This is all Lloyd Johnson and Gordon Hamachi’s fault. They started bugging me about going to the 50th anniversary of our graduation from Edgewood High School in West Covina, California. I can’t make it. My life is too complicated, my writing career keeps taking new turns, demanding more of me, and I’m trying to get my new novel published. Then these guys mention high school, and these memories come back . . .
I didn’t enjoy high school.
I was told it would be better than grade and intermediate, but the first thing the art teacher did was recite a list of things that he didn’t allow, and one of them was cartooning. He didn’t mention science fiction, but disapproved whenever I would go in that direction.
I decided to hell with their art classes and their white middle class Mother’s Day art show.
After reading in Analog that John W. Campbell thought that journalism was good experience for a science fiction writer, I took the intro class. I learned a few things and got my first taste of working on a publication, but the idea of spending the next four years writing inverted pyramid stories about the chosen few –AKA the “popular” kids–made me want to puke.
So, I decided to put up with it because I was required by law to be there. Like Ray Bradbury, Frank Zappa, and my dad, I went to the public library and to self-educate. By the time my senior year came around, I was into all kinds of weird, wonderful shit.
I needed another class. “Hey,” my counselor said, “you qualify to be on the school paper!” Since I could get an A with minimum effort, I went for it.
The guy who was a cartoonist had graduated, so I found myself in a position where I could commit shameless acts of surrealism and get them published. Nobody seemed to understand, or approve.
Once a girl, impressed by my dimples and height, asked, “Are you on the football team?”
“No,” I said, “I’m the cartoonist on the newspaper.”
The spark left her eyes. “Uh. I suppose you have to do something.”
I’d also amuse myself by writing and drawing stuff on the chalkboard that was also used as a way for the staff to communicate, modems being just a rumor at the time. The teacher/supervisor, who I never saw much of, came up to me and said, “Please stop putting all that stuff on the chalkboard. All these weird people are coming to me and asking if they can be on the paper.”
We could have had the most far-out high school paper ever, but as usual society got in our way.
Then it came time for the Odyssey, an addendum to the yearbook, called so because the paper was the Iliad, our team was the Trojans, after, I assume, the inhabitants of Troy, not an endorsement of the brand of condoms.
Students were encouraged/invited to contribute to the Odyssey. I did a bunch of skinny cartoons in the margins, inspired by Sergio Aragones in Mad Magazine, and a dumb science fiction story in which the narrator mentions, but does not say, a four-letter word. Being a smartass, in the manuscript I put an asterisk and a footnote saying, “The word was shit.”
There was supposed to be a centerfold of a panoramic photo of the entire class. They marched us out, lined us up, and this being 1973, the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration, and the counterculture were crashing and burning and we were all feeling rowdy. That and the photographer was mad because we weren’t being perfect ladies and gentlemen. Then, spontaneously, we did our one collective act: we raised our middle fingers and flipped him off. If he had any guts he would have taken that shot. I would have paid for that class picture!
With nothing for the centerfold, I was called upon to draw a cartoon. They asked me to do caricatures of the popular kids. Instead I drew a line up of blank, human shaped cut-outs, saying some silly stuff. They didn’t like it but used it because they had to go to print.
I overheard a teacher and a student complaining about a problem with the Odyssey. Something was going to have to be physically cut out. I thought nothing of it.
On the day of the graduation, they passed out the Odyssey. To my delight, the problem that had to be cut was my story. Someone–unbeknownst to me–had typed, and pasted the footnote in.
And it got printed! And cut out!
I ran around, waving a copy, shouting, “The word was shit!”
Society had broken down. I was free. I graduated, confident that I could do anything.