Blogger's Note: My 20-year high school class reunion happens next week. I won't be attending -- not to make any grand statement but simply because doing so would be logistically impossible. But the occasion has stirred up a lot of recollections for me, some of which I would like to share with you.
The events I describe are as true as my memory allows. And while in some cases I've used only first names, I haven't altered any names entirely save for one, for reasons I'll explain at the end.
Brace yourselves; this is going to be a long one.
Occasionally in my stand-up, I'll make reference to how hellish my high school experience was. But when I talk about this, it's solely for laughs' sake and not factual. In fact, I have mostly positive memories of Summit High, which I attended from 1985 to 1989. Yes, I had some dark times, as all adolescents do. I was teased and taunted and bullied a bit. My senior year, someone -- I never found out who -- repeatedly shot nails into the tires of my Jeep while it was parked in the student lot. And it goes without saying that I struggled mightily with my sexuality and the fact that I was different.
But I also had a hell of a lot of fun in high school. When I think back to those years, it's play rehearsals and late-night parties and cruising through the Watchung Reservation on warm spring nights with the top down that I recall most. It's singing with the New Jersey All-State Chorus in Atlantic City and ballroom dancing through the school hallways with my friend Rebecca and road tripping to the Jersey shore in someone's old station wagon. It's phone calls with friends that would last up to five hours because, it seemed, no matter how long we talked we never ran out of things to say.
My senior yearbook photo, circa August, 1988.
As I said, there were dark times. I have a particularly high number of negative associations with a bug-eyed classmate named Josh who was neither friend nor enemy but frenemy. Josh and I ran with the same social circle. We did theater and choir together and shared a close friend, Matt. Also, we were among the only Jewish kids in town.
But despite all that (or more likely because of all that), Josh seemed determined to humiliate me on a regular basis. The worst example of this occurred after a sleepover at his house senior year in which Josh and Matt slept in Josh's bed while I slept on the floor.
According to what Josh told a number of people after the fact, I arose in the middle of the night, walked over to the bed and grabbed Josh's crotch through the blankets.
This was an incredibly hurtful rumor to spread because I was, of course, a gay kid, and surely Josh was aware of that on some level. But it was also complete and total bullshit.
In the first place, if I were going to make a pass at a guy in high school (and make no mistake: I did make passes from time to time), I certainly wouldn't have done it in front of a witness, sleeping or not.
Second of all, I wouldn't have just grabbed an unconscious boy's crotch. I may have been a horny teenager, but I wasn't a fucking rapist. My approach at the time was far more subtle. A little wine, a little pot, maybe a game of Truth or Dare. "Hey, how big is it? Let's see..." and so forth. If I met with the slightest resistance, I ceased all efforts immediately.
And finally, even if I had been some sort of creeping midnight molester, given the choice of crotches I would have chosen the one belonging to Matt, who was extremely hot, and not that of ugly-assed, bug-eyed Josh.
But that unpleasantness aside, there is only one high school event that sticks with me these two decades later as traumatic and life-changing: The events surrounding my petition against the school newspaper's advisor, Mr. Stubick.
Many of the details of my war with Mr. Stubick are fuzzy to me now. Even more fuzzy is why I chose to go to war with him in the first place. Maybe it was because he was a pretentious asshole. Maybe it was because I was a narcissistic teenager who had to have things my own way. Or maybe it was because he was a closeted gay man, and I was a closeted gay boy, and the year was 1988 -- a perfect recipe for mutually assured fear and loathing.
In any case, what transpired between us has haunted me for 20 years, and I truly don't understand why. In finally writing about this, I seek that understanding.
To be continued.
Homo in flashback. ♥
My relationship with Mr. Stubick began auspiciously. I was a sophomore in my first year at Summit High , and he had recently taken over as advisor for the essentially moribund school newspaper, "The Tempest." Mr. Stubick did a radical redesign of the paper, renaming it "The Tower" (which had been the paper's original name) and turning it into a handsome-looking tabloid.
I didn't have Mr. Stubick as a teacher that year or any year, but I was familiar with him. My sister Anna had taken sophomore English with him half a decade before and loathed him, which should have served as a warning to me, as Anna and I tend to share the same opinions of others.
But he seemed harmless enough -- a very thin, boyish-looking schlub given to wearing suspenders and oversized pants. He had written several novels of the "young adult" genre and was known to assign them to his classes, which struck me as odd at the time given that other 10th graders in Summit were reading "Jane Eyre" and "Romeo & Juliet."
It was clear he fashioned himself one of those hip, young teachers who could really relate to his students -- like Robin Williams in "Dead Poets Society." Except unlike Williams's ebullient optimist, Mr. Stubick was a misanthrope who seemed to view everyone but a select few with thinly veiled contempt. If I had had the vernacular back then, I would have called him a bitchy queen.
God, this was a great flick.
But as I said, things began auspiciously between us. I approached Mr. Stubick about writing for the newly launched "Tower," and he was receptive. In fact, he handed me what may have been the most plum assignment ever: I was to review all of Summit's pizzerias and judge which was the best. Not exactly Woodward and Bernstein material, but fun, right? And it was.
