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Dixie Canyon
By John Levenstein

The first time I spoke into a microphone marked the culmination of a year in which my sexuality was forever stunted. Let's dive right in.

My childhood in New York was pretty much idyllic. I went to a progressive private school in Greenwich Village, where we all went at our own pace, which meant we all went at Frankie Linkoff's pace, which was leisurely.

I was as popular as you can be without becoming a target. As a child I had a rare gift for adjudication. Friends came to me to settle their disputes. Sometimes I volunteered. What difference does it make?

Girls liked me. You don't have to take my word for it. We had a written record, a closely held book, kept by the class asexual, listing everyone's first, second, and third choice in the opposite sex. I was a wildly popular second choice. That's okay. I could wait them out. It's a cruel world, girls, not everyone gets their first choice. I had to like where I was sitting.

Greenwich Village was my personal Eden, the childhood paradise I could one day tell my own kids about…if my sexuality hadn't been forever stunted. I was eleven years old. My parents got divorced, my father stopped paying child support, my mother took my brother, sister and me out to California, in pursuit of her married lover, and, for the first time, I entered a school with bells.

I'm really not sure how we got from class to class in New York. We undulated, we flowed, and if we didn't make it, it's not like we were missing anything. But at Dixie Canyon Elementary School, in Sherman Oaks California, in the fall of 1970, the bell was king.

It was the first day of school, and I was looking for my bungalow, having no idea what a bungalow was. I'd been assigned to the slow class after they'd gotten a look at my transcript, which contained no grades, scores, or other judgments that might be upsetting to Frankie. I was wearing my glasses, just in case there was one of those chalkboards I'd heard so much about. So when I entered the room and everyone turned around, I could get a clear view of what a freak they all thought I was. And that was before they saw the lunchbox.

I'd chosen it hastily, not realizing they collected the boxes before class, then returned them to us at lunch time, in a most public manner. When the time came, a kid was chosen to come up front and call them out, auction style, box by box. Partridge FamilyHere Come the Brides… He paused, in disbelief, then screamed, at the top of his lungs. Hee Haw! I sat there, frozen. A couple of kids joined in. Hee Haw! It's almost impossible for a roomful of kids to resist that siren call. And the fact that these were the slow kids didn't make them any less hip to the joke. If anything, they were more appreciative. As I got up, all the blood rushing to my face, I wished I'd had the foresight to pack a gun in my lunch box so I could spray the class with bullets shrieking, "Like Here Come the Brides is such a great fucking show." But you can make yourself crazy with regrets like that.

So. Day one, and I was already operating at a deficit. Still, it was nice to get out of the house. Things had been tense there since my mother's married lover skipped town, leaving us with his two young children. I couldn't talk to my father, who still wasn't paying child support. All of my friends were in New York.

With nowhere to turn, I opened up a textbook…and I liked what I saw. I liked grades, graphs, midterms, report cards, midterm report cards. I channeled all of my anger into my school work. And for a brief shining moment, I was the fastest slow kid Dixie Canyon ever saw. And no one fucks with the fast slow kid. Here's why:

There was an innovative teaching technique, circa 1970, where we broke off into teams and competed in various learning games. But wait-that's not the innovative part. For every correct answer, the teacher doled out a Starburst, a healthful, fruity treat, or so the thinking went. Well. You weren't on my team, you didn't see a Starburst. I was the candy man. With her whole system threatening to break down, the teacher called for an emergency IQ test, and I was shipped off to the honors track, but not before the class, a little in awe, had elected me as their representative to the student government. And, with a collective cry of Hee Haw, I was on my way.

But I couldn't rest on my laurels. My mother had finally broken things off with her married lover, but then, with no money, my father pressing for custody, and the IRS joining the merry chase, she made a half hearted suicide attempt, the first in my memory. And the news from New York was not good. They were having kissing parties! They were having kissing parties, and I wasn't there.

Things had been pretty tame for me in Greenwich Village. We'd hit the head shops and buy different flavored rolling papers, then walk down the street and lick them like lollypops. We had parties with boys and girls, but it never progressed past a bit of dancing and a spirited game of twister. Frankie wasn't ready. But, as soon as I left, a new kid named Nathan entered the scene. A spectacularly pubescent man-child, he gave a party for the popular boys and the girls with breasts. I would've been there. Nathan commanded everyone to pair up and make out. Ellen Stevens, my first choice in the book kept by the class asexual, chose my best friend Josh, he later told me, because he was safe. I was safe! I was her second choice! You don't get safer than that.

By the end of the year, they were smoking pot and finger fucking, and my fate had been sealed as the kid with glasses who you really owe it to yourself to cheat off of. I had my identity, at least until college, when I'd get a second shot at reinvention. But I was already behind. And now I'm a forty-four-year-old bachelor who hasn't even gotten his first marriage out of the way.

And so it was with a sense of loss, but also gratitude for what had been gained, when, fulfilling my final function as class representative, at my sixth grade graduation, I stepped up to the microphone and said…

On behalf of the graduating class…of Dixie Canyon Elementary School…I would like to present…an azalea bush…for the sixth grade lawn.

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