As I get older, I am more and more amazed about the story of how my mom decided to go to Ann Arbor. An unlikely odyssey in 1947 for a single young woman of 23, but one consistent with her independent spirit, well nourished in her own childhood, that started a chain of events that led to my birth. Another thirty-two years later in 1978, I would embark on my own comparable odyssey to Los Angeles, coincidentally at age 23 as well.
At the end of each previous school year, I was jubilant to have survived another “tour of duty” and be liberated, at least for the summer, from society’s schooling requirement imposed on my developmental path. Finally finishing my senior year, there was a measure of that usual relief, along with a sense that somehow the ball was now finally in my court. What to do next was no longer mandated, but up to me. As I walked that big impersonal marble hallway of Pioneer High School for my last time as a student, the nihilism (an ideology that I had learned in my Modern Russian History Class was very different than anarchism) of Alice Cooper’s hit song, “School’s Out”, resonated with every fibre of my being…
Well we got no choice
All the girls and boys
Makin all that noise
Cuz they found new toys
Well we can’t salute ya
Can’t find a flag
If that don’t suit ya
That’s a drag
School’s out for summer
School’s out forever
School’s been blown to pieces
No more pencils
No more books
No more teacher’s dirty looks
Well we got no class
And we got no principles
And we got no innocence
We can’t even think of a word that rhymes
Out for summer
Out till fall
We might not go back at all
School’s out forever
School’s out for summer
School’s out with fever
School’s out completely
And the time will come when you see
we’re all one, and life flows on
within you and without you.
At the moment, Junior Light Opera, the unique youth theater group I had plunged into the midst of, was my main developmental “growing edge”, along with the feminist ideologies I was being exposed to in my extended “family” of my mom’s close female friends (what I now dub my “Feminist Aunts”). In JLO I had become a respected member and part of the leadership circle of the company and had developed and demonstrated my technical skills backstage, behind the lights. I was now about to take the leap of going out on stage, in front of those lights and in front of an audience, waiting for me and my fellow actors to entertain and otherwise engage them.
Again, as in the previous segment of this story, I have changed the names of my friends for their privacy.
The story picks up in November 1970 almost halfway through three years of high school, still recovering from having jilted my first girlfriend (and being too shy to even face her after that), and Smokey Robinson part of my current Greek chorus on the AM radio with his “Tears of a Clown”…
Now if there’s a smile on my face
It’s only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that’s quite a different subject
But don’t let my glad expression
Give you the wrong impression
It reminded me that the persona I was putting out in the world was still mostly smoke and mirrors as well. That admitted, my Junior Light Opera youth theater group was opening up a new world of possibilities for me to define myself as a talented technician rather than just a lovelorn loser.
Just a quick note before we get into this segment… I’ve changed all the names of my friends to protect their privacy.
I returned from my summer in England just a week before school was to start for my junior year of high school, having missed my normal summer activities and been disconnected from my neighborhood friends for those ten weeks I had been gone, but also having undergone a personal transformation from my summer odyssey. I was still a shy kid, but I had a heightened sense of agency from partnering with my mom on our summer adventure in England. I was ready in this school year ahead to play a more active role charting my own course rather than just going with the flow of my school classes and current neighborhood social circle.
An opportunity presented itself in the spring of 1970 when my mom heard from an acquaintance that they had traded houses with a family in Oxford England for the summer, both being big college towns with people always looking to take classes at the other university. So my mom placed an ad in the Oxford University paper and got a reply from a graduate student who was looking to come to the University of Michigan with his wife to attend a special summer program. My mom worked it out with them that we would exchange both our houses and our cars for ten weeks, from the last week of June until late August. We got our passports and my mom managed to find a cheap charter flight for herself, my brother and I from the nearby Detroit airport to Amsterdam in late June returning from London Gatwick airport in late August. She made hotel reservations for our first few days in Amsterdam, until such time as the house was vacant in Oxford.
Continuing from part one, this is part two in my attempt to recollect and record in writing my high school years which were so significant to me developmentally, not so much because of what I did in class, but what I did in my life beyond the schoolroom.
Pioneer high school was a big public high school with over 2000 students, one of two at the time in Ann Arbor, located on the southwest side of town about a mile and a half from my house. It was a sprawling building on an even bigger campus of lawn and parking lots looking more like a high-tech business campus than a typical high school. When I first entered to register for classes the week before school started the main hallway was broad and institutional with what I remember to be a polished formica or marble-like floor, nothing to give the place a sense of a human scale. The school was a string of buildings connected in an L-shape, maybe at least a quarter of a mile from one end to the other.