Once upon a time long ago in Peoria, Illinois, there was a high school named, Bergan. I spent four, weird, fuzzy years of my life there. The years were weird and fuzzy because I was constantly high on one substance or another back in those days, which we now refer to as, “The ‘70’s.” And I by no means am glorifying or suggesting this type of behavior to anyone, young or old. Taking drugs was just one of the many stupid things I did as a kid. Luckily I escaped with some of my brain cells intact, but not everyone was as lucky as me. I can’t honestly say I regret my behavior back then, but I am amazed that I made it through those years alive, much less being middle-aged and writing about it now. It was certainly a different time and a mind-rattling era. Things are different today.
I graduated from Bergan in 1976 and about a year later, myself and Tim Hennessey (whom you’ve met on the Emack & Bolio’s posts) went to something called a “Bergan Booster” party that was held in the front area of Bergan known as, “The Commons.” The Bergan Booster parties were for alumni of the school and they were usually held after a sporting event with kegs of beer and cans of soda for refreshments. I don’t remember much about that night other than I was about 17 sheets to the wind, fueled by a lot of alcohol and various other mind-bending substances that were rattling through my system.
I kind of remember staggering in to the party and then yelling at someone and a big guy grabbing me by the collar of my coat, throwing me out the front door and angrily saying, “Don’t you ever come back here again!”
I recall cursing him out while running to the car and then laughing about it with Tim as we sped out of the parking lot and into the night in search of something that you could only find back in 1977 when you’re 19-years-old and felt you were invincible to any kind of authority and/or danger.
You know I never have gone back to Bergan High School since then. I’ve never even pulled into the parking lot again. Since I’ve moved back to Peoria, I drive by that school all the time and I often wonder if they’d let me back in.
Let’s go and find out.
Here we go down Sheridan Road. I'm starting to get butterflies in my stomach and I'm feeling really anxious about going back there.
There it is, Bergan High School.
Of course it's now called, Notre Dame High School, they switched the name sometime a while back. But it'll always be Bergan High School to me. A name's a name, as The Tom Tom Club said years ago, what are words worth?
As I pull into the parking lot there's a dark cloud looming overhead. That doesn't sit well with me, but what are you going to do? We're here, and this must be done, so let's just keep moving on with this program.
Here's the sidewalk that I've walked up many times years ago. I have the same feeling like I did when it was the first day of school after summer vacation and your stomach goes into knots.
There's the doors that I got thrown out of way back in 1977. Let's see what happens this time.
Well, so far, so good. I made it into the office and they called the Principal. His name is Charlie Roy and he's been the Principal here for six years. He's a real nice guy and I asked him a question that I never would've asked years ago, I asked if we could go to his office.
Here I am in familiar territory, the Principal's office! But this time it's a pleasant experience. I told Charlie my story about getting thrown out of here way back in 1977. I told him it was my fault and he said I was more than welcome back and agreed to give me a tour of my old high school. What a pleasant surprise!
Charlie and I started the tour where it ended so many years ago, back at the front door where I got thrown out.
And there's the door, but this time I'm not being thrown out of it. Let's start this tour, I'm anxious to take a look at my old school and see if its changed much.
Here's the front room of the school, known as the Commons area. It's lunch time and it's packed with the next generation of kids to be graduating here. They're really well behaved, a big change from when I was here!
Student artwork is on display out here. Art was the one class I was good in.
I love this piece of Beatles artwork. Nice to know that kids still dig the Fabulous Four!
This owl in a top hat is really cool too! Looks like some excellent artists are being groomed here!
Just around the corner from the Commons is this bathroom that we used to sneak cigarettes in.
The library hasn't changed much at all, this was always a better alternative to the study hall for me back in the day.
Charlie leads me into the gym area.
It's so weird, everything in here looks the same. See the gym floor where the basketball is painted? I tripped there during a one-legged relay race in P.E. class and broke my arm my sophomore year. It was painful, but it got me out of P.E. class for half a year, which was invaluable to me at the time!
I always had a fear of not being able to remember my locker combination. To this day I have a recurring nightmare that I'm at Bergan and I'm trying to unlock my locker and I can't get it open.
Here's the chapel, which looks very nice these days. I didn't linger too long in here for fear the ceiling might cave in on me.
We found an empty classroom and while the desks look different, the room looks about the same as it did back in the day.
I had to cheat my way through pre-algebra when I was a sophomore at Bergan, so this Informal Geometry book kind of mystifies me.
