Tag Archives: Middle school

Middle School Drinking and Its Aftermath

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Dead Drunk

Dead Drunk (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My friend Edan and I somehow got caught up in the quest for cool rebellion.  It was an electric summer for the music scene in 1993.  Riding the coattails of gritty, raw bands like The Cult, the Pixies and Guns n’ RosesNirvana‘s Nevermind had already wrecked the glam rock of the late eighties, and other bands were coming out of the wood work that rode Kurt Cobain‘s trail of mayhem, including Pearl JamSoul AsylumAlice in ChainsBlind Melon and Soundgarden.

Edan and I were listening to all of this new music, and coming of age as well.  Puberty was figuratively smacking us in the face.  Girls were becoming more and more of an irresistible enigma, and we were starting to develop heroes apart from our parents and the basketball icon Michael Jordan.

Our heroes were found in the ringing loudness of cassette tapes, and a new invention that was starting become common in home sound systems- Compact Discs.  Kurt Cobain sang of a world we deeply wanted to understand.  We began to be fascinated with the idea of being intoxicated, because we knew all of these guys constantly were.  And since I played music I somehow believed that intoxication would enhance my music, and in many ways that’s what I cared about the most- playing and writing good music.

We started by rolling up green oak leaves and stealing my Dad’s lighter.  We’d go out into in my backyard and sit in an oak tree (where else???) and smoke oak leaves!  We definitely didn’t inhale, but we got the adrenaline rush that came with doing something we knew our parents would think was wrong (or maybe really, just stupid and weird!)

From there it moved on to smoking cinnamon sticks, which weren’t very good at all.  It was amazing how silly we were doing these things.

Then we got the hunger to begin trying something truly illegal, smoking cigarettes while we were still only 12 years old.  We used to wait by the entrance of a grocery store in town.  People would walk in and put their cigarettes in the ash tray outside, some of them still mostly full.  We would take the cigarettes and smoke them!  Man, looking back I’m glad we didn’t get some sort of Hepatitis!

Edan’s 13th birthday was coming up.  It was the end of summer, the beginning of our 7th grade year in school.  Nirvana’s “In Utero” had just hit the CD racks in music stores, and we bought it up immediately.  With this music as our background soundtrack, we decided to steal a bunch of booze from Edan’s Dad.  We stole a couple of beers, we took little plastic bottles and filled them with whiskey, then rum, and then vodka.  I paid a 7th Grader about 3 bucks for a pack of cigarettes that was half empty (that would be a cheap price now, but then it was a rip-off!).  So we had gathered up what we saw as the most trouble we could get ourselves into to prepare for Eric’s 13th birthday bash.

Edan invited a number of his and my friends to the party.  After an evening of walking around on the dirt of an undeveloped area of his neighborhood and smoking cigarettes in the cool Fall evening, we headed back to his house.

When his parents were asleep, we broke out all of the alcohol.  I treaded carefully and drank little sips, pretending to be more and more intoxicated, when I was really faking it.  One of our friends, Nathan, refused to participate in the drinking.  He actually became the prophet of morality for the night.  We made fun of him for standing out.  I look back and realize it took a lot of courage to do.  As a thirty-two-year old man who has been sober for thirteen years, I know that I would be the one to stand out now.  Of course, I’d do it without condemning the people that are partying.  But then, I was much different, and much more easily persuaded to follow my id.

The night went on, and everyone seemed to be faking it like they were drunk.  We all winded down and Edan seemed to get crazier.  I suppose he drank a whole lot more than most of us, because a lot of us were just scared to do it.  Edan started getting violent and cynical.  He came after a few of us physically.  I remembered Nathan wrestling him and throwing him to the ground one time.  I think the alcohol just got a hold of Edan in a way he couldn’t handle (I mean, what 12 year old kid could?).  The night ended with Edan hugging the toilet and vomiting for quite awhile.

We woke up the next morning and I was too naive to understand what had happened.  I was seriously mad at Edan for acting that way and didn’t realize how much the alcohol had taken hold of him.  Regretfully I shunned Edan after that.  It was another step in my quest for popularity, and I was willing to mow anyone down to get there.  I turned other people against him and spread vicious rumors about him.  And it wasn’t until my eleventh grade year of High School that I came to tell him how sorry I was for that.

