Sunday, November 23, 2008

teenage wasteland redux

(pic - false memories of idyllic childhood)

Having spent most of my first wave baby boom childhood as a chronic asthmatic whose parents worked at full time jobs in the city, I'd also spent a lot of the average school year home alone. Many people who'd lived at the lake earlier had moved away to the new suburbs meaning I reached puberty in a very quiet and serene environment. Not only was the lake wonderful but behind the house my parents had bought in the late 50's there were hundreds of square miles of undeveloped public parkland. I wandered and dreamed.

In time a September arrived that meant highschool but the closest school had no room for us until the following year when the first expansion would be completed, leaving a number of us to be bussed to a school in a town so out of the way and tiny that I've forgotten the name. I do recall it was in a Quaker farming district and the bus ride was 20 miles along narrow country roads. By the time all the kids on our route had been picked up it was standing room only and the driver routinely stopped the bus to demand we cease screaming, yelling and singing rude songs or he'd leave us to walk home. I learned all the verses to 'North Atlantic Squadron' before I knew what most of them meant.

(pic - how many jock straps does it take to cover a French teacher's desk?)

In classrooms overflowing with 9th graders the staff and our sternly raised Quaker classmates were completely flummoxed by the raucous behavior of 12 busloads of rampant juveniles. I'd made a friend of a girl who lived not far way whose mother had gone to England for a 4 month holiday and since her father worked at night, my parents had agreed to let her come and live with us in the interim. A sister!

The first thing we decided to do was stop going to school. We hated the place so it made sense to us and our excuses for not going got wilder and more theatrical as the months went by. We made bandages for our heads and pretend casts for our supposedly broken arms and legs and waved out the window when the bus stopped to get us. Once we covered ourselves with red pen marks to prove we had a communicable disease. Every so often we'd show up at school with notes for the principal we'd written ourselves but I don't think he cared because it was all too overwhelming for him anyway. We amused ourselves by walking up to the highway and catching the bus to Toronto where we'd spend the days riding the subway and exploring the city - always being sure to be home before my parents. The fun ended the evening my mother found a time stamped subway transfer on our dresser. I won't describe her remarks but my friend moved back home and the following spring the family moved away. We'd missed 93 days at school.

That left my only possible companion being the girl at the opposite end of our little road. We were friends of necessity, thrown together again because of being the same age. She was 6 months older, 6 inches taller and 1 IQ point smarter than me according to a teacher who'd thought it wise to announce everybody's scores to the entire school. Rita and I came out first and second. Yay. Once again both sets of parents made the mistake of believing we were smart enough to be trusted. Hah.

There wasn't much for teenagers to do back then (even worse than now) but there was a movie theater in a town 8 miles south and my dad was willing to drive us there both nights and be available to bring us home later. You'd never see anyone standing outside that theater but amazingly, inside it was always packed

(pic - the original movie madness)

No adults ever went to the Friday and Saturday night shows. There was always a double feature with cartoons and the fabulous 'Coming Attractions' trailers to get everybody pumped up for the following weekend. Not all the 'B' movies were sci-fi but even though those were the best, I'll never forget Steve Reeves as Hercules drinking from the spring of forgetfulness then leaving his demi-god life to become a manwhore for the lusty queen of Lidia. It was very titillating and we were all really ready for that. In fact, in the darkness and considering the hormone levels of the audience, there was always a lot of general titillating going on. Depending on how scary or silly the movie was, or simply because there were so many of us in the same cramped space, there was also shrieking and shouting rising to levels of cacophony that would cause the 'dreaded event'. The movie would stop. The manager, who resembled nobody more than than Mr. Burns from the Simpsons, would march down the side aisle carrying his flashlight and climbed the stairs to the stage. The projectionist would shine a spotlight on him for his usual 5 minute tirade of threats to close the theater and throw us all out. Then he'd slowly march back up the aisle and the movie resumed. So did the noise.

Thus began my transition to adulthood.


  1. What a little gem. I loved the drawings and the story. How lovely to be so trusted and so free. I also think it's kind of wonderful that you got to know how smart you were. I'd have loved to have my smartypants score widely known, so I could have dispeled the myth that pretty is stupid. I would not participate in anything pretty girls usually did--like cheerleading and dating athletes. I was a beatnik. I was an alienated youth. Dark and sullen. I wouldn't go to dances once I was of high shcool age. Boys were mostly boys. I had one friend and he was a guy, but not of the usual sort. He did not try to maul me for starters.

