By Christopher Green
That very unfortunate event, for me, was, I guess, the most memorable thing I did while attending my third Junior High School in less than two years. At least it was for the people who compiled the “Remember When” moments for our ninth grade class.
It was also, unfortunately for me, my introduction to the students and teachers at Lee Burneson Junior High School. And, to top it all off, it was in a combined classroom where more than half the eighth grade was gathered.
What a way to make a splash, literally and figuratively, at my brand new junior high. Not more than a week and a half into my new school with barely two weeks left of eight grade, I ralphed long and hard.
I remember sitting there, late in the afternoon, feeling my stomach turn and gurgle. It was a hot, sticky day in a school building built back in the heady days of the 1920’s. No mamby pamby air-conditioning like over at that sleek, modern and very sterile Parkside I was so glad to leave behind.
Parkside. They named that school because it was close to the park. Clever people those people who thought this project up. No wonder they lacked imagination over there. They named Lee Burneson after a guy who worked in the school system for over 40 years. A working man’s dream comes true.
Could you possibly imagine any introduction that was more embarrassing than that? Especially for a pudgy 12 year old with a major broken family complex? Oh, and before I forget, as my sister pointed out to me last week, I probably had a middle child thing going for me as well.
Did I have this middle child thing? Perhaps. I have to ponder because I never really consider this one before. Not once. I have had far too many other maladies, real and imagined, that already teased me with that hoary old blame game.
But, I do know that at this point in my life, I do not assign blame anywhere else but where it truly belongs: with my parents. I kid, I kid.
A long time ago, when I was letting the whole idea of God and the AA program wash over me like a warm, wet blanket, sans alcohol of course, I figured out that it was me who was doing all the drinking and that it was me who, hidden behind the bad behavior alcohol brings on, was responsible.
Anyway, suffice it to say, it is really all up to me. It’s me who has to deal with everything that has happened in my life. As they say in a lot of the in your face media today, get over it. In that way and that way only, I was a trendsetter.
I share all of this, my life, because it brings me to where I am today. It is my story. It’s not blame, it’s not an excuse, it’s just what it is. It is how I deal with the fact that very soon I will have lungs that will come from someone who died. They made a decision to donate their most precious gift so that people like me might have a second chance at life. That is an awfully inspiring possibility, one that I take seriously.
On the other hand, I could die after my lungs have been scraped out of my chest cavity and before they could get the new ones up and running, so to speak.
Either way, my life will change.
I just want to get as much of my previous life, Chris 1.0, out and in the world so that there is a little bit of me out there in the great beyond that lies out beyond us all.
So enough of this maudlin crap and back to the events at hand or rather in my hand because I tried desperately to catch what was erupting from my mouth in my cupped hands. I sat there, not knowing what to do until Mr. Campbell ushered me quickly and efficiently to the nearest boys’ room, eruption in hand. Eruption dripping.
Burneson was run down, a hand me down school that served as Westlake High School until they built the new WHS sometime back in the late 50’s.
To someone who grew up in Lakewood, this school felt like home. It was rundown, tired but this school, this worn out school had vibrant teachers who were more interested in reaching out to kids than disciplining them.
There was a shop class, but I never remember seeing kids lined up to be swatted. Sure, there was discipline, but it was never meted out with a sense of glee as it was over at that other Junior High.
Back to the story.
I got some puke on me as well. It was all over my shirt. This shirt was a holdover, one of the few shirts that were deemed okay by the fashionnazi’s over at Parkside. At Burneson, it stuck out like a sore thumb because the kids there dressed as kids should dress, comfortably and relaxed so they can focus on learning.
On the way home, I was airing out my shirt by holding it out the window letting it flap in the wind. I looked at this shirt, wide lapels, and huge weirdly shaped designs. It looked like something Greg Brady would wear.
I let it go.
My new two doors down next-door neighbor, Jill, watched me as I watched it flutter off into someone’s front yard and gave a little giggle. We had been riding on that bus for almost two weeks now and this was the first time this tall girl with hip hugging bellbottoms even acknowledged my presence.
I stated, “Fuck it all” really loud, loud enough so that everyone on that bus could hear and settled back in my seat with my hands crossed in front of me.
The summer between eight and ninth grade was a summer of self-reflection. I started to smoke cigarettes; I fell into an unrequited love with Jill that lasted until she got married two years later, met several of her friends, many I still know to this day and just reveled in the peace and quiet of living in a semi-rural area.
