Wednesday, March 17, 2010


You’ve heard the (apparently apocryphal) Chinese curse May you live in interesting times. I attended Santa Monica High School, self-styled Queen of the Setting Sun, later alma mater of Sean Penn, Robert Downey Jr.m and Emilio Estevez, at a time slightly less interesting than it would get in a year or two. In my senor year, The Byrds, with "Mr. Tambourine Man", demonstrated that Americans could grow their hair long and stand toe to toe with The Beatles, but there was no trace of long hair or marijuana on campus; those particular roofs would have to wait two years to cave in, and it was up to the usual greasers and surfers to supply sociological interest. The former were going to go on to own or at least work in body or brake shops, and to keep wearing their duck’s-ass coiffures well past the style’s sell-by date, while the latter would spend every available minute in wetsuits, or studying oceanography. The well-scrubbed kids with perfect straight teeth from north of Wilshire Blvd. would go on to college, and lovely white-collar careers.

In accordance with California law, boys vice principal Porter I. Leach (I have never trusted anyone with a flaunted middle initial) was a moron, but quite a handsome one, as only befitted the younger brother of the ultra-glamorous film star Cary Grant. If he was the handsomest man on campus, our rent-a-cop, with the distorted features of an ex-boxer, was the least. There were lots of latino and black kids, but those from the right side of Wilshire Blvd. would interact with them only in PE. Academically, there was a sort of subtle segregation in effect, whereby well-to-do white kids were presumed to be getting ready for college, and everyone else herded into average-intelligence (T) or remedial (R) classes.

There was actually a black faculty member, an English teacher. I suspect they wouldn’t have hired him if not for his Ph.D. I never had him, but I did have Mrs. Viola Cook, an early recognizer, bless her heart, of my brilliance as a writer; a (very) young and majorly foxy young Asian social studies teacher whose name I’ve forgotten, but who I know to have gone on to become a documentary filmmaker of some note; and Mr. Andrew Dimas, a wry and sharp-dressed English and journalism teacher who I'm pretty sure was in love with me, and who didn’t conceal his distaste for my and (very!) green-eyed Gail Hickey, also in the class, having conspicuously become an item.

In later years, he apparently confided his gayness to such followers in my footsteps as Steve Randall (later Playboy’s West Coast editor). Naturally, nobody was openly gay at the time, though the supposedly tell-tale limpness of B. Roberts’ wrist inspired considerable speculation among those he taught French, and male cheerleader Danny Brown wasn’t often glimpsed sneaking smokes and speaking defiantly ungrammatically behind Auto Shop with the most stereotypically macho among us.

In my senior year, after three semesters of abject loneliness and isolation, I finally began to blossom a bit. I worked up the nerve to ask out the luscious Joy Ketner — who drove me half-insane in civics by picking bits of fuzz off her black nylon legs and dropping them elegantly into the chasm that separated us — only to learn that she was romantically entangled with an older man, one who’d moved on to Santa Monica Community College (Samohi With Ashtrays) the previous year. I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and lowered the boom on La Hickey, whose extraordinary eyes were a function of tinted contact lenses, and damned if she didn’t say OK.

Suddenly, because she was hot stuff, I was one to reckon with! Then I formed my first group, The Fogmen, and served as campaign manager for Mr. Eric Thiermann, who was running for student body president. That he won had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the impressive magic tricks he performed at his self-nominating speech, but my status was nonetheless enhanced. The Malibu Optimists Club gave me a $100 scholarship because I had the highest grade-point average on the bus. I bought drums with it.

At my class’s five-year reunion, Ms. Sally Willsher, who’d come to look exactly like supermodel Cheryl Tiegs, made me not miss La Ketner, but had eyes only for her date. By our 10-year-reunion, which La Willsher didn’t deign to grace, three-quarters of the class had already gone badly to seed, and Thiermann made loud jokes at my expense because of my very long hair and deafening attire, but I didn’t care because social situations make me uncomfortable, and I’d gotten almost too drunk even to stand.


1 comment:

  1. I used to know the first boy kicked out Beverly Hills High School for long hair. He remains a successful recording engineer to this day.