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All about Me: High School years


          where the skies are not cloudy all day...


I have lived in Oakland, California longer than in any of
the dozen towns I've caled home, but the ugly truth is
I will always be "from Blackwell."  Ain't no cure.


"You know it ain't very pretty
what a town without pity can do."
--- lyric "Town without Pity"


For the story of my return to Blackwell,
click here:

Back to Blackwell

a word about BLACKWELL
written July, 2002
Blackwell, Oklahoma,
in the time I lived there -- 1960 - 1973 -- was a town of
about 10,000 working class Okies huddled around
a huge zinc smelter, breathing in its sharp, burning
smoke and depending on its economic blood. Notorious
for its racism and its yearly flirtation with destruction by
tornado [so nearly successful in 1955] Blackwell is
indistinguishable in my memory from the dying town in
"The Last Picture Show," populated by people who
seemed like the folks from "Pleasantville" cross-bred
with the ones in "Deliverance."
I don't remember Blackwell in color. It was black and
white -- except in terms of demographics, in which case
it was strictly Whites Only. According to local legend,
a fierce sign reading "The sun doesn't set on a nigger in
Blackwell" was posted on the bridge over the Chickaskia
River well into the sixties.
Did I ever see that sign?
It's there in my memory, but maybe what I recall is the
sentiment. I do recall hearing of Martin Luther King's
assassination by  way of a kid just older than I chortling,
"Martin Luther Jig got his ass shot off !"  -- an announcement
greeted by more joy than shock from his friends, including
my brother. Whatever sickness poisoned that town, it was
most clearly manifested in the intense and often jubilent
hatred of black people. Maybe that's part of the reason that
after a lifetime of rambling, my hateful father found Blackwell
the place to live out his final decades. He had found a place
that agreed with him, where his bitter Klansman's heart felt
at home.
Even when I was in grade school, I remember guys
talking about what we'd do if a nigger ever came to Blackwell
-- the unfettered afntasies of torture and vigilanty violence.
Most of us had never seen a Black person except in movies
and on TV. It didn't matter -- they were who we hated, just as
we might hate commies and homos. It was the thrill of the
hating. All my playmates who would excite themselves with
pornographically violent stories of stabbing nigger's eyes out
and staking them naked on ant hills -- would they do less to
me if they knew that I was a faggot? That's where I learned
my true identity as an outsider, and for that I thank them.
They taught me how hate works. That's how I remember
my Home Town -- Blackwell, Oklahoma:
Town without pity.
It was, I suppose, identical to a thousand other ugly
towns of its size and its time. Maybe it has changed;
I wouldn't know. I haven't been there for twenty years.
Only recently did I begin to talk again to people from
the years I lived there -- first Jim, then Tommy, Carla,
Joan, Ann, Launa and recently Teresa. I was surprised
that they do not remember it as the crushingly bleak
hell of my recollections.
In the novel of the same name, the little New England town
of Peyton Place is described as a town where every kid
in town leaves as soon as he can get the money for a
bus ticket. How often, as we "dragged Main" -- drove that
endless loop from the Sonic to the Safeway parking lot --
how often we talked about escaping, getting out of that
town. Most of us did, if only to Oklahoma City or Tulsa.
It took me a dozen years to get from Blackwell to the
San Francisco Bay Area, and certainly no one wanted
out more than I did.
I toy with the idea of going back. I intend to go back, but
I talk myself out of it with little resistance. Who knows.
Maybe next year...
UPDATE: I went back to Blackwell on August 10, 2002
Read more about it on the Back to Blackwell page.

[above] Kenny, Jim, myself and Teresa
at a rehearsal for "Cheaper by the Dozen."

