When I was a seventh grader at Hannibal Junior High School, no one would have confused me with one of the “cool” kids. I didn’t have a girlfriend, I wasn’t a jock, and I was one of the last teenagers in the entire building to reach a height of five feet tall. Far from the universally-recognized/beloved international celebrity that I am today, thirteen-year-old Travis was a scrawny nerd who was virtually invisible to everyone around him.
Having been the new kid in five different schools before entering junior high, my entire childhood had been spent as an outsider trying desperately to gain the approval and acceptance of his new schoolmates. One way for me to gain attention, and ultimately forge friendships, was through my sense of humor.
The term “class clown” was used by some, I think somewhat inaccurately, to describe me in my school days. I did love to make people laugh, that much is true, but I never wore a crazy clown wig or makeup, nor did I ever wear gigantic clown shoes or a red ball on my nose.
I did wear mismatched pairs of Chuck Taylors pretty regularly. It was not uncommon to see me wearing one orange shoe and one red shoe. In the warmer months, I was also known to wear knee-high tube socks with mismatched stripes—with my mismatched Converse All-Stars and floral-print Bermuda shorts.
There was a stretch back in seventh grade when I frequently wore an ensemble consisting of a black and white striped referee’s shirt and parachute pants. I even wore a referee’s whistle around my neck for a while, until the older kids developed a habit of snatching it from around my neck and loudly blowing it in the hallway.
The more I think about it, I probably was a bit of a clown. But my efforts to get noticed ultimately paid off. By the time I graduated from high school, every one of the 1,000 or so students at HHS knew exactly who Travis Naughton was.
From the depths of obscurity, I climbed to unimaginable heights for someone who had always felt like outsider. I eventually became a co-editor of the high school yearbook, a drum major of our award-winning marching band, and the president of the student council—making people laugh all along the way. I had achieved my goal of gaining my peers’ acceptance, and I also made a lot of great memories in the process.
My greatest fear is, as those memories fade, that I will return to obscurity someday. I’m afraid that a hundred years from now, there will be no one left on Earth who remembers who Travis Naughton was. In my warped mind, if people forget about me after I die, then it’s almost as if I never lived in the first place.
Therefore, I write.
Long after I’m gone, my words will live on. Hopefully, my great-grandkids and their great-grandkids will read my books and collections of columns, keeping my thoughts and my memories alive for successive generations to enjoy.
Perhaps your great-grandkids will read some of my musings, too. I sure hope so. In the meantime, I have many more memories to make—and write about.
Recently, I did something that my outlandish junior high self would have loved. I shaved-off my scruffy beard but left behind a glorious, 1970s-style mustache. You may have even caught a glimpse of it on the interwebs or in real life. If so, consider yourself blessed.
Overall, people reacted favorably to my soup-strainer, comparing me to 70s icons such as Burt Reynolds, Freddie Mercury, most of the Village People, and the King himself, Richard Petty. As a bonus, my mustache came fully equipped with a fresh attitude, which I employed around my family and friends for the better part of a week. I had a lot of fun with it, but I did hear the word “insufferable” used a lot.
At any rate, I don’t think anyone will forget about that mustache—or me—anytime soon. Another memory was made because I had the audacity to do something ridiculous. Ridiculous, but unforgettable.
I mustache you a question: What memories will you make today?