The biggest problem I’ve had with growing up, is realizing how much of what I thought was normal isn’t. My first Christmas with my wife’s family; reunions; relationships; bullying. I had lived half my life under one impression of how things were supposed to be, only to – still – be learning individual experiences may vary.
I believe it was my ninth grade year that I left my Walkman in the car on the way to school. Emmanuel Baptist Academy was part of neighboring school district, but not their transit system. So, a suburban would show up at my house every day and drive me to the district limits. From there, I’d carpool with one of the school’s educators, as pastor from a nearby church.
And yes, I had a cassette player. I’d had a mixtape of Alanis Morisette – not the big, famous ones: lesser tracks like ‘Not the Doctor’, and ‘The Couch.’ This was around the time my teen angst phase (all eleven months of it) was fizzling out.
The fact that I was listening to Alanis like a honey badger is surprisingly tame, given my music exposure in the six months I’d been at that school. Within three days, one student leant me her CD of Sublime, which I popped in my SegaCD, rerouted the audio from my TV into my boombox recorder head, and dubbed to cassette. This would be done for my first real exposure to Nirvana, with their unplugged MTV session. To this point, I already had a good classic rock exposure, having built up my eight-track collection of Deep Purple, Led Zepplin, David Bowie, Beatles, and Pink Floyd.
Yes. Eight-tracks were outdated even by my era. That was why I thought it was so asinine and wonderful. I would frequently find obsolete equipment and juryrig it into other components simply to make one central piece that worked like a newer item. Take this: I had a speaker, a milk crate, cassette deck, handful of wires, and a chord organ that made no noise. I affixed the speaker to the milk crate, rigged up the chord organ’s speaker rotors above that, and wired the main board of the cassette recorder and such through the crate. Voila: Boombox. Pretty effing good one, too. I even sprayed it in silver glitter spray paint.
I was such a renegade graffiti artist.
It was the end of my first week at that school when I was introduced to Marilyn Manson. The irony will never elude me: outside of the school, I didn’t know who the hell this guy was; Once I go to a Baptist academy, I realize this guy is the demagogue of their underground couture. Yet, after of all that, I get busted with Alanis Morissette.
The lecture was priceless. I was pulled out of my science class (learning how man developed brass and iron over 12,000 years…), and was set in the principal’s office. I was then forced to go through how secular music would inhibit more moral capabilities, blah blah blah. The youngest teacher in the school was brought in to tell me how he really liked U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’, because it had such an uplifting message, and this Alanis woman had nothing more desirous than to bring down the very nature of Christianity.
At least he was half-right. Two things: ‘Joshua Tree’ was not an inspirational album. Matter of fact, by ’98, it was barely a relevant album. Most of the album is spent remarking how amazed they were with how oblivious Americans are. Second: this is a phenomenal ‘Pop’ pastoral technique: Talk to the ‘kids’ about things like ‘The Matrix’ and ‘U2’ and their ‘Led Zepplin’ like you understand them. Once you have that relatable hook, try to persuade them to see your vantage. I’m not going to say coerce, because a strong enough mind can resist it, but, well… the thought’s there.
They keep my cassette, calling my mother in for a talk about it. In the car on the way home, she pops it in the car stereo before she says a word. Five minutes later, she’s laughing over how stupid they were and stops for pizza.
This was, of course, because she had heard me playing the other music I’d brought home. I was their effigy; their burning man. They were smoking out the wrong rat.
Speaking of which: this was the first school I ever smoked inside of. Remember how small I said it was? I mean, we’re barely talking 2200 square feet. One bathroom for each sex from end to end. And one afternoon, on a very long day, I wanted nothing more than a cigarette, and, was offered a lit one right there in the bathroom. Keeping in mind, despite being transferred, my smoking habit stayed with me until I was around twenty.
The summer preceding this – and I think what caused all the drama – there was a magnificent party. It was in the middle of Dundee or Wayne, New York, and there was so much noise. I had never heard of Rage Against the Machine before that night, and it would forever cull up memories of teenagers etching crude tattoos of a giant salmon one another’s leg. There was an enormous trampling, which I would use to simultaneously break three toes and another girl’s nose. Late in the evening, why, even the Pastor from the school showed up.
Let me tell you the shitstorm that caused. We were mostly supervised, but he still barged right into the house of the kid’s parents like he owned the place. As he was not invited in, they turned a shotgun on him. He demanded to know who was responsible for the eternal souls of all those impressionable youths. We heard the shotgun prime, and he was in his car five seconds later peeling away.
This did not go – it would seem – to his plan. The start of my ninth grade year, new forms were sent home, giving the Pastor the right to inspect a student’s home and to make it his personal right to follow up on their moral upbringing. Inside my home, this created a hurricane of Floridian proportions in protest. Ultimately, unless she transferred me back to public school, she relegated against sending me back to public school.
So, I was the first man on fire for the sake of their enforcement. Secular music, unkempt hair, and I was allowed to watch ‘R’ rated movies, why- I was a right proper malcontent. I tried to keep up a better presentation after that – joining the basketball team, and the soccer team.
And then, one lovely spring afternoon, they walked in on me and my girlfriend snogging. Oh, I tried to come up with some stupid ass story, but, I was wearing her lipstick, so that went out the window. Fortunately, I was a ‘problem’ case, so she wasn’t penalized. I was suspended for three days. I wrote a quick ‘note’ on the grease board before leaving. That night, my mother received a call about it, and was informed I’d be suspended into the next week. She found the whole thing hilarious, and was proud of her genius little boy. The message?-
Albeit reticent, do understand my behavior shouldn’t have interrupted this school.
Do you see it?- the little hidden bits? I guess they were actually feeling sorry for me, until they realized it read ‘Dear Dumb Shits. Sorry. Chris’. If I was a renegade kid, I did so intelligently, at least.
Much this past week, I learned a lot in those weeks off from school. Hell, I did a lot. I painted a house one time. Another, I created a wall-mounted turntable out of an old, broken RCA turntable- got it working and everything. At one point, I sat in a rocking chair in my room for seven hours as I beat Wario Land on the VirtualBoy, while I had the contraption literally belted onto my face, with the audio wired out into giant speakers that I kicked over to face me. Seven hours, folks. My eyes were like a monitor with image retention issues for two days after that.
I also learned a lot about manipulating DOS and windows 95 – a skill that would get me suspended again. In Rome, I used a school terminal daily. I had created my own Admin account, reserved and encrypted a chunk of the drive for personal use. I frequently would use their internet to hunt down nude pictures in a 16-bit greyscale. I’d print them out, and use them as references for my drawing. Seriously, too. They actually creeped me out a bit: most of the models were posed in a manner that translated well to my drawings, but were so vacuous that it was art for me, and not anything else. To make sure I didn’t lose track of the image files, I’d save them into my space on the networked drive.
So, fun story: the school converted over to a purely electronic grading system in my junior year. They actually created and established this lovely IT department. One day while poking around (alright, bombarding), I made it into the school records and may or may not have manipulated roughly a dozen records for myself and close friends. They saw the user access, and followed it through a remote spoof looped out of Australia. In tracing it, they found the fault inside the school’s IP, and on checking the complete student space for the breach (which they never did find), they found my lovely little hideaway. No one to nail the hack on, but I was suspended for violating the network’s TOS (terms of service). As far as the rest, all I have to say is: I passed Algebra finally.
What’s the great takeaway here? We all have our own little drummer, and we all think ours has the best beat. Don’t be afraid to hear someone else’s song, but don’t be afraid to fall in line with your own. After all, no one will ever be able to dance to your song the way that you do.