Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Cretin High School Class of 1961

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

I used to think it a bit gauche to brag about one’s high school. But not anymore. I think it’s OK to reflect back on those building blocks that one takes, absent of conscious thought, that end up making a major impact on future decisions and choices. Pulling back my curtain of past lives, I realize now that I was fortunate enough to attend one of the best high schools in Saint Paul back in the late fifties. Turns out it was a brief window of opportunity, unseen and unappreciated back then but relished now. I hope my friends feel the same way, no matter what school they attended. It’s a nice moniker to hold on to.

I have a friend who went to Saint Joseph Academy for Girls at about the same time. She once told me she thought her school was secondary to OLP (Our Lady of Peace). Funny, I never felt that way. The girls from Saint Joe’s were always more accessible and real to me. They were like us.

My sister went to Our Lady of Peace. Now they seemed to be a little more aloof. While not as status-conscious as Visitation, Derham Hall, or Villa Maria, there was still an aire about those girls. Of course, they probably would have said the same thing about those jocks and military boys from Cretin.

Then there’s an old acquaintance of mine who went to Monroe High School. They called themselves the Green Wave. He takes great pride in his school even from the warm confines of his Florida retirement home.

Another friend went to Highland Senior High his freshman year, then transferred to Cretin his sophomore year. Nevertheless, he still sees himself as a Cretin grad, four years running.

What each of these folks share is a deep respect for and love of their old alma mater. It was for them the very best school around and they were proud to be a part of it.

For many of us, high school proved to be a pivotal point in our lives. Even more than college, it was where the stumbles of youth were corrected by the realities of our teenage years and finally solidified into the more mature footsteps that carried us through our collegiate and/or skill building future.

Reflecting back on that time period in Minnesota history and my own historical tracks, I realize now that attending Cretin High School back in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a unique experience. Of course, I never realized that until our fifty-year class reunion made it bubble up to the surface of my consciousness.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

In retrospect, it was also a turning point in the history of our country. The beginning of the end of that idyllic plain vanilla existence our parents loved so much and wanted us to emulate. The old neighborhood was morphing through all kinds of changes just as we were. It was end of Doris Day and her’ Doggie in the Window.’ It was Frank Sinatra and his version of cool slowly turning cold. It was hot rods and tail fins and poodle skirts that only hinted of secrets underneath. The Cold War was inescapable but it hardly permeated our existence the same way Rock and Roll and the first warm feelings of affection for the opposite sex did.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

 Cretin High School was a different kind of school but those of us attending it really weren’t any different from our friends at other schools. We came from all walks of life but for the most part were solidly middle class. Back in the late fifties, Cretin’s tentacles spread out across the Twin Cities in one last grasp at prospects before newer Catholic High Schools in the suburbs started to pick from the litter.

There were two military schools in town back then. Now there is only one and it isn’t Cretin. The program was called Junior ROTC (Reserved Officers Training Corp.) But for most of us it wasn’t a career choice, just a curriculum that followed the thinking of the day. A boy’s military school taught by the Christian Brothers, mostly male teachers and gruff RA (regular Army) sergeants. Their motto was: Teach them discipline and academic success will follow. It was a regimen that worked very well for most of us.

Taken down to the basics, it meant woolen uniforms that stunk when they got wet and were sweltering straightjackets in the springtime sun. Crack drill marches and drill review didn’t help the sweat glands either. It was simply part of the package that one accepted when attending a military school back then.

But for all the pomp and ceremony beneath that military cap of muted brown, there was a long-standing tradition of respect, discipline, and expectations from our leaders and ourselves. Even with our young malleable minds, we knew we were different. Chain of Command be damned, we were among the best. Even if we weren’t entirely sure just what ‘the best’ meant to anyone else but ourselves.

Without fanfare or published categories, freshmen were segmented into academic tracks based on their entrance exams and elementary school records. A large portion of the class was slotted into the pre-college track. Among the graduating seniors were 25 National Honor Society members, 26 Four-year Merit Medal winners, and seven National Merit Scholarship winners.

For the rest of the class of 1961, the administration saw our future in a secure government job, a skilled trade, or the military. There were only a few of us who clawed our way through the classroom trenches, scrambled over the academic barriers and slipped into college anyway.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Hoffman

School dances were a necessary evil tolerated by the Christian Brothers and predominantly male teachers. I don’t think they really wanted to encourage the mixing of male hormones with the virginity of the visiting opposite sex. Most of the dances were awkward cardboard rituals where the boys lined the gymnasium floor like wallpaper while the girls circled them and whispered in each other’s ears about the hottest dudes in the room.

Formal dances for the junior and senior military officers were dressed up affairs with shiny brass buttons, sheathed swords, and formal gowns. A sterile playground with everyone trying their best to be very cool and polite at the same time.

