First Steps

As I look back on the path from there to here, it's pretty clear I was fated (occasionally fêted in debauches at 249 Norton Street--hold onto your hats until a later entry...) to take the road less traveled. Surely the die was cast from day one, and my parents would have been well-advised to have consulted an astrologer pronto, just not the same one who cast Ophiel's poorly aspected financial chart.

An Early Train Ride
I have several recollections from babyhood. I well recall the squashed caterpillar on the sidewalk in front of the house, perhaps the only episode from then which might have given Pa and Ma hope for me as a member fitting presentation to society. And I recall my very first dream; it featured the Lone Ranger, Tonto and a kiddie slide in front of our neighbor's house (the Cooks--they were Catholic, so we weren't supposed to associate with them, but I did anyway--already I had decided no one was going to tell me how to do anything). It's funny, but I can still recall the emotional impact of that dream all these years later. I couldn't have been more than two years old or so. Also in memory is when I cut my ankle on a cheap baby's high-chair fashioned of razor-sharp metal. This was clearly in advance of the Product Safety Commission and other such agencies which now monitor every aspect of our lives, and well before litigation became a stupid way of life. Man, if I didn't bleed, and I still sport the scar.

My hometown was Beaver Cleaver's Mayfield. Truly. With an environment like that, and loving parents, and a society which cared about every little boy and girl, you might wonder why I chose the path I did. I don't know for sure, but am suspicious it had something to do with learning to read at a very early age. Books represented an invisible world to others that only I, in my inbred egoism (thanks, Pa!) seemed to be penetrating. For whatever reason, I always wanted to chart my own course. To this day, it grieves me when I see people doing things they don't want to--or worse, not doing things they want to--simply because they believe society expects something well-worn of them. Now I ask you, which is more important: the individual or society? Babbitt's concluding soliloquy comes to mind, to which I'll return another time.

Analysis, not synthesis
One thing's for sure, at a very early age, I learned how to take things apart, a trait that stuck with me my entire life. As this picture demonstrates, no plastic egg was immune to my inquisition, and eventually that would extend to lavatories, among other things. For that matter, my demeanor on stage years later in a rock and roll combo certainly deconstructed society one way or another, making you wonder how we ever got hired back to the same venue.  Perhaps Americans are just gluttons for punishment--there's Babbitt once more. Anyway, should Shiva decide to the spin the wheel widdershins, giving me another chance at incarnation in a previous century, I'd no doubt choose Genghis Khan over "blessed are the cheesemakers" or whoever that guy is everyone yaps on about way too much.

Louise Elementary School was my baccalaureate to both learning and hell-raising. Let's get one thing straight right away. School is the only thing that matters in life. I'm sorry, but my hero Sherlock Holmes was dead wrong on this one:
"I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones."
There's always more room! Was life really invented for us to dwell in the same place for the seventy-some years allotted? Not in my book.

Holding my rod, as per usual
So, I started kindergarten with Mrs. Hook. Nice name. Makes me think that her husband was saddled with a peg leg or some such infirmity, drank rum, maybe even had a parrot perched on his shoulder. Right from the get-go sociopathy set in. During a play period, I still recollect balancing a Kelly green slat atop a stubby grunt brown Lincoln Log, making a sort of see-saw, carefully poising another Log on the tip, then striking the closest end of the slat to launch the anterior Log skyward, smacking it into the long, industrial mercury tube lighting. Mrs. Hook caught me at it, with a reprimand and a new career was launched. Rather amusing is my report card from the end of the year which indicated she was delighted to have had me as a student. Well, my wonderful (and sadly, late) colleague, Ken,  at MSU in the psychology department once reported that one of his female students confessed she could only orgasm by being beaten on the buttocks with a whip. Ken also confided to me that the only students majoring in psychology suffer from various disorders themselves and love to blab about it sans surcease. In many ways, he wound up in the wrong field, for not only was he mentally sound, but he believed in the scientific method.

But back to Louise Elementary School and it was on to the first grade, with Mrs. McGilroy. I truly believe I felt antipathy to her right away. The whole notion of "do what I tell you to, because I am in charge" really rankled. I had localized the enemy, and this was definitely the precursor of Mousey, Herbie, Beetface and probably a dean or two along the way, nemeses who will all make appearances later in this blog. 

It's pretty clear that at age five, the great Sir Isaac Newton had become my rôle model. The year previous, I had already replicated his experiments in mechanics with Lincoln Logs but now I was poised to explore his results in heat flow and thermodynamics in Mrs. McGilroy's class room.