Junior High School is a cold, Darwinian arena where “survival of the fittest”, or maybe “coolest” or “meanest” can be the only rule.  Those who create the rumor mill and oppress the honest and vulnerable come to prominence.  Those who forthrightly navigate their way through the wilderness of confusion get left behind in a trail of smoke.  Some of these realities come alive in adulthood, where consumers subversively gnaw and tear at each other’s souls, and bosses subversively undercut and demoralize their employees.  Hopefully, we learn from these errors and seek to love our friends, neighbors and enemies, fueled by unconditional love from above.  Yet it is the lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7)  Our very nature is to spread calamity, but rising above it is possible through surrender.

I didn’t realize these things at the naive age of twelve.  I would have many years of infamy before being driven towards true assertion.

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Riding the Tailwind of Kurt Cobain’s Suicide

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kurt cobain and frances bean

kurt cobain and frances bean (Photo credit: seattlewhat)

Electric “Grunge” Rock filled the soundwaves of 1993 and 1994.  We could talk about the hits by Mariah Carey, Ace of Base and Boyz II Men that filled the radio stations those years, but my friends and I were fueled by the gritty sounds of Nirvana, as well as the Doors, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin.  Seventh grade became a year of great defiance and anger for me, and my new clan of friends.  They were years of rollerblading around Hudson Ohio and stealing “chromies” off of cars.  Chromies were the term we used for really shiny or novelty tire air cap covers.  We used to fly around on our blades, unscrewing them off of cars, and at times getting caught by the car owners and flying off on a cement getaway.

We were into vandalism also.  Kalen and I used to smash windows, and use BB guns to blow out gas meters.  We would fill balloons with maple or chocolate syrup and throw them at parked cars.  We would walk the train tracks to golf courses and shoot geese with our BB guns, as well as tearing up the greens with our shoes.  Once, Percy and I raided a vacant high-school prep dorm room and coated the walls and carpet with fire extinguisher foam, escaping after out of where else?  The fire escape!

We spent plenty of afternoons after school walking downtown to Hudson and finding underground spots to hide our misdemeanor crimes.  We would go to a spot called “the ribs”, which was hidden in the forest underneath a little bridge by a creek.  It was a hot spot for kids to go who drank and smoked.  There would even be times when groups of seventh graders would just be walking openly on the sidewalks smoking cigarettes.  We employed a method of hiding them called “cupping” where we’d keep the cigarettes cupped in our hands as if nobody would notice the trail of smoke we had in our wake.

Amidst all this pursuit of a bad boy image my friends and I grew in popularity and infamy amongst our peers at school.  Younger or less arrogant kids would duck away from us, because they knew they’d be thrown against a locker if they looked at us the wrong way.  Somehow our ability to be mean gained us a certain measure of respect.  Something in me knew how awful it was, but I enjoyed the power trip and respect that bullying brought me.  But it is undeniable that the violence of the wicked will sweep them away, because they refuse to do what is just. (Prov. 21:7)  I had no idea of the size of the garbage pile that I was accumulating- a garbage pile filled with consequence and regret.

This popularity even got the attention of a few girls for me, which was new.  Maybe the rollerblading had burned off some of the baby fat, and the everlasting scowl that I wore on my face warranted me some attention as a “bad boy”.  Nevertheless, I was looked at in a different light than the days of chubby nerdy-ness.  Popular girls started to notice me.  This fed my hunger for notoriety even more.

It all came to a climax at the seventh grade talent show.  We had by no means practiced to the point of being professional, but our band “Joker’s Wild” had become somewhat of an in-house enigma to fellow schoolmates.

Kurt Cobain had committed suicide by blowing his head off with a shotgun on April 5th in the Spring of 1994.  In his suicide note he even wrote about his wife, Courtney Love of the band “Hole”, and their daughter, Frances Bean.  He wrote;

I have a goddess of a wife who sweats ambition and empathy and a daughter who reminds me too much of what i used to be, full of love and joy, kissing every person she meets because everyone is good and will do her no harm. And that terrifies me to the point to where I can barely function. I can’t stand the thought of Frances becoming the miserable, self-destructive, death rocker that I’ve become. (http://kurtcobainssuicidenote.com/kurt_cobains_suicide_note.html)

So Kurt Cobain had become a rock n’ roll casualty.  He had chased after the life we so desperately aimed for and it ended in terrible misery, even reflecting on the innocence of his little child and being overcome with his own self-destruction.

We paid homage to Kurt in our seventh grade talent show performance, doing a naïve but nonetheless distorted and angst-ridden version of “All Apologies”.  Percy sang out the melodies as if they cut through to his very own heart, and I picked out the dirty guitar riff on my cherry red Gibson Les Paul as if it was the song of my life.  We had about 5 people in our band at that point, including our good friend Jaden who had picked up the bass guitar a couple months earlier and worked his butt off to learn the parts.