"The Tower" caused a stir, and not just because of its new packaging. Alongside the usual student and faculty news and features (and my pizza review, in which I named Rosa & Sal's the winner) were some provocative columns.
The most notorious of these was called "The Unknown Sophomore." It purported to be the rantings of a disaffected, highly sarcastic juvenile who took shots at just about everyone. The teachers had bad breath. The athletes were dim-witted bullies. The cheerleaders were vapid ditzes. And so forth.
This was a good 10 years before the horrors at Columbine, and it's hard to imagine a school newspaper intentionally dispensing such vitriol nowadays. But at the time, I guess our principal -- a dim-witted bully himself named Dr. Geddes -- viewed it as harmless free expression.
I cannot overstate the furor that "The Unknown Sophomore" caused among the student body. For many weeks, it was all anyone could talk about. Angry letters poured in to the newspaper office. Death threats were made against the anonymous writer, should he or she ever be unmasked. Several teachers told me in confidence that they found the column's publication disgraceful.
As for me, I didn't like "The Unknown Sophomore" either, but not because I felt personally slighted by anything he or she had written. What bothered me was, I was certain the writer was not a student. The words rang trite and phony and seemed intended solely to provoke a reaction. The piece read like the bad fictions of an adult trying to impersonate a young person after watching "The Breakfast Club" too many times, replete with predictable angst and adolescent stereotyping. "The Unknown Sophomore" offended me on an intellectual level.
And though I had absolutely no evidence to prove it, I knew in my heart that the Unknown Sophomore was Mr. Stubick.
To be continued.
Homo in flashback. ♥
Bloggers Note: One of my readers, an SHS alumna, left a comment yesterday in which she correctly named the teacher I'm calling "Mr. Stubick" in this story. As mentioned in my initial note, I've chosen to change his name for several reasons I'll go into at the very end. I hate deleting ANY comments, but in this case I had no choice. I ask all Summit readers to please refrain from giving away Mr. Stubick's real name, either on this site or on my Facebook page.
Incidentally, I've been quite surprised by the interest generated by these postings -- not only from Summit people but also those completely unfamiliar with the people and events described here. I wish I didn't have to post in such short installments, but I'm writing this from my day job and am interrupted an average of once every 30 seconds. It's the literary equivalent of waterboarding.
As a result of these constant interruptions, I may have mangled the chronology. I'm almost certain now that the story actually begins during my junior -- and not sophomore -- year. And that's going to become somewhat important later on. So for comprehension's sake, let's assume I've been a junior and am still a junior at this point of the narrative.
Without further ado, on with Part 3:
My next piece for "The Tower" was an editorial about people cutting in the cafeteria line, something about which I was passionate. Stubick loved it, because it gelled with his worldview of teenagers as either hapless victims or sinister victimizers. But I felt a bit silly having made a big deal about such a relatively inconsequential topic.
Also, the editorial had zero effect. Bigger kids continued to cut smaller kids in the line, as I'm sure they still do today. (Although I will say now as then, where the fuck are the adults who are charged with keeping schools from turning into "Lord of the Flies?" Would it have been so hard to post a gym teacher at the front of the line to make sure everyone waits his turn?)
In any case, my next topic would be far more serious. It came to me in Chem Study class, after I had a minor altercation with a kid named Dwight. I don't remember what the argument was about. Perhaps he didn't properly clean my beaker, or vice versa. All I know is that after our disagreement I left class briefly to go the boy's room.
And when I returned, I discovered a penny had been carefully laid on top of the schoolbooks on my desk.
It wasn't my penny, and it hadn't been there when I left the classroom; of that I was certain. But there it was, staring up at me, like some kind of dark talisman.
This was shocking to me on a number of levels. First, because Dwight wasn't a bad kid. He was just a mild-mannered dork with whom I had a number of honor's level classes. And second, because this was New Jersey, not Mississippi. I was aware that mine was one of the only Jewish families in town, but I had never felt targeted because of it. Yes, Summit was overwhelmingly WASPy and Republican, but it was also affluent, educated and somewhat socially progressive.
Yet at that moment, my mind began to connect some dots. Earlier in the year, I suddenly recalled, while changing classes in a crowded hallway, I had dropped my pencil and bent over to pick it up. "Find a penny?" asked an older boy strolling past me.
I recalled smiling back at him, bewildered, knowing he had made a joke but not getting the punchline.
Then I flashed back to an evening spent months before with my friend Matt in which I had flipped through his Summit Junior High School yearbook. I had attended a private school during those years and was curious about the junior high experience. As I perused the yearbook, I was stopped cold by a page showing a large candid photo of Adam Pechter, an obstreperous boy with whom I had grown up and attended Hebrew school. (He had left for boarding school at the same time I switched back to public school.)
In the photo, Adam stood at a classroom lectern delivering some sort of oral assignment, his index finger extended.
Underneath the photo, someone had scrawled, "Is that a penny I see in the back of the room?"
