9.27.2006

BACK TO SCHOOL: INSTITUTIONAL GREEN


One of the best things about Amazon.com is that you can look for out of print titles and if they are available buy them and be reading them in no time.

In the old days, you might have had to go to a used book store and browse the stacks for hours to find a treasure.




(Reminds me of the argument in The Strawberry Statement, Notes of A College Revolutionary by James Simon Kunen - where he passes a Hard-To-Find-Records store and argues that if the record is in the store then it can't be too hard to find. But I digress.)

One of those lost treasures I recovered recently was a copy of a book I lost in 1971 or so right in front of my house while I was playing street hockey.

I had laid the book -
Our Time is Now; Notes From the High School Underground, edited by John Birmingham - down with my school books and later when I got inside it had gone missing.



I can remember a lot of things about that book. One thing was the phrase Institutional Green and Johnny Potseed and the kissy girl with the bad breath on the long bus ride. Institutional green refered to the room paint in the sc hools. Johnny Potseed was a how-to article and the girl on the bus, I'll get to that shortly.

Of course they were stories, you know, just a lot of words I read almost 40 years ago but they left some sort of impression on me.

Between Kunen's book and Birmningham's collection of writings from the underground student newspapers, oh, and probably the full side of Dylan songs on The Concert For Bangla Desh, in that whirlwind forcefield I decided to become a writer.

In the old days, before the Internet, when computers were as big as classrooms and programmed in FORTRAN with keypunch cards, the only way to publish alternative information was with a printing press of some kind and lots of paper.

Published in 1970, OUR TIME is a collection of writings from high school student published underground newspapers from the late sixties. The papers had names like SMUFF, LINKS, SANSCULOTTES, T.R.I.P., COMMON SENSE, THE OBSERVED, FREETHINKER, MINSTREL, WEAKLY READER, and, of course, my favorite, INSTITUTIONAL GREEN.

When I finally connected with my replacement copy, I opened the familiar brown cover with its clenched red, white and blue painted fist, and began thumbing through.

Within a ten page spread of the back of the book, on page 264, I found the passage I remember about INSTITUTIONAL GREEN and the girl with bad breath riding on a bus.

The unsigned story from INSTITUTIONAL GREEN, New York, is titled BATHROOMS, and as well as I remembered it, when I reread it, it all came back to me.

The author was trying to describe the smell of the school bathrooms. Ultimately, the smell takes him back to when he was 12 and rode on a long bus trip. A girl sat in his lap and they started making out.

The girl, it turned out, as you already know, had bad breath. Says the author, "Well, that's what the bathrooms in this school remind me of. Don't tell me I'm a kook, because I'll be sorry I told you."

Students in the underground newspapers then fought for girls to attend boys' schools (Page 139 - GIRL IN STUYVESANT? - Weakly Reader No. 10.

In ATTENTION ALL TEACHERS! - MINE, No. 8, Tucson, Ariz., the underground newspaper refers to the biology text: "in about one year, you (the students) will have forgotten about 85 percent of the facts you learned in biology and that the purpose of the course was not to have you memorize facts, but to put you in a frame of thinking, in this case scientific."

Larry Siegal writes of JOHNNY POTSEED in SANSCULOTTES No. 30, NY, on Page 246. Just a few pages later Lenny Lubart writes WNEW-FM: A NEW VOICE IS HEARD in THE FORUM, VOL. I, No. 5, Paramus, N.J.

Birmingham, the editor of OUR TIME, began his underground newspaper career at the school newspaper in Hackensack, N.J. He was graduated Hackensack in 1969 and went on to attend New York University.

OUR TIME carries an introduction by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. How cool is that!

1970 was the year the seniors nailed my English literature book to the shop class table with a 10-penny nail. I needed a crowbar to pry it off the workbench and the a hammer to pound the nail back out. We had the world by the balls and none of us knew it.

1970, it was the last time I wanted to be an astronaut. Or a fireman.

Back then the moon was made of green cheese and Pluto was still a planet (was the planet named after the cartoon character, or was the cartoon dog named after the planet? And why does Goofy talk but Pluto doesn’t? And what about Belushi’s character in Animal House? What was his name?)

In our health class we had to struggle to find ten songs with drug references in them (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, was one.) Vietnam was a dirty little war and most of the kids in my high school couldn't tell you the name of one kid from our town who had died over there. Neither could I tell you one of them was my cousin.

A few years later, when I was a senior, I got on the student newspaper. We never managed to publish one issue of the student paper.

We did, however, have a page to run stuff in the Belleville Times. Those were my very first bylines. You can look them up if you don't have anything better to do.

But be careful, something you may read just might stick in the back of your head for the next 40 years.

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Copyright © 2006 by Anthony Buccino, all rights reserved. Content may not be used for commercial purposes without written permission.
For more information, www.anthonybuccino.com

2 comments:

Sal B. said...

Anthony, your "Institutional Green" is a great read! It brought me back to a few favorite books of my own, a few for which I went searching and found.

Your friend,
Sal

Mister Mustache said...

I talk about this book and my own experiences in the underground newspaper world and Smuff in my own blog, The Sixties, another Mr. Mustache blog. Those were interesting times. http://sixtiesmrmustache.blogspot.
com/