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Middlesex Memories III (1964-1967)
On Politics, Friends and Sports
Junior High is such an awkward time of one's life. You are dissatisfied with your body, no matter how sculpted you are; afraid of the opposite sex; vulnerable to the taunts of the "cool kids"; and fearful of teacher and coach alike. Then there was the real spirit in the air, or at least I picked it up from somewhere, that if I didn't "succeed" in my work at school I was consigning myself to a lifetime of failure.
But I did develop lots of friendships and considered myself fortunate to be able to mingle both with the pocket-protector-wearing science nerds as well as the short-skirt-wearing cheerleaders. I was not, however, simply a jock or a nerd or the most popular kid in the school, but I mingled characteristics of all three. In the past year (i.e., 2005 or so) I struck up a brief email exchange with Christine, an old classmate; she described me as "fun" and "smart as a tack" from those days. Three areas I would like to explore briefly in these final three essays are my student government life, my social life and my athletic aspirations.
Student Body Treasurer
At my brother's urging (he was two years older than I), I ran for and won the office of student body treasurer for 1966-1967. If there was one thing in which my family especially excelled, it was in adding numbers; I figured I would be a natural for the position. I didn't know that we had little money and less authority, but I had fun devising a campaign with my brother's help. My older brother Rick, being a junior in high school and interested in girls, decided I should run a campaign with all kinds of veiled sexual innuendos on my posters. Instead of the regular posters, with a head shot of a person washing his hair in the shower with a possible caption of "Come clean, Vote Long," he guided me to rather seductive pictures of women from various magazines, with captions underneath that we would compose such as "Lay down the law and vote Long."
I had only a vague notion of what Rick meant by this, but he seemed to be quite happy with himself as he promoted my campaign. He told me to hang the posters up at least seven feet above the ground, since the counselor who monitored the "cleanness" of the ads, Mr. Willoughby, was only about 5'3" and wouldn't be able to reach them to take them down. Sure enough, a few days later I received a missive from Mr. Willoughby telling me to take down some questionable posters. I think it took me a while to respond to him, and by that time I had won the election though, come to think of it, I never laid down any law to anyone after being elected.
So, this began my political career, which really didn't end until 1990. I was Student Body Treasurer of my high school (Menlo-Atherton High School in Atherton, CA) in 1969-1970, became President of the Brown Christian Fellowship (1972-19173), President of the Student Body at theological seminary (1976-1977), and, finally, Board Member of Portland Community College (1985-1990, chair in 1986-1987). Actually, at one point I thought I was destined to a political future, but six years in Kansas (1990-1996) gradually eroded that ambition.
I did manage, for the first and only time in my life, to begin to hang out with a crowd which would have twice-a-month parties on a Friday or Saturday night at the girls' houses. There were about twelve or fourteen of us, and I think we were sort of "coupled," even as I don't remember much about the girl I was supposed to be with. I do know, however, that there was one girl who was terribly interested in me as he year progressed. Margery was her name. Actually, she was very cute and smart. She lazered in on me, I think, because I was almost the tallest guy in the school (I was 6'1" in ninth grade) and she was either 5'11" or 6 feet tall. This was before the days where it was cool for girls to be tall. Time after time she would give me invitations to do things with her; on each occasion, for some unknown reason, I would decline. It was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made with girls, I think, not to respond to her overtures. Nevertheless, I became part of this group of about fourteen ninth graders who would sing, dance, listen to music, play pool, eat, and talk at the various very nice Darien homes of my friends. We were all good kids--there was no drinking or drugs at the parties, even though some of the couples would seemingly be curiously absent for some time during the parties. [A few names I recall from 2020 are Jeanne Butler, Duncan Peters, Debbie Primm]
I was popular enough by the end of ninth grade to be a major figure in a drama composed by the editors of the ninth grade yearbook. Since the show "Batman" was popular at the time, the yearbook story of our class included a "Batman-type" scenario of supposed danger and rescue. However, the person rescuing the alluring beauty in our class drama was "Fatman"--which was my nickname. I don't recall how I got the name, and I certainly wasn't fat in ninth grade, but because I don't think I was emaciated, my friends jokingly referred to me as "Fatman." So, "Fatman" saved the day in our yearbook. I wish I still had a copy of it. And, oh, in the same ninth grade yearbook drama, Margery was the elevator operator. Opposite the reference to her in the story she wrote the following words in my yearbook (I still recall them): "Bill, if you ever want to get high..."
I guess the wells of nostalgia are gushing today, and I will need a few more to finish.
