29. CATHERINE BLAINE JUNIOR HIGH 1967, part I
It was decided that I would enter public school in the eighth grade. I suspected my parents had heard some of the rumors of abuse but just as likely they were hoping I’d achieve better grades than I was getting at St. Margaret’s. I was tired of being teased about my name and decided to register under my first name, Victor, rather than be taunted with Broom or Bromo Seltzer like the bullies had called me.
I was happy to get out of the Catholic uniform I had been forced to wear and took to thrift shops in search of clothes that might distinguish me from my new classmates. Army and Navy surplus stores also offered cheap alternatives. The hippie counter-culture had begun and my older brother William was already wearing cowboy shirts, tapered pants and pointy shoes that offered no protection from the elements but looked groovy.
I found a three-toned pair of suede golf shoes that I thought looked great but my mom wouldn’t let me wear them to school. Nor we she let me put on my blue work shirt with a pinstriped vest over it. I took to hiding the clothes I wanted to wear in the garage at night and switched into them after leaving the house for school.
In homeroom I started meeting other students whose names began with W. Joe Webbon became a close friend in short order. He was articulate, had political interests and his parents had let him grow his hair longer than most of the other kids. He had submitted an article he wrote about school policies to The Pioneer, the student paper, that had enraged the principal and he had been threatened with expulsion. “I’m going to publish it myself then”, he declared boldly. He asked me if I would write an article for the underground paper that he was planning. “We’ll call it the Blaine Barb, after the Berkeley Barb”, he said. I hadn’t a clue about the Berkeley Barb but had seen a copy of Seattle’s underground paper, The Helix, and was impressed by the radical tone and creative format.
The “Summer of Love”, was being planned in San Francisco with a follow-up event, “Death of Hippie”, as a protest action to decry the commercialization of the counter-culture and issue a call for dispersal from San Francisco into communes and cities around the country. There was a general fear that hoards of unshaven, drug-addicted young people would descend on Seattle and the Northwest and this seemed a worthy subject to write an article about. The Vietnam War was escalating but I had little to worry about. I had only just turned fourteen and wouldn’t be eligible for the draft for years. I researched my subject, added references to the music trends I knew of and felt like I had composed a thoughtful article. Joe loved it. “That’s perfect”, he had exclaimed. He asked a couple other friends to submit articles and soon had enough material for a four-fold publication.
I probably should have proofread Joe’s article. Even the title was bound to create controversy. I had titled my article “Fringie Freakout”, after the Mothers of Invention debut album of the year before. Joe titled his long article, “The Hypocrisy of Blaine Junior High”. Joe started asking me for money to get the paper printed and I’d given him what I could. He was single-minded and soon had over fifty copies printed. We had put a fair amount of effort and I was proud to show my parents but did not get the reaction I’d expected. “Your article’s fine”, stated my mother, “But Joe’s is going to make some people angry.
The next day I noticed Joe wasn’t in homeroom and I had a note waiting for me. The vice principal had demanded that I come to his office at once. I expected to be given a chance to explain my actions and planned on asserting my rights but my defense would not receive a hearing. Sitting in the chair across from his oversized desk, I waited while he fished a copy of the Blaine Barb from his drawer and laid it between us. “You’re not allowed to distribute this material on school grounds”, he said emphatically. “In fact, this libelous piece of garbage requires a swift and certain response. You’re suspended as of now!” He got up and paced back and forth behind his desk. “I want you to go home and consider your actions and write two apologies, one to the principal and one to the editor of The Pioneer.”
I was rather pleased with myself as I walked the hill back home. Sure, I’d been party to a minor disruption in school policy but I’d gained credibility as an active revolutionary. My parents didn’t think it was such a big deal but still made me write my letters to get back into school. Joe and I would continue our subversive activities around Magnolia, stapling anti-war flyers so high on telephone poles that people couldn’t tear them down.
He had all of Bob Dylan’s records including the latest, Blonde on Blonde, and we’d play them until late at night and talk about what the songs might mean. His folks had an incredible home below the bluff of Magnolia with a trail leading down to the beach and I’d shown him how I’d uncovered stone lamps in Alaska when I was younger.
Joe’s parent’s were Socialists and voluntarily worked for programs in the inner city and we were glad to come along and help. An after-school program of free daycare was provided by CAMP, (Central Area Motivation Program) and we would spend weekends conducting silly theater acts, music and art making. The most radical button you could wear was a “Free Huey Newton” button and the Black Panther behind the counter gave us a surly look when we dropped by their offices to get ours.
Besides Joe Webbon, Marino Fleischer and Fredrick Parch, I had three other close friends: Roy Barker lived just across Dravus Street and joined me on walks to and from school. A budding singer and keyboard player, I was a bit jealous of him. His brothers owned hot-rods and he and his dad had built a large cabin cruiser with hemi engines. He was a great kidder and laughed easily but he could be moody too. We’d have some great times together. Ned Girlano lived a couple of blocks over and played bass guitar in the garage band that Roy was also in. Smart as a whip and well read, I’d take his suggestions on what books to read and we’d go to movies together. Allan Girt was my other close friend. He also lived close to the Bluff but his folks were only about as well off as mine were. His older brother had tricked out the converted garage / basement / den and when he wasn’t around we’d have deep rap sessions about music, politics and agitation.
Girlfriends seemed to be more elusive. I only had brothers to live with and the sisters of my friends weren’t in my age group and appeared to keep to themselves. There were only a couple girls in my classes that seemed interested in radical politics and most were absorbed with fashion, pop music and getting good grades. Even though my developing hormones were intensifying I began to shift my attention to evolving my inner sense of spirit and would take progressively longer walks and bike rides. Usually, I’d walk either on Magnolia Beach, where trails would lead off into gullies and forested green belts or the Seattle waterfront. The freight trains rumbled slowly along the waterfront and I could save some bus fare by hopping on a freight car ladder’s rung and ride most of the way. I’d spend hours hanging out at Seattle’s Pike Place Market and visiting shops and galleries in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s old town area.
Ned was the first to get the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s album. We all thought it was terrific, with sounds we’d never heard before and an approach we knew could never be duplicated on stage. There was also an aspect of fantasy behind it and it was a challenge to take seriously a method that seemed to be making fun of itself. Besides, I’d been such a big fan for so long that I was looking for other musical trends that would express my growing disillusionment with the politics regarding Vietnam and racial inequality. My brother William’s record collection leaned heavily towards the Blues and I started gaining an appreciation for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and the other giants of that genre and shared it with my friends. We soon developed a friendly rivalry to see who could discover the more obscure performers and Ned, especially had a knack for uncovering bands that exemplified our new interests.
“Check it out”’ he declared. “Here’s a British guitarist, fronting a band and playing American Blues with trippy psychedelic lyrics. I hadn’t heard of John Mayall before but recognized how an experimental attitude grounded in tradition could yield dramatic results. “Hey, Man”, he said another time. “Have you heard of this movie, Mondo Cane? It’s finally showing at the Magnolia Theater”. We went to the Saturday matinee and I was immediately struck by the extreme images and allusions to indigenous cults and consequences of nuclear proliferation backed by a light-hearted musical soundtrack.