Friday, September 29, 2006

The freshman and the homecoming queen

A tale of the Anchor Bay experience

Part one: Prologue

Our memories of yesterday will last a lifetime
We’ll take the best, forget the rest
And someday we’ll find these are the best of times
These are the best of times
---Styx, “The Best of Times”

I’ve always been the kind of person to do a lot of reminiscing. I tend to remember the most insignificant details about ordinary events. I also remember people- friends and enemies- and I wonder what became of the people that I knew all those years ago. Are they married? Are they in politics? Are they homeless? Are they dead?

Let’s jump in Mr. Peabody’s time machine and see what we find.

The year was 1978. My family had moved to New Baltimore, Michigan the year before, where I had started sixth grade at Dean A. Naldrett Elementary School. But it was 1978 now- a whole different animal. I wasn’t going to Naldrett anymore.

I was going to Anchor Bay Junior High.

I can remember the bus ride. Every large building we passed I was convinced was the junior high. Eventually we stopped at one and they herded us in. The adventure had just begun. Two weeks later someone egged my locker. Great. This was going to turn out to be fun.

Let’s tour the school, shall we? Over here on our right we have Mr. Wagner’s class. Mr. Wagner was the journalism teacher and his class produced the school newspaper. I had him when I was in eighth grade, where I published such articles as “the top 10 girls who look the best in shorts.” And they printed it. Seriously. Later that year someone explored the supply closet and found a book of male sex fantasies. Seriously.

On up ahead is Mr. Nebel’s class. Mr. Nebel taught Social Studies and was a rabid Notre Dame fan. He preached the gospel of Notre Dame at every opportunity. We used to kid him about missing school whenever Notre Dame lost.

Mr. Hamet and Mr. Fallucca were the Abbott and Costello of the school. They both taught social studies and they had classrooms right next to each other, so they often did joint projects with their classes. Mr. Hamet was tall, Mr. Fallucca was shorter; Mr Hamet was the straight man, and Mr. Fallucca was the jokester. But you never wanted to cross him. Mr. Fallucca could be your best friend or your worst enemy. He chaperoned a trip to Cedar Point for the eighth grade class, and when two girls were late getting to the bus at closing time, he lit into them. But all of the students liked him, and they all wanted to be in his class.

Thomas Reggio. Whoa, nelly. What can I say about Thomas Reggio? He was flamboyant, he liked disco long after disco lost the hip factor, and he liked to take groups of male students to dinner and plays at the theatre. Of all the teachers I’ve had, he’s the one that I often wonder whatever happened to.

1979 was the year that I met my best friend (at that time), Billy Bowen. Since we were the only two kids we knew that liked the rock group Kiss, we became buddies. He had one of those “cool dads” who listened to Black Sabbath. In May of 1979 we had a choice- go to see the Village People in concert or go see our heroes, the hottest band in the world, KISS!!! Well, there wasn’t much of a choice. His dad bought us two tickets for the July 13th, 1979 show at the Pontiac Silverdome, drove us there, dropped us off, and left. Two 12-year-olds alone at a rock concert. You would never see that happen today. It was a great show, but a strange time in the parking lot afterwards as Billy and I got separated. I got my first up close look at people who were drunk and high. I was terrified. But who cared? It was an awesome show.

To a real sweet and different kid. I hope you go far in life. Maybe you will make it big drawing pictures? I don’t know. Be tough and have a good time, and make the best of yourself.
Good luck,

Junior high was a new world, where you changed classes and changed into gym clothes, where a guy’s voice changed and the girls bodies did too. I was a typical teenager- I noticed these things. Man, was I a dork in junior high. (For the people that immediately said “Was?”- no comments from the peanut gallery.) I was not big on hygiene and had perpetually greasy hair, thereby earning me the nickname of “greaseball.” The guys wanted to beat me and the girls wanted to flee me.

Eighth grade was also the season of my first crush, and I certainly didn’t start out small. No sirree Bob, I went right to the top of the social ladder and fell in love with one Kim Resil. Blonde, blue eyes, with looks that could stop a clock. She was way out of my league, but I still managed to catch Wandering Eye Syndrome whenever she was around. Take a look at my eighth grade yearbook sometime. At least eight entries have some form of the phrase “good luck with Kim Resil.”