Middlesex Memories IV (1964-1967)
Until my career-diminishing knee injury in junior-year football in California (September 1968), I took pride in my sports accomplishments. I played the standard "big three" during the school year in Darien--Football, Basketball, Track--and then played Babe Ruth Baseball in the summer. Darien, however, had a proud gymnastics tradition, and each year athletes from the high school would come over and demonstrate their prowess on the still rings, pommel horse or balance beam to an awestruck throng of junior high wannabees. I still recall the visit of Randy King. He was a senior, as I recall, at Darien High School, and had suffered with polio as a child. I never really realized how fortunate I was to have been born in 1952, for the kids born even two or three years before me were in great danger of this crippling disease. Well, Randy King shuffled along and limped as he walked, but his upper body looked like Hephaestus at the forge. He skillfully glided around the pommels and then, to the stark amazement of all the junior high he-men guys, was able to do an iron cross on the still rings. I still recall the experience with shivers, and we boys who had previously rolled up our short-sleeved shirts quickly hid our puny biceps.
Perhaps to emphasize the importance of conditioning as well as gymnastics, we were given a gym teacher my 9th grade year named Mr. Battino. Like my music teacher, Mr Laube, Mr. Battino (I think his first name was Isidore--a name which, in my Protestant upbringing, I had never heard. We just referred to him out of earshot as "Joe") thought that America was losing its toughness and it was his duty to restore it. While Laube put us through our musical paces and had us memorize the third/fourth stanza of the Star-Spangled Banner, Battino subjected us to lots of lectures on toughness. He told the story once of the value of gymnastics. He was in the navy in WWII and was on the upper deck of the boat, when he was hit by some object, thus causing him to fall 30 feet to the deck below. Because he knew gymnastics, he treated it as a "dismount," he said, and lightly landed on his feet and did a rear summersault, emerging unscathed. It seemed to me that the toughest people always ran into the most enormous physical obstacles. I, who didn't plan to get knocked off upper decks of ships, politely declined his invitation to take up tumbling.
Tons of guys went out for football, and I made the team in eighth (backup) as well as ninth grade (starter). I forget the name of the coach now, but his assistant coach was Mr. Kirk. I remember this because I played tight end and wore # 6, and at one of the practices when Mr. Kirk asked the quarterbacks and ends to come for a meeting, I shouted to a quarterback: "One more pass." I think I was trying to demonstrate my zeal. Instead, Mr. Kirk (no relation to the guy on Star Trek) thought of it as insubornation, and balled me out before God and everyone. But he didn't know my name. All he said was, "Who do you think you are # 6? etc. etc." I thought it was pretty cool that my coach didn't even know my name (I wasn't a starter at that point)..
I had a much more illustrious ninth grade season, though I think we only played about five games. I began to like defense better than offense, and often would give a crushing tackle (which would probably have seemed to the crowd to be a gentle nudge) on an opposing running back. But my football career took off after that, and I was named an all league defensive lineman for my sophomore league in CA when I moved there the next year.
I was cut from the team in my eighth grade year, after announcing to all who would listen to me that I thought I was "sixth man" after the opening practice. By ninth grade, however, I had honed my skills and made the team. We had a real star in Peter Weller, who had transferred from someplace else (I think in Illinois), and most of the rest of us stood around flat-footed while he pumped in shots from all around. I was the defensive "enforcer," even though I didn't enforce much, and we managed to lose more games than we won. My game high, I recall, was four points. Our coach was my biology teacher, Mr. Platenyk (that may be misspelled), who was not much of a coach but knew all the rules of the game. He took a rather biological approach to the game, expecting us to be able to define terms like flagrant fouls, so at least we knew what we were doing when we committed one [I ran across a reference to a John Platenyk, a 1945 graduate of Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, high school. This was in a 2007 publication, and there was an asterisk after his name--meaning he had died. I am sure this was my teacher].
Track & Field
But it was track & field that was destined to catch my attention. I wasn't very good in eighth grade, but decided in ninth grade that I wanted to be a champion shot putter. During my ninth grade year (Spring 1967), we had a very good putter, Chris Teague (about 43'), and I only threw the 8 pounder about 39 feet. But I worked on throwing the shot almost every day I could in the next year, and by the time the Spring season had ended in sunny CA in May 1968 I had thrown the 12 pound shot a school record (for sophomores) 45'10 1/2". I thought I was destined to be a great shot putter, though the knee injury in Fall 1968 ended that hope. I think I was drawn to track & field because it was a place not only where individual effort was rewarded, but where that effort was the only thing that got you points. It didn't bother me, really, that few people showed up to watch my event, and that no girls were panting over grunting guys whose claim to athletic fame was to push a ball out farther than their neighbor.
And so I finished at Middlesex Junior High School in June 1967, fully expecting to move on to Darien High School in the Fall. But life has its twists and turns. My father was transferred from the NYC branch of Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. to the San Francisco branch. It was good-bye to Darien, and I have scarcely returned in the last 40 years. Yet, as you can tell, the place is indelibly fixed in my memory.