Our version of All Apologies lit the young crowd of our peers up, and they cheered for an encore, which we had pre-meditated (we had put a bunch of our friends up to yelling “ENCORE, ENCORE”!).  Our song of acclamation was a grunge rock version of “Day Tripper” by the Beatles, which lit the crowd up even more because of it’s upbeat vibe.  The crowd cheered and we felt as if we were now legends.  If girls liked us a little bit before, they liked us even more then.  In so many ways, no matter how many people we had mowed down to get there, we felt as if we were at the top of the world.  Percy and I were the creative force behind what we believed would be a lifetime career- to be the next huge band to change the world with music.  We had no idea how naive we really were, but who does in the utopia of seventh grade?

True Childhood Friends

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three young friends on the beach

three young friends on the beach (Photo credit: deflam)

While riding the high of the Middle School Talent show, Percy and I began to plan our big push for adolescent fame.  We played a couple of parties at our friends houses, and I even sang a bad rendition of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath.  I didn’t know how to sing and I remember everyone looking at me funny, as I turned purple trying to sing it.  I didn’t know how to breathe correctly when singing back then.

The summer of 1994 was filled with careless freedom.  Groups of friends would get together and watch horror movies all night.  We’d sneak into the local parks at dusk and smoke cigarettes.

I even remember being with a huge group of friends at what was then called “Geauga Lake”- a little amusement park that smelled like urine and had cheesy roller coasters.  Even at the age of 12, I had never ridden a roller coaster in my life.  I made up a tough image to make all my friends think I just thought roller coasters were stupid.  Percy made me aware during this trip that Alicia, who was one of the hottest girls in our grade, actually liked me.  At one point a big group of people went to ride “The Raging Wolf Bobs”, which was the biggest roller coaster there.  Percy convinced Alicia to stay behind and hang out with me.  I just sat sheepishly on that amusement park bench with her as the others rode the coaster.  She asked me; “Why aren’t you riding with everyone?”  And I replied with an air of toughness; “Roller coasters are just stupid”.

And as Middle School crushes go, Alicia fell in love with someone else about a week later.  I kicked myself for not making the move with her earlier, but the whole world of girls was new to me.

One time, Percy and I were invited to a pool party with all of the popular kids in our grade.  This was a truly self-conscious experience for me because no matter how much I rollerbladed I couldn’t shed the large quantities of Cheetos and Dr. Pepper off of my miniature man breasts and oblique side flappers.  I again came up with a great ploy to hide my chunkiness.  I decided to jump into the pool with all of my clothes on, Chuck Taylor shoes included.  Percy had a way of sympathizing with me and jumped in with all of his clothes on too.  We even dragged another buddy, Drake, into the mayhem.  We all had chuck taylor shoes on and were jumping in the pool with all of our clothes, until the kid’s parents who owned the pool warned us to stop.  That was Percy’s way of looking out for me.  He knew I felt like a fat kid and wanted to back me up.  Either that, or he just liked the idea of causing a ruckus at the pool party.  It was probably a combination of both!

At one point I remember Percy being over at my house, and the cops showed up at my door!  I’ll never forget when they were there and they grabbed a hold of him and took him away as he cried out to my Mom; “Don’t let them take me away, Mrs. White!”  We found out that he had gotten into someone’s house with some other vandals and lit their drapes on fire.  Obviously, I could have been incarcerated for many such antics…

Once when I was hanging with some friends and lighting off little rolled up balls of gun powder, I had the brilliant idea to lean down with a cigarette in my mouth and suck on it to light some black powder off that had spilled on a ledge.  I was blown backwards like Yosemite Sam in a Warner Brothers cartoon.  It had blown a huge chunk of my hair off, singed off my eyebrows and eyelashes, and scarred me with second degree burns.  Fortunately I didn’t have third degree burns.  I remember when my Mom saw me, she cried out of relief that I wasn’t scarred for life.

Later that summer a dark cloud seemed to be cast over the little town of Hudson, Ohio as I heard some rough news.  Percy was going to move to Connecticut.  His Dad had gotten some job as a dean at a prep school, and they were going to send Percy to boarding school.