I decided that I needed a hook, an attention grabber. I wanted other people to know who I was. Well, besides the bullies Keith Meredith and Jimmy DeGrandchamp, who beat me up on a regular basis and called me gay. In junior high being called gay was the ultimate insult. What can I say? Junior high boys were/are idiots. Myself included. Anyway, in eighth grade I found my gimmick. Lots of kids doodle in class. Not many of them draw pornography. Yep, I was the dirty picture king, complete with the names of all the pretty girls. Did it get me attention? Oh yeah. Not necessarily the best kind, but attention nonetheless. Take a look at my eighth grade yearbook sometime. At least 16 entries contained the phrases “dirty mind” or “dirty pictures.”

To a nice guy who has got some weird ideas. Good luck.
Robin Tighe

As James Taylor once sang, “the secret of life is in the passage of time,” and junior high passed quickly. Soon it was time for the next step in my evolution. It was time to begin my freshman year at Anchor Bay High School.

Part two- The year of living dangerously

We don't need no education
We don’ need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.
---Pink Floyd, “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2”

Ah, 1980. A great year. George Brett made hemorrhoids a household word, almost overshadowing his quest to hit .400. Some great rock albums hit the scene in 1980- Queen’s The Game, Styx’s Paradise Theater, REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity, The River by Bruce Springsteen, The Wall by Pink Floyd, and John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. 1980 was my freshman year in high school. And oh, what a year it was.

Anchor Bay High School at that time was located on Sugarbush Road in New Baltimore, Michigan. It has since been relocated and rebuilt. Don’t believe the rumors- it wasn’t my fault. It was kind of advanced for its time, having numerous vocational programs such as cosmetology and computers. Yes, computers in 1980, with hard drives of 64MB and monitors which only showed one color- green. Remember 5¼ floppy disks? I’m sure those were part of the package too.

When I look at my one and only yearbook from Anchor Bay High School I can remember these people as though it were yesterday. Hey look- there’s Greta Lenhausen! Greta was a legacy at Anchor Bay. She had two sisters there, including one who had been an exchange student, and her mother taught there. She was a cheerleader, she was on student council, she did everything. Standing next to her is Robin Tighe. Robin was my second crush. Also part of the inner circle was the aforementioned Kim Resil and Beth Donovan. Beth was another crush of mine, a very beautiful girl.

As we walk down the hall we see some of the teachers. Mr. Rogers was my Social Studies teacher and a rather stout man. I got in trouble once for calling him the Pillsbury dough boy in his hearing. Next to his class was Mr. Wisdom’s class. The students gave him the nickname “Wedgehead” because, well, he had a head shaped like a wedge. I believe I got in trouble for calling him that.

The lunchroom monitor was Mrs. Ferraro. She has to be dead now because she was pretty old then. The guys at my lunch table once bet me a pile of fries that I wouldn’t go up to her and ask her if she ever thought about using an iron on her wrinkles. Fries being a choice lunchtime food, and me being a classic glutton, I took them up on that bet and asked her if she believed in using irons. She didn’t get it, and thankfully I didn’t get in trouble, but I certainly enjoyed the fries.

Jim Cole was the football coach. He supervised my study hall, and once asked me if I would like to join the football team. I often wondered if my future would have turned out different if I had taken him up on that offer.

It was a big school, although not so big that Keith Meredith and Jimmy DeGrandchamp couldn’t find me and beat me up. I needed to make my mark once again, but the dirty picture thing was passé. It was so 1979. I needed a new hook, a new gimmick. Early on in my freshman year I found it.

Even though you’ve written some “weird” things about me, you’ve been nice to me. Good luck always.

Beth Donovan

To a nice person who I’m glad has changed since- well you know. Good luck with your life.
Shelly Urban

My first suspension from school came as a result of my new gimmick. Instead of drawing dirty pictures, I would write dirty stories, once again starring the prettiest girls in school. And in order to draw their attention to what I was doing, I would drop the stories in their lockers. Yeah, that was bright. 25 years later my literary pornography would have been called sexual harassment. In the pre-Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill days it was just me being an idiot. An idiot who had his work turned over to the assistant principal.