Charlie took me to this corridor where they have a bunch of class picture, let's go see if they have my class up there, the class of 1976.
And there's my old pal, Tim Hennessey, who got thrown out with me way back in 1977. Note the smirk on Tim's face!
And check out this guy, Martin Wombacher! If you scroll down and read the bonus story today, you'll see it was kind of a miracle my picture made it here.
Up in the front of the school, there's pictures of teachers who have taught here. Charlie told me that Tom Menger and Cathy Curtis are still teachers here. Both of them were nice to me when I went to school here and we took off to go find them and say hi.
We found Cathy out in the hallway on the way to her homeroom class and it was great to see her and catch up. She was always one of my favorite teachers there. I worked at the Drug Store in Junction City all through high school and Cathy worked a couple doors down at the book store, so she always seemed more like a co-worker and friend to me as a kid. I'm sure she won't remember this, but I remember her coming into the drug store one day and I told her how much I hated high school. She didn't miss a beat and said, "Well, Marty, the school's not too fond of you either." Ha ha ha!
And here's Tom Menger! Tom taught me English at Bergan and planted the seeds for my writing all those years ago. So he's the guy to blame for all of this! It was great to catch up with Tom and Cathy, they're great people and wonderful teachers.
Okay, the tour was over and this time I left of my own free will and Charlie said I was welcome back any time. Thanks to Charlie, Cathy and Tom for being so hospitable and for giving me a nice tour of my old school, we'll see you all tomorrow.
Losing My Religion • By Marty Wombacher
In 1976, I was a senior at Bergan High School and all I wanted to do was graduate and get the fuck out of there. I never liked school and I had a bit of a problem with authority figures and I just couldn’t wait to get out and start the next chapter of my life. One thing almost stopped me from getting out of Bergan that year. I flunked Religion class. And you had to take four years of Religion class to graduate. How does one flunk Religion class you may be wondering right now. Well, here’s how I managed to pull it off.
The name of my Religion teacher my senior year was Brother David Glover. Brother Glover was a soft-spoken guy with wavy, gravity defying hair that jutted out at the side of his head. He had a spotty mustache that barely covered his upper lip and he kind of resembled an effeminate Gene Wilder.
Brother Glover and I had one thing in common. We pretty much hated each other.
In all honesty, I didn’t really start hating him until the year was over, but he hated me from the very first day of school that year. And he had a really good reason to hate me. I was a real asshole in his class.
When Brother Glover would hand me a mimeographed sheet with some lessons on it, I would wad it up into a tight little ball and then throw it back in his face. I remember stealing dollar bills from my friend Lee Ann Schwindenhammer’s purse and drawing on them until they were so badly marred she wouldn’t be able to spend them while he was talking to us. Sometimes I’d just start loudly laughing after he said something and wouldn’t stop. Other times I’d put my hand in the air and when he would call on me, I’d just stare at him when he’d say, “Marty did you want to say something?” To which I’d blankly reply, “No.”
Personally, I just wanted to make Brother Glover snap and he never did, but I could tell it was getting to him. I was obsessed with making him finally break down and start screaming at me.
I never did any homework and some days I would just sit in class with a marker and color the pages of my religion book red. Every time class was over and we were filing out the door, I’d go up to him and say two words, “Toodleoo, buckaroo.” He’d have a pained look on his face, but would never respond back.
As the year wore on, I felt like someone in jail marking off days on a calendar before they were released from a four year stint doing hard time in stir. I had a couple of weeks of school to go when my name was announced over the loud speaker to go to the office. I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be good news and my gut feeling was right as rain on a cloudy springtime day. The teachers had turned their grades in and I had flunked Religion. This meant I couldn’t graduate. I was told my options were to either attend another high school the next school year or repeat my senior year at Bergan.
All at once my world collapsed around me like a tent whose poles had all snapped at once. I felt like Billy Hayes in “Midnight Express,” where he’s just about to be set free from that Turkish prison and is then told his sentence had been changed to life without parole. I couldn’t do another year of high school. I just didn’t have it in me. I remember running to the bathroom while breaking out in a sweat after being told this news and standing over a toilet because I felt like I was going to get sick.
I went home and that night I told my parents the news. It wasn’t the first time in my life I had disappointed my folks, but this one really stung them hard. They’ve always been devout Catholics and were devastated about this news. I told them I was sorry and confessed to everything I did that year. All of us were pretty upset, I told them I was sorry and my dad said he’d make some calls and see if he could fix this somehow. My parents deserve sainthood for what I put them through.
