Saturday, November 17, 2007

November 17 and Ruminations Thereof

Ever since I got kicked out of high school on November 17, 1989, I've always felt this to be an important day. Extreme luck, somehow, either very good or very bad.

Let me dispel of a few notions that first sentence might have evoked. First, getting kicked out of high school, which happened almost 20 years ago, was a major event at the time, but not one that I still dwell on particularly. I'm over it, really. Sometimes the injustice of it irks me a bit, and sometimes I think what a wonderful thing it was in my life's path, a good thing disguised as a bad thing, as good things often are. The only reason I remember the date at all is that it was exactly one month after the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco, where my parents and brother were living at the time. More on that later. Next, mentioning 'luck' in relation to a date might make me look superstitious, which I'm not. Not exactly. Or maybe I am, if I assign importance to the numbers 11 and 17.

The date 11/17 resonated with me at the time, not only because I got kicked out of high school exactly one month after the San Francisco earthquake, but because I already knew those numbers as the time Lunch started in middle school-- 11:17am. For two years, it was a seriously important time of day (the daily one hour of socializing in middle school was pretty much everything my adolescent mind was wrapped around at the time, the one hour of Real Life that happened each day), a completely random time because the school had three-minute passing periods, and the numbers stuck in my mind. For every year since 1989, I've woken up on November 17 with a feeling that something big was going to happen. In the context of my daily existence for each of those years, something big has indeed happened, but in fact I can't remember what any one of those things were, as they were so embedded in the life of my mind at those times that the significance and memories are lost now. The exception to this is November 17, 2001, my first 11/17 in Turkey. On that day, I awoke to discover a tiny new mole on the palm of my left hand, near my thumb. For a few hours I thought it was a speck of dirt, but by 10am, having had no success of washing it off, I established it was truly a mole. I was delighted. No one else cared. The mole seemed very portentous at the time, though of what, was and remains unclear.

The gamblers among you might suggest that I play 11 and 17 in the lottery. I have. Many times. Keno too. Nothing.

The school I got kicked out of was a posh boarding school in Southern California. To me now, it seems very incongruous that I would have gone to such a school, but I did, and they kicked me out, along with three of my friends. We wrote a little underground newspaper together ('underground' seems like an exaggeration now, but at the time it felt huge, what we were doing), and everyone on the closed campus got very upset on their own and each others' behalf, and because no one really had much else going on, people's emotions increased exponentially throughout the day so that by lunchtime (lunch again!), we felt we had to sneak a ride off-campus because we were pretty sure someone would kill us. We'd written the paper anonymously, though by the end of the day, after a tearful call with my father telling him I would probably be expelled and him assuring me I would not be, I went and turned myself in.

It turned out the Headmaster was already looking for me. Not because of the newspaper-- I blindsided him with that little confession-- but because some other students had turned me in for worshipping Satan. They thought this was so because I had been given a coveted big dorm room that lots of other girls wanted following the expulsion of another student for theft, and so they thought I must have used my powers from my covenant with Satan in order to get this room (in fact, the Dean had given me the room because I was the only person who hadn't asked him for it, and that pleased him). Besides getting the room, I had once made a joke about chicken sacrifices, and I had put a sign above my dorm room door saying 'Abandon hope all ye who enter here,' because my room was notorious for being rather a mess. Another teacher had told these impressionable young girls that I was probably worshipping Satan, and that if they'd ever used a Ouija board or dropped acid, their chakras were open to demonic possession and they were in grave danger from me. In terror, the girls had reported me to the Headmaster that very same day, November 17th. I feel I should point out that this wasn't a religious boarding school, but rather just a place that fomented madness in its own way, as happens in very closed communities.

So I was questioned about my alleged covenant with Satan, and my involvement in the earthquake a month before, as well as my involvement with the newspaper. While the expulsion itself doesn't weigh on me much and now seems very surreal, I admit the newspaper does weigh on me. Mostly it was a very sophomoric attempt at being clever and funny. While a lot of it was just teenage bitching about campus life and things that were unfair or unpleasant, we also made the mistake of putting into print the grist of the campus gossip and rumor mill, which naturally went down very badly. It was poorly written, this newspaper, because in our zeal with doing something so secret and forbidden and momentous, we didn't edit it very carefully. But the real reason it weighs on me is because we wrote some pretty mean things about some people who didn't deserve it. In fact, we were just repeating things everyone said anyway, but things like this become more cruel on paper. So both the bad writing and the cruelty to some really undeserving people still don't sit right with me, even now.

While I was being questioned about Satan and the newspaper by the Dean and the Headmaster (in the Dean's favor, he did try to get the Headmaster to shut up about the Satan thing and focus on the newspaper thing), the Dean lit a cigarette using my Zippo that he'd confiscated from me a few weeks earlier, without punishment but with an admonishment to be more careful about smoking and not to get caught again. Whether using my lighter at that particular time was intentional on his part is something I still wonder about. He wasn't a bad man, the Dean, though he was thought to be, because he was in charge of discipline. In fact, he was probably ill-suited for this job of campus cop. I think he was probably a very decent man with an odd sense of humor, someone who I'd like today. To his credit, when I returned to campus a few weeks later with my dad to pick up some of my stuff and also to get my brother, who was unable to suffer the teasing and threats anymore because of what I'd done, the Dean apologised to me and told me he thought they'd made a mistake, kicking me out. The other reason I secretly liked the Dean was because his two boys, for whom I babysat once, were such nice kids. Best babysitting job ever. We had dinner, we watched Raising Arizona, we had a little roughhouse, then the boys both stretched and said they were tired, and went off and brushed their teeth and went to bed. They weren't tricking me either-- they really went to bed all by themselves with no fighting or prodding by me.