Unbeknownst to us at the time, our secure insulated world was on the cusp of major changes in 1961. Old Saint Paul was dying and a new city wouldn’t appear for many years to come. The country was expanding with the growth of the suburbs and hollowing out of the core cities.

Cretin was a molder of men, a change maker, and a foundation upon which to build one’s own values, aspirations, judgements, and creative hunger. Like ‘Bob Dylan’s Dream,’ my rag-tag group of Cretin friends have scattered with the winds of time. There are only a couple of guys left that I’ve managed to string together with a loose fitting web of memories that we can cling to.

It was the best of times…most of the time. Now in retrospect, it seems even better than that.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Polly Comes to Play

Polly has found a new home and a place to tell her story. ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ will be performed on December 7th and 8th at the S2S (Script2Stage2Screen) venue in Rancho Mirage, California.

In our modern day world of plain old-fashion dating, match-ups, hook-ups, swinging, swapping, switching, one-nighters and a dozen or more complicated variations of romantic liaisons, it turns out that not one type of relationship suits all. In fact, there are probably as many different intimate, sexual, personal relationships as can meet the imagination. One of the most prominent of which is called a polyamorous relationship. Who knew?

A polyamorous relationship is defined as a romantic relationship with more than one person. What distinguishes it from a classic love triangle is that all the partners know about each other and are accepting of those other relationships. It can pertain to men, women, or a combination of both.

My curiosity was aroused (pardon the pun) even further when another friend who works at a medical clinic casually told me about her encounters with swingers. It seems there is a group of swingers who go to her clinic once a month for blood tests to make sure they haven’t contracted any STDs. My friend was impressed by the casual nature as well as honest and open approach this woman took when describing how her group went about exchanging wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, and new arrivals.

To better understand all the variations and emotional dynamics of a polyamorous relationship, I had to do research. So I started with Google. According to a study published in the ‘Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy’ in 2016, 21 percent of people have had a non-monogamous relationship – one in which ‘all partners agree that each other may have romantic and/or sexual relationships with other partners.’

The notion of multiple-partner relationships is as old as the human race itself. But polyamorists trace the foundation of their movement to the utopian Oneida Christian commune of upstate New York, founded in 1848 by Yale theologian John Humphrey Noyes. But it wasn’t until the late-1960s and 1970s ‘free love’ movement that polyamory truly came into vogue when books like ‘Open Marriage’ topped the best seller lists and groups like the North American Swingers Club began experimenting with the concept.

It’s hard for many people to think outside of the fairy-tale notion of ‘the one’ and imagine that it might be possible to actually romantically love more than one person simultaneously. Jealousy is the main culprit and it’s an issue that polyamorists deal with constantly.

Once I discovered this Achilles heel of jealousy, I had my theme and the main point of conflict and contention in my storyline. Yeah, it sounded like the groundwork for a new play. So that’s what I did. I wrote ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure.’

This play about a polyamorous relationship was going to be a challenge even though I had a good idea of how the storyline (Polly’s dilemma) was going to unfold right from the start. I wanted to grab the audience’s attention, hold on tight and not let it go. But I also wanted to make my characters real. They had to be sympatric in their relationship challenges and honest in their pursuit of this love triangle.

My main protagonist, Polly, is in a polyamorous relationship or so she thinks she is. The two men involved aren’t so sure and Polly’s girlfriend, Hazel, is certain that she isn’t. Polly’s mother is a toss-up. She could go either way but wants in on the action anyway.

In ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ I’ve tried to be true to the intent of a polyamorous relationship but to also analyze the complexities of multiple relationships where emotions, raw feelings, confusion and jealousy are all a part of the equation. Then to stir up the pot a little more, I’ve added a handyman who is more than that, a girlfriend who can swing both ways, an online sex councilor who just can’t stay in her PC and an unconventional shopping list for insane pleasure.

The play was a joy to write. I fell in love with my characters, was surprised by their reactions to events and rationale for their relationships. ‘Polly’s Amorous Adventure’ turned out to be a rollicking, twisted, sometimes torturous pathway through human emotions and ever-elusive true love. Now it’s time for the audiences to see for themselves just what kind of dilemma Polly has gotten herself into.

It’s hard writing about a one-on-one relationship whether it’s with a past girlfriend or that someone special that you’ve been with forever. Relationships are challenging enough without the tentacles of love churning up the waters with their complex currents of swirling emotions. Now add to that a one-on-two slow dance and it’s bound to get just a little bit crazy.

Nevertheless, a lot of fun to write about.

Performances begin at 7:30pm on December 7th and 8th at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Desert. 72425 Via Vail, Rancho Mirage, CA.  92270.