" And you may ask yourself 'Well, how did I get here ?'"
The Talking Heads

North High Years - 1960-1964

By Terry Ballard

After the adventures and misadventures recounted in Clark Field Memories, I flew back to the mainland United States in November, 1960. We landed at Travis Air Base near San Francisco, and visited the family of Steve Reardon, who had moved from Clark a few months before we did. We went to see a bad Tarzan movie, and I drank a glass of real milk. Dad had retired from the Air Force after 20 years because they wouldn't guarantee him that they'd station him in Arizona. Eventually, he got another government position - delivering mail. He did that for another 20 years, and then retired to reap the rewards.

A few days after we returned to Phoenix, I turned myself in to North Phoenix High School. I was amazed at the sheer size of the place - nearly 2000 students in the first wave of the great postwar baby boom. I couldn't believe that we had to actually buy our textbooks. It was also my first taste of school bookstore economics: 1. They sell you used books for a lot of money. 2. At the end of the year, they buy them back for almost no money. 3. At the beginning of next year, they sell the same books for a lot of money. I also needed to get a locker. Fortunately, an old classmate from Papago school, Richard Raley, found me and offered to share a locker with me.

While I didn't really have a peer group in the Philippines, I soon found one at North. Pretty much the people who stood on the outside of society and scoffed - mainly at the kids who joined clubs and wore special blazers. We referred to them contemptuously as "soshes." No doubt they had names for us, but I never had any contact with these people until, hilariously, I was involved in the 25th high school reunion. Specifically, I made friends like Glen Stockton, who was very much the class cutup, Richard Stevens, who I knew from Papago, and my neighbor Gary Palmer. Through Gary, I met another kid who I know through the early college years - Rodney Byers.

The air was full of songs by Elvis, Bobby Vee and Johnny Burnette. There were many radio stations in Phoenix, but the only ones that mattered to high schoolers were KRIZ and KRUX. Gary Palmer noted that KRIZ was aimed at 14 year olds and KRUX was for the more mature 14.1 year olds. I was partial to KRIZ because they had an evening DJ named Tony Evans who read letters over the air. He read some of mine and laughed - it was my first critical acceptance. One night we actually visited the station when Evans was on. The actual radio room was a bit squalid, but it was still exciting to visit.

Another memorable KRIz DJ was morning man Gary Segar, who made a local hit record called "Cruising Central," about the loitering habits of Soshes who drove cars. While his identity was a secret, recording under the name Faron Warmer, he later confessed.

Another feature of high school was education. We spent a good part of our day in classes, although I can't now point to very many things that I specifically learned in my Freshman year. I had a great math teacher named Mr. Hardy, who was a retired military man. Our science teacher, Mr. Gilliland, bore an exact resemblance to Teddy Roosevelt. A perfect nightmare of an English teacher would only let us report on books that she had read - those constituted all the works in the English language worth bothering with. Meantime, as at Clark Field, the only books I wanted to read were science fiction. Sometime during that year , I bought a copy of Stranger in a Strange land by Heinlein, and my life would never be the same.

This less than eclectic reading habit got me into trouble in my sophomore year when I took a class in reading, even though I was a good reader. Our teacher, Mr. Kass, was frequently after me to read anything else. He got me to read other things, but it didn't really take until my late 20's when I realized that life was becoming more interesting than science fiction, and I started a reading plan that I have adhered to through this day. Mr. Kass was right and wrong. He was right that I should be reading widely. He was wrong in trying to force it. The only motivation that finally work was strictly internal, on the day I noticed that I had started 10 different sci-fi books, but never advanced to chapter 3 in any of them. On that day it occurred to me: "Gosh, I guess I just don't like this stuff any more."

I was not a trouble-maker, except for the passive resistance that I put up in Freshman P.E. Sometimes, my asthma would be bothering me, so I wouldn't suit up. Coach Caldwell warned me that if I kept doing it, he'd fail me for the semester. Eventually he did, and this left a gap in my credits that I finally filled in senior year by taking Photography instead of study hall - it was the best course in high school for me. In spite of that "failure," my confidence was way up from Philippine days, where I was routinely failing everything. In the final proof of the theory that life has nothing to do with High School, I went on to earn two master's degrees an the coursework and comps for a doctorate.

There isn't much that I remember about my Sophomore year, except that I had a good English teacher named Mrs. Duncan. My algebra teacher was also a coach, who gave you the impression that he'd really rather be somewhere else. I got through algebra, with no real talent or enthusiasm. I think my most memorable class that year was study hall. It was 'taught' by a former biology teacher who was reputed to be crazy, if mostly harmless. He was. Mainly, I sat in the back of the room and stayed out of sight. However, one day, he glared down at me and said, "Did you roll that organge down the aisle?" I answered truthfully that I did not. No matter - I was sent to the principal's office, along with most of the other kids in that row. The principal's office was well aware of this teacher, so they just treated us with a wink, and waved us on. I also took Biology - I only had two problems with Biology: I didn't like it, and I wasn't much good at it. However, I did get by, and went along to Chemistry my junior year.

I wasn't much for Chemistry either, but I loved Astronomy, and felt like I should keep taking courses in math and science, so I could pursue my dream of a career in Astronomy. Since I couldn't take a hint (like low grades), I pursued science still further, taking physics my senior year.

The most notable thing that happened my senior year was the JFK assassination, which we learned about in Don Covey's government class. The rest of the day was a surreal blur as rumors and the grim news swirled about campus. I was at lunch when the formal announcement came over the loudspeaker. I remember that a classmate named Roger Luth told me the news. The second most memorable thing was the arrival of the Beatles several months later, as if we needed something to make up for the awful reality. For weeks, there was no other topic, but I ultimately decided that I was too old for their kind of music. Years later, I changed my mind, but I was never a Beatles cultist. I just learned to like their songs, in the same way that I'd learn in the 1980's to enjoy the Grateful Dead's songs.

My four years at North culminated in graduation, where I placed 245 in a class of 490 - the exact middle. Sometimes I wished that I had done more with that time, but that's life. I later knew some people whose lives peaked in high school, and I was glad that things didn't turn out like that for me.

In 2013 I went to the 50th reunion, as I had done with the 25th. There was a fairly substantial turnout, and it was fun to see how everyone turned out in life. I sat with people I barely knew in high school or not at all, but people who I had met through Facebook, such as Charlie Brown and Patricia Ireland. In the unlikely event that I live so long, I will probably go the the 75th, which will be held in someone's living room.

screen resolution stats