Somehow, the penny on my desk brought all of these events into clear focus, as if I were putting on new eyeglasses. That night, I wrote an essay which began: "To the person in my Chem Study class who put a penny on my desk: Thank you." It detailed the casual anti-Semitism I had encountered and my subsequent epiphany that while I never thought my religious background registered one whit among my non-Jewish classmates, it apparently did.
My tone wasn't angry but deadly serious: This penny-pinching stereotype, something with which I in my sheltered upbringing had been only vaguely aware, had roots in Nazi Germany, where it had been used in part to justify the genocide of 6 million Jews.
I submitted my penny essay to Mr. Stubick the next day. He read it with great approbation but offered some constructive criticism, specifically with regard to the Germany bit. Yes, the Nazis regarded the Jews as greedy, he pointed out, but the stereotype was much older than the Third Reich, dating back at least to Shakespeare's Shylock.
Contrary to what some may believe about me, I am very receptive when someone offers me thoughtful feedback, especially when it makes my writing stronger. So I immediately went back to work on the piece, revising the section about the history of the Stingy Jew and making other changes suggested by Stubick before resubmitting it to him for publication.
But when the piece ran a month later in "The Tower" it was my first draft that appeared. Stubick had somehow misplaced my revised version or forgotten that I had made revisions in the first place. Or something. He offered me a shrugging apology but no real explanation.
The piece made a big impact. A number of students approached me with apologies for things they had said or done of which I hadn't even been aware. A local synagogue reprinted the essay in their newsletter and asked me to speak about it. And Miss Johnson, my Chem Study teacher and one of the dearest people at our school or any school, expressed her horror to me that such a thing would happen in her classroom, as if she could have somehow prevented it.
But I still felt wronged by Stubick's carelessness. I couldn't fathom how he could have mishandled a piece that was obviously so personal and important to me.
Our war was brewing.
To be continued.
Homo in flashback. ♥
Blogger's Note: Having both Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett -- two icons from my youth -- die on the same day, as I'm already in the midst of intense high school flashback, is beyond surreal. I certainly hope Henry Winkler is not planning on swimming with sharks (as opposed to jumping them) anytime soon.
The longer I write this, the more new flashes from the past keep popping in my head. Maybe instead of spending seven years in psychotherapy during the late 90s and early 00s, I should have been blogging. Except that blogs didn't exist then.
I truly hope to wrap this up today, as BW and I are flying tonight to NYC for Pride Weekend and then a visit to my parents on Long Island, and I likely won't be able to do any blogging until next week. Plus, as cathartic as this exercise is for me, it's also incredibly draining. Sort of like... well, psychotherapy.
On with Part 4:
Junior year came to an end. Mr. Stubick threw a little pizza party for the "Tower" staff and its regular contributors at which he handed out personalized certificates of merit to each of us. Mine read: "To Adam Sank.... for confronting anti-Semitism, eating lots of pizza and wearing an earring." I suppose it was a nice gesture, but it felt patronizing to me, fuming as I still was over Stubick's editorial bungling of my penny piece.
(A side note about that earring. Like every other boy my age that year, I had gotten my left ear pierced in attempt to display rugged individualism. My mother's reaction? "Everyone's going to think you're a fag!" As if singing and dancing in all the school musicals were shining badges of heterosexuality.)
My senior year began. "The Tower" resumed publication. I don't remember writing anything for the paper the first several months of that school year, probably because I was busy flunking AP Calculus and writing out my college applications.
Then, in February, I was accepted to join a group of SHS students on a trip to Washington for the annual Close Up program. It consisted of a week-long stay at a hotel in the nation's capital, with daily trips to all the federal buildings and monuments and brief meetings with our elected representatives.
I had a blast. Staying at the hotel with us Summit kids were students from Nevada as well as from Glassboro, NJ, and every night was a party. One night the Close Up organizers threw us a banquet, and I decided to organize a little talent show (with me as the star, of course). Flanked by five other guys in sunglasses, dark blazers and white t-shirts, I sang a parody of "Stand by Me," inspired by our grueling program schedule.
And if this historical monument... that we look upon
Should crumble and fall.
And the White House should tumble to the Sea.
I won't sleep... I won't sleep.
No IIIIIIIII won't.... sleep a wink.
Just as long... as we roll... through DC.
So please don't, please don't sleep... in DC...
Noooooo don't sleep... in DC
It was a hit.
One afternoon, on a bus tour, the topic of apartheid came up. This was 1989, the height of the "Free Nelson Mandela" movement, and there were news reports out of South Africa every day of the week. Yet one of the Glassboro students, a girl named Lori, had no idea what we were talking about. "What's apartheid?," she asked.
"It's a system of government in South Africa where white people have all the power and black people are kept down," I started to explain.
Lori interrupted: "But I thought Africa was a nigger country?"
No one believes me when I tell them that I was almost 18 years old before I ever heard someone use that word in person. But it's the truth. Years later, I would live in Atlanta and hear it on an almost daily basis. But at 18, having been raised by my parents, in the town where I grew up, that word was worse than any swear. It was unutterable.
