Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: High School Years Part 1

The Valley of the Moon is a blessed place, and as children growing up there in the 1970’s & 1980’s, we too were blessed. This area is also known as the Redwood Empire, and the renowned horticulturalist Luther Burbank, one of its most eminent residents, once called it: “…the chosen spot in all the world, as far as nature is concerned.”

As students of Santa Rosa High School we certainly felt chosen; fortunate to attend such a beautiful campus, and proud to be Panthers. With its Collegiate Gothic architecture and its mature London Plane trees lining its courtyards and walkways, this wonderful school, our home away from home, infused us with a quiet nobility that often went unnoticed by us, but nonetheless permeated our lives.

We were just a bunch of wild kids after all, so how noble could we be? Yes, there were the inevitable ignoble beer parties, and the lewd jokes and behaviors of a typical teenage society; but the nobility which I mean, and that which guided us all, was an overall good-natured bonhomie. In general, we all liked each other, encouraged each other, and accepted each other.

We had punks, and we had preppies, there were stoners, cheerleaders, jocks, theater people, dead-heads, metal-heads, computer geeks, band kids, and an innumerable host of other –ists and –isms that I never knew the names of, and yet, as far as I can remember, everyone got along together; there was room enough for everyone to be themselves on our beautiful campus.

We weren’t perfect people, don’t get me wrong. We still fought, and bickered, we ridiculed, and made fun of one another, like normal human children do, but even in the midst of our human nature, we enjoyed a climate of friendship. And it is on this point, friendship, which I would like to begin my tale; it is upon our friendships that we staked our young lives, and it was our friendships which could either fill our sails and carry us to distant shores, or could cause us shipwreck and destruction.  

There might be a million stories I could tell about the friendships at Santa Rosa High; and if there is time I may someday tell them all. But every journey needs to start someplace, so I’ll begin by telling a story of my friendship with Randy Jaynes. For many years we were so close that it was rare and unusual to hear someone mention one name without the other; they would say, “Kirk and Randy this…or Randy and Kirk that….”

We first met years earlier, on the first day of seventh grade, when he saw me jumping over a trash can in the drama room, as I simultaneously attempted to ram my head up into the ceiling. Why was I attempting this? Because the ceiling in this room was unusually low, so it seemed possible to do, so it was worth trying; and because I was twelve-years old. I had a lot of excess energy, and was looking for a funny and unusual way to expel it. He felt the same, and approved of my method; and so we bonded together as dear friends, then and there, as we jumped forwards and then backwards over that trashcan, unable to quite reach the ceiling tiles with our craniums, but joyfully exhausting ourselves as we gave it our best attempts.

We both always enjoyed a good laugh, and needed the unusual and unexpected to keep us entertained and interested in life; so we were good for each other, since neither of us were afraid to try something new, or to do something slightly unusual. On occasion we provoked one another to feats of valor, but short of that, we encouraged one another, at the very least, to feats of the sublimely ridiculous; and we always had a lot of fun in the process!

By tenth grade we understood the power of a dramatic spectacle, and how entertainment might be leveraged for political power. So we decided to run for class president and vice-president. Class offices were elected independently, but we made ours a ticket, marketing everything as a package deal; a team of Randy and Kirk. Was there any substance to our ticket; did we have any positions or specific goals for running? Of course not! We were running on style over substance; the bigger the spectacle, the better our chances of winning. And we applied the same strategy two years later when we ran again, this time for student body commissioners of spirit and rallies.

We decided that our campaigns didn’t need to make sense, they just needed to be memorable. If they could excite, and entertain, we had a shot. We made hall signs, written in Indonesian announcing: “Pisang!” So vote for Kirk and Randy!” Which translated means, “Banana!” The signs were colorful, had an exotic word on them, and had the potential to tip the balance of the election by appealing to the small contingent of Southeast Asians at our school. They made little sense, had nothing to do with being a class president or vice-president, but they got people talking.

And we made numerous necklaces out of cardboard for students to wear, with lots of catchy phrases such as, “Let us fingerpaint your bazoongas with spirit!” These were made in the shape of a particular aspect of the female anatomy. Was it tasteless? Probably. Was it effective? Yes, particularly with an important demographic which comprised a large portion of the electorate: teenage boys.

But the real key to our successful campaigns were the day that the candidates made their speeches, and presented their cases for election. In tenth grade the speeches were held on the outdoor stage, where each student had about five minutes to stand up in front of the student body and state their case. There were good speeches, boring speeches, some spoken in monotone and others with great emotion; but we decided instead of giving a speech, we should give a show!

We attempted to get two limousines to drive us up to the stage, but were unable to procure any. Instead, our friend Pat Dengler, his father owned two very long, four-door Cadillacs. We attached flags onto the front fenders, to look presidential, and these vehicles worked nearly as well. We approached the stage seated in the back seat of the second Cadillac, with the first Cadillac acting as our escort; with both horns blaring. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get up to the stage from the parking area so we had to be let out, and then walk around to the stage.

I’ve heard it said that it’s a good idea to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. So Randy and I dressed in suits. And though it has been decades, perhaps centuries, since elected officials have worn top-hats; Randy and I both donned a fine black top-hat each, and carried matching black canes with pretty white tips. Very elegant! As we made our way up onto the stage we had an army of helpers throwing confetti, letting balloons loose into the air and running this way and that across the stage, carrying signs proclaiming us for President and Vice-President. Triumphant and presidential music played from the speakers throughout the spectacle; and we stood still and silent, with an air of quiet confidence, in the middle of the stage while the pandemonium took place all around us, like a wild party, and a tempest of excitement. And when our time was up, we bowed, smiled broadly, and walked off the stage. I don’t believe we said a single word ourselves during our allotted five minutes; we rather decided to test the old adage that actions speak louder than words.

It was very good to have a friend like Randy; we filled each other’s sails, and encouraged each other to reach farther than we might have otherwise, had we been journeying alone. We understood each other, which is a rare and blessed gift; and we both thoroughly understood the value and importance of having a good top-hat and cane, which is even rarer still in today’s world.

~FS

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