Mr. James Gambino hated me. He gave me my first suspension… and my second one, for fighting… and my third one, for sexual harassment… and my fourth one, for fighting… and my fifth one, for sexual harassment. Suspension became a joke to me. I got three days off, I came back and got to make up the work I missed. Where was the punishment? There was none, so I played the system.

Sometimes the suspensions were ridiculous. Mrs. Becky Marries was my typing teacher. At the time I thought she was a witch. I had a conflict with a buddy one day, so I came back from lunch and typed a three letter euphemism for “backside” on his typewriter. Mrs. Marries saw it and went ballistic, throwing me out of class. I ended up in Mr. Gambino’s office, where he threw me out of school indefinitely and told me I needed professional help. I was out a week that time- my sixth suspension.

The highlight of my life was when James Gambino left Anchor Bay High School. Of course, it didn’t take me long to get to know the other assistant principal, Dr. Barbara Fowler. She meted out my seventh and eighth suspensions, but she was different than Mr. Gambino. She didn’t tell me that she hated me, for one. She tried to help me. She got me set up as the scorekeeper/manager of the freshman baseball team, where the coach, Eldon Teller, took up the task of keeping me on the straight and narrow.

I continued to go to class while controversy swirled around me. One day I was entering my French class, and coming out at the same time was a girl I knew only by picture.

It was Leslie Pesta.

Leslie Pesta was a senior, she was the homecoming queen, she was a cheerleader, she was involved in drama, and she was her class vice-president. Quite frankly, she was a knockout, the most beautiful girl in the school. Yet there she was, standing in front of me, the ninth-grade record holder for suspensions, the Greaseball.

And she said hello to me.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. Leslie Pesta said hello to me? Leslie Pesta, the most popular girl in the school? It was a moment that I would remember forever.

And I have.

Part three- Epilogue: Déjà vu all over again

It’s been 25 years since I attended Anchor Bay High School. I never had a real chance to redeem myself. By the time I started straightening out (the change that Shelly Urban saw in me), my dad got the orders and we were moving to Ohio. But that’s another story altogether.

Dr. Barbara Fowler is now the Superintendent of Schools in Troy, Michigan. Greta Lenhausen is now Greta Furlong; Robin Tighe, Robin Miners; Shelly Urban, Michelle Koger. James Gambino, Thomas Reggio, Kim Resil, Beth Donovan, Jim DeGrandchamp and Keith Meredith are missing in action. But there were others, you know. Time doesn’t permit me to talk about Sheri Allard, the girl who stayed my friend throughout the turmoil; Shantel Kahele, the girl who floored me by being friendly after all that went down; and Shelly Glover, the girl that called me a sick freak at every opportunity. Whatever happened to Candida Grammatico, Louie Slater, David Thompson, Cari Nunez, Clay Cosby, Carina Quinn? Where are Cathy Mayne, Bill Rahbine, Ellen Rasmussen, Tracy Provencher, Denise Walters, and Vicki Froh? I may never know.

And what about Leslie Pesta? Where did Leslie go after graduation?

Leslie Ann Pesta is now Dr. Leslie Ann Kaye. She received her doctorate from the University of Southern California where she was a Presidential Fellow of the Leadership Institute. She completed her internship at McGill's Montreal General Hospital, and her fellowship at Harvard's Massachusetts General Hospital.

By all accounts she is doing much more with her life than I. She is still the queen, and I am still the freshman. But I never forgot the day that she said hello to me, and thanks to the magic that is, I recently sent her an e-mail and told her the whole story, about how I was smitten with her, and how her “hello” was the highlight of my year.

And she wrote me back.

The circle of life always comes back around.

(Feel free to visit Leslie's website at


Blogger AwaitedNightmare said...

Hey. i currently attend Anchor Bay High School. Reggio is still as flamboyant as you describe. And we have a teacher Rowena Lenhausen. She's about 70-something and freakin' amazing. Didn't recognize any other names. There is a Mr. Fowler who teaches Algebra, but no Dr. Fowler. Thanks for the post, it was fun to read.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Shelley Kowalczyk said...

Sean...sorry for my actions those 30 some years ago..I really don;t recall but apparently you do...

10:26 AM  

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