“My Poor Old High School” by Joan Jobe Smith

Joan Jobe Smith


One of the oldest big old stucco buildings in Southern California, my poor old Excelsior High School stands there naked scarecrow on the corner of Artesia and Pioneer Boulevard, empty and closed down now since 1981 for lack of enrollment, the Baby Boomers moving on with their teenagers to a larger part of town, and I get tears in my eyes when I drive by and see most of the windows boarded up, some of its old red Spanish tiles on its roof missing, like teeth gone from old age or a prizefight. The math department has been leased to a day care center, the cafeteria to a Vietnamese Cultural Center, the two-story auditorium condemned where on its stage my junior year for the Spring Swing I danced a “Day-O Day-0” samba with my girlfriend Jan, giggling so much from stage fright and sweet 16 giddiness I almost wet my pants. Then later the movie “Grease” was shot there, over there on the front lawn, John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing, bopping to “who-do-you-love?” love songs. But all was not jolly at my old high school. Boys went away to four wars during those decades and didn’t come back. A Great Depression occurred and kids quit high school to find work. There were gangs. Drugs. In that stadium over there our varsity team lost the homecoming game. My senior year over there on the way to the Four H sheds next to the English building my Othello boyfriend beat up the boy who gave me my first kiss in seventh grade. No more coolest cars in school drive by my poor old high school closed down now. No more mean-well teachers telling you you’ll go far (you did/you didn’t) or go to jail (you did/you didn’t). No more teenagers wizened with young and cigarettes hang around. No more toot-toot-tootsie, boogie-woogie, be-bop-a-lulu, surfin’ safaris, sock hops, California girls, Mustang Sallys, Mohair Sams swinging on a star stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, la-la-la-la-la bamba, rock around the clock. My poor old high school is closed down now forever but still stands there fat old wise worn-out graffiti’d Buddha. Easter Island, Stonehenge, alabaster Abraham Lincoln and seems as if it might answer from out the cracks of the mouth of its locked front doors if we ask, ask again that same question we asked when we were kids: How, how did we all get so old?

from Rattle #16, Winter 2001
Tribute to Boomer Girls


Joan Jobe Smith: “I graduated from Excelsior High School in 1957, where I published my first poem ever at age thirteen and lost my bid for student body vice president in a landslide to a candidate good at algebra. My creative views agree with Charlie Parker’s: ‘If you ain’t lived, it won’t come out your horn.’ But I also know this: in creativity and life, there are no absolutes.” (web)

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