Def Leppard and the Origins of my Crippling Public Speaking Phobia

I'm hot, sticky sweet.

I’m hot, sticky sweet.

Before I got the ol’ heave ho from Catholic school at the end of my 6th grade year, I had been quite the model student. Hell, even during and after my ousting from Catholic school, I was just about as perfectly behaved of a student as you can imagine. Did I just write “hell”? I guess I’ve come a long way.

My parents and brother did a good job insulating me as a child. And being 7 years younger than my brother and the 2nd child, I had a lot of experience entertaining myself. I spent hours sitting underneath the dining room table and reading books. Or saddling a Strawberry Shortcake doll on one of my My Little Pony dolls and letting them gallop around for a while. Or gaping at the TV. I was a pretty self-sufficient kid.

Because of this, I saw and heard very few non-child-appropriate things growing up. Which, looking back on it, is a pretty fantastic thing that I got to be a blissful naïve kid for as long as I did. I didn’t know what sarcasm was until I was at least 13 years old. I loved stuffed animals until I was at least 14 (just kidding – I STILL love stuffed animals). And I couldn’t get enough of wholesome shows like The Monkees and Little House on the Prairie. Just ask my dad or my brother, who probably would run screaming from a room right now if they heard even the first three notes of the theme song to either show.

My first day of 6th grade was an exciting one at St. Phillip and James. There was a new teacher at the school and I was IN. HER. CLASS. Our school’s teachers had all largely been teaching there for about 1000 years, so getting assigned to the class of a new, young, non-nun teacher was a pretty big deal.

After all the kids took their seats, the teacher introduced herself. She had just moved to Pennsylvania from New York, where she had worked in the theater. The entire class was jittery with excitement. Mrs. C practically wore a halo of newness and inspiration. Within two minutes of introducing herself, everyone was lobbying to be teacher’s pet. Here was a teacher who was cool. Who wasn’t just a boring teacher, but an actual actress. From New York City. I had never seen my classmates more enthralled. We were not a worldly group, and we all felt like we’d nabbed the golden ticket of Catholic school teachers.

After Mrs. C introduced herself, she asked everyone – in alphabetical order by last name, of course – to introduce him/herself and to mention an “interesting fact.”

John Adams stood up, looked around the class, and with a puffed out chest and raised chin said, “I’m John and I like Def Leppard.” He sat back down in his seat, but he may as well have just dropped the mic.

Georgina Bush stood up next and with a big smile announced, “I’m Gina, and I like Def Leppard.”

Billy Clinton, Gerry Ford, Ben Harrison, Andi Johnson, and all the other kids in my class stood up, one by one, and explained in simple, yet undeniably passionate terms, their devotion to Def Leppard.

What had started out as an exciting day only an hour earlier had morphed into a terrifying nightmare.

Who was I? What was the cool nickname I apparently forgot to adopt over the summer? And what the fuck was a deaf leopard and why did everyone love it so much? I hadn’t seen any new toy commercials for a deaf leopard action figure. Was it a new Transformer or GoBot? Was

Finally, Abby Lincoln stood up directly in front of me, her pony-tail swinging excitedly, and she changed things up a bit. “I’m Abby, and I love Def Leppard.”

Great, she didn’t even just like it, she LOVED it. Whatever it was.

It was my turn. Sweat beaded my forehead. My face burned red and my heart visibly thumped from my chest. I had no idea what to say. Like the model Catholic school kid I was, pure of heart and mind, I said what came naturally.

“I’m Ali and I don’t know what Def Leppard is. But if it’s an animal, I really like animals, too.”

Mere words cannot explain the looks of shock, bemusement and disgust that came my way.

Mrs. C gave a little laugh and before I knew it, James Madison was professing his love of Def Leppard behind me.

All I can say is, it’s probably a good thing I got booted from Catholic school at the end of the year. Any PR professional would tell you there’s no coming back from that kind of damage to your reputation.

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