I like to tell my thirteen year old nephews and nieces about getting kicked out of school when I was 13. I guess that was a proud moment in my life that I like to share. It is also fun because I know it probably puts their parents on edge a little bit. I like to encourage a little subversiveness though from young people. “Question authority,” I say. Know that there are exceptions to the rules. Life doesn’t have to follow the rulebook. There are many paths. I kind of see getting kicked out of school as my first act of protest… taking a stand… I have to give my Mom a lot of credit. She was a Republican with liberal values. It seems to me that most conservatives are reluctant to question authority. My Mom wasn’t though.
In 1963, The Beach Boys became popular with Surfin U.S.A.. I was thirteen and lived in Escondido California. Back then it was mostly orange groves and avocado groves. We had groves all around us when we moved in but by the time we moved out a couple of years later, one grove was already gone and replaced with houses. We had a beautiful four bedroom home. It would probably sell for over a million dollars in today’s real estate market. We always called it “the barn house” because one end of it was two stories and shaped like a barn. Roger and I had our bedrooms upstairs and Darlene had her’s downstairs at the other end of the house across a short hall where Mom and George’s bedroom was. If I remember correctly, I think we had two bathrooms. It was great living in Southern California compared to how we had been living in Spokane prior to my Mom marrying George. Of course, Texas had been a nightmare.
It was the winter of 1963 that I started wearing my hair in a “surfer” style. This style preceded the Beatle style by just a few months. After the Beatle appearance on Ed Sullivan Feb 9th, 1964, it was just one more easy step to that style. I was already half way there because the surfer style was already a little long in the front. For the last three months of the 7th grade school year at Orange Glen Elementary, I became a Beatle fan. The little girls at school loved my hair but some of the boys teased me and gave me a hard time.
Escondido was idyllic. It was a short drive to the beach. It was Southern California. It was the era of the “British” invasion. I probably visited my dad in Toppenish Washington some time that summer? I don’t remember if I did or not. Sometime that summer I got a drum set and my brother and I started a band called “The Luv Please.” We weren’t really very good but I think we were probably cute. We did a couple Beatle songs, a few Rolling Stone songs, the Kinks, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and others from England mostly. We also wrote our own songs.
A couple of weeks before school was to start, I was notified by the school that I could not come to school if I did not get a haircut. I can’t remember if we were notified by mail or by phone. I seem to remember we got a letter. I definitely did not want to cut my hair. Being in a band and having longish hair was every teenager’s dream. I was getting a lot of attention and having a lot of fun. Girls liked me. That was also the summer when I met Kathy. She was my first serious girlfriend. We went steady for several years from about 13-16. In the end she got married and, although I cried, I ultimately realized I was gay anyway so it really didn’t matter.
I can’t remember my Mom ever strongly encouraging me to cut my hair. I think she might have but mostly I remember her being supportive of me and angry that the school was telling me how I could wear my hair. She saw that as an affront to liberties, which is more of a liberal stance than a conservative stance. Conservatives, then as now, were more about saluting and standing erect and being respectful of authority, not questioning it. The school authorities had given a mandate and the conservative thing to have done would be going along with that mandate. The liberal thing to do was to fight it. My Mom chose to support me in fighting for my liberties although she stopped short of going to court which I think was because she was afraid of embarrassing George. I think she was probably much clearer on what the issues were than I was though. She helped me craft a letter to the editor that was probably at least as much her as it was me. We hand delivered it to the editor too. They took my picture.
I guess it must have been the next day when my fifteen minutes started ticking. It must have been a Sunday too because I know George was taking his five girls, Sandy, Barbie, Carol, Connie and Georgie, back to San Diego. He had loaded them all up in the camper I think and had left to take them home when about thirty minutes went by, they came back, running into the house with a stack of newspapers. I was on the front cover of both the Escondido newspaper and the much bigger San Diego paper
Over the next few days we would learn that the story was carried across the country. I received letters from little girls from all over the country. My “fan” letters! Mom also got some hate mail saying that she should force me to cut my hair and that it was terrible that she was letting me do this. Within a couple of days, a television reporter came out to our house and I was interviewed. It was all very exciting for a thirteen year old boy.
A rebel teacher by the name of Mrs. Hard, contacted us and told my Mom that she would like to be my tutor. I think she did want my Mom to pay her something but I think my Mom negotiated and ended up not paying much of anything. I think Mrs Hard would have liked the money but she needed a student more than she needed the money. I don’t know exactly what her story was but I think she had been fired from a public school. She was pretty religious and she insisted on reading from the Bible so maybe that was where she ran into trouble with the public school system. She was also very into phonics as the only way to teach reading and I agree with that but I was also already a pretty good reader. She tried to teach me how to play piano but I had no aptitude for it. I walked about three miles to her house every day during the eighth grade and she regularly gave reports to my Mom of my progress. Every day at lunch, she would make me a little lunch of a sandwich and something to drink. I don’t know why my Mom didn’t make a lunch to send with me.. or maybe she did sometimes… but I do remember eating sandwiches made by Mrs. Hard because they were so different from what I was used to. I can’t remember now what she put on them but I do remember them being strange to my taste. I remember Mrs. Hard’s husband was kind of a dusty, teetering, mild mannered old man.
A few weeks after I had been kicked out of school, Ronnie Fisher, a neighbor boy and another male friend from Orange Glen Elementary all bought the same turtle neck shirts. I think the point was to make ourselves a “group”- not a musical group or a group with any rhyme or reason. We were just three boys that wanted the same “look.” The three of us wore our turtleneck shirts when we took our girlfriends of the time to the movie theater in downtown Escondido.
