Sunday, April 4, 2010

At Whom We Were Angry

I didn’t realize what a loser I’d been in junior high school until I reached high school. All the cool guys to whose entourages I’d periodically been able to attach myself in ninth grade were associating strictly with upperclassmen now, and my choices at lunchtime were solitude or the company of the sort of person I’d regarded as unworthy of me mere months before. But I was, as always, the star of my English class. What a very small consolation.

After a single semester, the house my parents had managed to buy in an upscale tract on a mesa high above Pacific Coast Highway was finally ready for occupancy, and I transferred to Santa Monica High School, the corridor of whose History building, the main building on campus, reeked of acne medication or something. As I'd entered the Administration building earlier that first morning to get my class schedule, somebody had let out a loud, derisive snicker of the sort later favored by the bullies on The Simpsons. I was sure it was at me. I ate my lunch alone every day in the Greek Theatre, and was terribly lonely. I barely spoke to anyone the whole semester.

I went to summer school to try to undo the shame of the C I’d received in Geometry, which was Greek to me. One of the best moments of my life in a classroom was on the day of the final exam. The main proof we had to do baffled me, and baffled me, and baffled me…and then virtually whispered, “This is how you do me.” God, what a feeling of satisfaction. I got an A.

I had a memorable moment in my other class, Public Speaking. As an exercise one day, we had to imagine ourselves addressing someone at whom we were angry. I started off all right, but then realized I was screaming. My classmates were open-mouthed in amazement, our teacher aghast; I carried so much repressed rage around inside. A more responsible teacher would have called my parents and urged them to find me a psychiatrist. I spent the balance of the summer lying on the beach getting very, very tan, and feeling very, very lonely.

As a junior, I finally made a friend, even though he had bizarre musical taste, of a comparably alienated, shy, cynical boy from Minnesota I'd had to wrestle in PE. He was crazy about this young folksinger called Bob Dylan, whose singing I could bear for about two bars. We called each other Chief because the pimp Maurice so addressed the protagonist of The Catcher in the Rye, a book no Samohi student was officially allowed to read, and which we took as our Bible. We thought up cruel pranks that we wound up not perpetrating, and impeached the sexuality of male classmates who crossed their legs when seated.

I had an out-of-body experience in my chemistry class one day. Mr. Frank Jerome, the hippest guy in the Santa Monica Unified School District, made a succession of different compounds with Styrofoam globes representing various elements, with stick conectors, and challenged us to name them. Over and over, a little voice rang out from the back of the classroom, correctly identifying everything he concocted. That voice was my own. I studied Spanish in a building that had been constructed at the dawn of the century, and smelled worse than the corridor of the History building.

My handsome, talented young uncle Marty, of whom I was fond, killed himself that year, but I was too much a badass to cry for him. It was far more apparent to me than it should have been for one of 16 why a person would find life unendurable.

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