POSTING MY FIRST NOVEL: ‘CONDITION OAKLAND: CONFESSIONS OF A NAÏVE PUNK WITH A HEART FULL OF ARSON, AND OH, HOW THE WORLD DOTH QUAKE & BURN’ – CHAPTER ONE – ‘AN UPSTANDING LEARNING ENVIRONMENT’

Chapter 1: An Upstanding Learning Environment

We take the stage, wearing our instruments like armor and artillery all in the
same breath. My eyes peer around the room, a rectangular cave, the dim lights in the outer world of the audience transforming the gymnasium into a theater not half-badly.
The stage is surprisingly adorned with multifaceted lights and large, high-tech sound equipment. There’s unconscious confusion over the fact that the whole set-up platform is only three feet off the ground. We look down on the little people, so far below us. We are titans of youth. We are guitar heroes. You will want to eat us up and we will bleed gold for you. We are infinite.

Feedback rises up and moans hard then slices back and rings high and silent. I
grasp the neck of my guitar like a lover’s wrist with my left hand and reach to adjust the microphone with my right in one motion. Wuun-Cuchickclunk-uuuun-DUnkThub-n-.

Someone coughs in the back and I squint into the spotlights.

“Uh… hey. We’re gonna play some songs.”

There are maybe twenty-five people there; a spattering of folded arms, waiting or wandering eyes, an extended leg or two. If any of those strangers have shown up, we don’t recognize them. Still, some of our closest friends are standing in the front. They’re there as friends, and because they’re interested. They want to see us play.

It’s just as well that we’re subjecting so few people to our first show, since we
aren’t really prepared. Plus there’s the issue of the band that‘s following us.

The band after us is some Christian pop outfit, which was not by choice. Maybe you’re asking yourself, why? I was asking Sidney the same question when I first found out he had gotten us the show.

“It’s at my youth group.”.

The venue is a church gym, one of the only places we could get a show at while we didn‘t have any recording. We would play anywhere, at this point, at any point.
Sidney, our bassist and my best friend, attended the church youth group regularly and he got us on the bill. It was a place to play, and that’s what mattered, but still…

He actually got me to go to the group one time, telling me I should at least “see what it was like.” So I went, but felt skeptical as hell. There were a lot of kids my age there, around fifteen or sixteen, so it was kind of cool, just sitting around and talking to them for a while. I mean, they all seemed nice at least. The place was swanky, too, but in a good way. They had video games and couches and everything, in this little loungish room apart from the gym. We went into the gym area and sat around the stage at tables, listening to this guy, “Pastor John”, sporting a Jesus beard, doing his preaching thing. He started out nice enough, welcoming all the new people and everything, but I was still listening to everything with barbed ears.

“And the truth seekers and the so called mystics… where do they expect to find God? If you were God, would you hide your light from the world? Or would you make it to shine on a clear path?

“The Bible tells us there is only one way to heaven, friends. And that way is through Jesus Christ. He is the way. You don’t need to find a way to get there because Jesus is the way.

“We are here to rejoice in our salvation and await the return of the Lord. God gives us our purpose, don’t let anyone tell you you don’t have a purpose. It is the love of God. All we have to do is to follow him, and he will bring us life.”

I looked around at the faces around me.

“Life, boys and girls.” A pause. “The greatest blessing,” he said, clasping it in his hands. “Everlasting life is yours to be had, if you follow the path of our Lord Jesus Christ. He made it simple for us. He laid down the guidelines in this book,” he said, thumping the Bible against the meat of his palm. “Now, how are you going to lead that life?”

There are some murmuring cries from the audiences.

“What’s that?” John asked.

“In Jesus’ name!” someone says.

“Are you going to waste away in sin? Or are you going to live for the light?”

“The light!” people yell.

“That’s right. Get greedy for the light. God’s not gonna punish you for that. As long as you love God, and you live right, you have nothing to fear. Now, let’s have a song to give praise to our God.”

The youth group band started playing a gospel-ish type rock song about crossing a river and ‘finding my home.’

Soon enough he got into everyone going to hell. Gays were going to hell, kids who have sex before marriage were going to hell, and I, one who had not yet accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, was going to hell. I mean, I was very impressionable and open at that point in my life, and Sidney was too, obviously. But I knew bullshit when I heard it.

“Do you really believe everything that guy was saying?” I asked Sidney that night on the ride home. He could drive before me; I was always the youngest one.

“Well, sort of. Yeah, I guess.” Sidney was very innocent looking, mussing his sandy blonde hair as he thought about my questions.

“So, am I going to hell, then?” I asked him, the anger tucked in my throat.

“Well. I hope not. No, no. Well, it depends. I hope not.”

