I felt the profoundest sense of relief when the last bell rang ending the last day of my first year at Tappan Junior High School. All us students spilled out onto the big front lawn on the south side of the school overlooking Stadium boulevard, a part of the school’s campus that seemed rarely used during the school year. We had all been given our yearbooks and the idea was we would all mill around together signing each other’s copies with cute or poignant little memorable comments. One last exercise in social hierarchy. All the cool kids clustered around each other laughing, joking and signing each other’s copies.
Posts Tagged ‘Education’
But stressful challenges were ahead for all of us. Our mom still figuring out her persona now as a single adult woman, “divorcee”, and part of the progressive community that existed around the university. Peter entering third grade still wrestling with his weight issues but emerging as a talented artist.
While the events of the U.S. civil rights movement and the Vietnam War were roiling the larger society, the first big event that I was privy to in our little family’s cataclysm was in early April of 1964 around my ninth birthday, bearing helpless witness to my mom having what later I would learn was a panic attack. I recall that I was in my room and heard her out in the living room pacing the floor and crying haltingly punctuated by gasps for air. When I came into the living room to see what was going on she looked at me with absolute terror in her eyes, “Cooper… I can’t breathe!”, as if somehow she was hoping I could do something about it.
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.
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.