Home > conversations, Injuries, Judo, Life, School > Label-makers: White trash Ivy League athlete.

Label-makers: White trash Ivy League athlete.

Earlier this week, I used my one nugget of common sense to see a doctor about my hip flexor. During the course of the standard “get to know the patient and their ailment” chit chat, the doctor extracted three pieces of information from me: 1) I am from Upper Darby, 2) I attend UPenn, and 3) I practice judo.  The doctor wanted another doctor to examine me as well. As Doctor #1 introduced me to Doctor #2, he told Doctor #2 that I am an athlete who practices judo and is a “bad mofo” and that I go to Penn, so I obviously must be smart. Moreover, since I go to Penn, I am the only person from Upper Darby to ever make something of themselves. I believe he referred to Upper Darby as “The White Trash Capitol of the World”.

This introduction struck me as both strange and hilarious.  In terms of my hometown, I’ve lived in a couple different states and most people  I meet know nothing about Upper Darby. I just say, “It’s a suburb” and that seems to serve as a satisfactory description.  Conversely, since I moved back to the area, people around here definitely have their preconceived notions about Upper Darby and what goes on there. People from Philadelphia usually think of it as just another suburb, but people from other suburbs think Upper Darby is a gang-infested, crime-riddled hell hole filled with illiterates. Are there drugs and crime in Upper Darby? Yes. But the high school also has a swimming pool and golf team. I don’t think kids in desolate neighborhoods get to go swimming or play golf.  Also, I know that I grew up on a clean, quiet street, which remains clean and quiet, in a big house with a big backyard. And my friends from Upper Darby are all smart, accomplished, productive members of society. Some of them even went Penn.

I won’t lie to you; a big part of the reason I decided to go to Penn to get my MSW is because of the reputation that goes with the institution. However, as I trudged through this academic year, I did not feel very prestigious. If anything, I often felt like an impostor as I considered that I should shower more often and change my clothes with greater frequency as I ate fake food, like protein bars and scraps left over from meetings that I stole from the faculty fridge.  I thought going to an Ivy League school would be more tweed and free red wine and Gruyere cheese and less writing and editing in a windowless building wearing coffee stained sweatpants until 2 in the morning.

As for being called an athlete, this is the funniest to me.  If you asked anyone from my high school if they would consider Lori Latimer an athlete, their response would mostly likely be, “Who the hell is Lori Latimer?” (My high school had about 4,000 students in it so even within your own graduating class, you would probably only know about 0.03% of your  classmates.) The alternate response would be “Hahahahaha!” For all of my life, I have been a reader of books, a drawer of pictures, and player of Scrabble. I also have seasonal allergies, mild asthma, and wear glasses. Yes, from time to time I would engage in sports, but I typically performed at the low-end of mediocre.  And when I practiced judo as a kid, I think I was getting by on my feral sense of “fighting spirit” and not so much on my strength and endurance.  So I’ve never considered myself “athletic” let alone an “athlete”.  I guess that’s because I figure if I was an athlete, someone would be paying me for the work I do, or at least throw me a gold medal for doing well once in a while.  Those things are certainly not happening.  So being called an athlete multiple times in the span of a half-hour was infinitely amusing to me. I almost let the doctors in on the joke, but decided just to let them do their job instead.

It’s simply interesting to me how three little facts can lead someone to create an image of yourself that you’ve never pictured and leave you wondering just exactly how you fit that image.

  1. Gwen
    June 24, 2011 at 10:36

    Hello, Lori Latimer,
    I came to your blog entry by way of my daughter’s friend and past room-mate, Brandi Jeter and her blog.
    I’m a teacher and I was interested in your thoughts on the whole labeling thing, very much a part of school life. Much to my surprise, part of the story was about being from Upper Darby — where I grew up and the high school from which I graduated eons ago. So, there were lots of layers to think through in your entry. The first thing that struck me was the extraordinarily cavalier summary of who you were by Doc #1. It sounded like a compliment, but the underlying tone was demeaning, I thought.
    I like how you’ve turned this moment over and over in your head thinking about it, thinking about labels, images projected, and self-images. Interesting and well crafted.

    • June 26, 2011 at 12:27

      Hi, Gwen:

      Thanks for reading. It always amuses me when I hear other people’s opinion of Upper Darby. People have been saying for years that it’s “going down hill”, but I don’t know if that’s true.

      I never loved Upper Darby and don’t want to live there myself, but I always bristle when people trash-talk it. I know it’s by no means a terrible place to grow up and the high school has a lot to offer. Even if I’m naturally smart, clearly Upper Darby High School prepared me to move forward in my academics. If you’re not given the right tools to exercise your talents, they really don’t mean anything.

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