Wild haired, with an expansive Afro, comics in my back pocket and Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End in my shoulder bag, I was on the grand adventure of my young life: freshman year at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The moment I drove up from South L.A. and set eyes on San Nicolas dorm, I knew I’d arrived in California’s promised land, where State Street was paved with gold and money grew on eucalyptus trees. Or at least it seemed that way when I made my way to the end of the financial-aid line and hit the jackpot: a student worker handed me a check for $500 and told me that all of my expenses were handled—Cal Grant B paid my fees and I would receive a check for $129 a month. I asked the stoner surfer dude what I needed to do with the money from the check, thinking maybe I had to pay some other bill. But he shook his head and said, “Do whatever you want with it. Buy beer.”
I put the money in the bank. For one thing, I didn’t like beer much. And I couldn’t believe that this land-of-plenty stuff would last. Sad to say, I was proven right thirty years later. It’s hard to imagine a young pootbutt like me getting a full ride at UC Santa Barbara today.
At that moment, though, on that sun-bathed campus surrounded by cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean and Santa Ynez Mountains, I felt safe for the very first time. Not having to fear for my life on the increasingly brutal streets of South L.A. was worth more than gold to me. I will say here that those streets might have been brutal, but they were often pretty, jacaranda-lined streets with lemon-and-rosemary-scented air, and spectacular, smog-enhanced sunsets. But my arrival in Santa Barbara wasn’t some lucky break—it’s how California’s public university system was supposed to work.
I’ve long suspected that I have some kind of reptile inside of me, not a superego or id, but a lizard so lazy that it responds only to the most desirable rewards, the juiciest flies. Somehow, my inner lizard settled on UC Santa Barbara as recompense for an education in the L.A. Unified School District, especially for what I had to go through at Foshay Junior High, where every day was a Kafkaesque institutional nightmare. Now, I fear, a lot more California schools are looking like Foshay misadventures. Who knew then that if you wanted to see the future of California public education that you’d look not to UC Santa Barbara but to Foshay Junior High? …
Aug 2, 01:05 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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