ESSAYS, ARTICLES, & REVIEWS
When I was a kid in elementary school in the 1960s nobody was named Josh but me. Nobody. Furthermore, nobody had ever heard of anybody named Josh. And if they found the name Josh ridiculous, they found Joshua ten times more ridiculous. Kids, when they first met me, would chant, “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho/And the walls came tumbling down,” then burst into fits of hysterical laughter. I don’t recall ever reacting violently, screaming or yelling or hitting or anything; I would just stand there patiently waiting for the derision to cease, as it always did. Eventually, once they got to know me, they’d knock it off. Even more frequently I got, “Gosh Josh,” to which I would generally respond, either, “Did you think that up yourself?” or “How creative.” Being derided about my name wasn’t a big deal and I never made a big deal out of it, but it happened all the time.
By high school in the early 1970s nobody made fun of my name anymore, but there were still no other boys named Josh. It wasn’t until at least ten years later that, for the very first time, I heard a woman in a department store holler, “Josh!” and I turned quickly around, thinking, “Who was that and what did I do?” when I saw a little kid coming running up to his mom. “Oh my God,” I thought, “another poor kid named Josh. Buck up, kid, I know what you’re going through.”
Yesterday in Best Buy when I bought printer cartridges and paid with my debit the card, the twenty-something clerk said, “Oh, my name’s Josh, too.” I replied, “Really? When I was a kid nobody was named Josh.” Josh the clerk appeared incredulous and said, “We have three Joshes working here.”
Not only to Josh now a popular name, it seems to be too popular.
Now I know that many older people like me (I’m fifty-seven) often say to younger people, “Things were so much different when I was young you can’t even imagine it.” Well, it’s true. The America of the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s was in fact extremely different from the America of today.
In junior high, which is now called middle school, teachers and parents didn’t really care whether you got bullied or not; it was a fact of life and you just had to deal with it. When I was in 7th grade there was this prick 8th grader named Eric Swenson who just didn’t like me. I never did anything to him, but that’s not the issue to a bully; my existence somehow bothered him. Occasionally—not all the time—when Eric saw me he’d just push me or hit me hard in the bicep, accompanied by adroit comments like, “Fuck you!” or “Asshole!” You could always depend on the big dumb guys to astound you with their wit. However, Eric was not just a bully to me, but to many of the 7th grade boys, so there was consensus dislike for him. Well, we had a big kid in 7th grade named Ron Luneta. In the shower room in the gym, while all of us other boys were all pink and hairless, Ron was already covered with black fur. He was also strong, muscular and, of course, a terrific athlete, and he was a wonderfully nice guy seemingly without a mean bone in his hairy body. As a side note, Ron and I were both on the track team in 8th grade and we both threw the shotput. Everybody who was any good at all threw the shotput 30-something feet; Ron threw it 50-something feet. Therefore I knew that at every single match we ever attended there was no possible way I could ever win no matter what the competition was like.
Anyway, as Eric Swenson continued to bully us kids throughout 7th and 8th grades, all of us bullied kids would say to one another, “Ron Luneta could kick his ass. Easy.” Eventually word of this got back to Eric Swenson, which is what we all wanted. And Eric Swenson being Eric Swenson, a prick who bullied kids younger and smaller than himself, couldn’t possibly tolerate the idea that a kid younger than him could ever beat him up, even though he was anything but an athlete; just big. So one propitious day when Eric could not bear the slanderous gossip a moment longer, he picked a fight with Ron. Between classes, Eric, Ron, and as many 8th grade kids as humanly possible, jammed into the bathroom for the fight of the century. Eric and Ron squared off and Ron threw one solid hook into Eric’s flabby gut, knocked the wind out of him and he collapsed to the floor. That was the entire fight. Extremely unimpressed, Ron turned and left the bathroom, a path immediately clearing for our valiantly hero. But Eric had the final words, which were repeated and ridiculed for years to come: “Next time it’s with knives!” Oh, right! Or guns, or bazookas.
I can’t honestly say that I recall Eric Swenson stopping being a bully due to his glorious beating, but all of us younger kids felt wonderfully vindicated seeing him in a heap on the bathroom floor.
