I liked the teacher well enough until she betrayed me. One day we had a field trip to Barnsdall Park, the art park in Hollywood behind Kaiser Sunset. I had been there several times before because all of my kid brothers and sister were born at that hospital. Our pediatrician was Dr. Robbie whom I liked very much. He was in the professional building just across the street from the emergency room entrance. So long as we were going to the professional building, things were cool, but that isopropyl alcohol smell from the other side of the street always felt like pain. Barnsdall, however was a happy place. The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright was fascinating, as were the channeled fountains and pools that ran through the area near the Hollyhock House. I always wanted to get a closer look but the house was closed to the public. Nor did we ever go into the other buildings. For me, Barnsdall was a happy place; my dad and I would wait there, staring over the hill to wait for a new baby.
My gifted class went there for the art studios or something. I didn’t really know that there was much else there other than the Hollyhock House. Somehow Guy and I got separated from the rest of the class. We searched all around and could not find them. Nor could we find any adults to show us where they might be. We did find a frisbee, and so we played frisbee. Since we were lost, we were sure that someone would come looking for us. But nobody did. And the whole trip was over when we were finally returned to the group. The teacher blamed Guy and I for wandering off to play frisbee. As if. And she docked me several hundred points.
I fell behind in the lead of the class and I was never able to catch up, even though I closed the gap between myself and the girl who took first place at the end of the term. I no longer cared to please the teacher who betrayed me, and at some point during the term this contretemps solidified. It was during one of the drop drills.
During the Cold War, of course we all had drop drills and the air raid sirens usually fired off on the first Friday of every month at 10am sharp. I am always reminded of the corner of Jefferson and La Brea. That was the one place I knew that there was a yellow klaxon at the top of a telephone pole as part of the Civil Defense network. As it turned out, my favorite teacher, Miss Milliken who was a die hard USC Trojan, had the right amount of skepticism of drop drills. She knew that a nuclear blast would demolish the school and mere desks would not save us. Over at 6th Avenue however they took things a bit too seriously. I specifically recall that in the 6th Avenue drills, they had us leave the classroom to hide under the stairwell. The problem was that the stairwell led up to the east. Downtown was east of 6th Avenue and so the blast would come from that direction. If we wanted any protection at all, we should go to a stairwell that led up to the West instead. I informed our teacher of this contradiction and she told me to shut up. At that moment I realized she was an idiot and I lost all respect for her, she who would lead children to their deaths.
I think that is the last time, somewhere around my tenth birthday, that I would ever love school and obey my teachers unconditionally. I loved my oceanography class and remember how proud I was to have eaten the octopus that they had there on the last day of school. But it was the last time I ever talked about seamounts or the various types of plankton in any class for the rest of my schooling - and I remember being told not to eat any more of the brightly colored shrimp chips, even though all the rest of the children were full. I wonder if I might one day chase down the name of that teacher who proved to me that teachers weren’t all so smart and many unworthy of heeding. It has made me the sort that allows me great pleasure in reading about Harry Dresden and Bob Howard, wise-ass fictional heroes of misread genius and hearts of gold. Writing this at this point in my life I can only hope serves as some kind of lesson to somebody. I don’t get much pleasure from it.