It was also the summer I first tried LSD and I started to smoke pot at any given chance. It was, I guess, my summer of love, a summer full of bell-bottoms, army apparel and great music filling the airwaves. It was 1970.
Thus starts the Great Escape portion of our program.
So, ninth-grade comes about. The first time in three years that I knew for sure I wouldn’t be switching schools, that I wouldn’t dread waking up every day, that I could finally set about being me.
Many good things happened to me during that year. I mentioned one that centered around my involvement with the May 4th protest the year after the students fell victim to tired, young guardsmen ordered to patrol fully armed the campus of Kent.
I remember that I was home on the day of the shooting. Or rather, I was with my father who let me stay home from the Gulag known as Parkside. I did have a bit of the crud, coughing up enough gunk to justify the day off.
We were watching TV and my dad was already into his second or third beer. It was just a little after noon. We were watching Wuthering Heights, of all things, on the afternoon movie showing on the local UHF channel. I was grumbling about Heathcliff this, Heathcliff that.
I remember they broke in and reported that the Ohio National Guard had fired on students at Kent State. The bulletin stated that many are feared shot and that there were reports of some fatalities. I remember my father saying, “Good, they should have shot some of these trouble makers long before this…”
I looked at him and could not believe that was coming from his mouth. He had never once before said anything about protesters or anything remotely political. I do remember that he would not let us watch the sitcom Julia because Diane Cannon, a black actress, was the main character. I remember that he said “I didn’t buy a colored TV to watch a N******.”
My dad and I were suddenly and irrevocably on opposite sides of almost every issue of the day. We would not reconcile politically until I had sobered up and had finally graduated college more than fifteen years down the road. It happened soon before he died. Of that I will always be grateful.
I just brought these two incidents up now because they had a profound effect on how I comported myself in High School and beyond. Oh yea, and it was one of those times when the infection that lingered on and on until, exacerbated by a fire, sent me to the hospital with my first case of diagnosed pneumonia.
When I went back to school in September, I had a very good year. I made a lot of friends and some enemies. It was the first time since we moved to Westlake that I felt at home. Hanging with Jill that summer gave me a foot up on school next year.
The first day of ninth grade, I met these two, what I shall call, very beautiful boys. I was far from good looking having the beginnings of acne, black horn rimmed glasses that were missing an arm, and I was chunky. My older brother told me they hung out with me because it made them look better.
I remember they had grabbed me and were dangling me out of a second floor window. Well, I was half in, half out; still, I could very well have fallen to serious injury. They were laughing and giggling about it and I was yelling up a storm. They pulled me in right before the teacher showed up and she looked at me because I was all disheveled.
She asked if anything was wrong. I said “Not a thing, Miss Bayco, not a thing.” There was no way I was going to be labeled a snitch.
They befriended me and despite my brother’s warning, we became good friends that year. One thing was that we three of us were interested in making music. Both played guitar and I plunked at base. And, I thought I could sing. Who wouldn’t think such a thing? After all, I was also a soloist for the choir. but I still let my new friends talk me out of singing with them because they claimed I could not stay on key.
Being that I was in the ninth grade, I let them, not the choir director; dictate how I view my musical ability.
Click here to make up your own mind. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDtXffjM4T8
While we are on the subject of choir, I have to tell this one story. The three of us were in a study hall in the choir room. The two of us who were in the choir would stay on to sing and since we were the best male singers in the class, the choir director, also the acting guard for that particular study hall, gave us a lot of leeway.
We roped Rich Holland (the guy who played Quarterback, the guy who was one of the most special people I have ever met, the guy who never had an unkind word for anyone) and Pat Murphy (a football player) into this scheme that I saw some place on TV or somewhere. The deal was that we would all start arguing about whose was longer. No other detail, just whose was longer.
So we all started in, all five of us. Then we jumped up and started to unbuckle our belts. You should have seen the look on the kids in the class. But, the look on Mrs. Hutton, the teacher, was priceless. When we all whipped off are belts and compared them, the teacher was laughing hard, but she still sent us to the office.
She had too.
It was really a testimonial to the times, and our class, that the five of us were able to stand aside from the stereotypical versions of high school kids. (We were, after all, freshman even though we were stuck at the Junior High.) All three of us had friends across the cliques. It continued into the High School even though one of the two Beautiful Boys moved away in the middle of tenth grade.
