Monday, February 21, 2011

"Morgan is sad today. Sadder than yesterday."

Thinking back to the early days of the Diamond Bar Players has gotten me in an old theatrical mood.  I loved the drama classes in high school, but my constant fights with authority took away my enthusiasm for the academic life.  When I was at John A. Rowland High in Rowland Heights, CA, I wanted to be treated like a college student.  Dress in my mod, chord jacket and turtleneck look and pursue a career in English literature, speech and drama.  But I kept running into battles with the principal and some uptight P.E. coaches over hair length and dress code.  And this is where they lost me.  The rather moderate academic being created into the subversive radical.  The suburban anarchist.  I had some very cool teachers.  Looking back now, it is easier to tell the more free thinking staff from the closeted (and I mean this is in an almost gothic sort of a way), neurotic stick-up-the ass instructors who brought their hidden home abuses and inflicted them upon the tiny pets that they make bark and cower.  It is very clear.  The storm trooper types hated clever.  Or at worst, the smart ass.  But most of all, in these hallowed halls of learning, they despised any student who asked questions.  You were only supposed to have the answers to questions that had already been asked, with only one correct conclusion.  NEVER ask a question that hasn't already been answered.  Only in this way can true progress be controlled.

So there were the cool teachers.  I wish I could go back and talk to some of these people now and see how they really lived.  I remember that the hip ones were drama teachers, English teachers, an occasional eccentric math teacher or the cool sports instructors, the gymnastic cats.  An anecdote here: I hated physical education. Year after year, freezing my nuts off in the morning drizzle, while neanderthal coaches, heavily bundled, drank their coffee and told us to do laps.  Swine!  Slacker whiffs of Leni Riefenstahl.  Showering with smelly alpha-males. Jock-straps shot like sling shots.  Is this how civilized people live?  I hated it.  But I had a good yet goofy friend in Diamond Bar named Brian Brumby who never had to attend a P.E. class in his life.  How?  Because he signed up as a coach's assistant, attending all the after school games.  Football.  Baseball.  Basketball.  Doing the stats and such, and coming home after six or seven p.m. on the last bus.  By my Senior year, I realized this was the way to get out of the army.  No more sit-ups for me.  What sport wasn't taken up my friend Brian?  Gymnastics.  Section 8, sign me up.

And trust me, the cool guys were the coaches on this sport.  Individual achievement as opposed to team sports.  The coach didn't give a fart about my longer than normal blonde hair.  As long as I could write what the high jump numbers were in the little book, that's all that mattered technically.  And the assistant coach was a Bryan Ferry looking like cat who I'm sure read Playboy and had a liquor cabinet next to his folk records or Blue Note jazz collection.  I recall having conversations about his previous night's escapade with some bird de jour.  I may be reading more into this than was real, but I do know it was the uber-butch baseball coach, who kept bitching about me having my hair too long and sending me over to the principal's office to get a reality check.  I probably reminded him of his ex-girlfriend. Or...?

Anyway, to make a long story thanks to the cool teachers.  The others, being so uncool, must find the heat excessive.  I will come back to these moments.  Examples of this kind of madness popped up in junior high.  High school definitely changed the equation.  I lost a sense of discipline until two colleges later.  At Santa Barbara City College in the Drama Department, that early love of academia returned.  I got it in the Speech class as well, but I was still uninterested in all other required subjects.  Coming around to my original inspiration for this entry was the fact that only in the drama classes were we (in an artistic sense), able to ask the questions that did not have a preordained answer.  Call it a liberal bias if that's your hang-up, but the questioning of authority seemed to be in the drama department. 

My first play at SBCC was the distinctly anti-war work, Bury the Dead.  A drama in the spirit of Orson Welles' Mercury Players, this almost Brechtian meets Rod Serling production considered the possibility of war dead refusing to die and being martyred and ultimately forgotten for the sake of war profiteers.  I was one of the undead.

Later we did The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, another pacifist play.  Then later, Abelard & Heloise, on suggestion from yours truly, who had seen the show done in Los Angeles with Diana Rigg and Keith Michell.

A quick slide back to the tyrants who ruled the high school.  Our school had a principal whose last name sounded very close to the word Anus.  Well, this Anus kept suspending me for my ultra cool Illya Kuryakin look of wearing my blonde hair slightly over the ears, and not buzz-cut on the neck like I just landed off of Iwo Jima.  So I was suspended just before the end of my Senior year.  I trimmed my cool mod looks down to a slightly "I've just been released from Baden-Baden camp thanks to the Allies" look by wearing a low cut shirt rather than my usual turtleneck.  Anus sez, "Well, that's good enough ('guden auf') to get back into class.  But you will have to cut it again for Graduation.  You can't look like that if you want to get your diploma."  My response?  "Mail it to me."

A further side note regarding principal Anus.  Long after I left the multi-purpose rooms of John A. Rowland and was doing my thing in Santa Barbara, I saw my old alma mustard mentioned in the news regarding a political embarrassment.  It seemed the high school band had been invited to play at President Richard M. Nixon's arrival at not-so-nearby Ontario airport.  A band member, not being a fan of Tricky Dick, but still having to play for the Fearless Leader's arrival, felt he would show his right to dissent by placing a McGovern sticker in his tuba horn bell.  The result from my former principal expulsion from high school...and those rip roarin' raiders. You can't write better drama than this.  I wonder where my Anus is today?  He seemed to give us all PILES of trouble.

Drama folks.  It started with the Greeks, maybe earlier.  The Trojan Women or Johnny Got His Gun.  Liberal Arts.  Me likee.