Cartoon and Illustration

High School Reunion

Last weekend my best buddy, Joel, drove up here to the mountains to attend his 35th reunion of Tuscola High School class of 1980.  (I’m class of ’81 actually, but the class of ’80 was cool and invited all of the tertiary classes to come to a picnic on Saturday afternoon).

About the same time that Joel hit the road last Friday I had to do some quick clean up around here, and in the process dropped a big carton of books, splitting it open with all the content spilling out all over.  Among the items it contained were a stack of digest sized comic books from about that same period of time.

Coincidence?  Perhaps–but odd that the two incidents coincided–well, I guess that’s the definition of coincidence now isn’t it?

Anyway, I’ve been reading through those books again for the first time in years.  One of the first stories I read was a team up of Superman and Sgt. Rock wherein Superman is catapulted back 35 year in time to the days of World War II–in other words the story that I read while still in High School was set 35 years before during WWII, and now I am living in a world 35 years beyond that!

I think maybe my brain exploded a little at that thought, because I’ve really been struggling this week to remain productive.

Anyway, it’s got me thinking of what it was like back in High School.  I’m not too proud to admit that I was pretty geeky–the reason I don’t care to say that is that I’m still geeky (and it helps that “geeky” is the new cool).  But back at Tuscola things were hard for us geeks.  I didn’t realize that High School being hard was true for everyone else (all non-geeks) until I got to talking with some other people from ol’ THS during the reunion picnic.

Some turned to drugs, or alcohol, or sex.  Me? I had a 20 comic a week habit.

Back then comics were running about 35¢ a copy, unless it was a special edition.  The digest size comics I found ran 95¢ at first and eventually worked their way up to $1.50 before I stopped buying them regularly (or they stopped publishing them, not sure which).  Of course these days a regular comic goes for $4-5, but that’s a topic for another time.

Anyway, doing a little figuring here.  I got about a buck per year of age for an allowance (sometimes more, depending on how much I helped my Dad at his gas station–so usually about a buck per year of age).  Which means that on average I had around $15 a week to blow and therefore could afford something like 40 comics per week–but I only bought about 20 per week.  I actually wasn’t doing too badly financially, spending about half my disposable income on comics.  I still wanted to go to movies, hang out with friends, buy other junk, toys, model kits, candy, etc.

But I also realize that the reason I was so engrossed by all those comics is that High School sucked!

It’s my impression (having talked to many of our younger friends) that things have not changed a great deal since then.

Which is not to say that I have a cure for High School.

The only cure for that is to get through it and move on.  In my particular case that meant dropping out due to all the anxiety related health issues I had, then getting my GED and going off to study art at Southwestern Technical College (later Southwestern Community College).

I honestly don’t know how anyone else made it through.

Did hear tales around the picnic table that several of the folks at THS struggled with a particular guidance counselor.  I’ve forgotten the guy’s name (which is just as well) but it’s nice to know that he wasn’t picking on me in particular–though the fact that he was as difficult for everyone else makes me sad for them.

Seriously though, I lived the whole geek thing back then because it was a drag out in the “real” world.  I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t rather cruise through space with Superboy and the Legion of Superheroes than have to sit through Algebra the second time around.

I did sit through Algebra the second time around, and was doing all right at it before my body succumbed to various allergies and panic attacks, that lead to irritable bowel syndrome–my solution was to go hide out at home.  Once I turned 16 our family physician suggested me dropping out was the best route to take.

What a relief.

But I did continue to hide out at home for a while.  I was really ashamed of having dropped out and figured I’d be a social pariah.  (And then there’s that whole awkward thing of not knowing when I’d have to run off to the bathroom, but let’s not get into that either).

Joel actually rescued me from that seclusion.  If it weren’t for him I’d probably still be hiding in my bedroom waiting for another panic attack.  Good buddy that he was, he used to come over every Friday night and say something like, “Hey, let’s go roller skating!  It’s only a mile down the road and if you get to feeling bad, I’ll bring you right home!”  We never did get anywhere with the girls at the roller rink (which was always in the back of our minds) but we still had fun.

So I got out of the house some and eventually built up the courage to go take the aforementioned GED and sign up for classes at STC (SCC) the next fall.

I can’t quite figure out what made Community College so different from High School.  I mean in North Carolina the Community Colleges are run by the same board of education that the High Schools are.  STC was less than a mile from the Sylva High School (not MY High School, but I haven’t heard anything to suggest it was more or less a drag than THS).  The people studying there were basically my age–okay, a couple of years older since I was the youngest one there, but there wasn’t that feeling of imprisonment I’d had since entering public school.

We could come or go as we pleased–maybe that’s it.

Additionally, I could actually take serious art classes.  In High School there were only a few spaces available for students in the art classes they offered, and most people considered art class a blow off–while at STC the classes were actually taken seriously, and while there was always a herd of people signed up on the first day those people quickly learned that the classes were not easy (and 90% of them dropped out before the first week was through).

Anyway, I guess it was that feeling in High School that only a few “special” kids were allowed to take art–and most of the kids then did simply goof off.  (Joel’s brother, Richard, a talented painter even then, literally dropped out of Tuscola because they would not allow him to be in the art program!)  At Southwestern the art classes were something you had to work hard at or get flunked!

So of course I took to it like a fish to water, right?

Well, not really.  I blew off the classes a lot.  Thought I knew it all and ended up dropping out.  Then reinrolled the next fall, doing it all over again.  I never did get serious about it until after I was married.  Then I knuckled down and did solid work–got on the President’s List, joined Honor Society (PTK), and had a lot more fun working hard than I’d had goofing off back when I was a teen.

Okay, I’ve been griping a lot about how hard it was to be a teen in High School.  I’m 51 (almost 52) now and know how frustrating it can be trying to work with teens (not a public school teacher myself, but know a few).  Still and all there didn’t seem to be a lot of what one might call compassion on the part of the faculty and staff in High School, whereas there seemed to be more patience at Community College.  Maybe it was because it wasn’t all 16 year olds in a class?  Hmm, that deserves a little thought–maybe…

As I said, I don’t have the answer.  I am simply remembering stuff by looking at all those comics again.  Comics that are older than the entire industry was the year I was born.  (That triggered another brain explosion).

I’ve got copies of Doom Patrol, Justice Society, two Legion of Superheroes, and a Binky and His Buddies sitting here in front of me, ready to be taken home for some bedside reading in the next few evenings.  Who knows what memories those will dredge up out of my past?