Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The High School Effect - Part Two

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, January 20, 2008)

The first part of this remembrance was posted last weekend, so look for it on my blog page if you haven't read it yet. Now join me in the late 60s as we continue our story:


Things changed a bit in my last two years of high school. My father got transferred to Washington D.C. and we found ourselves living in Springfield, Virginia, where I spent my last two school years at West Springfield High School. By this time, it was 1969 and I was heavily into the hippie culture. My hair was very long and I loved wearing a really long, fringe coat which was a lot like one I saw Neil Young wearing in the Buffalo Springfield. I had developed quite a love for music starting in early 1967 when I heard the first Doors album at a party. Music pretty much became my life after that, but it took an early independent record store in Falls Church, Virginia to really turn me on to music that was out of the mainstream. It was there that I discovered Tyrannosaurus Rex, King Crimson, Capt. Beefheart, Emmett Rhodes, Alice Cooper and many others who I would listen to for hours locked in my room at home.

I had a hippie girlfriend during these two years, but I don't even remember her name. She was pretty much a beard, as I had a real obsession with a friend of mine, Kevin, who was a born-again Christian and was very straight. I still wasn't admitting that I was gay and all it did was make me more frustrated and depressed, to the puzzlement of my friends and family.

I also still hated school because I still felt I wasn't learning anything. Granted, the school system back east was much better than that in California, but I was still unhappy with what I was being taught and how they were teaching it to me, spending much of my time in the library and at home reading about things I thought were more important and accurate than what I was being taught in class.

The biggest frustration happened when I finally found a teacher I could respect. She was my creative writing teacher and she allowed me the freedom to express myself the way I wanted to. She would talk to me and lead me towards the goals she thought I should have, but ultimately she respected the way I said things and the way I was, which was a big change from the other teachers, who would send me to the principle's office for not wearing socks or for not standing for the Pledge Of Allegiance. Then she took a group of her students to see the play "Hair" in Washington D.C. She was supposed to get parent's permission, but I guess a few students either signed the permission slip themselves or something, because she got complaints and the school district fired her. I was devastated and it was that event that made me finally give up on school.

I was angry as hell over the parents that complained. I felt we were 17 years old and that meant we were old enough to understand the themes of the play. I was lucky in that I had parents who, while being very politically conservative, still were very open about me and my exploration of life. If I wanted to see a movie that was rated "R" or even "X", they would take me to see it. I saw "Midnight Cowboy", "Clockwork Orange" and even "Last Summer", with its themes of teenage rape, in the company of one of my parents and afterwards they would talk to me about it to make sure I had understood what I had seen. That's what's called parenting, something that is much too absent in adults raising children these days. So when I told them I wanted to see "Hair", they had no problem as long as I came to them with any questions I might have.

(The one big mistake my parents made was in 1969 when they gave me the book, "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Sex* But Were Afraid To Ask" when I was 15 in an attempt to help me understand my emerging sexuality. In that horribly misguided book, Dr. David Reuben, the author, states that male homosexuality is a mental disorder and that all homosexuals grow up to be unloved and unhappily suicidal. I was devastated and had no one to talk to about it. I carried this with me until Woody Allen made a movie of the book in 1972 that lampooned several of the book's sections. It was about that time that I began to realize how much this book was actually a pile of unscientific crap. It still managed to nastily affect me for years after though. I don't blame my parents as they had no idea at the time. But if there's one book that should be banned it's this one and not "Tropic Of Cancer" or "The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn". The fact that it's still in print is a travesty, even if people just read it for camp value these days.
Whatever, no thanks to him, I'm living proof that the good Dr. Reuben had no idea what he was talking about.)

In my frustration over my sexuality and over my lack of interest in school, I turned to drugs. And as with everything I turn to, I went at it whole hog. It wasn't unusual for me to drop 5 or 6 hits of LSD at a time or spend three days in a row speeding my ass off. My whole last year of high school was almost totally spent in the Virginia forests, stoned out of my mind. I managed to make it to class just enough to make sure I passed.

It wasn't until my early 30s that I finally gave up all drugs for good, except alcohol, and the smoking habit I had picked up with it. I was smoking 3 packs of cigarettes a day when I stopped cold turkey a week before I went out on my first tour with Thin White Rope. It was torture, as they all smoked at the time, but I managed to stick to it and quit totally, with only one small relapse during my mini-nervous breakdown in Russia.