The force of it literally knocked the wind out of me. And somehow, it was even more shocking when coupled with the ignorance that would lead a high schooler to regard the whole of Africa as a single country.
When I got back to Summit, I felt compelled to write about the apartheid exchange for "The Tower." Having already done a piece on anti-Semitism, it seemed like my obligation as well as my beat. But whereas the penny piece had been an indictment of Summit's own occasional smallmindedness, my new essay, entitled "Lori in Wonderland," was intended as a sort of pat on our back. For of all the things I had learned on my trip to Washington, none were more eye-opening than a fellow Jersey high schooler's assertion that "Africa was a nigger country." It made me both proud of and grateful for my school and my town to realize how far we were from that level of ignorance.
In retrospect, it was a rather arrogant tack to take. "Oh, look how much more enlightened we in Summit are than you wretched souls in Glassboro." Without knowing it then, I was criticizing the sin of racism while simultaneously committing the sin of classism.
But Stubick had no such quarrel with "Lori in Wonderland." Or if he did, he never said so. The piece was slated to run in the next issue.
Except it didn't.
To be continued. I'm sorry -- honestly. If you knew what I'm dealing with today at this hideous job, you'd be amazed I was able to type out this much. More later today if I can.
Homo in flashback. ♥
Blogger's Note: A rather long break from the story, as I had feared, but it was for good reason: BW and I extended our vacation at the last minute and stayed with my family in the Hamptons through Friday before flying back to San Diego Saturday. We had beautiful sunny weather and terrific times out there, and I'll be posting photos of our trip once I finish this rambling epic once and for all.
I will also recount my public humiliation by a lunatic U.S. Airways flight crew.
And finally, I'll soon be posting new video of my Gay Pride set at Therapy last Sunday night, which was a blast and a half.
That's a hell of a lot to promise on my first Monday morning back from vacation (and one in which I'm flying solo at the front desk of my office) but I'll do my very best.
At the very least, Part 5 is when the titular petition finally appears.
On with the show.
It wasn't just that Mr. Stubick killed my "Lori in Wonderland" piece which led to my writing the petition against him and his newspaper; it was what he ran instead.
For in the year since its redesign, "The Tower" had grown increasingly insipid. The erstwhile Unknown Sophomore, now calling himself the Unknown Junior, still employed his poison pen monthly. Fluffy profiles of Mr. Stubick's favorite students abounded, as did a Walter Winchell-esque gossip column filled with breathless details of who in the school was dating whom. And while there was absolutely no mention of any legitimate student activities -- sporting events, drama club productions, community service projects or what have you -- "The Tower" did find the time and space to review Mr. Stubick's latest teen romance novel, "Darlene at 14.*"
Shockingly, the review was a rave.
In retrospect, it would have been mighty strange for a hard-hitting piece on racism and the state of modern education to appear amid such twaddle, but that was small consolation to me at the time. I went to confront Stubick after class on the afternoon of the new issue's publication.
"Where" I demanded, "is 'Lori in Wonderland?'"
Stubick reacted in his usual mild, passive-aggressive way. "Oh, yeah, sorry, we just couldn't fit it in this month. It'll run next month."
"But Close Up happened last month," I protested, my anger starting to build. "It'll be old news by then. It'll be too late!"
He gave me a thin smile. "No, it'll be fine."
Our conversation was over for good.
What happened next may have transpired over several days or even weeks. But that's not how I recall it. My memory is of marching out of Stubick's classroom and into an empty adjacent one and putting pen to paper that very moment, without hesitation or reflection.
First I wrote a note:
Dear Mr. Stubick:
Please do not run my "Lori in Wonderland" article next month or at any time. I no longer wish to be associated with "The Tower" in any way.
Then I wrote the petition:
We, the undersigned, are concerned students at Summit High School. Our concern is with the state of the school newspaper, "The Tower," and with the newspaper's advisor, who seems unable or unwilling to meet the needs and concerns of the students.
We note that in the current issue of "The Tower" there is no mention of organized student activities or upcoming events of any student clubs or organizations -- including the student government -- or of any school sporting events. In fact, there is not even a sports editor.
Instead, we are given numerous student profiles, a gossip column, a review of the newspaper advisor's new novel, and a column by The Unknown Junior (who is most certainly not a student at all).
We ask that the newspaper immediately be improved to reflect the interests of SHS students, and not simply of its advisor.
There were 600 students at Summit High School during the 1988-89 academic year. Within a week of writing my petition, more than a third of them had signed it.
To be continued.
Homo finally getting to the point. ♥
*Not the actual title, but a damn fine one, if I may say so myself.
Blogger's Note: What?! Two chapters posted on the same day? Shut up!! What can I tell you folks, other than that I want more than anything to be done with the telling of this tale. So while it's slow for a moment at my desk, I'll add what I can:
Among the 233 signatures at the bottom of my newspaper petition were those of the president and vice-president of the student government (known as the General Organization or G.O.), a number of prominent athletes and a veritable smorgasbord of brains, geeks, drama fags, musicians, socially conscious hippies and other high-achieving types.
