The Tribe, part 1
We somehow found each other, 5 unlikely comrades-in-arms, in 9th grade. And they were some of the deepest, most intense friendships I’ve had in my whole life. As only early adolescent relationships can be! Within a few months of meeting each other, we were able to finish each other’s sentences and communicate some of our deepest thoughts and longings. The grandmother of 2 of our group said that we seemed to have our own language, clear and straightforward to us and all but incomprehensible to outsiders. We didn’t really plan it that way, but that’s how it turned out.
The five of us were Max and Ted, brothers, Dave, a gregarious soul who had a bit of a stutter and became a fabulous guitarist, and Dan, a snarky son of the only Asian family in our town, and me. What drew us together? We were all drawn to the nascent hippie movement and its promise of freedom from the constraints of "society", we all loved song and poetry, and we all had more of less dysfunctional family situations. I met Max at the after-school meeting of the school newspaper, where I went to find a haven from the boys waiting outside the school to beat me up for being a hippie. Never mind that I had regular short hair and dressed like everyone else. My parents were very strict about such things, as were almost all parents then. But I did write poetry and play the guitar. I had played football until that year, but quit because I saw "competition" as part of the straight uptight world.
The faculty sponsor of the newspaper was a 9th grade English teacher, Miss Grudkowski. Max renamed her Miss Kowgrudski for some reason. She saw fit to encourage the more literary types in the junior high. I wrote a poem about gold which gave me some notoriety in the school, so I got drafted into writing for the paper. And having a safe place to hang out after school and avoid the bullies waiting for me downstairs was an added plus.
I remember her as a kind person who actually did encourage our literary leanings. And for some reason, I still remember the saying she had in stenciled letters at the top of her blackboard: "Distance lends enchantment; familiarity breeds contempt". Pretty heady stuff for a 9th grade classroom!
I remember Max as a friendly, open sort who nevertheless freely delivered withering criticisms of anything he deemed wrong or stupid, which was naturally the whole adult world. Of course, we became fast friends. And I think that was the Tribe, as we later called ourselves, was born. Visiting Max’s home, I met his younger by 2 years brother, Ted, who possessed the same sarcastic wit and was even less tolerant of "society’s" ills and stupidities.
We loved poetry and I remember being particularly enamored of ee cummings, who completely fit our image of a rebellious poet: he didn’t even capitalize his name! How cool was that! From there we found the Beat poets — Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, and then Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and On the Road. It was a short hop from there to William Blake’s mysticism, Alan Watt’s book on Zen. But our "bible" was The Catcher in the Rye.
We read and re-read that book. I can still quote entire sentences and paragraphs. Holden Caulfield’s disdain for the adult world so perfectly matched ours, and his jaded sarcasm and underneath it all, vulnerable idealism, was exactly who we were. And it didn’t hurt that JD Salinger had attended Valley Forge Military Academy, 2 blocks from my house, which served as the inspiration for Percey Prep. So I could easily envision Holden walking down my street on his way to the train station to go to New York.
We were just normal 9th grade kids, if by "normal" you mean kids who would hold poetry readings in the basement by candlelight after school. Dan and Dave soon joined us and our Tribe was complete. We spent all of our free time in each other’s company, much to the dismay of some of our parents! My parents eventually forbade me to see Max and Ted, and Max’s mom actually sent him away to live with a relative in New York.
But these were just minor inconveniences. We saw each other anyway. I vividly remember sneaking out of my house at midnight to visit Max when he was home from Long Island. We would sit in his hallway, catching up. At least until we woke his mother, who blew a gasket to find me sitting there with her sons. The crazy thing is that we weren’t "doing anything" — no drugs, alcohol, etc. All we did was talk about life and our lives. Music, poetry, what inspired us.