Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The High School Effect - Part One

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, January 13, 2008)

I started working on this last month, thinking I was going to write a few pages about my teenage life and then forgetting about those frustrating years once again. Instead, I started remembering more and more about things that happened back then and this stretched into a rather long essay. I decided it would be kinder to all of you reading out there to split this in half. So here is part one of my high school life. These are the events that made me what I am today, for better or for worse. I hope you find this as interesting as I did going back over these events that I haven't thought about for years.


Last month a group of my friends started on online discussion about their high school days. This was started because one of us, the multi-talented Paula Yoo, had flown to the east coast to play violin with Spiritualized. This enabled her to go to her high school reunion. In her report to us about the tour and the reunion, Paula mentioned that she was a class nerd and that most of the popular kids in class either teased or ignored her. But she was the big surprise at her reunion in that she looks great and has been highly successful. Most of her former classmates now looked upon her with envy (and maybe a little lust).

(By the way, please check out Paula at these two pages: and and buy her books on Amazon at: and

I was very busy during the month of December, so I stayed out of the conversation at the time. That's very rare for me as I'm usually always eager to submit people to my two cents on almost any subject. But while I didn't write anything, I kept thinking about it. The half dozen or so people involved in the conversation, including my hubby Skip, mostly told nothing but horror stories about how they were treated back then. Everyone seemed to have hated those years.

I hated high school as well, but not for the usual reasons I hear from most people. With a few exceptions, the school bullies pretty much left me alone. But those years were still some of the unhappiest of my life and I think its time to talk about it, something I have rarely done since I grew out of my teens.

Early on in grade school, I got mostly straight A's on my report cards. I loved the idea of learning. But around the time I started reaching puberty, I guess that was about 6th grade, I started wondering about the reality of school and it wasn't as fun for me anymore. Because of this, my grades started sliding as well, although I never flunked out of a class. In the end, I graduated high school with a B- average. I knew I could get straight As, but I just didn't care.

There were several reasons for this. The big one was that I began to realize that what I was being taught in school wasn't the truth. I was a voracious reader at the time. I was maybe 12 years old and I had been reading advanced science fiction books, like Asimov, Herbert, Clarke, and many others, for years now. I belonged to the Science-Fiction Book Club and would get a new book every month that I would read within a few days after I received it. I also loved historical drama films. Some of my favorites at the time were "Dr. Zhivago", "Lawrence Of Arabia" and "A Lion In Winter". I would see these movies and then not only read the books, but read many other books about the subject as well. It was also during the 6th grade that I started searching for Faith and read not only the Bible from beginning to end, but also many other religious books, finding out all I could about Christians, Muslims, Buddhists , Hindus and several others, before rejecting them all for a belief system of my own device. In 7th grade, I thought myself the Russian alphabet and began to try to learn Russian, although I didn't get as far as I would have liked with that. (I do have to say that a lot of it started coming back to me when I was in Russia with Thin White Rope and it helped me start picking up the language faster than usual.)

So, because I was reading so much, I began to realize that what they were teaching me in school, especially when it came to history, was a whole lot of carefully edited and sometimes imaginary facts. And I wasn't happy about it. My reaction to this was to reject the whole thing and by the time I reached Junior High School and the 7th grade, I was a bit of a problem student. It wasn't unusual to find me mouthing off to a teacher I didn't respect, and I didn't respect most of them, and getting sent to the principal's office for a talking to or the occasional swat with a wooden board.

I had a small core group of friends, but I wasn't accepted by many of the cliques that automatically form in school. I wasn't athletic, so the jocks rejected me. The nerds didn't like me because I was too much of a rebel. With the exception of that core group of friends, I was pretty much an outcast on all fronts. No one really bothered me, except a few of the teachers, but I was pretty much shunned by the student body as a whole.

There were two notable instances where I was hassled by the school jocks though. One was when I was in the 8th grade. I was riding my bike home from school when one of the school jocks, a kid named Tom, called me over. While we were talking, another kid, whose name I've forgotten, snuck up behind me and dropped a string of lit firecrackers down my back. Of course, the sound of them blasting off was quite startling, but other than that fright, I didn't feel anything and after a hearty "Ha Ha…Fuck Off" to the two of them, a continued on my way home. When I arrived, my Mom started screaming. It seemed that the firecrackers had burned off most of the skin on my back and my shirt was covered in blood. Why I didn't feel this or notice I have no idea. But my Mom freaked and after a visit to the doctor, I found myself at Tom's home while both our mothers discussed the situation. I don't remember what exactly happened, but I do remember apologies and both Moms being satisfied. And that kind of thing never happened to me again.

Then there was the time in 10th grade when another jock, this one named Bill Robinson, a jock I was rather obsessed with, walked up to me while I was rooting around in my locker. He yelled, "Think Fast" and slammed the locker door shut on my hand. My response was to turn around and punch him in the face. He just looked at me in shock, told me I better not ever do that again, and that was that. That also never happened to me again.

