This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

#85. “Everybody Hurts” – R.E.M.

Our six-minute dinner theater performance of Pyramus and Thisbe did not require intense rehearsal, and once that show was performed, there was no reason to go to drama class at all. My duties as a teacher’s aide were rapidly becoming non-existent, and we still had an open-campus lunch. It was the onset of “senior-itis,” so if you went looking for the Holy Bee in the halls of his high school between the hours of about 10:30 to 1:00 that spring, you would not find him. I was usually in the company of Jeff McKinney (who played “Lion” in P&T), loitering in some of Yuba City’s finer fast food establishments, or simply cruising around town aimlessly, looking for targets for our Super Soakers. Squirt guns were quite a fad the last few weeks of senior year. Everyone had a Super Soaker under his car seat, and a smaller “piece” in his backpack. Sadly, this silliness would never be tolerated at a post-Coumbine high school.

I had a definite feeling of closing shop, putting up the shutters, and taking in my shingle. I received my letter of acceptance to CSU Chico (the only university to which I bothered to apply), but decided – in the Great Holy Bee Tradition – to follow the path of least resistance and put some time in at the local community college for awhile.

I was spending most of my free time with Emily (my senior prom was out of the question, as she had already graduated and would not countenance a return to a high school function), but I was also gravitating toward more eccentric, off-beat characters like McKinney, whose every word was intended to entertain, confuse, or shock. My kind of guy. I was also having more and more conversations with a quiet, long-haired bass player named Allen Maxwell, whom I’d met in English class junior year. Consequently, I was spending less time with some of the old friends like Jeff O. and Eric. We were like foxhole buddies, fighting down in the high school trenches, but as the shooting stopped and the smoke cleared, we realized we didn’t really have all that much in common. They wanted to watch baseball and Faces of Death, I wanted to watch the Marx Brothers and Fawlty Towers. To their credit, they laughed their asses off at Duck Soup, but I don’t think I made them lifelong fans. They were on the tennis and cross-country teams, I was in drama. We didn’t split up and go our separate ways right then (community college, remember?), but there was a definite elegiac feeling in the air. Friendships would never be the same, and we were all very conscious of it. Joy at our impending graduation was tempered with a good deal of melancholy. (Not “Everybody Hurts”-level melancholy, but you fit things where you can.)

#86. “Creep”
– Stone Temple Pilots
At some point in early May, I sat in an almost-empty classroom, facing the entire Student Council. I felt like a Supreme Court nominee being raked over the coals by fat-cat Senators. But no, I was merely interviewing for the position of Director of the Senior Showcase, the big Class of ‘93 talent show. It was the most ambitious thing I ever did in high school, and it came in the last four weeks.

The Student Council decided to choose the top two applicants as “co-directors.” I would be sharing the task with Tricia H., my co-star from Dracula who played my wife (as unenviable a position in fiction as it was in fact – she can be seen sitting next to me in the picture in the previous entry.) Far from being disappointed, I was ecstatic. Less work, and someone to share the blame if things went terribly, terribly awry. Tricia was a tough, sharp girl who used stay in character backstage at Dracula – but that character was “Long Island Lolita” Amy Fisher, who was dominating the headlines at the time. She would rant and curse at us all in a broad Noo Yawk accent (“I’m stayin’ wit’ Joey forevah, muthafuckah! Donchoo try’n stawp meeeeeee…!”) right up until she made her entrance onstage, when she would switch to the plummy British tones of Mina Harker without batting an eye.

McKinney also found himself involved. I don’t know if he tried out for director, but he ended up attaching himself to the show as “producer,” meaning he ran the soundboard, ran errands, and ran his mouth.

There was a time when the Senior Showcase was the “Senior Follies,” a much more freewheeling and bawdy night of “adult” entertainment. I’ve seen the videotapes from some of my friends’ older siblings with my own eyes, or I never would have believed what they got away with. Then as now, high schoolers never met a gay joke they didn’t like, and hammer into the ground ad nauseum. That sort of thing was considered good clean fun in the 1980s in the same way minstrel shows were considered harmless in the 1880s. While I wouldn’t have gone down that road, I did wish that our show could have had a little more comedic bite. By the early 90’s, things were safe and sanitized. Our edgiest sketch was the a re-hash of Robert Townsend’s “Farters Anonymous” – bowlderized into “Flatulators Anonymous.” Since the comedy element had been de-fanged, the Showcase was more of a musical recital, and didn’t require much in the way of “direction.” Just some minor blocking, some editing for time, and arranging the sound and light cues.