I didn't work particularly hard to get people to sign; I just attached the petition to a clipboard and passed it around the cafeteria and gymnasium and in the classes I attended. Few students were overly passionate about the substance of what I had written, but everyone seemed to agree with it.
"Oh, yeah, I hate that fucking Unknown Junior" was the most common reaction as people reached for their pen.
It had only been a week since I began my crusade, but I felt like 233 names was more than sufficient to make my point. So I produced three photocopies of the petition, signatures and all, along with a cover letter and delivered the complete packet to the principal, the vice-principal, and the school superintendent.
At first, not much happened. A few teachers pulled me aside and told me they applauded my actions. But the vice-principal, Mr. Akey, a man much beloved by me and my older sisters before me who happened also to be Mr. Stubick's closest friend, had a slightly different take: "I admire your activism," he said after spotting me in the cafeteria one day, "but not the way you've gone about this."
Yet there was no immediate reaction from either the principal or superintendent. Nor was there any from Stubick himself. That is, until the next issue of "The Tower" came out the following month.
There appeared on page three a large photo of three students with the caption, "SHS Students Tour the Capitol as Part of the National Close Up Program in February," followed by the names of the students pictured. The shoulder of a fourth student was also visible, but his face had been cropped out.
It was Mr. Stubick's first attempt at retribution. It would hardly be his last.
To be continued.
Homo really and truly done for today. ♥
Blogger's Note: Stay with me; the finish line is in sight.
About six weeks passed before I was finally summoned to the office of Dr. Geddes, our school principal. I don't know if Geddes had played football in college, but he had that look about him -- broad and blockheaded with menacing eyes that didn't match his forced smile. When I picture him now, he looks like someone who might have served in George W. Bush's administration. Tom Ridge, perhaps.
On second though, Ridge has a kinder face.
I never had many dealings with Dr. Geddes; I wasn't the sort of kid who gets sent to the principal's office, at least not in high school. Ironically, the only other time I recall Dr. Geddes approaching me was after my pizza survey had been published in "The Tower" the previous year.
"Mr. Sank," he had said as I passed him in the hallway after a drama club meeting. "I read your pizza article. What about Luigi's?"
I explained to him that I had tried to survey Luigi's but they were closed.
"Mm hm," he said, staring at me with those cold, dead eyes.
Now here I was sitting across from him in his office, my petition in his hand.
"Now what, exactly, is your problem with the newspaper?" he asked.
I've never understood when somebody poses a question to which he already knows the answer.
"Well," I said, "as it's clearly spelled out in my petition, I have a number of problems with it." I went on to basically detail the points outlined on the photocopied pages in front of him. "And if you notice," I added, "there are about 20 names highlighted of students who are leaders in this school and who share my feelings."
"Yeah," he replied. "As far as I'm concerned, those are the only names that matter."
Silence here as we stared at each other. Then I said, "I'm sorry?"
"The rest of these kids don't count. They probably didn't even know what they were signing."
More silence. "I think maybe you're underestimating your student body."
"Trust me, they didn't know. Now, how would you make the newspaper better?"
I began to offer him a number of suggestions, but he soon interrupted.
"Tell me this," he queried, "what did you think of the Awards of Excellence issue last year?"
The Awards of Excellence were Summit High's version of the Golden Globes. Each year they were handed out in a dozen or so categories to seniors who were deemed to exemplify various skills or talents -- in mathematics, visual arts, instrumental music, etc. A dinner ceremony was held, and "The Tower" had come out with an issue solely profiling the winners the previous year.
"Well, I don't know that I would have done an entire issue with nothing but profiles, but at least it drew attention to student achievements, and not just gossip or..."
He interrupted again: "What grade would you give that issue?"
"Um," I thought for a moment. "I guess I'd give it a C+."
He smiled menacingly. "That issue was my idea. I was the one who told Mr. Stubick to do it."
I assume Dr. Geddes intended this to be a checkmate moment, one in which I would crumple to the floor and slink out of his office, defeated, my tail between my legs. But the only thing I felt was baffled. I frankly didn't understand what the Awards of Excellence issue from a year ago had to do with my petition, which specifically criticized not what "The Tower" had been but what it had become.
And that's exactly what I told Dr. Geddes.
"Look," he said, waving his hand in front of him as if to slap a mosquito that just wouldn't die, "why don't I set up a meeting with you and Mr. Stubick? You can give him your ideas in person, and maybe you can work together on making it a better paper."
I shook my head. "I'd be happy to do that, Dr. Geddes, but I don't think Mr. Stubick wants to meet with me. I'm pretty sure he hates me now."
"Oh, I don't think he hates you," he said.
"Really?" I said. "Because he cut me out of a photo in the last issue."
He leaned forward in his chair, his dark eyes glowing. "But he had to do that," he explained. "You told him you didn't want to be associated with the paper anymore."
It was at that moment that I realized maybe I was in over my head. But I also realized that there was no turning back.
