(Special thanks to Nancy Johnson for motivating me to share my stories by sharing her beautiful stories. )
Late June 1970:
The day was hot, smoggy, humid and bittersweet. To my left stood my girlfriend Donna waiting to see me off to visit some faraway lands. To my right were all my family members, Mom, Dad, Jeffrie, Riesa, Jon, Joel, Ann, Josh, and Grandma Sophie, waiting in anticipation of what was to come. Amid hugs and tears we headed off, the entire Harris clan minus one. To have our family together again meant a lot to me. Dad was never home. He travelled the world putting together agricultural projects in South America, East Africa and Eastern Europe. Now we had the chance to travel and learn as a family. First to London for a few days, then on to Switzerland where Dad's company was based. We moved into a beautiful Spanish Villa on the shores of Lake Geneva. The waves from Lake Geneva would wash up against the huge wall protecting the gorgeous landscaping looking out across the lake. At the bottom of the huge yard was a boat house with a small motorboat tucked away. A scene Monet would have painted beautifully.
At first I enjoyed being there. I wasn't very happy about going to high school again. I had just graduated high school a few weeks before. In Europe 13 grade levels was the standard. I tried to make the best of it. I joined the basketball team and the theatre group. I took a history class, a math class, an English class and French. I admittedly didn't really care much about all the work. I did the best I could under the circumstances.
College Du Leman contrasted sharply to Buena High back in California. The school was very strict and regimented. It was administered by a Headmaster right out of a classic English film. He didn't seem to care about fairness he just wanted things done his way. For some reason he picked on my brother Jon and me from the beginning. Perhaps we were just too laid back for his uptight demeanor. I remember one specific incident where he embarrassed my brother Jon and I in front of the class. It upset me and caused me to withdraw socially with an uncomfortable feeling that I was not wanted. I didn't know what to do.
Dad had to travel to Ethiopia, East Africa the site of the main project. He said he would be back soon. He wasn't. We waited and waited. The disappointment was unbearable. He moved us thousands of miles away from our home to be together as a family and now he was gone.
Late January 1971:
In my junior and senior year at Buena High I got involved in acting. I participated in a one-act play contest at LA City College and did very well. I decided to continue on with acting and auditioned for A Midsummer's Night Dream and was cast as the father Aegeus. The show was to go on after the holiday break. Jon and I went on a Ski trip in the Alps with some friends and had a great time but were late getting back. I just barely made it to the theatre to get my 'Old Man' make-up on. The headmaster was furious with me. I ignored him because I had to go over my lines while the transformation was being applied by the make-up specialists. I didn't look up the entire time. After nearly an hour of applying a beard, wig, and heavy make-up to my face, they swung me around to show me what I looked like in the mirror. The transformation by the student make-up crew didn't look like an old man at all but a monster right out of a 40's Frankenstein movie. I loved it. I jumped up, created a slight hunchback, put a little gravel in my voice and began looking people in the eye twisting my head back and forth, as a curious monster should do. The make-up and the hot lights were uncomfortable so I moved out to a stairway just outside the make-up room and stage left to cool off.
I could see gangs of small children playing outside in the snow. One of them saw me as the monster I had become and screamed. In full monster character I made a quick move to the glass door. The kids all screamed and ran back. Bravely they moved back to the door and one of them opened it. I took a quick monster step forward and scared them back again. We were having fun. The kids got braver and braver as they realized I was not a 'REAL' monster. They came to the door again, pushed it open and as I stepped forward to close the door a piercing, shattering, splintering noise shook the stairwell. Glass flew down 3 flights of stairs as blood dripped from my fingers. The kids were startled but fine. I froze for second and then came back inside to get a band-aid for my cut, slightly shaking. I sat back down in the make-up chair as the Headmaster sternly approached and began ranting, screaming and demeaning directly into my face. All the days of listening to him giving Jon and me a hard time came to a head and I loudly and clearly called him out. I remember saying that a good teacher works with kids. A good administration should be motivating not demeaning. I also said a few things I regret. I was angry with my Dad, I was lonely and simply unhappy. I let it loose on the headmaster as the students around me cheered and joined in with me. Luckily the show started and I could get away from him. I believe it was one of my best performances. I used that energy and got a great ovation at the end of the show. It was then that I decided now was the time to leave.....I need to be me again. I wanted to find myself. I wanted to discover.
I arranged to have a friend take me to the train station early in the morning. I left my Mom a note (I still feel very bad about that) on her door, took all the money I had earned at K-mart the summer before, purchased a Eurail Rail Pass good throughout Europe and headed to Italy.
I didn't want to be a monster, I just wanted to be me.
Next - Adventures in Italy...