We decided to set the dangerous precedent of running the show without an M.C. With the judicious and well-timed use of stage curtains, an act could be performing downstage while another prepared upstage, and the show would flow like a stream of consciousness. After two weeks of meticulous rehearsals…it wasn’t close to working. Oh, well. We figured the Show Business gods would smile upon us, and the adrenaline of opening night would cause the whole thing to miraculously pull together.

It didn’t. And I wasn’t there to see it.

I was busy failing my Algebra 2 final out at my Yuba College night class on opening night. Tricia and McKinney did their best, but it was a clusterfuck. Again, oh well. Opening night was just a glorified dress rehearsal, anyway. Night two, Friday night, was when we’d have a packed house. During a tense huddle fifteen minutes before showtime on night two, we decided it just wouldn’t work without an M.C. The task fell to me. I felt very show-bizzy as I stood backstage in the last five minutes before curtain, sweating profusely and furiously thinking up what I hoped were funny remarks. The curtain went up, I did my best David Letterman saunter into the spotlight, and the glitches began. Luckily, I had McKinney to abuse. I hollered at him down in the tech pit from the stage, even when it wasn’t his fault (which wasn’t often), and he hollered back at me, and we turned it into a desperate little time-filling routine that just barely kept things on the rails.

The comedy sketches were a shambles, filled with inside jokes that only the performers got (I tried to cut as many of those as possible during rehearsals, but they sneaked them back in). Musically, we fared a little better. Allen’s band, Pink Viking, had played in the quad at lunchtime several times that year, and they were the Showcase highlight, offering an instrumental “Dazed and Confused” and Allen on vocals for ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.”

The show closed with a so-called “Class of ’93” slideshow, which featured the same ten or twelve people in each picture. I loudly pointed that fact out to the audience as the show came to a welcome end. I can’t remember much of my own performance from the haze of that night, except that it was deemed adequate, and the second (and mercifully last) night of Senior Showcase 1993 was put in the books as a success. I would never put myself forward or volunteer to do anything again. Ever.

Allen mentioned Pink Viking in the same breath as the Rolling Stones, and joined the chorus of Stone Temple Pilot-haters when he signed my yearbook a week later. He directed his ire regarding to STP to mutual acquaintance Ryan S. for reasons lost to the mists of time.  I don’t recall Ryan being any kind of advocate for STP at any point.

#87. “My Name Is Mud” – Primus
The buses rolled out of the parking lot as dawn broke on one of my last days as a high school student. The destination? Great America. The event? Senior Class Trip. We convinced the bus driver to switch the radio station to KWOD, and we were soon treated to this bizarre (even for them) single from Primus. One of the few songs with no melody to speak of that I like. Les Claypool’s bass, always a prominent instrument in Primus, here takes over the whole show – not with the fluid virtuosity he’s certainly capable of, but with a super-amplified pounding reminiscent of someone playing a pneumatic drill.

It’s not exactly “Sweet Caroline” in terms of sing-alongability, and soon the bus driver switched back to a generic programmer station (“the best of yesterday’s hits, and today’s!”), and a singalong did break out. In one of those moments that was possible when “classic rock” still had deep cultural penetration – I don’t think the same thing could happen today – an entire busload of high school seniors sang along with The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”

As we closed in on our destination, there were more and more billboards for Great America. Soon there were road signs – “Great America, Next 2 Exits” – and the like. Every time we passed one of those harbingers of good times to come, Allen would pipe up in his best Clark Griswold voice: “Waaaaahlley Wuh-hurrrrrld!!”

