I was to show up at school for the first day of junior high (now called middle school) in a blonde bowl cut, ill fitting shirt with an iron on picture I no longer recall (a lion I think..awkward and as cool as math books) , green corduroy slightly bell bottom “toughskin” pants and running shoes. Needless to say, a river of naive hope and a roiling ominous doom ride the above words and the moments to come. I rode on the long yellow bus through the dark mouth of pre sunrise morning full of hope and dread. My life was entering a new world, a new crowd (again), a new thing to fill in, 3 years to move me from childhood toward the seeming castle in a far cloud of high school.
The paper bag I held tight in my hand held a juice drink, a sandwich and a bag of chips. I did not know that this would later save me from at least a few of the falls and disgraces possible in these years to come, among the labyrinth of rising hormones, zits like golf balls, pressures and that one freak storm. These would all come later, now I was just a bad haircut and silly pants on a bus weaving through the suburbs. The seats were all full. Days later they would be full of conversations, friendships blooming around me, bully taunts, music played by the bus driver or boring talk radio, wind through partially opened windows, but now, this first morning, silence ruled all.
The bus wove through the north San Fernando valley to drop off kids at 3 schools, mine last. The silent crowds gradually drained off as the sun slowly crept yellow and orange along the eastern hills, taunting the dark morning with the coming day and afternoon, 6 periods, nutrition, homeroom and lunch. The light soon enough to spill over those hills and alight hierarchies, lockers, rooms, 1000 days to come. The bus spewed its little impotent stinky diesel clouds and whirred and rattled along. I was as alone as life could be. Others surely were as well. The 3 legged pony on my shirt began to itch my chest, my hair did not move even as it did oh so slightly, the bowl cut a cheap magic that way.
The urge to nap was beaten back by the anxiety and that one day in 5th grade that I fell asleep on the bus home…curled up in the back and the driver thought his shift was done, thought it was empty. I woke up at a downtown bus depot with the sun down. That was like earthquakes as a boy, now it seems tiny but so much does in the rear view, contexts shifting away, strangers of past in photos sharing the same birth given name. The bus turned a few corners and anxiety briefly lost. I awoke to the bus rattling into the little ugly street on the Junior high campus with other buses. The sun was cruelly shining now like the summer afternoons , like the sun on the beach a month before , like the happy light surely shining across Disneyland at this moment. It was time.
The campus was the green grass I would soon be “scrubbed” on, the trash cans I would soon be “canned” in. There also was the far off bungalow where in a year a gardening class would be a joke, a breeze and where we would see the kid yell at clocks with a far away look in his eye and the brawl that led to police being called and the one heavy rain from a shard of a hurricane that died 600 miles to the west, the 1 minute downpour soaking the pitiful crops tilled by us goofy lost kids. There was the room as yet a meaningless door and ugly steps that would be that teacher that gave too much extra credit and first said I had potential, an individual potential, something beyond alien, like a homeroom announcement that gravity was ice cream or mountains were old men in a bowling league for giants, absurd.
The first day of Junior High was being lost, being scared, that sack lunch getting crushed in my backpack, my toughskin pants making the friction noise as my chubby , pale legs walked that seemed sure to start brush fires, a siren call to my awkwardness like sonic arrows pointing. Homeroom had the art teacher who played Kraftwerk and Can while we sat bored and lost. She had hair like short velvet, had posters of art I had never heard of: Fluxus, Situationists, Dada..things she never taught when I actually took her art class the next year. Her room seemed impossibly big until everyone sat down, then it was like geometry was a parlor trick, like the ceiling was not so high, those oversize posters and paint cans shrinking.
The first day at lunch was me sitting alone in a corner with my smashed sandwich and chip dust. The juice was a yummy gulp or two intact in a somewhat bent container. The rest was the odd smell of the benches, the weird, birdlike roar of a hundred fractured conversations, the realization that those were not just pigeons but sea gulls dropping liquid paper colored pale poop from above...sea gulls
Why would a bird leave the shore and waves to come here??? Why come to the armpit of the suburbs when you could rest on piers, cruise above froth, snack on leftover snacks on a continent’s edge in cool air? Did they chirp and coo with a slow bro valley accent? Were they leaving later to crap all over a mall while some of us played video games?
I ate my sad little bruised lunch and wished it would rain, hard. The damn sun shown done all bright and almost sickly grinning. The sky was gorgeous as I headed off to p.e and my first bully to make me feel like a ruinous slag heap in ill fitting earth tone shorts. I of course knew none of this. I got changed with all the other kids and headed to the gaping unknown of old men with whistles, hot asphalt and the amazement that some kids had mustaches already, something godly at the time, a kind of commerce of age that in 3 years would be like the twilight zone episode when gold was devalued as everyone had it. I walked on in my upside salad bowl hair and into a hard shove. The kid was arrested a few years later for a serious crime, but here, like the rest of us little awkward boy-men , he only some vague potential.
The shove came from around a blind corner. He was a tall, coat hanger thin kid but he had a mustache. He had that. He threw me to the ground hard. He stepped on my clean white shirt with the school name in a horrible font and logo, his shoe tread instantly marking the clean slate of that shirt and the 3 years to come. I had a limp. I still do but I would a year later practice a false cadence, another’s walk to at least reduce the taunts, the beatings, the rage of damaged idiots, the judgements of me as so other, so less than. His foot was like the first light drops of a still offshore but approaching storm, the true downpours away but the process beginning. Some kids laughed. Some told him to punch my teeth out. One face in the gathering crowd looked sympathetic for a bit but this withered when my first bully briefly turned his gaze toward him.
The bully spit on my bowl cut hair to gales of laughter. I wanted to disappear. The bully made fun of my name. Waves of chuckles roiled through the yard. I wanted each atom and molecule of me to flee like so many gnats. He kicked me in the chest hard with a big mustache bending smile. I wanted to die, just be in a grave and away. My mom was growing ill. My brother had a girlfriend again and I was surely too awkward to even have a date, let alone love or holding hands. I was chubby, pimpled, mildy handicapped, scars up my right leg, no calf muscle there either, the limp was already being imitated again.
The day would go on without incident, dull, another class, bus ride home. The sun shone beach gleam golden bright the whole way, bastard.