A person could pity school administrators in the late Sixties, trying to hold back short skirts, long hair, drug culture and Vietnam protest with rules and rulers. Rules to keep the crush youth culture in check and rulers to measure girls’ skirt lengths (fingertips to hem), boys’ sideburns (1/2” max) and hair-to-collar (1/2” min) and cleavage (zero).
But pity doesn’t excuse the rampant paternalism and steady insult to young people’s intelligence and natural curiosity.
Case in point, a required high school assembly to teach us about sex and drugs. Part 1 was a 16mm film, “The Road to Ruin.” We open on a nice, clean, studious girl we’ll call Margie coming home from school. But, the ponderous narrator tells us, “Margie’s mother . . . worked.” (Maybe the mother was also div……ced. Anyway, there was no dad around). Now my mother didn’t work and those in our white-collar enclave didn’t either. But my high school was regional and I felt for the many whose mothers had to work (or even, gasp, enjoyed it). These students were clearly close to the Road to Ruin (RTR).
Left alone after school, Margie neglects her homework (Step 1 of RTR) and soon finds the family liquor cabinet. She takes a drink (2) and likes it. The next day, it seems, “friends” are coming over to drink . . . and smoke cigarettes. Margie starts smoking (3). Presumably Margie’s mom never notices the debris. Then one friend offers her a “funny cigarette” (4) and suddenly she’s helplessly hooked on marijuana (5). Next, a “friend” offers her something better . . . in a needle. The first shot of heroin (6) is free. The next costs and soon Margie is stealing from mom (7). But the cost keeps rising and the scene turns murky. Now Margie (8) is out at night under a streetlight in a very short skirt (9). We know what she was looking for. And all because . . . her mother worked.
The lights went on and the Expert asked us for questions. There were a few, with answers slavishly following the theme of the film, that the RTR is absolutely linear, rocket speed and invariable.
“What does LSD stand for?” asked a boy in my chemistry class. Knowing him slightly, I was sure it was a legitimate question.
The Expert came to the edge of the stage, looking down somberly. “Young man, it stands for Look Straight at Death. Next question.” This was infuriating. I didn’t know anyone who had taken psychedelics, but I’d seen a Life magazine article with a photograph of a young woman high on LSD, entranced by a light bulb. This was sort of interesting and she looked pretty healthy.
Big silence. We had plenty of questions but nobody wanted to be insulted and everybody wanted out of the auditorium. It was left to Dickie to save us. Dickie the untouchable, star quarterback, son of the football coach and a big game coming up.
Dickie raised his hand. Oh, this would be good. “What is Spanish Fly?” he asked, wide All-American face shining innocent query. The Expert and Vice Principal froze. A twitter ran through the audience. Because we all knew The Story, invariably told by someone who knew someone who knew the boy’s cousin.
The boy had taken the girl parking and gave her Spanish Fly, the semi-legendary aphrodisiac. Nobody I knew had the slightest idea if it was a pill, shot, powder, went into Coca-Cola or came by needle. But we all knew the effect. The Girl was instantly revved to incandescent hotness, a volcano of libidinous desire. At which point The Boy . . . left her in the car “to get something.” Now why he’d do that on the brink of being insanely lucky, nobody knew, but we all knew what happened next. The poor girl, with no man to satisfy her and apparently possessed of remarkable gymnastic prowess, impaled herself on the gearshift. When The Boy came back, he found her . . . dead in a pool of blood.
Shunting the Expert aside, the Vice Principal took the microphone for the announcement we knew verbatim: “It’s too bad, students, that once again, the irresponsible and disrespectful one percent have to ruin things for the ninety-nine percent. The assembly is over. Go back to your home rooms and discuss what happened.”
Gleefully ruined by the valiant Dickie, we poured out of the auditorium. My homeroom teacher had papers to grade, thank you very much. “Does anyone have anything to say?” she asked briskly. Nope, nobody did. “Then do your homework or talk quietly until the bell rings.” And we sort of did.
I had occasion later to learn what LSD meant and discover that it actually was pretty cool. Spanish Fly, though, really meant Look Straight at Death and was to be avoided at all costs.