The other night Karen and I enjoyed another Marley Spoon box (Martha Stewart meal delivery) beginning with a glass of Butter, our favorite chardonnay. For the past year we have chopped, sliced, and prepped for what has truly been outstanding and cultured taste treats three times a week. It is good not having to dress up or dole out gratuities.
TV/movie time after digesting requires the search for anything other than a slasher, horror, or drama production. The Oldies channel looked promising, and we ran across, “Rebel without a Cause”, a 1½ hour long 1955 production. James Dean, Sal Mineo, Natalie Wood, and their fellow actors depicted the souls of teenagers everywhere. It was a time when kids were dealing with the aftereffects of WW2, other impending wars to be drafted into and their parents not understanding them.
The character James Dean played in Rebel was exactly how we were in our teenage years. In the late 40’s I joined a group of friends that would last a lifetime: Kim Matson, Dick Turner and Mike Thim. A fifth friend Jack Zinc died when we were in the seventh grade. Our families were very different, but we had many things in common. Kim’s dad was an architect and his mom was a school administrator — they were on the strict side. Kim’s parents did not like that he and his girlfriend from Holy Names were spending too much time together. He liked being at her house (her uncle was Richard Crenna, the actor) so to curb his hormones they sent him to military school far away.
One time Kim’s mom called my mom to say her son had started smoking because of Dick Turner the last of five kids. She added that he was a bad influence. His dad would not take a belt to him but used his fists. Schools did not get involved in those days as it was a family matter. One night he got home late, and his dad met him in the dark. Dick ran to our house and knocked on the door shaking like a leaf and said, “I didn’t know where the fists came from.”
None of us were at our best behavior with all the world events going on around us. Losing a parent or a family member, necessities in short supply, ongoing blackouts — all topped by a general depression in the air created distress. The theme in the Rebel movie displayed this same angst teenagers had then. It was a hard movie to watch as something as simple as jealousy brought the knife fights out.
Michael Thim’s and my mom worked extra long hours so there was not much supervision.
We were lucky to not get into too much trouble. The JD look was in! Levi’s with cuffs rolled up 3-4 inches, sometimes leather jackets but usually alpacas, collars turned up, hair in a type of bouffant and ducktails. Many tried emulating JD’s mannerisms and we all rebelled against the parental factor. Later some enlisted underage because their home environment was too much.
Education at J.J. McGilvra’s shifted to Edmond Meany Jr. High and that is where our true spirits came out. We had been warned not to look into a big guy’s eyes or risk being punched in the shoulder, shoved against the lockers and finally kissing the floor. I took that chance and was shoved so hard I saw stars. A couple of weeks later I saw two girls fist fight and determined they must have learned their moves from an older brother. The teacher broke up the two bloodied gals who shook hands--the onlookers cheered.
Some time later two guys fought in the playground after school. They were both big dudes — the audience shouted, “Fight! Fight!” The sound could be heard as each punch found its mark. When one guy pulled out a pocket knife the circle got wider. The knife found its mark and everyone booed. The kid with the knife was rumored to have been sent to Luther Burbank *Parental School with its prison-like conditions. “You didn’t try to escape,” and indicated that the punishment for being caught escaping was a severe beating.*
Every day we would buy goods from the school store. Once after leaving it, a big kid asked, “You got something for me?” and I think I replied, “How’d you know?” and I gave him a candy bar. He hesitated a second and said, “Follow me!” He led me behind the store where all the smokers hung out and introduced me. I just listened as they talked about leaving school to enlist in the service and leaving home.
Edmond Meany was multicultural and there were many kinds of home environments. One guy in my history class often came to school with black eyes and lips. He sat behind me and asked, “You want to know about this?!” I told him it was none of my business, but that I didn’t think it was right. He told the story to me. His dad had hit him with jump rope handles splitting his ear in the process. Afterwards we became good friends and often joined him with the smokers behind the store.
One happy morning behind the school we were raided by the school monitors who marched us into the gym where Mr. Leeds, the gym teacher, introduced us to Mr. Goodrich, a size 15 tennis shoe. One after another we each said “Good morning, Mr. Goodrich. We smoked on school property!” Mr. Leeds wound up and snapped Mr. Goodrich swatting our hindsides. You can never forget that sound! We were quiet after that. The next day my friend and I joined the smokers two blocks north behind a garage. A rather large dude said, “Lehman ratted on us!” My friend came to the rescue stating, “Lehman took a swat like all the rest of the guys and if anyone has a problem with that, talk to me!”
There were many stories like this, and its amazing we all survived and even thrived. Funny how one movie can stir up all kinds of emotions.
It didn’t help that James Dean was killed in his racing car, a Porsche 550 Spyder he named “Little Bastard”. He and a Porsche mechanic were on the way to a car race being held on the runways of the Salinas airport when a car came out of the left and t-boned them. When I was drafted in 1957 a photo of his mangled car was hanging in the Fort Ord army barracks during basic training. It was a reminder how short life can be.