That punch in the face to Bill was a result of a very bad, uncontrollable temper I had in my teenage years. It wasn't unusual for me to get mad at the smallest thing and blow up in a frightening way. I even took my wrath out on adults and there was one incident where I attack a friend's father after he hit me with a belt for something or other I said to him. My father had to come out and stop the battle, warning the friend's Dad that he better not ever touch me again, while warning me that I better watch myself. I think he was somewhat secretly proud that his 13 year old son managed to hold his own with this adult man though.

When I lost my temper, everything would go red. Many times I would wake up from a rage to find destruction all around me and not remember doing it at all. This rage lasted well into my 20s and the punk years. It was responsible in part for me getting beat up outside the Whiskey A-Go-Go, but it was also responsible for several friendships, including a casual one with Pat Smear of the Germs (and later Nirvana) after I knocked him across the dance floor at the Whiskey, only to have him strike up a friendship because he was so impressed I did that. I managed to get my temper in check a few years after I met Skip. There was a fight between the two of us that ended with a broken bedroom window, the police visiting our apartment and our roommate moving out. I never wanted that to happen again and it never did. I control my temper now, but I let it out when it's needed, and it was needed several times during my touring years with Thin White Rope. But these are all tales for another day. Let's get back to high school.

One of the reasons I was so miserable in school had to do with my emerging sexual identity. The first time I remember realizing that I was different from my other friends was in the 6th grade when I was 11 years old, actually almost 12, as it was the end of the school year. I don't remember what the event was, but it ended with all the boys in a gym shower and I realized that I was much more interested in their bodies than I should be. This was the beginning of years of denial and that denial made me miserable. I did not want to be like that and over the years, I became more and more depressed, taking out my frustration on small animals (nothing serious, although I'd rather it never happened) and finally breaking down in the 10th grade in front of my parents. I never admitted that I was afraid I was gay. (I didn't come out until I was 24, a year before I met Skip.) But I admitted that I was depressed, frustrated and perhaps a bit suicidal and I thought I needed help. I was one screwed up kid.

So off I went to a psychiatrist. But I was still too rebellious and uncooperative, and the meetings ended after two visits, with the doctor telling my parents I was impossible to work with and me telling my parents I refused to go to another. I don't know what happened. Once I got to the doctor's I took a real dislike to him and decided I didn't want to have any kind of honest discussion with him. I did realize that I had to start getting myself in check though. It was around this time that I had my first same sex experience, with a boy who was two years younger than me and who I had known for most of my life, and while I still didn't completely admit that I was gay, I did start to admit to myself that it was a possibility. (By the way, this was a one time event and that boy grew up to get married, have kids, get divorced and get married again. I haven't talked to him for three decades now and when I did talk to him, the event was never discussed.)

So, running backwards in time again, I got out of 6th grade and grade school and entered junior high school and the 7th grade a very confused and rather frightened young man. But I knew I was interested in the other boys and decided that I couldn't resist that interest regardless of the mental pain it was causing me. So I went out for the school basketball team. Now, keep in mind that I am completely non-athletic, a thing that frustrated my sports crazy father, who was hoping his first son would grow up to be a famous football player. But I did have a small interest in basketball at the time (that's now been replaced by soccer) and decided I would try to play. Of course, there was no way I would make the team, but the coach was impressed that I would try and I managed to talk him into making me the team ball boy. This enabled me to spend hours in the gym showers, watching the other boys and dreaming dreams that made me even more miserable. I was really obsessed with already mentioned Bill Robinson, who wasn't the best looking kid, but had an air of danger about him that I found extremely attractive. I would shamelessly flirt with him, throwing the towels in his face and taunting him from behind the towel cage. He would usually warn me to lay off, but that was always as far as it went.

Looking back on those days, I sometimes wonder how I managed to get through them alive. I guess it was the times. In the Sixties, people weren't thinking of sexual deviants as much as they do now and while I feel I must have been obvious as hell, I managed to get away with it for all three years of junior high and into my first year of high school. Or maybe some of the kids, like Bill, actually did notice and just didn't say anything because they didn't mind. Or am I still dreaming?

I also had an obsession with fashion at this time and I was the one kid in the school who showed up in the most fashionable clothes. I had a gold Nehru jacket and many other items of clothes that brought me lots of attention and a good amount of teasing, but I think it also brought some respect just for being myself as much as I could.

Whatever it was, I managed to get through school without too much bullying. I think showing an interest in sports kept me free from the jocks, as I saw them mercilessly torment other kids who didn't show the least bit of interest in anything but science or math.


This is a good place to take a break before continuing next week. At that time, you'll find out about a big move, my discovery of music, years of drug abuse and the final realization that I needed to be honest with myself.

As always, I want to thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say. I also want to ask you to subscribe to this little blog if you haven't already. I like to be able to put a face to the people who are reading this.

Thanks and I'll see you here next week for part two.

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