I mentioned earlier the 1989 earthquake in San Francisco as being part of what makes November 17 so memorable. The earthquake happened on a weekend during a Giants game. Blissfully unaware, I was milling around campus that day when some other students who'd been watching the game came up to me and told me that San Francisco had fallen down, and what hadn't fallen down was in flames, and that my family was probably dead but no one could get through because the phone lines were full. This was typical behavior of students at this school, this kind of meanness. Other younger students from San Francisco were in tears, while students like the ones who'd reported the earthquake to me had a good laugh. One thing I learned at this boarding school was a certain rigorousness to learning, and how to participate in my own education. This was invaluable. Another thing I learned at this school was that the wealthy and privileged are, by and large, total assholes. Both of these lessons have served me time and time again.

In the end, my family was fine. My aunt phoned the school to tell me this, as she'd been watching the baseball game in Las Vegas, they'd seen the earthquake, and had phoned my parents right away, before the lines filled up.

Right now, it's almost noon on November 17. I've been awake since about 5am thanks to LE, and I've been up since 7, and so far nothing momentous has happened. I didn't even have any dreams worthy of note. Last night, our building was struck by lightening which scared me half to death and miraculously didn't wake the baby, but that doesn't count because it was November 16. So I'm waiting, fingers crossed that the luck goes a good way and not a bad way.

Not that I'm superstitious. But maybe we should play the lottery today. 11 17 19 89, plus LE's birthday. It can't hurt, right?


Anonymous said...

So, we watched "Pay it Forward" last night, a decent enough flick with Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. It was set in Las Vegas, and like you say about San Francisco and Istanbul, it has an unavoidable character all its own. This movie might have been cast in a different city, but it would have been a different film (at least in a U.S. city.

It's wierd that an add-water-and-stir city like Las Vegas can compare in any way to NY, SF, Paris or Istanbul. And maybe it doesn't. Las Vegas seems to undo and remake itself every ten years or so. From that point of view, it really has a chameleon-like quality, I suppose, where it reflects whoever is doing the imagining.

Las Vegas is what you make of it. Those other cities are themselves.

Stranger said...

Las Vegas is very much its own character. It's not as good as it looks in movies or TV, but it's not too terribly different either. It's as gross as gross can be, but it also has a magical quality. It shouldn't be there, but it is.

It's like something out of Italo Calvino's 'Invisible Cites,' in which Marco Polo is describing his travels to Kubla Khan. Kubla Khan will say something like 'Tell me about a city that is made entirely of glass bubbles inside ever smaller glass bubbles,' or something like that, and Marco Polo goes, 'Well, sir, it happens I have seen just such a city,' then goes on to describe it. As the book goes on, it becomes evident that one or both of them are quite mad, and that it's possible that Marco Polo is making the whole thing up, and that he never really left the pleasure dome in the first place.

Las Vegas is a city like this. The general theme is 'Oasis in the middle of the desert,' but its visionaries are free to add to this as they will, by including tiny models of other, more substantial cities like New York and Paris, and other more substantial eras, like Ancient Rome and Egypt, and other more substantial forms of entertainment, like a circus or a riverboat (though both of those are defunct now, aren't they?). Each new place explodes with it's own life for a time, and people go there, and it's shiny and new with lots of bright lights, but after 5 or 10 years, the place gets faded and cracked and either must make itself over or be imploded.

It's an insanely fast life cycle for a city, and while I'v been to a lot of crap towns and cities, Las Vegas is the one that seems most like it has no soul. It's like an enchanted city-spell cast by an evil witch, entirely an illusion that she has to work very hard to keep alive so people will believe in it. I imagine this witch lives alone in a bunker in the desert somewhere, with a lot of out-of-date fashion and entertainment magazines, and lots of chintzy knick-knacks like ceramic shi-tzus and hula dancers that wiggle and paintings of dewy-eyed blonde children holding flowers and kittens.

siobhan said...

You got kicked out of school!!?? OK, you've convinced me that we're not the same person

Stranger said...

I was totally a dork but I got kicked out of school. It won me some infamy for awhile, but I was still a dork. I got kicked out for doing something geeky, not really for doing something bad... My parents weren't even mad at me. They were even a little bit proud of me. It means I have really nice parents, but it also means that I was the sort of kid who would get kicked out of school for something her parents thought was cool...

sandyhoney said...

What a story! Kicked out of school! I almost got kicked out of Girl Scout camp once (actually - Girl Guides - in Canada). And that was because I was stuck in a tent with a girl who wouldn't stop crying and sobbing about missing her parents. After night three, I went out of the tent for a moment, then came back in and told her to pack her bags and go wait by the main house and that her parents would be there.

She was there all night. I got in big trouble, and was told that that was not a very good "Girl Guide" thing to have done. I think I said something in return about the Girl Guide empire using child labour to sell cookies. I wasn't too popular after that with the Head Owl.

I lost interest promptly after returning from camp. The next year my mom thought I would benefit from a religious camp. I won't even go into detail about what I did there.

Stranger said...

Hee! Head Owl! That's a great story.