone to high school together...I could have used a friend. I too, remember the first era in which I first felt at ease with my peers.

I also remember the many trips I took to Italy when living in Switzerland. Oh, how I love Italy...

Oh, The Joys said...

I've never heard of it, but for some reason I keep thinking of pubescent boys twisting around on the boobies while the teen girl rolls eyes and tries to pretend he's SO GOOD.

ewe are here said...

hahahahahahaha

And I suppose it's better than checking out the old car by 'kicking the tires'...

I do love how sometimes trips like this level the social field... I was not especially popular in high school either. Not even close.

Antique Momy said...

I'm with Veronica. I don't think it means anything other than teenage boys can turn anything into a sexual innuendo.

And Italy! My favorite European nation.

Redneck Mommy said...

Loved this post. I've been thinking a lot about highschool...mostly because I have found a lot of friends from highschool on Facebook. I wish I could go back and do it again, knowing who I am and being confident that I am enough.

Alpha DogMa said...

The Omega Man still offers to "pop my chassis" on a regular basis.
This was a great post - I've just finished the YA novel 'Sloppy Firsts' and your style and subject are in the same tone.

Becky said...

I crested the edge of popularity in grade 12, and in OAC (another silly term for grade 13), realized that it suddenly meant nothing. I know exactly what you mean about the walls coming down - suddenly, being cool meant less to the smart kids than simply... well... being smart. And the neat thing? There were some pretty cool smart kids.

Anonymous said...

The grand search for the meaning of the particualr line in "Red Headed Woman" by Bruce Springsteen lead me here : "You ain't lived 'til you've had your tires rotated by a red-headed woman". Good to finally know what it means. Nice Post.