"You tell Mr. Stubick I'd be happy to meet with him anytime," I said, shaking hands with Dr. Geddes. "And thanks for all your time and consideration."
It wasn't until the next day that I learned Mr. Stubick had started his own petition as well.
To be continued.
Homo coming down the home stretch. ♥
My best friend throughout my high school years was Rebecca Landwehr. Rebecca and I were Will and Grace long before Will and Grace ever existed, the primary difference being that unlike Will, I was Jewish, and unlike Grace, Rebecca was not. We were incredibly loud and rambunctious and dramatic, and each thought the other was just about the most hilarious person on earth.
A couple quick stories about Rebecca and me:
There was a shy, very pretty girl in our school named Eleanor Guild (rhymes with "mild"). Every single time Rebecca and I saw her, we would start singing at the top of our lungs, "Born to be Eleanor Guiiiiiiiiiiiiiiild!"
We had songs for other people as well. For Kim Ward, we sang a little ditty to the tune of "Mahna Mahna" from "The Muppet Show." It went as follows:
I am Kim Ward
(Do doo do doo doo)
I am Kim Ward
(Do doo do doo)
I am Kim Ward
(Do doo do doo doo, do doo doo, do doo do doo do doo doo doo doo doo!)
Ever notice how highly disturbing-looking Mahna Mahna's backup singers are?
For Heather Golm, we sang a rendition of Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now," retitled "I Think We're Heather Golm Now."
You get the point.
Rebecca and I appeared in every Summit high school musical, usually in lead roles. We both sang in the school choir, and Rebecca played trumpet in SHS's orchestra, marching band and stage band. We were both the products of liberal Democratic households in an overwhelmingly Republican town, and we both thought we were right about everything.
Basically, we were the quintessential late 80s drama fags, right down to the bad hair experiments. So it was of little surprise when the administration -- perhaps Dr. Geddes himself, though I don't remember -- asked us to do the daily morning announcements. This was a simple, five-minute intercom broadcast aired throughout the school: "The G.O. bake sale takes place this afternoon in the hallway outside the cafeteria at 3 o' clock... Cheerleader try-outs are set for next Monday in the gym..." and so forth.
There wasn't much Rebecca and I could do to spice these ho-hum messages up, but we did add our own spin now and then. Mostly, these took the form of quick, barely audible asides:
Adam: The annual Summit High holiday concert is tomorrow night, so don't forget to get your tickets now!
Rebecca: Yes, they are selling like hotcakes.
Adam: (Hotcakes that nobody wants.)
Adam: (stifling a giggle) And don't forget the deadline for the Service Club's canned food drive for the homeless is this Tuesday...!
It occurs to me now that I still employ this "quick aside tag" style in my stand-up. There's something about the rhythm of it that just appeals to my ear.
Me and Rebecca before the senior prom, spring of 1989.
In order to read the morning announcements, Rebecca and I had to leave our respective homeroom classes at 11:00 a.m. and make our way down the administration's office, where a little sound booth was set up. My homeroom was Ms. Papio's Spanish class, during which I would eat my homemade lunch of ham and cheese on whole wheat with honey mustard. One morning while I was doing the announcements, Josh -- yes, the same Josh from the false crotch-grabbing accusation incident -- inserted a folded up piece of notebook paper into my sandwich, so that when I later bit into it I'd be chewing on paper. I'm telling you, he was a diabolical little shit.
Anyway, the day after my meeting with Dr. Geddes, as I made my way from Spanish class to the cafeteria for lunch hour, a sophomore stopped me in the hallway.
"Hey," she said. "You should know that Mr. Stubick started a petition against you and Rebecca. He wants you to be fired from the morning announcements."
I remember actually laughing out loud. "No way!" I said.
"Yes. He passed it around our English class today."
"On what grounds does he say we should be fired?" I wondered.
"Because you made fun of the homeless."
"When did we ever make fun of the homeless?!"
"When you were making announcement about a canned food drive, you were laughing. So he says you're insensitive to the homeless and should be fired."
The war was escalating.
T0 be continued.
Homo wishing he could continue now, but his assistant manager literally just dumped a pile of work on his desk. ♥
Mr. Stubick's petition to have Rebecca and me ousted from morning announcements duty went nowhere. I'm not sure it ever even made it out of the classroom in which it originated. Mr. Akey, our one mutual ally, later confided to me: "I told him he had to stop this."
In any case, Rebecca and I continued our daily chirpings, and Mr. Stubick continued putting out "The Tower."
But as the early spring season progressed, I had other things on my mind. I was busy with rehearsals for the school musical, "The Boyfriend," in which I played the romantic lead. I had taken a part-time job at the nearby Short Hills Mall, in a tiny store called The Tie Table. There I peddled 100% silk, hand-made, authentic Italian, truly hideous ties. I still have some.
More than anything, I was consumed with the question of where I'd be going to college. November had brought a wait-list letter from Brown, my first choice, where I'd applied early admission. In the meantime, I had been accepted at Boston University and was still waiting to hear from Tufts, Northwestern and the University of Michigan.