What drugs did for me was open me up. I was a pretty closed, quite kid, despite the temper tantrums, before I started taking drugs. Drugs opened the world to me and I started expressing myself much more. I ran for class president in my senior year, something I never would have done before, as I could have never stood in front of a crowd and given a speech. I didn't win, of course, but I tried. I acknowledge the dangers that drugs have for people, especially people who abuse them without restriction. But I also acknowledge that they can be used to expand a person if used correctly. I gave up drugs when I realized I was getting no more benefits from them. Unfortunately, too many people don't know when to stop and are messed up because of the abuse they subject themselves to.

I also started an underground newspaper in school. This went on for about six months with the school trying to stop us. They finally came to me and offered to let us continue the paper if we merged it with the official school paper. After some negotiation, we agreed and the school paper became better for it.

There was also an incident when I decided that I didn't like the idea of a pep rally that was going to happen for the school football team. During this rally, the school was going to sponsor a greased pig contest, where the big football players would chase around a baby pig covered with oil and try to capture it. To me at the time, it smacked too much of animal cruelty. I went to the principle and complained. I was ignored. What followed was two weeks of me editorializing in the school paper about it and then calling in the local media and even several animal rights organizations. In the end, the event was called off and for several weeks, I was the most hated person in the school.

My brother was a star football player and I think the only thing that saved me from the school jocks this time was respect for him. I know for a fact that he told some of the players to lay off me. End the end, it was forgotten and I went back to be ignored by the people who I wanted to be ignored by. But I'll never forget my parents telling me that while they disagreed with my reasons, they were extremely proud of me for sticking to it and accomplishing what I set out to do.

Another major incident happened when I took a massive dose of psilocybin mushrooms and collapsed just outside the doors of the school, watching the buildings colorfully melt around me. Suddenly, there was the school principle, telling me that I was a disgrace and that I should go home immediately. I stood up and told him to "Fuck Off", fully expecting to get expelled from that school. Instead, he told me to go home and that he wanted to see me first thing in the morning in his office. He called my parents to tell them the same thing, although he didn't tell them why. But that forced me to go to his office, because my parents made sure of it.

When I arrived in his office, he told me that he was disappointed in me and that he thought I was better than I seemed to think I was. He then excused me from classes for the day and told me that I was going to be acting principle for the day. He even made the announcement over the school PA system. So, for the day, I sat in his office and handled complaints from students and teachers. I was also required to patrol the school and had to kick smokers out of the bathrooms and make sure all was as it was supposed to be. I was impressed that he would trust me with this responsibility and took it very seriously. It was one of the hardest days I've ever spent, and when I was over, I had a newfound respect for this principle.

I never hassled him again. But I was still unhappy with the quality of education I felt I was getting, so I ended up getting stoned and skipping school, instead of getting stoned and going to school. Somehow, I managed to graduate with that B- average though, and high school was over.

Looking back, I see that I learned quite a lot during those final years of high school. The underground newspaper incident taught me that you can cooperate with the system and win. The greased pig incident taught me that you could fight the system and win. And the principle incident taught me that sometimes the people you were fighting weren't as bad as you might have thought they were and they had their own reasons for the things they were doing. I've never underestimated an opponent or lost my respect for one again after that. (Although our current President Bush makes sticking to that belief a hard thing to do.)

In the meantime, my sexual frustrations weren't resolved at all. I still didn't want to admit I was gay, but the drugs and my interest in music helped me alleviate some of the depression I was feeling about it.

At this time, my father was transferred back to Orange County in California and once again we found ourselves driving across country to a new home. When we got there, we moved into a house less than half a mile from our old house and I immediately looked up my old friends. But I had changed way too much over these two years and it was obvious that those friendships would not be rekindled.

