By the time I hit my Senior year of high school, I just used the classroom as a means to check out, using my desk as my pillow.
At one point, I had loved taking French class. I really did want to learn all of the nuances of a different language. Plus, my mom spoke French, and I was looking forward to having secret conversations with her.
However, at some point, in early September of 1993, fresh into my Senior year, the skeleton bones of the school administration announced, unceremoniously, that we would no longer be referred to as ‘students’. We would now be known as ‘warm bodies’. This was around the time that the cyclone fence went up around the school.
At that time, I was working at Tower Records. It was quickly known that I was the first person that location had ever hired who was younger than 18. I was 16 when I was hired. Even being a retail slave, I had a liberating amount of autonomy. I could dress any way that I wanted, I could be as odd as I was, and I got to take a smoke break every two hours. When lunchtime came around on my shift, I could go and eat whatever I wanted. I worked 5 days a week, usually after school,2pm-10pm, and then on Saturday, 9am-6pm. Sunday was my day off. I spent my work days filing CDs onto CD racks, practicing my 10-key ability, managing credits and collections for the Video Rental portion of Tower, being Accessories Buyer (CD racks and Cassette storage, then incense and CK1), and alphabetizing the porn videos when my boss was particularly irritated with me. Most of my co-workers were in their late 19s to early 20s, with a few man-children thrown in because they simply loved the music.
Again, this was 1993. Grunge was in full swing. And we had a Bass/Ticketmaster kiosk in our store, where I often spent my days selling ‘Phantom’ tickets to picky old ladies who couldn’t decide upon right or left mezzanine. But we also had first pick on tickets. While the fans camped out overnight outside, waiting for first pick on Lollapalooza tickets (which, admittedly, is how I got the job in the first place), we waited an extra two minutes before unlocking the door so that we could have first dibs on any soon-to-be-sold-out tickets. That was how we all ended up seeing Pearl Jam and Rollins Band at the Warfield. And Nirvana at the Cow Palace. And White Zombie and Pantera. But I digress.
Somehow making $4.25 per hour at the time was worth it, because I had autonomy. I had freedom. I could be exactly who I needed to be, whilst making sticky labels for the Lazerdisk section of the store.
But then, there was school, where I was merely a ‘warm body’ to the faculty, and a ‘fucking freak slut’ to the student body. When bullies attacked a vulnerable kid, the teachers just looked the other way and pretended it wasn’t happening. When my boyfriend, in 9th grade, started slapping, berating, and punching me in the middle of the quad, the only person who came to help was a little, short, friend of mine, who came up and bravely told the dude to ‘stop fucking with his friend’. By the time he came up and confronted my boyfriend, dozens of students had come out of their classrooms to see what was going down. Not a single adult intervened.
And then there was English class. I’ve been writing since I could put a pencil to paper. Suddenly I’m stuck for an hour each day in a fucking freezing Portable, while the English teacher/track coach, assigns us to read a fucking CHAPTER of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn over the next TWO WEEKS. What better way can you ruin Mark Twain than by this method? I’ll tell you how. After two weeks, wherein I had completely forgotten the chapter I had read two weeks ago, we all had another grueling week to go over the chapter, line by fucking line, until the brilliance of Mark Twain was whitewashed in the gray water of generic bleach and suburban complacency.
Then there was psychology class, wherein I tried to merely doze on the table, rather than having a full nod-off, because the subject interested me. I would lay my head down on my folded arms, and then simply fling my arm into the air when an interesting question would come up. But that was rare- not for lack of trying on the teacher’s part, I’ll admit. On one occasion, the teacher was talking about mind-body connection, and my attention was piqued because I had just read an article about cancer patients having a better prognosis if they have a more positive attitude and outlook. But then, one particularly insightful student chimed in: ‘Oh yeah, my leg is broken…Oh wait, no it’s not!’ I gave up on the argument and promptly went back to a deep and restful sleep before my work shift at 2:00 pm.
It felt as if the Northern California Suburban Public School System had zero interest in actual education. It was simply made up of a bunch of tired, old non-persons who had finally given up on life and had decided that putting up with bratty teenagers for half a day was worth the paycheck, as long as they could sleep through summer. This fact was made even more crystal clear when one day, I walked into my psychology class to find that my teacher had come down with a serious illness, and our substitute teacher was actually one of my more inept supervisors at…yes…Tower Fucking Records.
So I spent part of a semester listening to this douchebag struggling with the basics of Freud, calling him ‘Mr. Garminder’, and having to ask permission to go pee. And then, at 2:00 pm, he was ‘Craig’ again, and I was saying, ‘Dude, I need a fucking cigarette’ back at the job.
There was a point when I left that suburban teenage wasteland. While signing me out with my well-deserved D+, my newly ambulatory and actual psychology teacher told me, ‘One day, I know I’ll see your name in lights.’ And while taking a break from mauling what was left of Mark Twain on the linoleum floor of that warm-body-ridden school, my English teacher said, ‘You were not meant for the public school system. I wish you the best.’
And when I left and finished off my high-school career at the esteemed Martinez Adult School, I finally felt the freedom to learn. And I read the first curriculum-required book that ever nudged an inspiration and passion in me. The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. I could read it at my own pace, and I loved reading every word of it. I got straight A’s that final semester at Martinez Adult School. And when I graduated, the administrative staff gave me a big hug, and there was a picture of me on the bulletin board for a few years after.
On the day of my graduation, I remember my father rolling his eyes and saying, ‘I can’t believe you’re graduating in a Multi-Use Room.’ But I paid no mind. I wasn’t merely a ‘warm body’, and nobody there would ever allow abuse upon my body, and I was able to really, truly, and fully absorb and enjoy The Grapes of Wrath. And I’ll never forget it.