When I look back now, it's almost laughable how little I knew about any of these schools when I applied to them. I imagine teenagers these days must sit at their computers for days on end, googling countless facts and figures and browsing blogs about the colleges that interest them.
But in 1989, my computer was little more than a glorified typewriter. I had a three-foot high stack of catalogues in my bedroom representing every school from Arizona State to Washington and Lee, and I had barely glanced at them beyond the pictures on their covers.
When it came time to choose where my five applications would go, I essentially picked from a hat: Boston was a cool city, so I figured I would apply to one school there I knew I could get into --B.U. -- and one that was a bit of a reach --Tufts. Northwestern had a first-rate journalism school, so that made sense given my particular skill set. And Michigan was a sentimental favorite, beloved by our family friends, the Reinhardts, as well as a slew of other former Summit High grads.
But Brown, with its quirky, brainy, everyone-is-gay-or-may-as-well-be, Ivy League status, was hands-down where I most wanted to be. It felt like where I belonged.
Plus, I liked the pictures in the catalogue.
Ah, Sweet Providence.
"The Boyfriend" opened to thunderous acclaim. Which is to say the parents, siblings and friends of all the players attended under duress and dutifully told us how great we were afterwards. Now it was time for the cast party which, as tradition dictated, would take place at the home of my grandmother, Granny Lipton. Granny lived -- and still lives -- a short half-block from the school, and she was much cherished by me and my fellow thespians for her support for the arts, her warmth and her cream-cheese brownies.
'Have another! You're too skinny!'
As I marched with a throng of castmates toward Granny's, we passed Mr. Akey and Mr. Stubick on the edge of the school parking lot.
"Congratulations!," said Mr. Akey. "Outstanding job."
Stubick said nothing; just smiled meekly.
Maybe it was the immediate afterglow of my stage theatrics, but for whatever reason, I suddenly felt magnanimous and decided to bury the hatchet.
"Listen," I said, "you should come with us to my Granny's for the after-party. It's right there on Montrose." I looked directly at Stubick. "Both of you should come."
Then Mr. Akey finally said, "We'll stop by in a bit."
Twenty minutes later, as we wolfed down cream-cheese brownies, there was a knock at Granny's door.
It was Mr. Akey.
"I tried," he said. "I begged him. But he said he just couldn't go."
The Awards of Excellence were announced the following week. I didn't win any. Not for English, not for Vocal Music, not for World Language, not for Drama.
I don't entirely recall now who won in each of those categories. English may have gone to John Dunning. If so, it was well deserved. John had been in Honors English classes with me every year, and I knew him to be an amazing writer (as well as incredibly sexy). Mike Bultman probably won vocal music. He was a musical virtuoso and all-Eastern soloist who certainly deserved the award more than I.
But to lose out on both Drama and World Language as well felt like a huge slap in the face. I excelled at Spanish, never earning less than an A in that subject my entire high school career. I had spent the previous summer in a six-week language immersion program in Salamanca, Spain with Phillips Academy, Andover, from which I returned with total fluency. I used to help explain complicated rules of grammar to the kids in my class who spoke Spanish at home. My Spanish teachers adored me.
And Drama... well, come on. I was the fucking Drama department. The only other worthy recipient for that award would have been Rebecca, and she didn't win either. Instead, the award went to a girl named Liz who had appeared in one musical junior year and built some sets for another.
So who won the World Language award? That would be Josh -- yes, that Josh -- he of the false crotch-grabbing accusations and ham-sandwich tampering; my nemesis, and a B+ student in Spanish at best.
In the winner's profile of Josh that later ran in the "The Tower," he said he practiced speaking Spanish with his housekeeper.
I remember approaching Ms. Papio, the Spanish teacher, after the awards were announced to ask how Josh could have beaten me. I remember her sad, cow-like eyes staring back at me as I interrogated her.
"I get higher grades in Spanish than Josh."
"Yes," she said.
"And I spent a summer studying in Spain."
"Yes," she said.
"And I'm fluent."
"Yes," she said.
"So you'd think I'd win the award over him."
"You'd think so," she said.
One month later, I finally heard from Brown.
I had been rejected.
Tomorrow: Epilogue & Life Lessons.
Homo out. ♥
Part 10: Epilogue and Life Lessons:
Blogger's Note: And so it ends. I've decided to finish this tale once and for all tonight, rather than waiting until tomorrow; I fear my work day will get too busy, and I won't be able to wrap it all up in a neat little Friday bow. And wrap it up I must. It's time.
I have been touched and amazed by the number of people who have reached out to me in blog comments, emails and Facebook messages since I began writing this series. It seems to have hit close to home for many of you. Thank you for your feedback, which makes the grueling exercise of unearthing decades-old memories all the more worthwhile.
Some have suggested I turn this into something bigger -- a novel, a screenplay, or what have you. To that I say, bring it on. You're more than welcome to forward my story to any agent/producer types who may want to help me develop it. Lord knows I could use the career advancement, and I'll even give you a cut.