So, I started college at a local community college, studying world literature. My plan was to become a high school literature teacher. I also went to work for my father's company, building computers, which at this time were big cabinets with lots of circuit boards and magnetic tape. It was here that I entered into a relationship with an older woman, Peggy. I was 18 and she was 27. She had a young child. It was my first sexual relationship with a woman and it lasted for a year. It was then that she announced to me that she was pregnant. I was horrified. I had realized that I just wasn't enjoying this relationship. I couldn't understand why people though sex was so great, because it seemed rather boring to me. I was also realizing that I thought it was boring because I was having sex with the wrong person. I told her that I honestly couldn't marry her, but that I would be there to help with the child in any other way she needed. She responded by disappearing from my life. To this day, I've never heard from her again and have no idea if she had the kid or not, although I suspect she had an abortion. I also have reason to suspect that I wasn't the only person she was having sex with, so whether the child was actually mine or not will never be answered.

It was at this time that I decided that I had had enough with sex and that I would ignore it until I could figure out exactly what I was. So began almost 6 years of celibacy. And then one day I mentally woke up. I don't recall what it was that set me off, but I just decided that it was time to be honest and that I was gay and I started telling my friends one by one. I had lots of friends by this time. I had quit working for my father and had gotten involved in the music business and the local punk rock scene, meeting all sorts of people all over Los Angeles and becoming friends with a good many of them. I had also moved up to Hollywood and was sharing a house with two other people. With the exception of one of those friends, nobody had a problem with my new/old sexuality and many of them told me it was about time I figured it out.

The last people I told were my family. My brothers and sister were mad at me for carrying the secret for so long and being miserable because of it. They were upset that I denied them the support they could have given me. My mother had already figured it out. But I was afraid to tell my father and left that to my mom, which is something I regret to this day. I should have had the courage to face him myself, as it wouldn't have mattered to him in the long run. At first my parents blamed themselves. They felt they did something that turned me gay someplace in my life. But now they realize that there was nothing that turned me gay. I just was gay and had always been so.

To this day I have a great relationship with my whole family. I met Skip a year later and found out what all the hubbub about sex was. It just took the right person. He was immediately welcomed into my family and has even been to family events that I can't make. Years ago, when we were at a rough patch and it looked like we might break up, the whole family was in mourning about it and were overjoyed when we worked out our problems and stayed together. We've been together 28 years now and I'm happy and comfortable with whom I am. I wish I could have been this comfortable in my high school years, but then, if I was I would have taken a different path in life and I might not have ever met the love of my life.

By the way, I spent one year at community college before realizing that I hated it as much as high school for many of the same reasons. I was even kicked out of an American literature class when I disagreed with the teacher that Hemingway was a great author. (I hated his books when I was younger, but have come to appreciate him in later years.) So, I applied to Cal State Fullerton and was accepted. I hoped that a real college would be better. It wasn't and a year later I quit college for good and decided to enter the music business in earnest. I sometimes regret that decision, but I would never want to give up those years working with bands and being immersed in music. Now I have other interests and a college education would be a helpful thing. But I'm happy with what I've done in my life and those regrets are minor ones.

So here I am now. When I was a teenager in high school, I couldn't imagine living past 30 years old. When I got to 30, I just couldn't see how I could be happy at 50. Now I'm over 50 and I can't imagine being 65. I don't know if I will make it to that age, but as long as I'm living a life that makes me happy, I'm willing to give it a try.

When I entered the music business, I wanted to sign a band to a major label and work that band. And I wanted to travel the world. I've signed that band to the major (Poster Children) and I worked them for several albums. They weren't successful, but I did what I set out to do. And I've traveled extensively, which is one of the most important things in the world for me. There are many other places I want to go to, but I'm happy I've been to more places than most people. I've never gotten rich, but I've led a rich life and at this time and place, I'm very happy with it when I look back on it. Without ever being wealthy, I've somehow managed to experience places, people, food and drink that only wealthy people can. I couldn't ask for more.

High School was miserable for me. I don't know if how miserable I was can come through in print. But without those years, I wouldn't have developed into leading the life I have. If I had the chance to go back and change things, I would refuse. Things are as they should be and am happy with it as it is.

I actually learned a lot more in high school than I thought I did at the time. I educated myself about some things, but high school taught me a lot of life lessons I could have only learned through the school experience. At the time I thought they were wasted years, but I now realize they were anything but.


Wasn't that fun? There's nothing like remembering high school to bring up the bile and make you realize how good you have it these days. For the life of me, I don't understand why people cling to those years and yearn to relive them. I never want to be young again. And I can guarantee I won't be!

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