I can’t remember now what movie we saw but the six of us sat together and throughout the movie, somebody was throwing popcorn kernels at us. Kids were disruptive during the movie and management kept kicking these disruptive kids out of the theater. I went out to the lobby to get some candy or something and saw that the kids that were getting kicked out were not leaving. They were amassing outside the theater lobby on the sidewalk. Apparently, they were waiting for our group to exit the theater!
Of course, being the attentions seeking drama queen that I was at the time, it all seemed like fun in some way. I think we loved the attention on the one hand and I think this obscured what judgement we might have had at that age. After the movie ended, we could have just called someone to pick us up and waited in the lobby but we didn’t do that. No, we called Ronnie Fisher’s father to pick us up as planned and then exited the theater into the rambunctious crowd of other youngsters. We didn’t really feel the extent of their hostility until we were outside. There was a lot of pushing and shoving and we tried to get back into the theater but management had locked the doors. Thankfully, nobody actually got punched or harmed but Ronnie’s dad was pretty angry when he picked us up and saw the situation.
As I mentioned before, I had a girlfriend for several years, named Kathy. She was a year or two older than me. I met her and her friend, Karen, at the roller skating rink, where I went regularly. I loved roller skating when I was a kid. I don’t know if there is anything particularly athletic about it, but I hated competitive team sports that other boys seemed to love and roller skating was something you could do on your own and not have to compete against anyone else. After I had met Kathy, her and Karen came out to the barn house on their horses one day. Kathy’s family lived on the other side of Escondido from use, several miles away, and they had a small stable with several horses. Her and Karen were best friends.
I seemed to get around pretty good back then. Escondido was really not that big of a town- it was probably about three or four miles from our house to Kathy’s house. I would go over there pretty often. Her Mom and dad seemed nice enough but I would often go over when they were not at home. Kathy also had some siblings that would threaten to tell on us when they found us making out or doing a lot of heavy petting, sometimes in a bed, under the covers. We didn’t actually ever get completely naked, since the siblings were often around, but we did get under the blankets, we might as well have been. We never went “all the way.” Eventually, her siblings told on us and then I was banned from coming over when the parents were not at home, although I think we ignored this ban at times. I still considered myself a virgin.
Roger was sexually active at a young age, and when he got together with his male friends, who were all a few years older than I, like most boys, they talked about girls and sex. They would always ask me if I was having sex with Kathy and I would turn red and try to change the subject. I remained a virgin for several more years and it became more and more of a burden. Being a virgin can be a terrible burden when you are a young male. After I was kicked out of school, most of the males that I knew, were musicians from the Luv Please or other bands. Most of the guys I knew were older. When women are not around, much of what guys talk about has to do with having sex with women. It was humiliating that I was not having intercourse with Kathy or other girlfriends later. Looking back on it, I think these girls wanted to have intercourse but something, which I didn’t identify as homosexuality at the time, held me back.
Kathy was a great girlfriend for several years though, and eventually, when I was away one summer, she quit waiting for me and got pregnant by another young boy when she was about eighteen. She would go on and eventually have about four kids with him. I would reconnect with her briefly some years later after she had divorced and she had moved to Northern California. I don’t think she ever knew that I was gay, though. I looked for her on Facebook after that became popular in the late double oughts but couldn’t remember her married name. She would always have a place in my heart. I’m not sure exactly what I would call that place- nostalgia?
Kathy was the first person that I ever made out with at a drive-in. Her Mom was the one that drove us to the drive-in and was sitting in the front seat and kept an eye on us in the rear-view mirror. We went to see “The Tammy Show” which was the first time that I ever saw James Brown perform. It blew us away when he did his song, “Please, Please, Please,” and fell on his knees and then someone come out and throw a cape over his shoulders and helped him up and it looked like they were going to help him offstage and then he fell on his knees again!! It was very exciting! Gerry and the Pacemakers and The Rolling Stones were also headliners in this early concert documentary film but James Brown really stole the show and I think that this performance gave him a much wider audience than what he had previously.
Kathy got tickets to see The Beatles when they came to San Diego and Karen and I went with her. I don’t think she paid over $10.00 for each ticket. She and Karen screamed all the way through the concert as did most of the girls. I wanted to scream too, but had to suppress it of course. Kids were running across the stadium field to get closer to The Beatles, who were performing in the center of the field, and the police were catching them. It was the first, and probably the most exciting concert I ever attended.
Kathy also got tickets to see Sonny and Cher at the San Diego concourse. Kathy had long “Cher” hair down her back, almost to her waist. I had hair that was about as long as Sonny’s was at the time. Kathy sewed and got a pattern for some boy’s bell bottoms and some wide wale corduroy material. I got a fur coat and took off the sleeves and turned it into a fur vest. We looked pretty hip by the time we got to the concert. I think we sat in about the 14th row. We had great seats. I think that the musicians might have been hired locally to back up Sonny and Cher as Sonny kept giving them direction as they performed. He seemed to think they were playing too loud or something and maybe drowning out the voices. It was all wonderful to us though. After they left the stage, we ran as fast as we could to try and get to them before they got into their limo so we could get autographs. We ran across the huge lobby of the concourse and I had on leather moccasins and slipped on the floor and went sliding toward the huge wall of glass that was the entrance to the lobby, stopping just inches away from catastrophe. We didn’t make it out to the limo but it was all a very exciting night.