May 23, 2005

High School and Happy Days

Despite my doctors’ attempts to cut me off from normal human interaction. I have always actively sought companionship. Like a bad habit, I have adapted a new truth about my life. In the 1970’s with my brain tumor and subsequent hospitalization, behind me, I tried to be a teenager during a very strange time.

My memories are colored, tainted by a metabolism that was forever altered. When I left ‘Babies Hospital’ I was more affected than I thought. I was 12 years old and come that fall was 13. The truth is that because my pituitary was effected by the radiation treatments, I never fully became a man. While chronologically things took place all around me, I never fully understood my place in the social order of 1970’s high school.

I would see people coupling up, dating and playing those games. However I was always on the outside looking in. In my own mind I adopted a new thought. It became a mantra, similar to that of Brooklyn Dodger fans throughout the 40’s and 50’s, “Wait ‘til next year.” However, even the Dodgers moved and grew. I didn’t know what was missing and so, to continue the baseball analogy, was often at the plate, without a bat.

This is not to say that I wasn’t popular or well liked, but I always allowed my camera and photography to be the reason I was at a party, not my charm.

In 1979, I was a Senior at South High School. I readied myself for college by visiting and applying to schools, by going through the teenage milestones, but never was in control of my life.

The school’s music department used to put on an Opera and later a Broadway musical. Although I wasn’t a musician, nor a student of theater, I found that group of people were the ones who provided not only intellectual stimulus, but a formula for being ‘normal’. It wasn’t until my last year in High School when I actually joined them on stage.

For many years, ‘Theater South’ existed both as a series of classes and as a number of preformances. Theater South also had a student lounge within the school. Much like the fraternity house seen in “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, the lounge was much more than a meeting room. We played there, announced shows, parties and other celebrations. Couples met and broke up in the lounge, it was a refuge from the overwhelming sense of We played there, announced shows, parties and other celebrations. Couples met and broke up in the lounge, it was a refuge from the overwhelming sense of personal worth based on money, that existed all over the high school.

We flirted with disaster many times, but still retained the lounge until 1979. However, after the theater faculty disappeared, so too did the lounge. There was one event that may have colored the decision making process.

One of the students noticed a clock on the wall which, like the clocks in the rest of the building, was wired into the office clock and announced the end of periods and kept time as a constant thing throughout the building. He decided to see what was behind the mechanism, and removed the clock from the wall. There he exposed several wires and found through trial and error that by connecting the right pair, he could affect the entire building. One day the clocks ran fast, another day the bells sounded at odd times, leaving teachers in total disarray. We never knew what else to expect because while standing on a couch, he would ‘play’ with his new toy, no matter the outcome.

After the days of sporatic bell sounding, the internal hit squad of the custodial staff when on the look for an explanation. We arrived back at school after a vacation to find the clock rehung, and cemented to the wall. There would be no more playing with time.

Another time in the lounge my friend Nathalie came running in, she was all afraid because she often attracted the oddest suitors. First it had been John. This guy was freakishly small and would carry around a huge back of books. He was picked on and ridiculed and yet there seemed to be no end to his abhorant behavior. One day be began following and watching Nathalie. He went as far as signing up for a drama class in order to pursue her. However, eventually his feelings unmet, he went on to torture someone else.

Currently though, was Gabe. This guy was not only a moron, but one with an arrest record. It seems he stole a pocketbook from someone in the community. However the police soon came to her aid, catching Gabe, several blocks away, still carrying the purse. He was now in Nathalie’s fan club and would often come by the lounge and would sit in another room, gazing through the window into the lounge.

At first we locked the door and covered the window with old papers. However, he had her everytime the periods changed. Eventually he was visited by a bunch of us who told him, in finely picked words, to ‘buzz off’.

Since I carried a camera everyday, I caught many of these events on film. It soon became a part of life, in the lounge, that no matter what occurred, I would enshrine it on Kodak.

At the close of the school year in 1979, we left for the summer, happy knowing that our lounge would be there in the fall. We had cared for this room, painted and furnished it and expected to forever grow there. However, come September, the school district had repainted the room to a flat matte beige and began referring to it as the Math lab. We took refuge in a tiny room adjoining the band room. This closet seemed to act in much the same way for us, except the band teacher resented our holding his piano, music and other stored items, as hostages.

It was there, however, I finally heard a rendition of the song Helen Keller. A few of the guys had written it in 3-4 part harmonies and would sing it’s lyrics, such as:

Helen Keller, she was deaf, she was dumb,
Helen Keller, couldn’t walk, couldn’t run,
Helen Keller, bumping into furniture isn’t run….
She was blind, deaf and dumb….
We also heard rendition of various Monty Python skits. While most of us had no idea what they were saying, these badly copied English accents were part of the goings on.

Then came Carmen. I joined the chorus, mostly because they needed bass voices and so learned several times a week, tunes from a translation of Bizet’s Carmen. The music teacher, who now also doubled as theater teacher, would present a Grand Opera each year. The music teacher joined her by teaching the score and an art teacher, Frank Rogers, would invent sets and build these huge two floor designs.

Frank was a wonder. He had many talents and loved to share with his classes. However, having been hired last, his name always came up at the end of the year as a budget cut. We, his fans, would gather hundreds of signatures on petitions and seemingly saved his from the axe.

For Carmen, the musical director brought in a friend of hers to help direct the production. This short, balding, man had no idea what was in store for him. Eventually he turned to a theater trick, if for no other reason than to silence us. During a particular dance scene, one or two of the girls would be on tables, seductively wooing the ‘Greek’ soldiers. Those of us in that scene were told to freeze for the two or three minutes. One person was frozen in time, drinking from a wooden cup. Another serving drinks, others in mid-fight. I was sitting atop this set, with no guidance. I had been flirting with one of the girls who, when the dance was over, had a big solo. So he looked up at me and told me lie across the set. Then he looked at her, standing there, waiting for her cue.

For a moment he looked pleadingly at us, and said, ‘can you hold a kiss for the 2-3 minutes?’ he asked. While at first, she was quite reluctant, she also knew that this was acting and part of the game. So for rehearsal after rehearsal there we were, kissing. By the time the opera had been performed over several nights, we were going steady and would eventually go to the prom together.

Posted by bbrother at May 23, 2005 05:11 AM

Another great post! I love this style of writing. Your posts are like loose tapestries, yet they seem to end up having a beginning, middle and end, anyway. Very kewl.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 28, 2005 11:25 PM

And the stuff about the lounge brings back memories. I hung out with thespian/musician crowd, too. They were the coolest people. I did make it on stage with them, though O was there for all the rehearsals.

When I went to college I decided to be a theater major, expecting the same great group of people. Lemme tell ya, high school theater and college theater groups are very different. I didn't feel at home with very many of my fellow theater majors. Aah, well.

Posted by: Tuning Spork at May 28, 2005 11:28 PM

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