I Was a Young American
The Hoover was a red beast. Probably 4,500 pounds of creased and rusted steel. It didn’t take much to open the door, but if you didn’t check its momentum it was just as likely to rebound about its hinges and trap your shin as it slammed shut. The Hoover was all about Newton’s First Law, something I would soon learn about from freshman physics in 1st Mod.
It was 1977, and everything was starting to get rebranded: I was Mike then, not Michael or even MTM. The earliest efforts at rebranding education were in full swing, too. TAC, Modules (Mods for short), Rapping in Religion…Pi-Hi-X-I was doing everything it could to move itself away from my mother’s parochial Pope Pius The Eleventh High School.
Pius had almost 50 years of inertia going when I was sucked into The Hoover with my brother Jim and sister Lynn on that first day of ninth grade. Jim turned the key and watts coursed through the cables, phase-changing from surging electrical current into grinding mechanical motion, and the small-block Chevy burped to life. A black cloud of vaporized oil puked out of the exhaust as Jim revved the engine, coughing to clear the phlegm as he lit his second cigarette of the day. He kicked down the idle and popped the PowerGlide into gear, and we were off to school.
Once it got going The Hoover felt like it would never stop, like it was barreling downhill–which it was, in a way, ’cause we had the back-end so jacked up all you could see out the rear window was sky. That’s how it got its name, you know…with the rear all haunched up, the front springs sagged and the gaping chrome grille inhaled the pavement. Add to that the flipped-over air cleaner and the glass-pack mufflers, and The Hoover screamed Vroooom.
Jim was cool in the driver seat, a white t-shirt with that pack of smokes rolled into the sleeve. Lynn was in the back seat, all platinum blonde and sophomore scowl. Me, I had some butterflies. I had owned junior high, felt like I knew everyone I needed to know. But here I was starting over again. What would 2000 students look like? And other than Jim and Lynn, I didn’t know a single one of them. I started to feel a bit queasy…it was the exhaust fumes coming up through the rust holes in the floorboards.
Jim kicked the glovebox door and it flopped open. He grabbed the white block of plastic crammed in amongst all the other detritus and shoved it into the slot in the radio, like a punch in the mouth.
And the soundtrack to freshman year kicked into gear. The eight-track was David Bowie’s “Changes One” and being one of two eight-track cassettes that lived in The Hoover, it accompanied either the ride to or from school every day. Space Oddity, Ziggy Stardust, Suffragette City, Rebel Rebel, Fame, and of course Young Americans.
I’ve never been able to hear lyrics as much more than verbal notes, but Changes One was a herald to me, the doorway to an exciting, scary, perverse and challenging world. It turned junior high innocence a sappy golden hue, and put the pedal to the floorboards on my passage to adulthood. The world started to get a whole lot bigger in high school. No matter how big The Hoover was, it could never contain the chords of change.
This MTM guest post is part of the series The Soundtrack of Life. If this is your first visit to the series, please click here for the first installment and click here for the second installment, and click here for the third. Thanks for your contributions and insights in the comments. They always enrich this blog, especially in a series like this one.