Friday, January 8, 2010

The World Takes on Color at 13

The summer of 1965 to me was huge with anticipation. And it was the last summer of adolescence in some ways, for me at least. There I was, some dufus kid graduated from Stonybrook and I had the summer to more or less fluff off or whatever kids were suppose to do.

So I went fishing—by myself. I’d take out our rowboat and bring along my prized farmer’s alarm clock to mark time and make sure I docked in time to catch the ride back home from my father. I think the clock scared the fish. I never caught anything but that pre-dusk stillness. I caught that every time. A few plops of fish coming to the surface, the echo of a few kids left on the beach, the arc of the sun and the oddly bright shadows it left on the rocks on the then uninhabited side of the lake. Then home and down in the cool damp basement feeling a little creaky from the day, playing solitaire, watching TV, eating potato chips. The teen castle of HIGH SCHOOL was going to be there in September and we 7th Graders had better be ready!! How? Who new?

So I hung out with a kid named John that summer—he lived across the street from me. Man could that family eat! His father was always accusing him of taking “those stupid pills” whenever they were doing yardwork.

He and I went camping in August, actually only a few hundred yards into the woods behind his house and he brought pancake batter. Somehow we managed to get leaves in it and it was a hell of a wait before it was light enough to have an excuse to fix breakfast, but no matter. They were some funky pancakes.

I had a crush on someone that summer—big time. I finally sent her a letter in August. And she wrote back!! Now I knew September was going to be BIG!

Well, I had to have some cool clothes if I was going to make the scene on that first day. I found a red turtleneck sweater, the height of coolness, at Levine’s, and black chinos. I was ready! I was terrified!

The summer flew by. Some kind of innocence, early geekhood, that was all about to end.

Then, there it was, that first day of school. Donning my red turtleneck and my chinos I reported to Homeroom 322. The upperclassmen were so BIG. So we, the 322 group of little weasels, sat there that first morning, wondering what life would be like. In came in T. Hoyt Walker. Wow. He got our attention by speaking in as quiet a tone of voice as he could. “My name is Mr. Walker. . .” He wasn’t like the Stonybrook teachers. He was weird. So, bells would ring and we would fly all over the place to get to the next class and those big high school folks would be walking the same halls, looking down at us from their incredible six or more feet. If you ran into Big Fred in the hall, you ran into something! Man!

A few weeks into the year an eighth grader approached me, Bob, saying he was forming a band that would play the 7th-8th grade dance in October and he heard I played drums. Well, sure I was interested. He played rhythm guitar, Bill was on lead, then a bunch of other neighbors were trying to play but eventually got embarrassed and never showed up. So I looked in the dictionary for a name. Found one that everybody liked—we were the Aztecs. Our song list then had stuff by the Ventures, the Beatles, Stones and the Beau Brummels, and we practiced hard. My drum set was half-Slingerland, half-Ludwig and came from around 1955, or earlier, I guess. I bought it at Robbie’s Music Hall in sixth grade and I remember looking at the Beatles album cover Something New to figure out how to set it up—like Ringo did! It was my favorite thing from then, no doubt. We were slated to play the dance in the cafeteria—a place of much importance for all of us from 7th to 12th grade. There was that little stage and that’s where we set up to play. Whew what a rush it was playing that first October dance. Cal, the upper-classman old guy who had a column in the Trends newspaper on local bands was the DJ during intermission. One of the first records he played was “Turn Turn Turn” by the Byrds and it flabbergasted me! I had never heard anything like it before. Or after.

We played the Christmas dance and by then we had added Blaine and Jeff on vocals (sort of like a Righteous Brothers deal) and Scott on third guitar (nobody knew how to play bass then!). Well that one was in the cafeteria too. We started wearing velour shirts with the zip down collar and we thought that was cool.

And right around then I was amazed to find that I had a girlfriend! Not the one I had a crush on five months before—instead someone I didn’t even know until high school.

Well we added Bill II and Lee to the group, started sounding pretty good, and played a couple of dances in the gym. By the end of the year, it was all over. To me, everything after was anti-climax. I was in several really good bands afterwards and yeah, we played the cafeteria dances—one with Rick and Steve, one with Bob and Jeff, one with Lee and Jeff. Oh yeah, then there was that last one, Orchard—Chris, are you reading this???—but we played the gym three times that last year, no cafeteria.

And our semi-final act as the class of ’71 was the Senior Breakfast in the cafe. I remember looking around at all of us, astonished that this was the end. We had traveled so far as a class since that first day in 7th grade, taken our stupid pills (or not), had our romantic intrigues, learned something (not a lot for me—I think I learned more outside of high school in my spare time than I did in school, in retrospect), grown several inches taller, eaten copious quantities of cafeteria food, changed into scores of different outfits over the years, and the Beatles had already made their final album. It was all over.

Still, that first year, 1965-66 was the year I won’t forget quickly. They say the first time is the best. That was the first time for me. The first time for just about everything.

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