  • breaking into the rag-tag old Larkin Hotel to see the fabled Red Room. Hardly the bordello of local lore, it did have a lamp with a red shade -- which I stole along with some souvenir room keys
  • giving out Oscars at the Junior Assembly connecting students and teachers to movie titles that would humiliate them. An incredible act of mass sadism.  boo, hiss
  • drawing vicious caricatures of the teachers
  • going to the Kay County Free Fair every damn night and loving it.
  • My 11th grade English teacher Mr. Moon blowing kisses at a very angry male student. How dare anyone use such a faggoty gesture to mock a verile young Blackwell cowboy!
  • Followed in 12th grade English by Wide Opal, one of the worst teachers I have seen in my 31 years in public high schools.
  • having a secret affair with a married girl   shhhhhhh
  • the Garden of Zeus outside Mrs. Carter's classroom, whose meager growth of stunted trees we regularly stripped of leaves, limbs and dignity --
  • which is pretty much the way Carter treated her students.
  • "Cheaper by the Dozen" and other terrible plays. No wonder "high school play" is the lowest rung on the theatrical ladder. I became a good director in retaliation.
  • the Laugh-In assemblies, outlandishly anarchistic for that place and time.
  • building that crepe-paper prom and getting kicked out of it by a typing teacher whom Joe called "Rose C**t" to her face...
  • making Senorita Burman cry in my Spanish class. I used to keep count of how many of my teachers cried in class.
  • Carla's '67 Mustang being voted Coolest Car in the school paper.
  • wearing medallions
  • Joe Hukill's Orange Crate -- a big orange Oldsmobile [?] he drove with great shame -- and which now would be seen as a gorgeous classic...
  • "rumors" about the old guy who ran Fey's IGA, a local grocery store
  • a student walk-out... but not the reason. i have no recollection of what prompted it, but I was ecstatic with the feeling of radicalism. I wrote a very serious poem about it. Did it really happen? Why?
  • being fanatically intrigued by Teresa's secret life. I don't even know if she had one. In retrospect, I realize I was the one living two [or three] lives.
  • History teacher Jim Renshaw's left eye-brow which would shoot up to his hairline to register skepticism or displeasure. Also that he had some sort of George W. Bush speech dysfunction. He mangled common expressions by approximation. e.g. he would say "..out on the edge of a branch" rather than "out on the end of a limb." He was a staunch Commie Hunter.
  • talking to Carla in ISS, this mass study hall in the center of the school
  • the fabulous Revoli theater giving way to the crummy Palace. The Revoli was Blackwell's tallest building: five stories. 
  • girls in mini-skirts bending over to get their books from those stupid drawer-lockers and struggling to maintain decorum
  • Precious and Few being 'our song'
  • the upstanding Christian boy who no one ever thought of as gay, but who always tried to coax guys into jacking off with him. I refused, but later wondered why...
  • thinking some really ugly girls were attractive
  • thinking some really attractive girls were ugly. Such is the power of social roles.
  • Our hack drama teacher Mrs. Denton putting a variety of seasonal and special-event hats on her dog, Ling Po. If she'd put that much effort into the school plays, maybe they wouldn't have sucked so bad.
  • winning Most Talented Boy [Twila was Most Talented Girl] at the Senior Assembly. I really wanted the award, which is bizarre in retrospect.
  • crushes on underclassman Rebecca Lund and upperclassman Connie Wirtz. No wonder I couldn't figure out that I was gay. 
  • the only places in town to buy books were the wire racks of fly-blown paperbacks at Safeway and two drug stores. There was no place in town to buy a hard-back book
  • the stud jock saying "takin' a good shit is better than sex".. and his buddies agreeing.  I felt really sorry for their girlfriends.
  •  living on 12th street, the last populated street in town, right across the slag-heaps from what was vaunted to be the world's largest zinc smelter. (Such is the stuff of civic pride.) I remember afternoons as hazy and dark as twilight, my lungs burning from the smoke.
