I went from Catholic elementary school to a Catholic Franciscan high school. Normally, for kids in these institutions, that would be a big deal. You go to the high school that your primary school is a feeder to, keep your friends, and go on to be prom king and have lots of sex and friends. But, not me. No, my journey is never to be easy. Never.
When my parents gave me a choice of elementary schools, I chose on that was kind of out of our parish, the church in our neighborhood. There were two schools and churches around us, and then there was the one that my cousins attended, which as only a 10 min drive away, but not the one I was “supposed” to go to. But, my cousins went there, and that meant I would know people. It would be much easier, right? Sure.
Jump ahead to 8th grade. All of my friends we going to one of two Catholic high schools or to the public high school in the neighborhood (where my kids would eventually go years later). I, on the other hand, had my high school picked for me by my parents. I would go to the one high school that NONE of the kids in my class were going. Why? Because the bus ride to the other school had a transfer in a “bad neighborhood” and my mother feared for my safety or something. I’ll explain the oddness of that in a future post about my mother. But, for now, let’s just say I was pissed.
So, I went off to yet another school knowing no one. My social ineptitude, which was disguised only by my ability to make with the jokes, made it tough to acclimate. I spent the first few months eating alone, suffering over Latin homework, going to the special Advance tier classes, and dreading each day as I cursed my parents for making my decision for me.
Eventually, however, I managed to connect with one kid in my Physical Science class. It was one of the few college prep level classes I took, which made it easy and therefore boring. There was a pothead kid that sat on my left in that class who constantly tried to copy off of my work and get answers from me. Being a bit of a dick, I would purposely put wrong answers on tests, wait for him to copy the answer, then change my work to the correct version. It took a number of tests for him to catch on and I was thoroughly amused the whole time.
But I wasn’t the only one. Sitting on my right was another fell Advanced student stuck in this class for scheduling reasons. He actually warned me that this kid was trying to copy from me. He saw what I was doing and got quite a kick out of it. Eventually, he was doing things like helping me put notebook paper scraps (what Urban Dictionary refers to as “kadoobies”) into the pothead’s dip when he wasn’t looking. It was great fun.
Eventually, pothead quit trying, although I never really stopped messing with him. And the other kid, who I found out was named Steve, and I became friends. I soon began to sit with him and his collection of friends at lunch. It turned out that most of us had the same Advanced classes. And I became part of the cliqueless clique, a group of kids that didn’t really fit into an of the standard groups of nerds, jocks, preps, etc.
Steve and I much in common, but were very different in those commonalities. We liked Science Fiction, but I was more of the Star Trek/Hitchhiker’s Guide school and he was a Heinlein type. We like hard rock metal, but I was KISS/Van Halen/Poison/Motley Crue, and he was Iron Maiden/Rush/Triumph. We both wrote, but I wrote slapstick comedy and he had written biting satire in an underground school newspaper. Honestly, it felt like we were too different to be friends most times, but for some reason we stuck together.
Steve was the smartest guy I knew, and he would always try to share his interest and his deep knowledge of those subjects with you. Sometimes, it can be annoying when someone like something AND knows it in such detail that is sucks the fun out of just enjoying it. I know, because I can often do it myself with the subject of film. But, sometimes it can be an interesting adventure in discovery.
That’s what happened when Steve introduced me to what, to me, was a new band. He was really into this group and insisted that they were the freshest thing to enter the metal genre since… well, anything. I was over his house after something (probably after a failed attempt at landing chicks) and he insisted on putting on this record (yes, vinyl again). I sat back in his messy room, brushing aside the popcorn remains that eternally decorated his floor (some weird food fetish, I guessed), and prepared for the unknown.
He put the needle on the disk as the extremely expensive stereo system that occupied 1/3 of his room began vibrate. It started of rather mellow with the accoustic intro, and I wondered if he was playing what he thought he was playing. Suddenly, the guitars and drums kicked in and the room began to shake. The tempo suddenly picked up and this rapid, pounding music began to scream through my body.
What the hell was this? I could barely understand what they were saying. But, the anger and intensity were palpable. I listened intently. By the time the guitar solo hit, I wanted to punch something. Steve’s face a lit up as he head banged to the beat. Metallica’s Battery (the only word I understood from the lyrics at the time) was the most intense music I had ever heard.
Being me, I made jokes about how I couldn’t understand a word they were saying, but that song has stuck with me to this day. To me it represented everything that made Steve and I connect: pent up emotion and an attitude that it was us against the world. And although I was more of an in-your-face showy KISS like person, and he was more an introspective, intelligent Rush kind of guy, we both felt this sense of individuality and separation from the mainstream that this new thrash music represented. Not only that, but it was the beginning of my expanding of my horizons, looking at other things that what I experienced from the isolation of my strict parenting and limited access to the real world.
Steve and I have maintained our relationship for over 29 years now, through numerous ups and downs in our personal and professional lives. He was the best man at my wedding, and I his. Hell, I just spent last week checking in on his family for him while he was out of town for a trip. Through it all, I have remembered moments like this where he and I bonded over the simple things that make us similar and connect us in a way that many people don’t get to experience: basic, emotional, human.
So here is Metallica’s Battery, a classic by any definition, and part of the Soundtrack of Me.