I was something akin to offended. It was just so ridiculous. Sidney and I had a really good friendship besides the eternal damnation issue, and like I said, I hoped, and predicted, that the youth group phase wouldn’t last. Which is not to say religion isn’t worthwhile. It’s perfectly fine for some people. Real religion I mean. But it’s not for me.

I’ve just never really been interested. I mean, I believe in God and all. I think. He should exist, anyway, if he doesn’t. I just don’t know if he’s the type of guy to take an interest in my life, or anything. Maybe he does. Who knows? God’s certainly a useful idea though.

Anyways, our first show. It’s great. Hopefully for other people too. We’re so drunk with the idea of being onstage that the strange pride somehow calms our nerves enough to actually let us play the songs. We miss changes, slow down or speed up by accident or lack of practice one or two times, but we manage to sound decent. And what we may lack in preparedness or talent we make up for in self-deprecating humor.

“So how bout those, uh… Dolphins?”

“Yeah, what’s the deal with foosball? Am I right?”

“It’s for foos.”

The drum-joke-punch-line-thing: “Ba-dum… ching!”

“We’ll be here all thirty minutes. After that we’ll be playing ‘Area 51‘.”

The band is unreal for all of us. The way we got together is proof of the genius of the universe, either insanely random or genuinely devised, I don’t know which.

Sometimes certain things just make you wonder at the invention behind all this shitthat’s going on, though.

Sidney and I met in school, St. Louis High, a ‘good’ school, the kind where kids drive to school in BMW’s that their parents just bought them on their sixteenth birthday. My family wasn’t like that; we were the financial aid, work-study type, and sometimes I felt like I didn’t belong there. It really is a good school, and I was lucky to go there, but the summer after my sophomore year, (it being a 7th through 12th grade school), I was genuinely sick of it. It embarrassed me, made me feel guilty, walking through those big officious looking wooden doors in the morning, thinking of the kids who went there, how privileged and uncaring they were. I hated it. And it was even worse because I could have just as easily been one of these kids. I understood it. I was bored with it. It was an all guys’ school, which wasn’t helping. And I had decided, “All of the kids there are the same.” At least that’s what I told my mom. I want to get out, I said. Transfer to someplace that actually feels real, hopefully somewhere without a Future Business Leaders of America chapter announcing their awards in the mornings before the prayer. I need to meet new people, I told her, try a different environment.

And being as impulsive as I was, I decided to go with it. My mom reluctantly agreed. She knew when I made up my mind about something I would not change it until I had explored all possibilities.

I thought I wanted to go to a public school, to see how it was different, and to meet people who might be a little more interesting. Basically, I was looking for a school where not everyone was a rich white kid. I wanted to go to this school called Metro, because it was supposed to be amazing, a “gifted” type school, but I had to get on a waiting list sorted by a lottery just to see if I could be considered. Fate decided it wasn’t to be, but I still had a chance to pursue my destiny, so I decided to check out my second choice, Division South. I wasn’t as excited about going there, but I had to go somewhere.

On my first day I was scared shitless. I had been expecting a different crowd, sure, but this was ridiculous. There were some pretty big badasses: sixteen year olds with tattoos, guys in “wife-beaters” who could actually call their arms “guns” all while you kept a straight face. And even though I kept telling myself “I am not a racist,” my brain was trying to start a conversation with itself about it. I had grown up in a practically all white neighborhood and gone to practically all white schools my entire life, so I had just never gotten the chance to get to know any black kids. I wanted to change that. I didn’t want it to be an issue. But what if I said something wrong? What if I said something stupid and offensive?

The school itself wasn’t in great condition. To the best of my knowledge, (actually to the best of some kid at lunch’s knowledge) the school used to be a factory that made cleaning supplies, which was ironically believable. From the outside it just looked like a giant cardboard box with windows. My dad would drive me in the mornings, and drop me off in the back, where all the kids went in, because the back of the school had the long stairs, the giant metal doors, and the long corridor, which was needed so that the lines could form. Yes, we lined up each morning to enter the school, in order to get through the metal detectors quicker and have our bags checked at the tables.

There were guards patrolling the lines, opening our bags, shifting our books, looking for any weapons, drugs, or anything suspicious. Then the bags went past on the table while you walked through the metal detectors. Then the kids took off to their myriad destinations and fly-betweens.

Lunch was where the real education was. I sat by myself usually, but there wasn’t always room to sit at a table alone. Even though I was near other people, I was still technically sitting by myself. I would listen to people’s conversations, hearing about how some kid nicknamed Lucky had gotten a girl pregnant, or about how parties had come off, parties to which I was not invited. One day some girl came up to me and told me her friend liked me, but nothing became of it.