    Sorry about how I have gone on about my own misspent youth. You have set the memories going. maybe I have missed a story here that needs writing. God you're talented. Very evocative.

  2. As always, so beautiful and I ahve to say that your posts are so beautiful in words and in imagery that I always feel a little intimidated and unable to create a comment that fully expresses how beautiful your work is. I adore the French teachers dress and her ooh-la-la! And, how you admit to creating an idyllic images of your childhood and how with your words you share the truth of it. Lovely balance. You are so deeply and profoundly talented.

    I so look forward to a day when I have your book on my coffee table.

  3. So worth the wait. I love your stories, not just for the fabulous writing, but for the color of your life. What a fount of stories you have! I'm so glad you share them with us and then hand us the added gift of your art.

  4. utah - I'm delighted to know you enjoyed it and to know we share some common background. Going back to these chaotic years it's easy to see the humor but there were some painful changes involved in trying to comprehend the real world. Nevertheless, I'm feeling like I have to get some of this stuff out so there's likely to be more soon.

    lbr - What started out last spring as sharing some of the more entertaining anecdotes I've experienced is turning into something a bit deeper. I'm sure you understand and I'm very glad of your praise. The journey continues for all of us but the interpretation is solitary. Yes, a book would be neat but this reality is fine :-)

    dcup - I'm hoping the next story will develop a bit faster. I can already see most of the drawings and that's the hard part. The writing would be way too dry without the pictures and the pictures silly without the writing. I'm stuck.. but I'm trying to improve with the help of writers like you three.

  5. I giggled and sighed and giggled again, all the way through's wonderfully and might I say, pathetically true, on so many levels......we had our freedoms and yet didn't so often....

    the image of the pile of jock straps on the french teacher's desk is priceless! I can just see it even tho my parents finally gave up and sent me to a private catholic girls school...horrors untold!!

    I hope there is more coming soon :D

  6. haha. i love this story. but there is no such thing as false memories. there are only memories. we get to write our own history, so who cares if it's wrong? if i don't think about it, that troublesome pang of guilt leaves me alone until i think about it again. it's minor drama.

  7. Between the 93 days of school missed and the theatrical hijinks, this explains quite a lot. ;-)

    I'm not sure I could pick a favorite story of yours, but this one is certainly up there.

  8. First... and one more time... happy birthday Susan. Thanks for sharing this story. But you know that as the father of two high-schoolers and one middle-schooler, the part about missing 93 days of school has to be redacted before I can let them read this.

  9. linda - Sending me to a Catholic school was never an option for my Church of England parents :-) It was a crazy time everywhere, eh? We had French class right after gym and the teacher was like a cross between Zsa Zsa and Bardot - the boys were impressed.

    sera - Okay then, let's make it streamlined memory instead. I've been making up my own reality for so long that I may start recalling somebody's else's childhood when I get old and senile.

    randal - Believe it or not, it was actually more insane than I was able to tell in one little story. I'm glad you're beginning to understand ;-)

    spartacus - That was one of the most important parts! If it's any consolation, my friend flunked the year so that could be a lesson to your kids.

  10. Wow - I was in awe of the "93 days of school missed" story... We would have loved to do that - but we certainly didn't have the guts. And the description of the theater (and the great illustration) were vivid. I recall similar things, but not as often (we lived even more in the middle of nowhere, and there was not money for things like movies).

    I love reading about your unusual life! And you tell it so well.

  11. Hi Susan.
    Love the drawing and your interesting story as a reminder of crowded school periods at High school and those picture theatres’ that were so much more popular then. For my part I can remember school overflowing with over 50 students per class …….here a few words about it …………..
    Under the watchful eye of a Teacher
    Latin and French or speakeasy history
    With classes overflowing, most over 50
    If you understood fine if not what a pity

    They bubbled along without any direction
    Sports, fights and the cane for correction
    Occasional trips to represent the school
    Mostly it was just playing the fool

    The classes were graded from A to H
    Facts mattered and not much else
    Laboring under the one red sun
    Most of the time it simply wasn’t much fun

  12. steve - I likely would have been a very different person had I grown up in a town or had siblings but that wasn't what happened. There were some memorable events and I'd never have thought to try illustrating them if not for this format. Glad you like the drawings. It means a lot to me.

    lindsay - You caught the essence most succinctly. I recall classes going from A to K but somehow we all thought that was normal. None of us were aware we were the biggest generation ever born until much later.

  13. That was a vivid and funny piece. I'm told--and you can believe this or not--that teenagers still bunk school. I doubt they put the creative effort into it that you and your friends did. Kids today, huh?

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