I went to High School in the 1970’s at the beach in Southern California. I tell you that because you have to understand the environment I lived in or nothing else will make sense in my story. I grew up in an affluent, upper middle class household. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I never thought anything unusual about that. She drove me to all my swim workouts, or at least took me to the house where I picked up my ride in our carpool. She got me up every morning at 5, and fed me breakfast and got me going for the day.
By the time I got to High School, I was a still young, very naive, but a good looking and rascally boy. I was 13 when I got into High School, my parents had actually listened to our doctor (back in 1959) and they had me born Cesarean a couple weeks early so that I could go to school a year earlier. That’s interesting, because the fellow who I hooked up with in High School, who became my best friend for nearly 3 years, was a year older than I was, and a year behind me in school. Joe was held back a year in school, I was never really sure if he repeated a grade or not.
Joe came from a large family, good folks, I actually had a crush on two of his sisters at different times. His older brother was a Senior in High School when I entered as a freshman, and he and his buddies gave us incoming “kids” our share of grief. It was all good-natured hazing, nothing too much to worry about, certainly nothing we couldn’t handle. There was a group of us who were fast swimmers. Danny, David, Randy and myself were all the same age and grade in school, and two of them had gotten special permission to go to the High School where I was at – not because of me, but because of the coach and the swimming and Water Polo program there at Mira Costa High School with coach Joe Bird.
Our coach had quite a reputation. In fact, the year we started as freshmen, our Water Polo team made it all the way to the CIF finals against Newport Harbor. We lost to Newport Harbor, but it was a great game. Those guys all went on to play college Water Polo, and many of them became Lifeguards and such at the beach where we all grew up. We young “kids” looked up to them, and tried to live up to their standards, at least during my freshman year.
I worked hard that year on my swimming and Water Polo skills, and I finally grew and reached five feet. I was only four feet ten inches tall when I started High School, being young, I was kinda small too, but not scrawny. I had worked out in Swimming for many years, and already had a body to be envied. Perhaps my greatest asset is the invisible one: My lungs. I have always had very large well-developed lungs, which is odd, because as I said, I was born early by C-Section, and was placed in an incubator for quite a while as an infant. I blame that for my allergies, but it seemed to have no effect on the overall development of my lungs. I credit my large lungs with my ability to climb above 14,000 feet with no issues. I’ve never had altitude sickness (not yet) when climbing mountains.
Anyhow, back to my story. I started drinking beer in High School during my freshman year. It seemed to be the natural thing to do. I went to a party at a friend’s house, somebody on the swim team, and we ordered alcohol from the local liquor store. When they delivered it, those delivery guys could be very lax about whether there was an adult there or not. So, I asked the guys what to order, they said it came in 6-packs, so I ordered 6. I don’t think I drank them all, I gave 2 away to a couple of the girls who were there I think, and we all got silly. None of us thought anything was wrong with our behavior at all. It just was what you did in High School we thought.
Now, fast forward to my sophomore year. Joe started as a freshman that year, and we became pretty much friends right away. He was not a great swimmer, but he was a darned good water polo player, with a natural ball sense (the kind that you aren’t “taught” you just “have”) and ability to play on a team. I was trained as a swimmer, an “individual” and I didn’t have natural team playing ability. I could handle a ball pretty well, but I always was subject to “Tunnel Vision” when I got the ball in front of the goal. I was not ever the most valuable player on our Water Polo team, but I could play the best defense in the league, and that’s not an exaggeration (because I was such a fast and aggressive swimmer)!
Anyhow, somewhere in my first year or so of High School (I’ve never been quite clear on exactly when that was) I’d started smoking pot, and again, most of us thought nothing of it, it was just what you did while you were in High School. I think I started smoking dope before I met Joe, because after I met Joe, we became inseparable buddies. We did everything together for those 3 years of High School. We worked out together, we hung out together, we went to parties together, we surfed together. During the summer of our year that we went to the National Junior Olympics for Water Polo, we smoked lots of dope together. We even got stoned in a corn field as soon as we got to our hotel in Toledo!
I’ve said it before, that I feel sorry for the grief and anguish me and my friends caused our coach. He must have just been at his wit’s end with us. We were so rebellious and genuinely rotten. I butted heads with the coach regularly, my consequence always being that I would have to sit out the start of a game or such. It was always tough, because I was the best defensive player on the team (as well as Captain of the Swim Team), and I could guard anybody and keep them from scoring no matter what. I swam circles around (literally!) many guys from other teams who were supposedly “great” players, and I could frustrate them to a large degree.
So, my friend Joe and I hung out more and more. During my Junior year in High School, when I got my Driver’s License, we started driving around all over the place together. We’d sit in my car for hours watching the waves at the beach, smoking dope, just hanging out. It’s hard to describe a relationship like that, it wasn’t based on anything except we understood each other. We never talked about heady topics, in fact, we only ever talked about girls and drugs probably, but we were somehow inseparable. He was my best friend, and guys know that there doesn’t have to be a reason for why you’re best friends, you just are.