In the Middle of Percy and I’s quest for Middle School rock stardom my G.P.A. for 7th grade year had fallen to a 1.9 average, which was a D+.  Percy’s had fallen to about a 0.5, which was an F.  Only in talking with him later did I realize that his parents thought that rock and roll was ruining his life.  He once was one of the best football and lacrosse players in our grade, and he’d dropped out of sports, let his grades sink and gotten into a lot of trouble since we had started the band.  I guess they thought that shipping him to boarding school would do him right, though I’m not sure what it really did for him.

I had no religious obligations as a kid.  Sunday was a day where we slept in and ate a late breakfast.  I never understood why Percy would have to leave so early in the mornings when he slept over on Saturday nights.  His parents would make him go to the Catholic Church in town every Sunday.  I think he began to hate it.  He was caught in a rock in a hard place, a rebel personality and really intelligent, but bored.  He felt that all the constructs put on him were stifling him, and I think he was dying to have his own version of creative expression.  Within the highly religious world of the Catholic Church and the pressure of being expected to play sports and be a good student, Percy fell through the cracks.

Percy wouldn’t get to have his creative expression yet.  He was leaving town.  There was nothing I could do about it.  Though I made sure to have him over to spend the night about 3 times a week as the time for him to leave drew near.  He was my best friend, my band-mate, and as John Lennon would say “my song brother”.

And then came the day when he was leaving.  It was a mild and sunny summer day.  I rolled my butt out of bed and on my bike that morning earlier than I ever would have on a summer day, at about 9am.  I rode the 5 miles to his house and knocked on the door.  His family was putting together the last of their stuff, and the moving van was outside.  I still remember him coming outside and yelling, “Benjamin!” and giving me a hug.  I didn’t know what to say except that I would miss him, and I hoped that maybe we’d keep in touch.  Maybe I could even visit him out there sometime.  We said our goodbyes.  He had to get going anyways.

As I rode my bike home I do remember feeling the wind in my face on that mild sunny day.  I thought of all the good memories Percy and I had, and mourned the thought of keeping the band going without him.  Tears began to stream down my face.  I had said goodbye to him in person, and on my own I was saying goodbye to him in my heart as well.

There is something about the naïve and innocent love that a young kid can have for a dear friend that understands him. Within it may even lurk a divine whisper of the unconditional.

When Percy left town, somehow the gap had to be filled for a new lead singer of our band “Joker’s Wild”.  I had enough experience writing songs with the help of my Dad from age 10 until 13, and nobody else in our group sang often, except our bass player, Jaden.  Since I was the one who sang the most and I was the most assertive about it they let me be the new lead singer.

This is when the creative process really began for me.  All of a sudden I realized that I was going to be the front man for the band, so I began to write songs like I never had before.  My first songs were as cheesy as you could imagine.  We had a Casio keyboard and I would play the pre-packaged drum beats into my Fostex 4-Track Cassette recorder on track one, and then track 2 would have the guitar, track 3 would have the bass, and track 4 would have my vocals.

Songs began to dump out of me like sweat out of my pores.  I wrote songs about my experiences travelling with my parents to various cities, I wrote songs about girls I was digging at the time, and I wrote songs about my juvenile philosophies of life.

I also wrote songs criticizing my peers.  I had a big mouth and couldn’t keep it shut about what the true meaning of them was, so I began to become a bit of a social misfit.  Some kind of anger continued to brew in me, and I didn’t understand it.  All I knew is that my parents were fighting more than usual in the midst of their busy work lives, and I always felt put in the middle of their fights.  I continued to get chubbier and meaner during my 8th grade year from 1994 to 1995.

I’ll never forget the moment when I marginalized myself early on in 8th grade.  Jokers Wild was playing at a party, and all the popular kids were there.  We played a set of tunes and people were into it, but during our break a bunch of people started to mess around with our equipment.  I got all ticked off and told them off, yelling loudly in the microphone for everyone to hear.  That was the beginning of a downfall away from popularity for me.

A period of self-examination followed where I realized that people can be hollow and flighty, but there are true friends that never seem to leave you behind.  One friend like that to me was Kaden.  He was one of the few people that didn’t seem to care what the majority of people thought about my controversial reputation in Middle School.

But with this self exploration came a more inwardly focused life.  I wrote music often, and isolated myself from what appeared to be the mainstream of people around me more and more.  During this period of time I really moved away from habits I had developed before like smoking cigarettes and drinking.  Though I would occasionally partake of things like that.  My hunger for partying during this time was sparse.  If the company I was with were smoking or drinking I would join them, but I didn’t have any deep personal aspirations to develop any addictions.