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Posts Tagged ‘high school’

Satan Comes to Oklahoma City

October 30, 2014 | by

Facing fears in the Sooner State.

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Photo: the Satanic Temple

My ailing wife, Amy, had demanded that I take her to a Black Mass, a well-publicized one that would have meant aligning myself with Satan on local television. These people aren’t really Satanists, Amy explained. They’re blue-collar subculture types who’ve grown up and know their rights and want to thumb their noses at the judgy creeps who persecuted them growing up. Amy, who had seen more than her fair share of those creeps in her own youth, wanted to lend her support.

“Understand that this is all they’ve got,” she told me. “It may seem stupid, but after twenty years of getting shit it’s all they’ve got.”

Despite protests from the local Catholic community, the [Satanic] Church of Ahriman held a Black Mass at the Civic Center in Oklahoma City on September 22. The Catholics had also attempted to file an injunction against them, claiming they had stolen the Holy Sacrament they intended to defile in an unholy consecration. This was their fourth mass, but this time it was for real. The Satanists had won permission to build a monument to Satan on the grounds of the State Capitol, and the wild bad reverend in charge of the Church of Ahriman (also known as the Dakhma of Angra Mainyu) was new and media savvy. He basked in the attention, held interviews and press conferences, did all he could to whip his antagonists into a righteous froth. Those antagonists arrived by the busload and dug in, singing songs and passing out leaflets.

Much of the south refers to itself as the buckle of the Bible belt, but Oklahoma has a special claim to bucklehood: there’s the hard-line Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, and everywhere you turn there seems to be a crucifix; pricey little Amish general stores line the highways and tens of thousands of churches are sprinkled throughout the state, from hippieish splinter sects nestled in the foothills of the Ozarks to goliath megachurches with media teams and television studios and lobbying groups. Life in the Sooner State has a churchy feeling—the stickiness of Kool-Aid soaking through the seams of a waxed paper cup, bake sales manned from behind rickety card tables, devotional sing-alongs, gymnasium lock-ins—and there’s a creeping sense of menace for outsiders. Read More »

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Charm

September 22, 2014 | by

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Detail from the cover of The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm (1962)

When I was in tenth grade, I went through a phase when I cut class all the time. Not in a fun way—I never told any of my friends what I was doing—or to be rebellious. In retrospect, I think I must have been depressed; I simply could not face other people, or think beyond hiding myself in the library in a small nook on the second floor. For some reason, I always read The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm, from 1962.

Polly Bergen died this week at the age of eighty-four. She was a polymath: an actress, singer, professional sophisticate, and (evidently) advice-giver. I knew none of this when I first picked up the book—why it was in my high school's library is another open question—but quickly I learned about her country-music career, her success in films like Cape Fear, and, of course, the development of her signature look, which involved big glasses and a pouf of a dark coif. It’s not hard to see what attracted me; the cover features Bergen, in evening dress, peering out seductively from behind a cellophane curtain.

Bergen would go on to be a successful entrepreneur—she sold makeup, jewelry, and shoe lines—and an outspoken feminist. She was what was known as a “big personality” in the day, and was open about her ambition and strong will. Her recent obituaries have been laudatory, and quite moving.

In tenth grade, I didn’t know anything about Bergen’s life past 1962, but during those few months of intense intimacy, her brassy sixties-era confidence was deeply comforting. I liked how definite she was about beauty tips, the elements of charm, and the importance of establishing a “type.” I remember her writing that she was really only herself in her glasses; I liked that this was an essential part of her glamor.

One day, I got caught by my favorite teacher. He had checked with the nurse’s office and found that I had lied about being sick. (I had been in the library, reading The Polly Bergen Book of Beauty, Fashion and Charm.) This man was a wonderful teacher; I loved his history class, and I knew he liked me, too, and thought I was smart. I know exactly why I had skipped his class that day. I was ashamed; I had not wanted him to see me depressed and unprepared and as I really was. I wanted to keep his good opinion. “Why did you lie to me?” he said, seeming really hurt. And I didn’t know what to say. Of course, he didn’t like me after that.

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Jitterbug Perfume

May 28, 2014 | by

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William H. Johnson, Jitterbugs (II), c. 1941

This week hundreds of passionate practitioners, armed with their passports and their dance shoes, have descended on the city where it started to celebrate the man who was one of its early creators.

“It has a universality,” said Cynthia R. Millman, who co-wrote a memoir with that man, Frankie Manning, who is revered for creating a gravity-defying move. “That’s why it was a phenomenon back in the day and why it’s a phenomenon today.”

 —“A Celebration of the Lindy Hop’s Founder,” The New York Times

Like many people, I have no wish to revisit my high-school years. Although my experience was relatively benign and I have fond memories of the institution itself, I have deliberately hidden my yearbooks and was not tempted to attend this weekend’s reunion. That is why, for a long time, I avoided Irving Place.

Through most of high school, my set of friends—some five girls and four boys—and I spent every Sunday evening at Irving Plaza, swing dancing. This was in the late nineties, and the swing revival was in full effect, with Brian Setzer picking up Grammies and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies getting semiregular air play. Even at the time, I found things about it sort of embarrassing—the cherry prints, the Swingers-style bowling shirts, the general L.A. cheesiness—but it was still a highlight of my week.

