Friday, June 10, 2016

I Personally Blame Canada

Staff, Santa Paula "Cardinal" 1975



Foreword

"...I have nothing to do on this hot afternoon/but to settle down and write you a line/I’ve been meaning to phone you/But
from Minnesota/Hell it’s been a very long time………”

"You Wear It Well"
Rod Stewart


Sarah Shields was the smartest girl in Complex II.

I figured this out about 2/3rds of the way through the play that was being performed at our 6th grade talent show, the play Complex II was performing. It was a play that Sarah Shields had written.

For the 6th grade talent show; all by herself, in the 6th grade.

Don’t get me wrong. She did not write “Twelfth Night,” or “The Cherry Orchard,” or even some crap like, I don’t know, name whatever marginally talented writer on the NY Times best flavor list that you know, and I mean them too. As I recall, and I recall everything, I cannot recall any of the particulars of the production.

What I do recall is that it met the requirements of a play, as I knew them to be at that time. It had a script, that Sarah Shields had written by herself. It had a cast, that Sarah Shields selected herself. I later found out that Sarah’s fellow classmates were required to audition for parts. This meant kids were auditioning for another kid, in the 6th grade, and getting bummed out when they were not chosen for a part, in that play, written by another kid, in the 6th grade.

In Complex I, we put on the play “The Wizard of Oz,” at that same talent show and while we did have to audition for parts, we auditioned for the teachers, who had the final say as to who was going to play what, and we did not audition for each other. I ended up being the Scarecrow and I believe Danny Ramos was the Lion.

This play that Sarah Shields wrote had costumes that she had designed, and then talked her classmates into actually assembling. It had a director; Sarah Shields. The only thing this play seemingly did not have was an appearance by the woman herself. Sarah Shields never appeared onstage, as I recall.

That is until the cast took a bow, the house lights came up, and they brought her out. I remember that Mr. Bob Berg grabbed a microphone and said:

“This is Sarah Shields, she wrote this play.”

Mr. Berg went on to say a bunch of other stuff about Sarah Shields, and while I am sure my writer’s ears, which hear and remember everything, heard him, I cannot recall another thing Bob Berg said that day. It was a real life; my memory went to sleep moment. The first of many incidences, both fortunately, and unfortunately.

It was because as soon as I saw Sarah Shields for the first time, I started to better understand why those books by Shakespeare were important. Tennyson seemed like much less of a wimp. Elizabeth Barrett Browning suddenly mattered. Sarah Shields looked like an angel to me. A Jennifer Jones in “Song of Bernadette” beautiful sort of angel, as my adolescent mind recalls.

Yes it was the worst case of puppy love at first sight since puppies were invented. I know a lot of stuff about puppies but in a dead tribute, in a dead language, to the, mostly I assume, dead teachers of Complex I who taught me to read, well Latin, of all things, I will say only this; Cave canum.

Sarah Shields was dark-haired and mysterious to me, as were all women at that time in my life. Mostly the girls in Complex I, as they were the ones who I saw every day for 2 years straight. 

However, the 6th grade talent show was the first time I had ever seen most of the Complex II students. It was certainly the first time I had laid eyes on Sarah Shields.
Unfortunately, for her, it would not be the last time I laid eyes on her.

She went on to be my art partner in Mr. Colvard’s class in 7th grade. I am the worst artist in the world, and I was dreading art class like the plague. When I saw I was sitting next to my secret love, I did not care about flunking art class, or anything else for that matter, except using a lot of deodorant.

Sarah Shields was queen to my king when we won the 8th grade talent show the next year. She was “Peppermint Patty,” when I played “Snoopy” in “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown,” in high school. The poor girl seemingly could not get away from me.

I am so positive she does not want to see me again. I could be her worst nightmare really. If she knew I was writing this she would probably rip my guts out with a bread knife, and I could not blame her. What is funny is:

I know where she is.
I know what she does.
I know what she has done.

I didn’t find out by stalking her or by hiring someone to track her down, no, I found out purely by accident. I must admit that being a “Zen Catholic,” I am inclined to believe that nothing is “purely” anything. Everything for a reason, and in its own time, I guess.

What she does now is amazing and she is amazing, and has been amazing, ever since you lost touch with her, as I did. I am never going to contact her, ever. Some angels sleep better in your memory, I have found.

As I think about Complex I and Complex II, the times we were there, the lessons we were taught, and the way we learned them, and the fun, heartbreak, and education we experienced, I realized something.

I realized that everyone in those classes, whether they lasted 1, 2 or 3 years, was changed in ways they may not remember or recognize. I know that I was and I think Sarah Shields was too. So were Cheryl Winkler, George Molina, Mike Reider, Arlene Garcia, Penny Trego, Paul Berkley, Joe Garcia, Beth Watts, and so many others who live on in my heart and mind. People who may not have realized it, but their classmate was taking notes.

At the talent show Cheryl Winkler was Dorothy and I remember being the scarecrow. Since no one in Complex I had written a play, we decided to go with the old tried and true, and mounted a production of “The Wizard of Oz.” Even in the 5th grade Cheryl Winkler was already starting to run the show.

I was recently in contact with Cheryl Winkler Baudizzon Johnston, as she is now sometimes called by those who can manage it, and she informed me there were 5, count em, Dorothys, in the production; one for each scene. I was shocked by this and told her I only remembered her as Dorothy; such was the force of her personality, even in the 5th grade.

At this time I would like to stop and offer my sincere apologies to the other 4 Dorothys included in the production. I know that all of you were excellent, and you should also recall that many portions of my memory banks were destroyed by small puffs of blue smoke right around the time they released “Physical Graffiti.”

Because of this serious deficit of brain cells I am unable to remember if I was one of 5 Scarecrows or if I am just blocking it out. Since I was already starting to get an attitude about being in plays, I think I would have remembered that. If I had been one of 5 Dorothys, someone would have accidentally fallen down the stairs, I am sure.

It’s that force of character thing that this screed is slowing winding toward. It seems to me that nearly every person I have spoken to from either Complex I or Complex II has had an extraordinary life. Even if they only ended up being a doctor, or lawyer, or someone like me who tries to tell stories so the world seems perfect again for a moment, if that is still possible to be done in this day and age.

I guess with this story, I am trying to make the world understand that there was a time for each one of us in these classrooms, where our minds were freed, became expanded, changed possibly. It’s where dreams were born. 

It was where young men learned to form worlds in their heads, and young women carved out new roles for themselves. It was “Socratic Method” for farmer’s children, braniacs, and budding social deviants who managed to know how to read very well. It was where many of us began making that figurative journey to our own separate stars.

Some of us flew too close to the sun and burned up. Some flew to their heart’s delight, and lived happily ever after. Some crash landed, snuffed out, their lives taken from the rest of us. They never made it to the stars but to a place beyond the sky; that only God and they know.

Some of us learned to think and love there, beyond race, beyond religion or politics, beyond barriers. Some of us learned that their mission in life was to break people’s hearts, with words, and ink on paper.

And a story.

The name of the project was Complex I and Complex II. I was there along with 149 of my closest friends. The year was 1969. The place was Santa Paula, California.

This is our story.