Somewhere around 1975, toward the end of my fractured and ridiculous life in high school, I took the PSAT. As a result of my score, I received an invitation to attend California State University at Northridge in the fall of 1976. There’s no way to make this sound impressive because every single person I ever knew got the same letter. However there was one big difference between me getting this letter and everybody else. We all got the invitation while still attending high school which means the California Regents reasonably expected the recipient to graduate high school in June of that year. Turns out in assuming so, the Regents made an ass out of them and me. Technically, despite appearances otherwise, I never quite made it through that particular hoop.
Here is the “ridiculous” part: after a brazenly harebrained scheme that resulted in getting me expelled from an Israeli yeshiva with good cause (namely: ’cause I was an atheist) I returned to Los Angeles and eagerly marched up the many steps of Fairfax High to re-register and get on with joke that was my high school career.
Here is the “fractured” part: the problem was we were five weeks deep into the fall semester of my senior year and I was told there was no way I would graduate on time. I was more than ready to walk away from the whole thing. My brother was also expelled in his day and GED’d out, my mom never finished high school so there was familial precedence. But my father the rocket scientist at NASA/JPL with a PHD in law didn’t take four years of Latin and name me “Victor” so I could, good God, not finish high school. So despite being incredibly pissed about the money spent on getting me to and unceremoniously back from Israel they opened the purse strings again and found that the floundering, cash starved Rambam Torah Institute on Pico Blvd. would graciously grant me “time served” as long as the checked cleared.
Here is the “despite appearances” part: I don’t remember attending a lot of classes that last semester and a half but somehow my good friend Jeff “Fifth Beatle” Feld and I ended up as the entertainment part of a graduation ceremony which took place on the bima at Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills. Together, he with his Dennis Wilson mop top and me with my massive bobbing Jewfro, strapped a pair of dime store acoustic guitars over our gowns and plowed through several songs I had written about “Alice in Wonderland.” Perhaps this was our (hot) hippie English teacher’s idea of a joke or irony but in my mind then, as it is now, it was all too self-consciously surreal. Jeff, always on the lookout for these kind of things, assured me afterwards “No, it was great! I hear the girls were pulling out their pubic hairs!” and he held up his thumb and forefinger pinched together as if to offer me one right there. (We were 17. We would never, ever talk that way today.)
The rolled up paper with the ribbon around it that I received that day, that I waved to my parents with my Chuck Taylors poking out from my robe, that I’m pretty sure my dad, to his dying day, believed was, finally, my high school diploma was anything but. It was a summons to go to the school office because, among other issues, I had overdue library books. None of the issues, books or otherwise were ever reconciled. Even with the CSUN letter in hand, I had no plans whatsoever to go to college so really, who gave a rat’s ass. I framed and hung the summons on my bedroom wall.
I know things were never resolved because just last year I had signed an offer letter from The Walt Disney Company (yet another fractured and ridiculous adventure!) and as part of the hiring process they contracted a firm from New York to do a deep background check on me. This was my first experience in hiring into a Big Company since 1994. I have since learned that in a Post-911 New World Order new hires need to be vetted by proving to be exactly who they claim to be. The vetters specifically wanted proof beyond my birth certificate and original Social Security Card (from 1961) and they figured my high school records would give them what they needed. A fact-checker for whom I have nothing but compassion and love called me from the background-check firm to ask me for my high school diploma and records. I told her I didn’t think that was going to happen.
Rambam had succumbed to financial failure less than two years after I “graduated” and even if they still existed, I explained, I never actually bothered to get all the credits and line things up therefore I could not prove I finished. Not surprisingly, the software they used to track such things did not have a way to record this particular scenario. More ominously, I was told over and over again, in several conversations, that the law (Patriot Act maybe?) prevented TWDC from hiring me without this level of verification. I was very apologetic to the confounded fact-checker but they were just going to have prove that I am not an Islamo-Fascist-trained-in-Pakistan-with-the-Taliban person some other way. In the end it took months and several postponed start dates to get some kind of waiver, the specifics of which I never knew. (For interested parties: I didn’t keep my copy but the 1976 yearbook for Rambam is available at Amazon for $85. There are many groovy pictures of Jeff and me with our dime store guitars strapped on. I’m now thinking I should have pointed Disney fact-checkers at that.)
I want to be clear that I loath the hyperbolic, ignorant comparisons that are so common (neither GWB nor Obama are “just like Hitler”) but the crippling level of bureaucracy, both government and corporate, mixed with the especially spurious rationale of “security” reminded me more than a little of my mom’s first hand descriptions of life under Stalin as well as my reading of Orwell.
By the late summer of 1976 I had not applied to any colleges. I think my parents (as misguided as they were about the facts) were just grateful that I had graduated high school with what was left of their sanity. Yet, everybody I talked to (including my drop-out brother!) had said some version of “you might as well try it.” I did some research and found that because of its proximity to Hollywood and because it is right in the middle of the Valley where many professional Hollywood types live, CSUN had a world-class performing arts department. Especially hot was their music program.
I showed up at the admissions office on the first day of school with my letter but, uh, of course, there were glitches. These have been enumerated above. As I stood there at the counter I noticed a hand-written sign above the copier machine seeking people to work in the office. I asked if the position was still available. The woman said yes and, even though I wasn’t a student, I started as an office go-fer right away. For the life of me I can’t remember what my actual job description included but I remember that it took about two days for me to figure out the color coded filing system. Once cracked I could find any record on any student I wanted. I looked up several records of my friends from Fairfax and found their high school transcripts and admission papers. I found one that belonged to a family acquaintance who was two years older than me. The file had a very nasty letter in it from a CSUN professor. This can’t be good I though and removed the letter from his wups-not-so-permanent record.
When I was convinced I had the system wired I admitted myself to the school as a music major. (You’ve got to admit: that’s some pre-911 bad ass shit right there!) As a result, I got an audition to the music department – which I promptly failed because they didn’t care that I could play “Devotion” on my Strat and I hadn’t picked up a cello in five years. I didn’t last two full semesters as a not-accepted music major before my girlfriend got me a job at ABC records. The rest is pot.