After several phone calls and meetings, it was set up that I’d take a special test on a Saturday afternoon prepared by Brother Glover and if I passed, he’d give me a “D” in religion and I could graduate. I think the powers that be at Bergan agreed to this because they didn’t really want to deal with me for another year.
The fateful Saturday came and I remember going to school and a janitor was in the hallway. I said hi to him and he responded with, “You must’ve pulled something really bad to be in here on a Saturday.”
I told him he didn’t know the half of it and slowly walked down the hallway to Brother Glover’s classroom. I stood in the doorway and he was seated at his desk in the front of the classroom. He turned in his chair to face me in the doorway and we just stared at each other for about three long minutes. Then I reluctantly broke the staredown, went in and sat in a desk right in front of his.
He cleared his throat, picked up a mimeographed piece of paper and walked over to where I was seated and slowly placed it in front of me. I looked down at the piece of paper and then back up at Brother Glover who was standing in front of me. I so desperately wanted to wad that stinking piece of paper up and throw it in his face and tell him to eat shit and then run out of that high school as fast as I could. But I knew I couldn’t do that and I slumped in my desk.
“I forgot to bring a pen,” I told Brother Glover in defeated and sad tones.
He swiftly pulled a black ballpoint pen from his pocket, clicked it and deftly set it on my desk.
I picked up the pen and Brother Glover went back to his desk, sat down and said, “There’s no time limit for this test, take your time and think about every question before you answer.”
My grip tightened on the pen as I looked down and read the first question: “Is God good?”
I couldn’t believe it and I looked up at Brother Glover. He was staring at me and I knew he was waiting for me to wad that paper up and throw it right at his fucking face. It was all I could do to look back down at that goddamned piece of paper and write: “Yes, God is very good.”
Onto question number two: “Do you accept and believe all the teachings in the Catholic faith.”
And on and on it went, one ridiculous question after the next. I flew threw it as quick as I could and answered every question the way I knew I had to, so I could graduate. When I was done, I got up and took the test and handed it and the pen back to Brother Glover.
He scanned the test and said, “Okay, you passed, you’ll be able to graduate.”
I just spun around on my heels and started to head out the door when he spoke again.
“Just a second, Marty,” he said as I stopped, clenched my jaw and turned around and faced Brother Glover, who was still seated.
He had a slight smile on his face as he told me in slow, cipped tones: “I just want you to know and to realize one thing, you will always have someone who will make you be accountable for your actions.”
I stood there for about thirty seconds as I let those horrible and dark words digest in my mind and then I walked out of that classroom and once in the hallway I started running towards the Commons, out the door and down the sidewalk to my mom’s car that I had driven there in.
I remember sitting in her car for at least ten minutes obsessing over what he had told me and gripping the steering wheel till my knuckles went white. I think he had waited all year for that moment. I had started the war, but in the end, he won it by ruining my Saturday, giving me some Jiminy Cricket bullshit test and then laying that sickening and heavy-handed line on me.
“I just want you to know and to realize one thing, you will always have someone who will make you be accountable for your actions.”
That’s some disturbing shit to lay onto an optimistic 18-year-old who has the rest of his life in front of him. Sure, eventually you’ll learn this horrible but true lesson, but on that day I realized all too soon the one sad fact of life that’s inevitable: The cards of life are always stacked against you. You’re never really going to win, so you better just make the best out of every bad situation that’s going to get handed to you. And plenty will be handed to you as you ride down the highway of life, year after stinking year.
You drive too fast, a cop’s going to give you a speeding ticket. You don’t do your job right, the boss is going to yell at you. You own your own company and the client is going to tell you they don’t like the work you’ve just given them. You give a teacher enough shit, they’ll find a way to make you wish you just would’ve just kept your big fucking mouth shut for once. It never really ends and I learned that from Brother David Glover on that fateful day at Bergan High School. I grew up a little too soon that day and while I admit I probably deserved it for the way I acted in his class, I’ll never forgive that son of a bitch for doing that to me.
“I just want you to know and to realize one thing, you will always have someone who will make you be accountable for your actions.”
I never saw Brother David Glover again after that day. But if I do, I’ll throw the biggest fucking wad of paper right between his beady little eyeballs and hopefully I’ll blind that son of a creeping bitch.