  • buying Fantastic Four #1 at Murray's Grocery for a nickel
  • Ellison's Drug Store, run by a cranky old man and his absolutely delightful old wife who used to let me come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the days the comic books were delivered, and buy what I wanted before they went on the stands. She was my idealized grandmother.
  • painting a  mermaid on the bottom of Bob Greenwade's pool -- the only private pool in town --  while Greenwade kept waving a beer can at me and yelling "Make the tits bigger! Make the tits bigger!"
  • Smelter Heights, the literal other side of the tracks. I remember it as a scene of Appalachian poverty. Even in a low-class town like Blackwell, we had a Bad Part of Town, and people to look down on.
  • a trestle bridge on an abandoned road near Tonkawa, where the road just disappeared on the other side. Lots of missing timbers. I associated it with the one Billy Joe McCallister jumped off of... 
  • riding around with some older girls -- friends of my older brother's girlfriend -- when I was a Sophomore. I tasted my first beer and threw up about three packages of red vines. Didn't taste beer again until I was a junior in college -- and have never eaten red vines again, to this day.
  • we had a fall-out shelter and every time the tornado warning sirens blew, we would have the whole neighborhod crammed ito the crypt. God knows what would have happened if the Ruskies had launched a nuclear strike. The door locked from the inside, so it was a great place to do Forbidden Things.
  • Miss Sampson, the pre-Margie public librarian dragging her paralyzed leg through the stacks
  • letting a hoody kid named Steve copy off me all the time so he'd beat people up for me. My Bodyguard
  • Driving to Wichita to see my first X-rated movie, Andy Warhol's "Trash"
  • hanging out at the Sonic with Launa, and she'd always get tater-tots and insist they bring "at least nine tots"
  • the first girl in our class to have a baby, which she accidentally left at J&J's dime store once
  • too many deaths, mostly from motorcycle accidents.
  • an epidemic of pregnancies, mostly from other kinds of accidents
  • watching the Dick Cavett show and dreaming of being on it when I was grown up and famous, and I'd talk all kinds of shit about Blackwell. Then they'd be sorry, goddamn it. 
  • trying to comb my curly hair flat
  • writing petitions, thinking that kids could change anything about school.
  • Twila working at the Sonic and promoting cherry-lime-orange Dr Peppers
  • wishing I'd get some hair on my chest. In my whole life, I get one wish granted, and I wasted it on a hairy chest.
  • doing song lyrics as poems in Priboth's class. I did "MacArthur Park." My partner was Arthur Booth.
  • Mary Harris's sexed-up lectures in Biology II. Talk of the school.
  • Reneau Allison who used to sit behind me in science class and mutter about bringing a shot-gun to school and killing everybody . Why didn't she? What keeps people from violence in retaliation for social cruelty?
  • gay rumors about a lot of guys. Certainly myself included. Almost all of them were accurate. Plus, there were straight boys who experimented a lot. I never did. Not until I was 24.
  • going through a "christian" phase. I went to Immanuel Baptist church. I painted their big sign in front of the church for $25. But I spelled Immanuel wrong.
  • guys offering me money to draw naked women for them
  • my '61 Cutlass which I named "Mona", and in which I dispensed of my virginity in very cramped quarters.
  • the big notorious, hotly rumored gang bang involving all sorts of unlikely people
  • the hot competition between the Stingrays and the Sounds of Silence, the two local garage bands 
  • the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King
  • thinking the Maroons was a really stupid name for a sports team. What is a maroon?
  • saying "I love you" for the first time on May 5, 1970
  • ordinary looking girls who became suddenly gorgeous -- like Diana Sue Richardson -- and gorgeous girls who lost their looks by 16.