But around this time. I started to get a little bit wilder. As I said, we stayed friends well into high school, but I was over the edge, partying every chance I got and defying authority at the drop of a detention slip. So wild that the Assistant Principal at the High School warned me at a varsity basketball game, that he had his eye on me.
Another incident that I was not proud of was when six of us, after a football game, rocked one of the teacher’s Volkswagen so violently that on Monday, he dragged all of us to the principal’s office and offered us either swats or suspension.
In my defense, this was Mr. Campbell, the guy who took me to the boys’ room after I hurled in his class. I liked the guy, I bore him no malice, but the others that I had fallen in with (my two BB’s were not at all involved in this incident) were, for some reason, bent on inflicting damage. It started as fun to me and when it was getting out of hand, I backed off.
Still, Mr. Campbell was right to take me to task.
Junior high was the only time I dated anyone from my class. She was beautiful and I had deep, adolescent feelings for her. But again, I let my two BB talk me out of dating her because she, get this, rode horses and so supposedly smelled like, well, a horse.
I did mention that good things were happening. At Burneson, the teacher who was the advisor for student council sought me out and encouraged me to run. And even though I lost that election, I felt more confident than ever before. I was coming into my own.
My English teacher took me under her wing and pushed me into the Advanced Placement English Class in Tenth Grade. She believed I had some talent. Too bad, it would take a few more decades before I was comfortable enough to actually write and then share what I produced with other people.
The Gym teacher, Lenny Siwick, was one of the best men I ever met in an academic setting. Instead of pitting the all jocks together against everyone else, he put me as a team captain and since he knew I would be picking a lot of the stoners and athletically challenged to be on my team, he started the selection process by putting the two best athletes in the class on my team.
We were dubbed the Mean Green Machine, we were more than competitive, and it was fun for everyone on the team. We won way more than we lost. I actually looked forward to gym class, as did many of my friends.
I will always be thankful to Lee and Armand, two great guys who gave the thrill of winning to a lot of kids who never had a chance to feel what it was like to win. The best part was they let us play, didn’t hog the ball or dominate the game. Just having them on the team was all we needed.
And of course, the school year ended with the big Kent State walk out I wrote about a few posts back.
Burneson was a big, welcome difference from the Stalag known as Parkside. I actually enjoyed going to school for the first time since sixth grade.
Some incidents were disturbing like opening up my locker door one morning to find a skinned rat hanging from the top shelf. I guess someone thought I squealed on someone. I never did, never would. Perhaps it was because I flitted between the cliques.
I was still getting into far too many fights.
It was also the year I started to hitchhike. There was no public transit way out here in exurbia.
There was this teen dance joint out in the next county called Cyrus Erie. Alice Cooper and the Raspberries both played out there before they made it big. My Parkside friend, Bob, and I would hitchhike and hang out and try to dance. We usually made it all the way out in one ride but this time, we were dropped off in front of a real redneck bar.
It was on the corner of Route 83 and Center Ridge, about two miles down from the dance club.
Now both of us were dressed like, well hippies, with bright New Year’s Eve hats, army jackets and laced up boots. This guy comes out of the bar, egged on by his pals standing in the doorway, brandishing a hunting knife about. (What else?)
He starts in to hassling us about cutting our hair and that we must be fags; you know the drill.
I felt threatened, but never once did I feel scared. I guess growing up around alcoholics made me view the incident in a different way. Because there was a knife involved, we went over to the police station to ask for help and they just laughed at us. Still, one of the officers gave us a ride out passed the bar.
Looking back, it was straight out of a Billy Jack movie.
We got away and made it out to the dance hall and that night I met George. A friend that every parent would loath their kid to make. Unfortunately, he swept my other object of affection, Sandy, a friend of Jill’s, off her feet.
George and I got in trouble now and then, but for the most part, we were just out to have a good time. More about him later, a lot more. We lasted as best friends all the way into my second year at Ohio State.
My future was being shaped by the only full year I had at one junior high. It grounded me in a way that made me feel safe enough to actually look forward to high school.
An update; I bit my tongue two more times since the bleeding incident described in the last post. Laurie finally convinced me to call the dentist; He got me in real quick and just took off the sharp edge on the two teeth most responsible for the bites.
I am a new man.