Sartorial sense came early
Two things: Louise Elementary School had water heat, with those hideous old-fashioned radiators vaguely resembling some icky part of the human alimentary canal, always painted a matte Pepto-Bismal pink. And then, as a cost savings, the only crayons permitted us first-graders were the stub-ends of junky old nubbins left over from the previous twenty years of inmates who suffered through Mrs. McGilroy. The box was enormous, filled to the brim with emasculated crayons, not a one of which was more than an inch long. Size matters when you're an artist.

Hmm...a hot water radiator next to my desk. And a crayon composed of wax of a very low specific melting point. 

By the end of the day, the radiator was acned with blobs galore of drippy multi-colored tallow.

Believe me, I date my foray into the world of sociopathy to that crayon dalliance. Really. Had the teacher said nothing, I probably would have turned out a very different person, maybe even gotten a degree in accountancy and worked until retirement at a bank. But because Mrs. McGilroy raised a stink about the senseless vandalism, I now had a purpose in life.

Why bother shampooing, when a book is handy?
Should there be a hue and cry I would be more than willing to paint additional pictures of Louise Elementary School for you. But for the nonce, here's a bit of a summary of the ensuing years:

Second Grade: Mrs. Haberkamp--I was quite fond of her and almost lost my hell-raising tendencies under her tutelage. I do recall working multiplication problems at the blackboard in Roman numerals for a bit of a show, but mainly just wondering if it could be done.

Third Grade: Miss Byers (Miss Pliers in our playbook), now she could easily have been a female professional wrestler of the fifties--look out Fabulous Moolah! The physique was right, and more importantly, the attitude was there. But can you really figure out a person who spends an entire life thinking coition is something to flee at all costs? I really did like the solitary blue patterned dress she owned, though. With the onset of the third grade, it was business as usual, learning how to defeat the system once more. It was almost like having Abbie Hoffman as a spiritual guide. Getting expelled from class for wearing a galosh on my head was a highlight. Seeing Jack (who will reappear in a later entry here as Priapus personified) take heat for spilling rubber cement on the floor was also good for some yucks. I loved it that the clean-up with tissues only made things worse.

Fourth Grade: Miss Hyatt--what a moustachio! Not only was she wicked, but dumber than a box of rocks. Miss Hyatt was very young, just out of college, but didn't know shit from Shinola about her chosen career nor her clientele. Even then, I wondered if she really chose it; she could have far more easily wound up in thigh-high boots, leather thong and peek-a-boo bustier, working for a roving dominatrix service advertising out of the back pages of Screw magazine. And, oh, it was this year that I was sent home early for sketching a pencil drawing of a female breast, something that would occupy my mind ever since. You know, I probably would have never given tits a second thought had Miss Hyatt just looked the other way and pretended not to notice my prowess with an HB lead. So maybe I owe her something.

Fifth Grade: Miss DeGeusse--of Dutch ancestry, and pronounced "duh-goice," we always called her Miss "Cook the Goose." But I really liked her and admired her patience with rabble-rousers such as the gang we had now assembled: Dugg Bedd, Fake-Nose, Whitey, Armpit and Admiral Andy, some lads who will appear in later postings. Perhaps more to the point, it was under Miss DeGeusse's guidance that reading became an obsession. You know, I hadn't thought of her for years. Had you asked me yesterday, I would have said "Never trust anyone who comes from Central College in Pella." But she's clearly the exception who proves the rule, whatever that means. In the main, mixing Christianity with collegiate activities is fatal, but somehow Miss DeGeusse managed to escape unscathed and be a decent person anyway.

Sixth Grade: Mr. Cherry--ah, now anyone who's named after a membrane that serves to impede, you just know is going to be trouble. I'll have more to say about Il Duce in later entries. While Miss DeGeusse made reading ambrosia, Mr. Cherry did everything in his power to discourage such subversive activities. He was born with a two-by-four in lieu of a backbone.

And that, in précis, is my sojourn through Louise Elementary School. Three all important points were made to me then. First, society is not always the best judge of how to grow. Second, there is nothing like a good friend whom you can always trust. And third, reading is the best way to break the chromosomes of samey-ness. Even as a grammar school student, I had decided to: question authority, love friends and learn everything I could. Not a bad start, but I still hadn't heard from Dr. Timothy Leary, Count Vladimir Svareff or Sebastian Melmoth.

Or had I?

Next installment: Physical Culture

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