Apropos of that, I must give a special shout-out to my boss, Lisa. It's not every boss who would read this blog -- a blog I've been writing during work hours and on which I regularly rant about my "hideous day job" -- and tell me she can't wait to find out what happens next. Thank you, girl.
And now, finally, the conclusion:
Mr. Stubick and I ultimately did have our face-to-face sit-down to discuss the newspaper, though face-to-face would be an inaccurate way to describe it. It took place in his classroom during one of the last weeks of school. There was absolutely no point to the meeting, as I'd be graduating before any more issues of "The Tower" came out. But I think neither I nor Stubick felt we could back out.
I brought Rebecca with me for moral support. In Stubick's corner was Brian Kettenring, a very sweet junior who had become the paper's editor.
"OK, guys," said Brian after the four of us had taken our seats. "Why don't you give us your suggestions for how we can make the paper stronger?"
We rattled off some ideas. Brian nodded cheerfully. As for Stubick, he didn't say a word for the entire meeting. Instead, he kept his face buried in a notebook, scribbling furiously. I wouldn't be surprised if all he wrote was "Die, you little piece of shit!," or something to that effect, over and over again.
And that was that. I never saw or spoke to Mr. Stubick again.
Nearly a decade later, when I was living in Brooklyn, I ran into Juliet Martin inside the F Subway station. Juliet had been "The Tower's" first editor and had graduated the year before me, before any of the petition business began. We rode the subway into Manhattan together, reminiscing and catching up on each other's post-high school lives. But I couldn't let her go without asking her a question.
"Just tell me this," I said. "Was Stubick the Unknown Sophomore?"
"Of course he was," she replied.
So that was one question answered.
Here are some that never were:
Was there an actual edict issued against my winning those Awards of Excellence? And if so, was Mr. Stubick behind it? Or was it Dr. Geddes? Or some combination of the two? Or somebody else altogether? Or did I simply not win because I didn't win? Because other students were honestly and sincerely deemed more worthy? Or were? Or because the very nature of awards is that they are subjective and arbitrary?
Did my not winning those awards have any impact on my not getting into Brown? Could there have been even darker forces at work, say a well-placed call to the right person that this kid's a bad egg and you don't want him at your school? Or was it simply the fact that I was not a particularly extraordinary candidate in the eyes of Brown's admissions officers? That I was one of thousands of white, Jewish males from North Jersey with a high class ranking, a lot of extracurriculars and respectable -- but not spectacular -- SAT scores who applied to Brown that year? And that that just wasn't enough to put me over the top at one of the most competitive universities in the country?
Does it even matter? Really? Given that I did get accepted to Northwestern and Michigan, ultimately choosing Michigan and enjoying four of the most exciting, enriching, rewarding years of my life in Ann Arbor?
No. None of it matters. Shit happens. Or it doesn't. You can't live your life wondering what might have been.
And the fact that I eventually learned that is what does matter. That, and a few other things:
1) When two sides go to war, the one with more power will usually win.
2) Choose your battles very carefully. (See No. 1.)
3) Revenge is never a noble objective.
And in the final analysis, that's what I was after with my petition: Revenge. I may have dressed it up as righteous indignation and a desire to benefit the greater good; but at the core, everything I did was meant to shame and embarrass Mr. Stubick after I felt he had wronged me. And if I suffered because of my actions, I deserved to suffer.
"I admire your activism," Mr. Akey had told me, "but not the way you've gone about this."
I never told anyone this story after high school. But I did once attempt a poem about it for a college writing class. I can recall the opening lines:
"If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then what are the implications of a little power/Especially when coupled with a little mind?"
My instructor hated it. He said it was whiny and self-serving.
Before I began this series of recollections, I did a little Internet research on Mr. Stubick. He has written several more novels in the last 20 years, one of which was recently made into a film starring two of Hollywood's biggest young stars. And he is still teaching public school in New Jersey.
That's one reason I chose not to use his real name: I don't believe in outing public school teachers, either as closeted gays or as assholes. (Condoleezza Rice , she deserves to be outed, having toiled faithfully for that homophobic piece of shit over eight years. And I hereby out her. For real. I met her flamingly gay assistant in New York several years ago, and he confirmed it for me. Condi may as well be swinging a golf club and driving a UPS truck.)
But there's a bigger reason I chose not to name Mr. Stubick:
It's because 20 years after the fact, I no longer mean to shame and embarrass him.
Oprah says we must forgive the people in our lives -- not for their sake, but for our own. Otherwise we become bogged down by our own anger, bitterness and regret. And as usual Oprah is right.
So I forgive you, Mr. Stubick. I forgive you, Dr. Geddes. And I forgive everyone else from my days back in Summit High School for any wrongs you committed against me, real or imagined. I also apologize for the wrongs I did you. It's high time I let all of this go and look forward in my life... not as the 18-year-old boy I was but as the 38-year-old man I have become -- one who understands the power of forgiveness.
I am even able to forgive Josh.
Well, not really.
But I'm working on it.
Homo out for good. ♥