Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Go F*** Yourself" and other happy high school memories

Time to stagger down Memory Lane. Here's another short excerpt from the book I'm writing on growing up in Los Angeles in the 60s. This is from the Fall of 1965.
Football games were usually followed by Friday night dances. I won’t belabor this excruciating exercise. Janis Ian made a nice living writing songs about teenage angst at dances and such. But it was a chance to see how much more fun life would be if I were better looking. Or could dance.

Meanwhile, on the Janis Ian-girl side of things, it must’ve been worse. First off there was now a level playing field. In junior high the early bloomers got attention regardless of looks or personality. But now they all had breasts. Bad skin and braces were no longer overlooked for Double D’s (well, maybe for Double D’s but certainly not B’s.) And decorum dictated that boys had to ask them to dance, not the other way around. So every two-minute song it was another round of rejection.

One night I spotted one of these undesired girls. She was standing by herself in her ill-fitting party dress. She looked heartbreakingly sad. So I approached and asked her to dance. And she told me to go fuck myself. From that day on my Friday nights were spent at home watching TIME TUNNEL.

Taft was no different than any high school. There was the caste system, there were cliques, where you sat in the cafeteria defined your place in the world. Everyone wanted to bang the cheerleaders. “Reputations” were important. If you made out with too many boys you were labeled a slut. Good girls lived in mortal fear of guys bragging (which at that age they all did). One good girl ingeniously got around this problem by sleeping with her brother.

My classes that semester included English Literature taught by a woman who must’ve dated Chaucer. Geometry taught by a very attractive young babe who only had one arm. Chemistry where I was introduced to the magic of the Periodic Table. I think I had history. I don’t remember. Drivers’ Ed (a class I would repeat endlessly as "Traffic School" to clear speeding tickets off my record), P.E., and my elective was “Art Production”. We painted banners and posters for upcoming school events. Imagine getting class credit for tagging!

1965 was really the last year of the 1950’s. We still thought and acted like we were in THE DONNA REED SHOW or OZZIE AND HARRIET. There was an innocence that steadfastly persisted despite pesky flashes of reality – riots, a war, civil unrest, drugs, teen rebellion.

Still you don’t believe, we’re on the Eve of Destruction.

In truth it was more like the Eve of Distraction. At least for me. It was hard enough to focus on my own self-centered little life with all the changes that were about to take place.


Baylink said...

Yup; the next year was the beginning of the 70s. :-)

Have you read Allen Sherman's _The RAPE of the A*P*E*_, Ken?

obbero: the next generation of, well, something....

Tom Parker said...

Ken - Down the road at Birmingham High things were much the same... My dance request was shot down with "You've got to be kidding!" As a soul crushing rejoinder it ranks with "Go F*** Yourself" - just not as clever. Jeepers Creepers and his full slate of monster movies became my dependable companion.

Oh, and bragging never seemed to require actual bagging.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

"Knowledge is Good"

- Emil Faber

YEKIMI said...

After my dance requests were shot down, I just assumed the girls were all lesbians.

SeattleDan said...

As a alum of Birmingham myself, at the same time, I can only echo what Tom Parker said. Happy Days, indeed.

Tim W. said...

"One good girl ingeniously got around this problem by sleeping with her brother. "

I'm sorry, what??? Am I the only one who noticed that you seemed to skim over this part?

Rick said...

Given that the Watts Riots occurred in August 1965 (and even that the Stones released "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" in Spring of 1965), I really think that by Autumn 1965 the end of the innocence had arrived.

For instance, I graduated from W.L.A.'s University High in June 1965 and none of my friends were doing drugs that I was aware of; but marijuana was easily obtainable at UCLA by Fall '65...

Wallis Lane said...

Ken, I'm a fellow Parkman Jr. High and Taft High alum, (though 15 years after you). Cool to see the Taft photo. Classic completely bland LAUSD architecture.

By 1980, the cliquishness had dissipated quite a bit. I wasn't by any means one of the "in crowd" but I had friends who were athletes and cheerleaders and punkers and yuppies, and there wasn't much of a table seating hierarchy. After hearing horror stories from my wife of her Dickensian New Jersey daily hazing at Whatareyoulookingat High, I'm eternally grateful I was born on the more laid back West Coast.

I also took Art Production at Taft, which was a great class for creative goofing off. We used to do "Speed Bannering": stopwatch timed records for dashing down the hall with a ladder, slapping a full-length banner on the second-story elevated walkway, and running back to the art room finish line.

Question for you: Which elementary school did you go to: Oso, Calvert or Serrania?

len dreary said...

Same thing happened to me. The first party I went to I nervously approached two girls and asked if I could join them.
'Go F*** Yourself' or something similar was the reply.
I'd never drunk much alcohol before but that night I hit the bar in a big way and my mom had to carry me out and drive me home.
Girls are evil.

anonymous bosch said...

didn't really have many cliques in english schools.

we get so many american teen movies and shows that its seems to have displaced my actual memories and Inow seem to recall that Iwas the starting QB and banged all the cheerleaders.

and there was all that trouble with the telekinetic girl at the prom.

emily said...

Whenever I'd tell a guy to do that, I'm pretty sure he went home and did it.

