The year was 1957 and I was new to St. Monica’s. Our move from WLA to a nicer house in Santa Monica, where I could abandon the service porch bed I had known for 8 years and actually have a room of my own, was bittersweet. I had to start a new school without Terry, Bob, Chuck, Bobby…all the guys I had grown up with and make my way in a new class. I was excited to finally be in a classroom with my cousin, Brian, who had served as my brother for my whole life and my other pal, Mike Goethals, also moved that year, so I knew two people in the school.
Of course this was also the time that everyone’s body was changing (except mine) and I was shocked to be in class with guys who shaved and girls who looked like women, at least to me. I struggled to get by. The academic side of school was not so hard for me. I was a reader, a drawer, and a budding philosopher, which was entertaining in my evenings, but not exactly skills that rocketed me to popularity. While I loved sports as I grew up and played most of them, I suddenly found myself outmatched by bigger, stronger guys. I was slow on my feet, not particularly strong, and a good target for guys who wanted to put me somewhere beneath them in the pecking order. Puberty seemed to be ignoring me. There was a popular crowd who seemed mostly interested in each other and I watched from the sidelines as they did their dance, hearing of parties on Monday mornings.
It was a few months into my 7th grade year, a rainy day, when the good Sisters gathered us all in the auditorium to play some games that might help us pass the time while it poured outside. Sister would invite a few kids at a time to line up and then someone began to play a 45 from the current or recent hit parade. Contestants would then race across the room and ring a bell, identifying the tune and singer. She seemed to mostly pick the cool kids. I stood there waiting to be called, as I knew the title of every single song and who sung it. I was stunned that almost none of these in-crowd boys knew Buddy Holly from Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard from Chuck Berry. Yet I was never called, causing me to reflect at that time that I had missed my golden opportunity to blow my class away with my contemporary music prowess. In reflection, I probably would have easily won the game, but I still would have gotten shit on for winning, as I was not cool and I would have shown up some of those who made a point of making my days difficult.
As time went by, a few grammar school tormentors became friends. 9th grade came along and I was delighted to see most of my old friends from St. Joan’s in my classes once again. But it was never the same. I reinvented myself a bit in high school. It helped that I entered 9th grade at 5’6” and entered 10th at 6’2”. I also became a bit of a smartass in class, a weekend partier, and found that rather than trying to fit in, I could celebrate my differences. My attraction to rock and roll, had turned to jazz and folk music. I discovered books unlike anything ever required in school…Catcher in the Rye, Cannery Row, and On the Road… books that opened my world and filled it with possibilities. I met and bonded with Pat and Thom from St. Martin’s, Pete from Corpus Christy, Phil from St. Marks, Tim from St. Ann’s and decided that I would go out with girls from Palisades High, who did not know me from school.
From this distant perspective, there are dozens of classmates who I wish I had known better, had I taken the time to be aware of anyone’s needs but my own. But I enjoyed high school. My clearest memories of four classroom years was laughing, as class days were often entertaining and there was always some bizarre sub-plot going on in the day. My classes, until senior year were all boys and I could not begin to recount all of the moments that still make me smile as I look back. They kept the girls separated at the high school and I don’t know that I ever went out with any of them, though not for lack of desire. I do remember them as extraordinarily kind, girls who would smile and talk to me as if I mattered, even though most of them were much more interested in slightly older guys. I think that I began to shave by about 16 and it was not until I was 19, in the Air Force, that my old familiar coordination came back and I was again able to hold my own in sports, but by then it was too late. Like the hit parade nerd of the 7th grade, I could only imagine what might have been.
These reminiscences are odd in their way, as we all play back our lives through our unique lenses. I am not sure that old friends, some somehow sustained for 60 years since 7th grade, would at all see me as I saw myself and each of them could probably astound me over a campfire or glass of wine with their own insecurities of the age. I know this, but I still want them to know that I knew every one of those fucking songs.