The three girls who played a big part in my
teenage life: Debbie, Twila and Teresa

...and all four of us about three years later [1974?]
Twila            Debbie           Teresa            Max
This is who I was as I started my
Senior year at BHS, September 1970
Pam Priboth changed my life. I learned a lot more
from her than A Seperate Peace. I learned to value
my own mind, and respect my talent. I became a
teacher because of her. Joe and I used to go out
to her house on the pig farm and talk books and
movies. She and I stayed friends through my
college years. Where is she now?



There was Mrs. Root's class, and there was a study hall, and a New Year's Eve party... and Carla and I almost wound up married. She's probably -- to this day -- the one to whom I made the most sense. At the time we broke up, I was beginning to question my sexual identity. We didn't talk again until I tracked her down last year via internet. In August, 2002, I saw her again for the first time in over twenty-five years. I was surprised how easy things were between us. More on the Back to Blackwell page.

From the time I was seven years old,
through our first three years of college,
Tommy was there -- OUT there,
being himself -- getting called
the sissy, the homo, the fag.
No one treated him worse than
I did, and all for the psychologically
transparent reason that I was as
gay as he was. But I lied about it,
to myself and to everyone else.
Few of us have Tommy's courage.
I didn't. Not for another 20 years.
I have given up on trying to define
or explain the relationship I had with
Twila. From the time I was in the
third grade, I knew that I was in
love with her, and that became the
central emotional fact of my life for
the next 20 years. Throughout our 
high school years and our first
year of college, we were together
in a way I can't explain. Then she
married away and I left Blackwell.
After that, I saw her only four times.
The last time  was at my little brother's
funeral in 1983. Then, in the summer
of 2002, when I returned to Blackwell,
I made the decision to see her again.
How much -- and how little -- had changed


Jim was my best friend in my junior year of high school.
He was a Cherokee, and I learned a lot from him about
being part of an outsider group. I later found his very dry
sense of humor among other Native American friends.
He was also the first of many best-friends who was crazy
about baseball -- a sport that bores my ass off.  A girl we
liked had a father with a notorious ho girlfriend. Jim and I
attempted to burn the ho's housedown.
Was that a felony? What's the statute of limitations?
Um -- just kidding. Never happened. Really.
Never a fan of White Civilization, Jim moved out to the
Cherokee country past Tallequah, where he still lives.
Joe was the first friend with whom I shared
a love of theater. He was a gifted singer
and had the guts to go to New York after
college and take a shot at performing. He
was a Barbra Streisand fan, and I learned
to appreciate theatrical singing listening to
his "Barbra: a Happening in Central Park"
tape [several hundred times] while we
endlessly dragged Main. I also learned a lot
from his vicious sense of humor. We used
to write elaborate musical parodies about
assorted Blackwell and BHS characters.
Damn, who was "Munny Girl" about?
I understand that in "Munny Lady" her rich
husband dumps her ass and she becomes
a right-wing fundamentalist nut-case...
From the time I was 15 until I was 20 Ann blew
in and out of my life like the seasonal tornadoes
-- the difference being that with tornadoes there
was a warning siren, and I was smart enough to
take cover. In  the movie The Last Picture Show
an old guy muses on his youth, recalling his 
long- ago involvement with a wild young girl.
"I must have been half crazy, " he says, then
 reconsiders. "No... being crazy about a girl
like that is always the right thing to do."
Right, maybe. Half crazy... oh, yes.

observing Teresa

 Yes, every picture
 tells a story. God
 knows this one
 does. I look like 
 Howdy Doody and
 Teresa looks like
 Cher. I was in total
 awe of  her, with her
 gorgeous eyes and
 legendary legs and
 a wicked sense of
 humor, well served by a sexy, rushed voice that implied all manner of non-specific intrigue. Much too sophisticated for  this little Okie who didn't even know whether he liked girls or boys. All sorts of grown men were crazy about her, and there I was. Remember the Jim Morrison lyrics "Sidewalk crouches at her feet, like a dog that begs for something sweet. Do you hope to make her see you, fool? Do you hope to pluck this dusky jewel? Hello. I love you. Won't you tell me your name?" Well, at least I knew her name. And on some level, we were very good friends. We spent a lot of time together. Last I saw of her was in about '74. But, y'know... we exchanged some e-mail recently, and I still felt, "Wow! I got an e-mail from Teresa !" Grow up, Max.

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