Back then, Irving Plaza, the deco-era theater off East Fifteenth Street, had not yet been renovated. It was splendidly gloomy, draped in mouldering red velvet and bedecked with a giant, 1930s mirror ball. My friends and I learned about its Sunday night swing concerts at the 92nd Street Y, where, on Saturday nights (at my instigation) we would sometimes attend the Argentine tango classes offered by a pair of octogenarians to a largely geriatric crowd. Probably someone told us that the Irving Plaza scene would be younger. Read More »

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Chevrolet Caprice

April 21, 2014 | by

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A 1987 Chevrolet Caprice.

On a Tuesday in late August, on my way to the ferry landing at Thirty-Fourth Street, I saw a huge, white, rusted-out Chevy Caprice make an illegal turn off FDR Drive, nearly skidding onto just two wheels. The Caprice barreled up Thirty-Fourth Street. When it blew by me I got a quick look at its occupants: three old ladies, all elaborately coiffed: the driver, another riding shotgun, and the third leaning forward in the backseat to better converse with the other two. I imagined they had just come from a group outing to the beauty parlor. Each of them probably had a rain bonnet tucked away in their purses, in case it rained later. The driver was wearing Gloria Vanderbilt–style sunglasses and a smashing shade of coral lipstick that was probably really popular in the seventies. I was quite taken with her. When I’m an old lady I want to drive around with my girl gang in a huge rusted-out white Caprice Classic and piss off cab drivers everywhere, I thought.

The image of the three ladies stayed with me well into the next day, which was also, randomly, Tori Amos’s fiftieth birthday. In observation, a pop-culture site compiled and ranked her 100 best songs. I dumped the top fifteen or so into a playlist and listened to it for most of the day. I felt sad but not depressed, an odd combination for me. One of the reasons I don’t listen to Tori anymore is that I am old. The other is that listening to Tori Amos reminds me of Tracy, my best friend from high school. Emma Straub wrote a piece for the Daily a few years ago called “My Rayannes,” which, in reference to Rayanne Graff from the nineties TV drama My So-Called Life, posits that all teenage girls are half lesbian. Less outrageously, it outlines an adolescent phenomenon in which one seeks a darker, more daring, more risk-taking counterpart—an accomplice in DIY piercings, home dye jobs, and, in Straub’s words, “tempestuous, obsessive friendship.” Read More »

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Peace Reigns Throughout the Land, and Other News

January 16, 2014 | by

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Stained glass window, Denis and Saint Sebastian Church, Kruft, Germany. Photo: Reinhardhauke, Wikimedia Commons.

*persistent, intractable religious hostilities notwithstanding

 

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Amateur Night

November 18, 2013 | by

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Image via Pod Collective

Instead of attending my ten-year high school reunion I went to a psychic healer. This was the Boston suburbs, on the eve of Thanksgiving. Annually, on the night in question, prodigal Massholes in the eighteen-to-thirty-five demographic flock to the bars in Allston, Brighton, and downtown Boston for both informal and official reunions. Said reunions are marked by blackout binge drinking, vomit-flooded gutters, vomit-mouthed makeout sessions, and less-than-sober car rides back to the suburbs in mom-borrowed minivans. Boston radio DJ’s have euphemistically dubbed it “Amateur Night.”

If this sounds appealing, then we may have been friends in high school—at least in a superficial, pass the blunt kind of way—but no longer have much, if anything, in common. I don’t mean that to sound snobbishly pejorative. I grew up just outside of Boston, in Newton, Massachusetts, a wealthy white enclave famous for Fig Newtons, a high concentration of psychiatrists, and its recent reign as CQ Press’s safest city in America. It is a place filled with driven parents and overachieving children; of the roughly 350 students in my graduating class, nearly a dozen went to Harvard, not to mention all those who attended safety schools like Princeton, Brown, and Cornell. Many of my former classmates have gone on to great success. But high achievement and Frat Boy idiocy are not mutually exclusive. Like Clark Kent, my former classmates slip easily from business attire to superhero casual, removing stiff shirts at happy hour to reveal Red Sox logos. By day they are lawyers, doctors, and titans of industry. By night they drop their ‘r’s and instigate fisticuffs with tough-talking townies. In part, this performance reeks of rich kid guilt—it’s a certain kind of slumming—but more so, I think it speaks to something particularly Bostonian, a product of drinking too much dirty water, or years spent sitting in obscured view seats at Fenway, or a Kennedy-inherited Irish McLiberalism, in which money is disconnected from decorum.

I know all of this—the styles and habits of my former classmates—through Facebook, of course. I have followed these classmates for years online, sharing in their triumphs and tragedies, comparing my sex partners to theirs. In a sense, social media has rendered reunions obsolete; it has killed our curiosity. No longer does one attend a reunion wondering whatever happened to so-and-so, or shocked that the band geek has blossomed into a beauty. And though romantic comedies have emphasized the important role reunions can play in the healing of one’s high-school psychic wounds, the truth, these days, is that life’s winners have already etched their humble brags into our collective conscience online.

But maybe I was just bitter and embarrassed. It’s not that I was in such bad shape ten years on—I’d managed to kick a drug habit (Tylenol PM), move out of my parents’ basement, and trick a wonderful woman into dating me—but that in a group of high achievers, I was definitively unimpressive. After a long period of unemployment, I had moved to New York and become the cliché of a struggling writer, working part-time in a bookstore, publishing occasional TV recaps online, and squeezing into the skinniest jeans I could manage. I’d received a number of rejections on my autobiographical novel about a twenty-something stoner who can’t get over high school. Read More »

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