Before indulging in more tales of rock & roll, sex & drugs and all that good stuff back in the day, my Education Career deserves some attention – though, of course, R&R does play into it at times, as does the vagaries of boho slum life (before the lower east side got gentrified!).
First of, many back then asked why I was in school. Like, why bother? All we did was make music, wait on tables, bartend, work lower level clerical jobs, and dream of making it big. What possible use could a sheepskin have for people like us (the REAL new bohemians)??
Okay, here’s a BIG CONFESSION: I am a snob. Not your usual snob, but an intellectual snob. Coming from a highly intelligent, ambitious-achiever family (parents with advanced degrees before it became fashionable, aspiring to highbrow culture), education was key.
As little kids, we went to school with the assumption that we’d be top of the class. I fell short by one or two kids (that Joyce Avellino! That Irene Buatti!), but other than that, almost without effort I got great marks & report cards that were commented on with, “Hmmm, that 92 is pretty good, but why didn’t you get over 95?”
You see, that need to achieve academically was drilled into me, early. Besides, I LOVE learning, and although schools are flawed places to learn, at least there’s structure – and the proof that you’ve accomplished something (a diploma, transcripts) that’s meaningful in the world at large.
I started out at Saint Anastasia’s kindergarten, then went to grades 1 through 8 there, too (only one block away from our house in Douglaston, it was certainly accessible – besides, we got to go home for lunch, as “walkers”). After that, I attended Bishop Reilly High School for less than a year (I hate, hate, HATED it), caught “mono” in April, then was kicked out (I planned it all along) for insubordination – and refusing to participate in religion class, one of the freshman requirements. Oh well. I exulted in my victory to attend public school and not wear a UNIFORM every day, as I had all through school up to then.
Sophomore year of high school, I got to go to Benjamin N. Cardozo High School (“Cardozo”) in neighboring Bayside. I wore what I liked, sure, but I had to walk up to the expressway (about ½ mile) and catch the 17A bus to Springfield Boulevard. We didn’t have a school bus; it was public transportation all the way in NYC. It wouldn’t have been too bad, but I was in a bad place back then (drugs, bad companions, severe dieting). I cried, had severe headaches, couldn’t concentrate. I also lost forty pounds in one year – which made me a mess. And I still didn’t think I was skinny, yet. On my 16th birthday, my parents took us out for a fancy French dinner that I couldn’t eat, then drove me to the psychiatric hospital and had me committed for six months.
If you have come up with the diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa (hysterical lack of appetite), BINGO! Long story short, I finished out sophomore year of high school in Hillside Hospital. My junior year was spent at a boarding school for recovering troubled teens, the Lake Grove School (on Long Island). Had a great geometry teacher, Arnie Pederson, who was ancient, very patient, sweet-tempered, and a Swede.
Back home to Douglaston, I spent my senior year of high school back at Cardozo. Classes were large (over 30 per), and the graduating class must have had about 1,000. I don’t recall attending graduation, but I earned my H.S. diploma, no problem. I had an 89 average or so, and applied to several state schools, my preference being for SUNY Purchase because it was artsy and that suited me to a T. (If a school had a reputation as a party school, like SUNY New Paltz, that was too scary to contemplate – partying was bad news for me in my fragile physical and psychic state.)
IF I HAD BEEN really together and put some thought into it – picking a school for me was a very quick and annoying task, not anything I was thinking hard about – I’d have tried to go to Sarah Lawrence. Not only is it more prestigious than a SUNY, my hero, Joseph Campbell, was teaching there and I could have studied with him. . . I coulda been a contender! But, that’s just a small regret . . .
To wrap up this way-long blog, I studied at three different colleges/universities to earn my degree in Creative Writing (minor in English), the only thing that could keep my attention, the only thing I could truly excel at other than music.
The three higher learning (!! Yes, at times, it really was!) institutions were:
1. SUNY Purchase (4 semesters – I moved to NYC in ’76 & transferred);
2. Hunter College (3 semesters – I lived four blocks away, which was handy);
3. CUNY or City University of New York (final semester – did a creative writing senior project, I wrote, edited, rewrote and finished my first novel, Shrinking, originally No Cal Nut or I Wanna Lobotomy);
4. CBGB’s (I’d say this qualifies as a learning experience – valid life experience, at least).
Speaking of life experience, I sought school credit for my thick portfolio of published work (Trixie A. Balm’s rock writing) because I figured it was a pretty valid request. In the end, I was awarded 18 credits. . . from either Hunter or CUNY. How cool! After four years in college, I graduated magna cum laude, with a 3.42 G.P.A. However, a diploma from CUNY doesn’t impress anybody (whereas a degree from Sarah Lawrence, Vassar or Smith? Hell, yeah!)
Of my rockin’ rollin’ friends who attended the CBGB’s alma mater, Chris and Tina of the Talking Heads were college grads (RISDEE), and Snooky Bellomo of Tish & Snooky’s Manic Panic was an English major at NYU. I was in pretty good company – but one night, Patti Smith made a comment about learning that just astonished me . . .