Every day at lunch, without fail, they rapped. Sometimes songs I had heard, or other people’s songs, but some kids there flowed, too. When they free styled, it was incredible. I listened from afar most days, not about to go join the table where it took place. They were always in the back corner of the cafeteria, and it started each day at different times, at the drop of a beat. One guy would start a thump with one fist on the table, the other hand holding a pen or pencil. The pen or pencil acted as a sort of snare to the fist’s bass, with a special method of holding the instrument in hand. The beat would run for a few measures, and then one of the other guys at the table started rapping. I didn’t catch much of it, but it sounded good. It sounded like some of them knew exactly where they were coming from.

I rode the bus home after school, being dropped off nearly a mile from my house. I didn’t really mind walking, but the bus itself sucked. Most of the kids I didn’t exactly view as potential friends. I was sort of afraid that I wouldn’t find any friends at all at Division. I really worried about it for a while, but then things started to change a few weeks into school.

There were these two girls in my math class, obviously best friends, constantly together, and I sat next to them, in my assigned seat. The teacher was busy with whatever she was doing, while we were “preparing a report.” I attempted talking to them, and they turned out to be really friendly.

“Hi, I’m Tim.”

“I’m Monica.”

“I’m Laura.”

“Hey, nice to meet you.”

“You’re the new kid, huh? How do you like Division?”

“Um. It’s alright.”

“You hate it, don’t you?”

“No, not really.”

“Yes you do.”

“Well, a little.”

“Yeah. We hate it a lot.”

I was instantly attached to them, started talking to them outside of class, considering them my first friends at this school. They had a different lunch period than I did, most days, except when we had math right before. So we sat together those days, none of us eating the cafeteria food, laughing about something new every day. It was great. Monica was sort of the leader of the pair, more outgoing and talkative. She had short brown hair and usually wore jeans and a thrifted polo shirt. I thought she was cute. Laura was taller, blonde, and dressed sort of preppy. She didn’t really talk to me that much; I think she just pretended to like me because Monica liked me. I gathered Monica liked me, anyway, by the way she talked and smiled when she saw me. Maybe I was just imagining it. I thought I really liked her too, so I flirted with her. But I guess I like most girls that are friendly with me.

My least favorite class was Chemistry, mainly because Mrs. Chambers, the teacher, was an idiot. She knew absolutely nothing, especially about chemistry. I knew more about it than she did, just from taking an Earth Science class back at Lindbergh. I corrected her on something one day and man, did she get pissed. After that I just sat and tried to think about something else, or read.

That’s where I met Lane, in Chemistry. I went up to him because he was wearing a Jawbreaker’ T-shirt one day, and I just started talking to him. He was really sort of quiet, so it took me a few tries to get him to talk to me, and we found out we had pretty similar tastes. Sort of. I mean, we both liked a few rock and punk bands and some indie, but he listened to a lot of classic rock stuff I had never heard. His favorite band was Led Zeppelin. I had never listened to them, but of course had heard of them, and he made me a tape, which I listened to and liked. It was pretty straight up rocking, which I could dig. I was surprised; it was pretty different than most of the stuff I liked, but I could see why he called them his favorite. I recognized the song ‘Whole Lotta Love,’ because my dad always sang the opening part, but I hadn’t known it was Led Zeppelin.

Lane and I started sitting together at lunch, on the days I wasn’t in Monica and Laura’s class that period. We mainly talked about music and books, or school. I found one of the common elements between me and my new friends was a scathing hatred for the school, and I could see why. The teachers were morons, the inside of the building looked like it was soaked in urine, and the student life was found wanting. I was beginning to regret transferring. I wished I had gotten into Metro, or anywhere other than Division South, because it was proving to be pretty shitty. I was realizing how good St. Louis High had been, even if everyone there was the same. Maybe I just hadn’t gotten to know people well enough. If they were all the same, it was only on a certain level, because they had to have their own depth, somewhere. Didn’t they? At least at Louh they tried to teach you how to think, even if somewhat narrowly. At Division there was no stimulation, no attempt to make the students feel empowered. It was really depressing, and made me wish I could change it.

“I’m glad there’s finally someone here I can talk to,” Lane told me one day.

“Yeah.”

“You know, since I got here freshman year I’ve had about zero real friends.
That’s why I keep to myself so much, there’s just no one.”

“Well, at least it’s an upstanding learning environment.”

“Right.”

3 thoughts on “POSTING MY FIRST NOVEL: ‘CONDITION OAKLAND: CONFESSIONS OF A NAÏVE PUNK WITH A HEART FULL OF ARSON, AND OH, HOW THE WORLD DOTH QUAKE & BURN’ – CHAPTER ONE – ‘AN UPSTANDING LEARNING ENVIRONMENT’

    1. Thanks Jenn! You read more than me I believe so let me know what you think as I post more sections, I’d really love your feedback. It’s in a pretty solid state, but since it’s not published anywhere I may do some rewrites. I just wanted to share it with people!

      Liked by 1 person

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