Sean D. said...

The 1965 LA high school experience sounds much like the mid/late 80s one in Southern Illinois...basically confirming the theory we had that we were about 20 years behind the east and west coasts.

WV- odise: What is sounds like when you say "Oh, nice" with a head cold.

Mike Bell said...

This is why I never went to my high school dances.

But it DOES remind me of the time I went to this nightclub in Santa Monica just after I turned 21. I was (still am) horribly shy, but my new friend Jack Daniels encouraged me to ask this one woman to dance.

She slowly looked me up and down. Being 5'6", this took no time at all.

"No, you idiot. I'm a lesbian."

"I don't want to f*** you, I just want to dance," I told her.

Remarkably this worked.

Anonymous said...

Dances were pretty much as you describe in the 80s, too. But it was easier to be a girl, I'm guessing.

Todd said...

"1965 was really the last year of the 1950's."

Great line.

According to your Wiki, Ken, you were born in 1950 (on Valentine's Day!). I've often thought this was the perfect year to be born in America - you got the Ozzie & Harriet upbringing, were the perfect age for the Summer of Love, old enough to recognize the 1970's as a fraud, and in good position to take advantage of the Earning Eighties.

Me? I was born in 1960, and was out of phase with all these things.

Particularly painful was having to "come of age" in the 70's, which were just like the 1960's...

...except without all that "moral baggage".

Be thankful, Ken. At least you didn't get rejected accompanied by a disco beat.


estiv said...

I think I had history. I don’t remember.

Either that statement should be taken at face value, or it's the subtlest joke I've seen in years.

Mike M. said...

I went to Cleveland High. We thought of Taft as the rich kids school.

Good to see that rich girls were just as snotty as the poor ones.

WV=graph: WTF? An actual real word you can find in Webster's? What crazy word verification is that?

dav said...

Bob Greene's book "Be True To Your School" is a must-read for us boomers reminiscing about those days in our lives.

AlaskaRay said...

"One good girl ingeniously got around this problem by sleeping with her brother. "

You leave my sister out of this!

Seriously, I went to Grover Cleveland High in Reseda at the same time you were at Taft. It was the redneck school of the valley and most of the girls slept with their bothers and most the guys (at least those in Future Farmers of America which was very big on campus) slept with their sheep. Fun times. Baaaa.


WV: deciblead - that loud, high pitched scream you emit when they jab that needle in your vein to check your cholesterol (also when you get the results).

Alexis Fancher said...

That one-armed math teacher, wasn't she Miss Kurtz? I had her for Algebra at Parkman Jr. High...ah, the good old days.
PS contrary to what you remember, I remember thinking you were cute, funny, and...well, cute and funny will have to suffice.
pps. You should relate the "Helene" story...

By Ken Levine said...


You are too kind. Yes, the "Helene" story is in the book. I will post it one day next week. Names changed so her dad doesn't come after me.

D. McEwan said...

"Todd said...
you were born in 1950 (on Valentine's Day!). I've often thought this was the perfect year to be born in America"

Speaking as someone else born in 1950, I can tell you that, while at one time, say 30 years ago, 1950 was a very good time to have been born, now, not so much. I'm staring 60 right in the face. It's an ugly face.

Oh, and there was that thing about the AIDS crisis hitting just as we hit our 30s, ruining Sexual Freedom just as we hit our prime, not to mention how many of us died. (I'm one of the few gay men my age I know who are still alive.) "Great-Uncle Dougie remembers condomless sex."

And of course, there was Vietnam. Being born in 1950 meant you turned 19 the year that old bastard Nixon instituted the 19-year-olds-first draft. And a lot of guys my age (not me) found out in Vietnam just what a load of crap all that Ozzie & Harriet-Leave It to Beaver stuff was. And a LOT of men my age, my schoolmates, ended up taking dirt naps in Southeast Asia.

Being born in 1950 meant you turned 21 the year they lowered the voting age to 18. (April Fool! You are now old enough to vote, and guess what? So is your little brother, who didn't have to wait like you did.)

But I was amused by your inclusion among the "good things" about being 59 taht we were "in good position to take advantage of the Earning Eighties." Usually that aspect is sited by anti-Boomers as the proof that the values of the 60s were all bogus because "in the 80s you all sold out!"

Anyone who has ever seen my apartment knows that, whatever the hell I did, I did not "sell out," or if I did, I went damned cheap!

Best thing about being a 1950s child was arriving in time to still be able to see living Marx Brothers, and a breathing Buster Keaton, a breathing Charlie Chaplin, and a breathing Walt Disney, not being afraid of black & white movies, seeing Annette Funicello's chest get bigger every year, and going to Disneyland the year it opened. We got to say things like "Did you hear the BRAND NEW Beatles album?" We were 19 when Neal & Buzz landed on the moon, old enough to be thrilled to see DESTINATION MOON come true (and to be really annoyed when nutjobs who weren't even born then INSIST that the moon landings were all faked.), and we were in our 20s, just the right age, when Monty Python hit.

Oh, and we had decades of not-yet-being plagued by cell phones.

But we didn't have in-home video porn. These are the good old days.