Another difference between then and now was the fact that in junior high you could buy a vast panoply of psychedelic drugs in the “Ravine,” the area located directly next to the school, but off school grounds. The Ravine was indeed a wooded ravine (there are condominiums located there now) with a black, 1959 Chevy Belair junked at the bottom of it. The flat rear fins were particularly comfortable to sit on.
Here’s a 1959 Chevy Belair in the showroom.
All of the “stoners” would meet up in the Ravine before school every day, have a cigarette—I smoked Larks with a charcoal filter at the ripe old age of twelve (their song, which was sung to the tune of the William Tell Overture on their TV commercials, was “Have a Lark, have a Lark, have a Lark today” and their slogan was, “Richly Rewarding, yet Uncommonly Smooth.”)—and there was always a joint (the term “blunt” didn’t exist yet except as an adjective) going around that you could join in and smoke. In the Ravine you could usually purchase: marijuana (known as “weed” or “dope”—the term “grass” was already out), hash (if it was around; it’s availability came and went), or a wide variety of psychedelics like: LSD (in a number of forms, such as: various colored microdot, windowpane, Mr. Natural, or other interesting designs), mescaline, Quaaludes (that came in two varieties: Lemmon and Rorer 714, which was clearly stamped on the tablet so you knew what you were getting), and a white tablet called THC, which nobody was exactly sure what it was, but that didn’t stop us from taking it. It was some sort of hallucinogenic, and usually good. I spent a great deal of both junior high and high school tripping my brains out.
One day in junior high while smashed out of my mind on a ‘lude, during recess after lunch, I had foolishly decided to sit on the horizontal bar in the gym that was located four feet above the ground so my feet were up in the air. I was holding onto the side post for dear life, my eyes half-closed, too stoned to even talk, and I was slightly swaying in the breeze, even though I was indoors. Ann Debenham, the cute blonde on whom I always had a crush, but who was never my girlfriend, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey, Josh.” For no good reason, other than I was so fucked up it was ridiculous, I immediately lost my balance, fell off the horizontal bar and broke my arm. To this day I can only imagine Ann just innocently standing there holding out her index finger, an expression of utter astonishment on her pretty face as I lay crumpled in a heap on the floor screaming bloody murder. Ann was kind enough to escort me to the office as I held my broken arm with my other hand and confided in her, “Ann, I’m so fucked up I can’t see straight. Explain what happened.” As we entered the office, I then went straight to a cot and passed out. I awoke in a doctor’s office having a cast put on my arm.
When I was in high school one extreme difference from high schools today is that at the end of many of the hallways that had doors leading outside there was a place known as the “Designated Smoking Area” where you were allowed to go have a cigarette between classes. There were 2,000 students and half of them were jammed outside between every class. It was much easier than going to the parking lot. Also in my high school, you were allowed to skip class nineteen times, but the twentieth time you got kicked out. That automatically meant that I, and many, many others, didn’t go to every class nineteen times, then started on the twentieth, which is not what I think they had in mind.
When I got to Oakland Community College in 1974 you could actually smoke in class—they had ashtrays on the desks. This engendered the nickname for the school, “High school with ashtrays.” Since OCC was located right off the highway, this inspired its other sobriquet, “Harvard of the highway.” This was the only school in my academic career where I scored a 4.0 grade average and made the dean’s list.
I transferred to the University of Michigan, where I wasn’t allowed to smoke in class, and my grade point average dropped to 1.9. Apparently, the moment they didn’t allow me to smoke while learning, I stopped learning.
It was a cold winter in Ann Arbor in 1974-75 and the classes were very difficult, particularly compared to Harvard of the Highway. It was a lovely spring, however, and one day as I walked to class, I came around a corner into the central area of the campus, known as the “Diag,” and came upon thousands of people gathered all smoking dope. Several folks had huge bongs and multi-stemmed water pipes. It was the 4th Annual Ann Arbor Hash Bash. I didn’t make it to class that day, but I had a wonderful time smoking weed, an activity at which I excelled.
I just checked and the most recent Ann Arbor Hash Bash in 2016, was the 44th Annual!
Holy smokes! I’m old. But I can see it like it was yesterday.
The times they are a-changin’. Kids named Josh all over the place, bullying is verboten, and now you can’t smoke a cigarette anywhere, let alone in school.