Unlike Walley World, Great America was open for business. There were many other high schools there that day, and all wearing official school t-shirts showing off their awesome mascots. The park was overrun with Lions, Falcons, Wildcats, etc. The YCHS t-shirts aroused a lot of curiosity, emblazoned as they were with the legend “Home of the Honkers.” I heard “What the fuck is a Honker?” at least twenty times before noon. (For the record, a honker is a Canada goose, and the home of a honker is, I would imagine, an enormous, feces-encrusted nest. Gotta be proud.) It was chilly, overcast and spitting rain, so naturally we gravitated to the water rides like Rip Roaring Rapids. It turned out to be the first of two Really Bad Ideas that day. Really Bad Idea #2 was eating an ungodly amount of Dippin’ Dots on a dare. As we rode the bus home, and I sat shivering in the early stages of hypothermia with my stomach roiling and fighting against ejecting a pound and a half of partially digested Dippin’ Dots against the back of the seat in front of me, I decided to take a break from Really Bad Ideas for awhile. (Don’t worry, the break wasn’t permanent, as you’ll see in future entries.)

#88. “Numb” – U2
My big drama of graduation week was whether or not I would graduate as a member of the California Scholastic Federation, and get to wear the tiny gold pin on my graduation gown, and the gold braid around my shoulders, all of which indicated I was a member of the elite super-smarties. Most students got theirs at the big Awards Night back in May, but it was all hanging on one grade for me. If my spring AP English grade was an A-, I was in CSF. A B+ would put me out of the running. Old Man Wemple was a notoriously slow grader. I imagined him sitting in his cramped office in a wing-backed chair poring over my final exam with quill in hand, as stacks of paper threatened to topple over and kill him. He turned in his final grades at the last possible moment…and I was in! I received my pin and braid not onstage with my peers at Awards Night, but standing awkwardly alone in the principal’s office on graduation morning.

So let that be a lesson, kiddies. You never know when a slight amount of slacking off will bite you in the ass down the road. If I had done slightly better in any class, I would have had CSF locked up on schedule. (I did not leave the empty-handed on Awards Night, though. I got my certificate for scoring high on the California History Exam. It read “To Ma Isenhower, for Outstanding Achievement in History.” It’s a good thing it was the end of school, or I’d be “Ma Isenhower” to everybody from then on.)

Graduation itself was a blur. Rehearsals, standing around in the hot sun (the unseasonable overcast that had dominated the week had burned off that morning.) Practicing walking into the football stadium and sitting down, walking in and sitting down, walking in and sitting down. Then the real deal in the evening. Entering the stadium two by two. Boys in brown gowns, girls in gold. (A goddam goose for a mascot, and excrement for school colors. Fantastic.) I’m in the first row. Sitting. Speeches. More sitting. A litany of names, then my name. Go up, get my empty diploma case (to be filled upon return of the gown). More sitting. More names.

Then the best moment – the cap toss. Remember that one, gang? Take a minute to recollect how you felt.

This Used To Be Me: Front Row Joe, with CSF braid.

Grad Night was held at the fairgrounds. I ignored the velcro wall and sumo wrestling suits and went straight for the casino. I had heard the prizes included Wherehouse gift certificates, and I was going to get as many of them as I could. I was truly a Man Possessed, focusing intently on card-playing in a way that I never would in my adult years in Reno and Tahoe. I won hand after hand of blackjack, and as soon as I accumulated the necessary chips, I headed straight for the cash-in window, then back to the tables to start the process again. The gift certificates ran out just in time for the 4:00 a.m pancake breakfast, and after eating my fill, I headed groggily out into the still pitch-black morning, about sixty dollars in Wherehouse money in my pocket.

“Numb” was the big single that week, an advance taste of the Zooropa album that would come out in July. Featuring monotone vocals from The Edge over a looped, industrial-style backing, it was an interesting change of pace for U2. It was certainly a pleasant numbness I felt when I drifted off to sleep as the sun came up. The end of a lot of good times, but the start of even more (I hoped.) Endless possibilities.

1 Comment

Filed under Music -- 1990s, This Used To Be My Playground

One response to “This Used To Be My Playground, Part 10: Cashing In My High School Chips

  1. Pingback: This Used To Be My Playground, Part 21: Take A Bow | Holy Bee of Ephesus

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