GETTING MORE TALE #833: This Is Me in Grade 9
(Part Five of the 1986 Saga)
“If you’re going to keep sitting next to me, never sing again,” said Steve Vanderveen. It was the first day of grade 9, the first day of highschool, the first day of my new life. And I fucked it up! In Catholic school, we had to sing “O Canada” and we had to sing it like we meant it. Little did I know, in public school, they didn’t sing. They just stood at attention. But on that first day of school, it was me and only me singing, without even realizing it.
What a winner.
I managed to recover from this embarrassment, and make a go of highschool. Without all the loser baggage I carried from the grade school days, it was a fresh start. The bullies were gone. I was making new friends! There was Rob Daniels and his buddy “Gumby”, there was Danesh and Anand, and I had never seen such diversity in a classroom before. As strange is this sounds, in all the years from kindergarten up, I never had a black kid in my class before. And now here was Carlton, a popular kid who loved to talk about how beautiful Jamaica was. I don’t think I knew anyone who’d even been to Jamaica before. I wanted to be his friend! And of course there was Peter Cavan, who absolutely was not my friend in grade 9! I ratted him out for eating liquorice in Geography class, so you can understand why it took him a few years to warm up to me. By the end of highschool, we were best friends.
And the girls? I had never seen so many in one place before. I developed many secret crushes. They never knew, because I never quite figured out how to talk to them! But they were there, lots of them, and I thought maybe I’d have a shot.
The first week of school, I bought some new music: Turbo, by Judas Priest. I did my homework on the back porch, with that cassette on the boom box. I only had three Priest albums: Screaming, Defenders, and Turbo. Turbo was easily my favourite. While not as heavy as the other two (and let’s face it, Screaming for Vengeance can rip heads clean off), Turbo was more the kind of music that I was into. It was melodic, with hook after hook, and possibly even female appeal.
But soon after, something monumental happened. Monolithic. Youth-defining.
Iron Maiden came out with a new video.
“So, understand!” sang Bruce Dickinson in what was, quite honestly, the best video we’d ever seen. “Don’t waste your time always searching for those wasted years!” A bit of a word salad. If a certain president said something like this today, we’d consider it another sign of his declining mental faculties. But even to us as kids, it was obviously a road song. A song about the loneliness of touring. Many of the new Maiden songs were darker and introspective. This was not lost on us. Nor was the lack of Dickinson writing credits on Somewhere In Time. It was clear to us that some of the rumours were true, and Maiden were starting to burn out a bit. That they put out an album as awesome as Somewhere In Time is remarkable, but I recall an air of disappointment in the press. Certainly, after the triumvirate of Beast, Piece of Mind, and Powerslave, it had a lot to follow.
My best friend Bob and I sat in the basement, watching my recording of “Wasted Years” over and over again, pausing to catch every single Eddie painting. The video was a combination of black & white performance, with still photos and album artwork edited in quick flashes. The kind of thing two kids should be obsessively pausing and analysing! Eventually we both got the album and naturally gravitated to the same songs. I used the lyrics for “Alexander the Great” as a calligraphy project in art class.
My friendship with Bob was the cornerstone of my youth, and as much as I looked up to and emulated him, there were times he did me no good whatsover.
One night we were throwing a ball around the park, and one of us (probably me) threw it over someone’s hedge. Steve Pushcar’s hedge, as it turned out. Bob jumped the fence to retrieve it, and got yelled at by Steve’s mom. Bob said he was only getting his ball back, but this quickly degenerated into an argument. Bob always was a bit cocky. Whatever he said that night, Steve Pushcar went at me for the next two months.
Me? Why me? I was just the sidekick! I just stood there? I didn’t say one word! Why me? Because Pushcar couldn’t get at Bob, and he’d have been flattened if he tried.
Pushcar was in my art class. First he stole my pencil case and returned it to me completely empty. Then he stole my art. He was a fucking asshole. The shitty thing was, he did all this anonymously. I didn’t even know he had a grudge against me. Not until a mutual friend told me. That’s the kind of coward he was. But his campaign only lasted a couple months, and highschool was actually pretty uneventful after that.
As the year went on, I discovered two “new” bands: Bon Jovi, and Europe. Neither were really new; they were both on their third albums. But the teen magazines pitted them as rivals: heartthrob vs heartthrob, Jon vs. Joey. Who would win? (Jon.) Really, all they had in common musically was the use of a full time keyboardist.
Partway through the year, who should show up but Steve Hartman, my old nemesis from Catholic school. He had transferred from wherever the hell he was. But he couldn’t get to me. I was in the “advanced” program and he was in the “general” level. We had no classes together, and I think he only lasted half a year. I do remember him showing up in our gym class, wearing his shirt over his face so the teacher wouldn’t realize he had an extra student. We were doing ball hockey, and the teacher Mr. Paull was too spun to figure it out. I had a malingering wrist injury that I really milked so I could stay on the benches. As if Mr. Paull would even notice.
At the end of the year, it was obvious where my talents did not lie. My two worst classes were French, and typing, 66% in each. Typing? I know, right? I type all day. It’s all I do. And I still fucking suck at it. I was never good at proper form, and today type using only four fingers. Funny thing. The French and typing teachers were married. Monsieur and Madame Euler. They were fantastic teachers, just because I was a disappointment doesn’t reflect on them. It reflects on me absolutely sucking at languages other than English, and my lack of physical coordination. I mean, the following year I tried to play guitar. The same problem followed me from keyboard to strings: I can’t make my extremities go exactly where I want them to. I’m sloppy and clumsy and have no timing. Madame Euler wasn’t going to be able to fix that in a grade 9 typing class.
I didn’t get any girls to talk to me, but I had a good year. For what might have been the first time, I really had a good year. They’d only get better. I was heading into a summer full of great music. Stuff like Priest Live, Frehley’s Comet, and Love Is For Suckers. Even then, I could not believe how much my life had changed for the better. I succeeded — I escaped.
The future was bright. Bob and I went on to have many adventures and a few “Crazy, Crazy Nights”. But that’s another story.
THE 1986 SAGA