I was 17 years old when I went off to college. I made no plans for college, in fact, when I was 12, I was going to go to West Point and be an Officer in the Army. I wanted nothing other than that in fact. When I got to High School, and started partying, and especially smoking dope, my whole life’s plans changed. I soon thought of nothing other than getting stoned with my friends, and hanging out. Ambition left, motivation left. Direction for my life became “drift.” It got so bad, that when I was a Senior in High School, I still had not picked a school, or even applied to a college!
So, the counselors at my High School got me to pick something. I had to think back to when I was a little fellow, and I liked raising birds in my back yard, and I told them I thought I wanted to be a Veterinarian. Thus, I applied to University of California at Davis and was accepted. My test scores in math were so high, they accepted me enthusiastically and placed me in a floor in the dorms with all the nerds. I was so far from being a nerd, that I thought it was quite a good joke when I got there!
But my friend Joe was left behind. Here I was, a stoner, and the first thing I did when I got to college was break out a joint, walk into the lounge in the dorm and ask if anybody wanted to get “High.” But my friend Joe, he was left behind, and one of his old buddies gave him some acid one night at Disneyland, and Joe took a trip and never came back. He fried his brain. I never found out if it was a bad batch of acid, or whether he had an Overdose. It really doesn’t matter. He was so fried, they had him in a lockup in UCLA for 6 months. When I saw him next, he recognized me, but he could not carry on a conversation.
I have always wondered, why him and not me? I was just as careless with my drug use, in fact mine went on for nearly 5 more years before I wound up in a drug rehabilitation facility. Was it really a case of “There for the grace of God, go I?” But he was my best friend! I was angry. I wanted to go get that guy who gave him the acid. I knew the guy, he was a low-life surfer, who lived on the other side of town, the “wrong” side. But, what good would that do?
Joe still lives in my old hometown. He’s basically a homeless “fixture” in that town. Everybody knows him, and he’s harmless. He’s about 6’3″ tall, and around 250lbs (these days anyhow, he wasn’t that heavy in High School!). But, like I said, his brain is fried, so he can do simple tasks, folks will hire him to help with destruction work (there’s always lots of that going on in my hometown). And, he has a number of folks who look out for him. In many ways, I wish I’d never left to go away to college. My first attempt at college was a failure anyhow. I finished 3 years of a degree (it took me nearly 5 years to do that!) that I never used. I wound up in a drug rehab because I had stolen money from the restaurant where I was working and I was going to jail for a very long time.
I left, and I nearly ruined my own life, and my best friend ruined his – permanently. My life turned around, and that’s because of the grace of God. It teaches us how fragile life is. One mistake can cost you. Look at how many High School kids die in car wrecks each year. Some are due to alcohol, some are due to just plain stupidity, and others, well, you name it.
What I really want to know is, how did drugs and alcohol move in and take over the lives of our young people? How is it that we’ve failed as a society and have allowed those things to ruin so much of our treasure? That’s what young people are, they are a treasure, they are the future. We seem to have forgotten that they need to be treated like gold, because they are the future – OUR future. Instead, we’ve become a “me first” society, where all folks care about is themselves, and getting to the top of some perceived heap. Folks only want what’s best for themselves, that must be what’s best for the kids too, right?
Kids aren’t stupid. When I was growing up, my daddy harped on money so much, it made me sick. I was so sick of it in fact I rebelled and wanted nothing to do with “his” money. If money only ever got you heartache and ulcers, then it was not worth it in my opinion, and I must have been pretty typical because of how many of us were doing drugs and drinking and “rebelling” against that.
My son told me a couple years back that he thought everything on TV was lies. I told him, “Well, not quite all of it is lies. But you’re right, a lot of it is. Advertising is nearly all lies because they have to make you think you _need_ something in order to get you to buy it and that’s a lie.” So, what young people see in our society is evidence that we’ve exchanged truth for lies. It’s a lie that you need a new Cadillac to feel better about yourself. It’s a lie that you have to wear the right outfit or makeup or whatever in order to be successful. In our post-modern society, where almost everything is “New and improved” young people recognize the lies before even their parents do.
Is that where we’ve gone wrong with young people? Do they recognize the basic hypocrisy in our society that is evidenced in our materialism and our commercialism? Are we really just a bunch of hypocritical fools chasing after some mythical idea of “success?” Is success really just sitting down and having a relationship with our kids (and others) and valuing them above all this other “stuff?”
Joe wasn’t rejected by his parents, anymore than I was. We both had loving homes. But even back then in the 1960’s and 1970’s when we were growing up, we saw that hypocrisy around us. We had parents who were “caught up” in the rat race, and we, as observant children could see that happiness didn’t derive from “success.” On the contrary, happiness sometimes just derives from “hanging out” with a good friend. Often, friends don’t even need to say anything to each other. Their company is good enough.
In spite of all the drugs and partying and other shenanigans we played, Joe and I were friends first. That’s something you can never put a price on. I pray my friend Joe will someday know Jesus’ love, because He is a friend who will never leave us nor forsake us.