It's 1977 and I'm in 5th grade. I am the third tallest kid in my class and I have a couple of pretty good friends even though I was the new kid twice this year, and when Miss Johnson points to the unmarked U.S. map the other kids guess the name of the state but Tim P. and I yell out the state's capital because we're smart-asses.

Not sure what month it was because we went to year-round school, on for nine weeks and then off for three, etc. Might have been May, June, even July. I remember that it was really hot, because our classroom faced an outdoor courtyard. I also remember how hot Miss Johnson was; this is no joke, you guys, everyone knew it. My dad called her "Boom-Boom," okay? She was also hilarious and blisteringly intelligent and she was the first teacher who ever said "No shit, Sherlock" to me. (I had finally figured out fraction division during an extra lunchtime math session, which I'm pretty sure she did mostly because she was tired of me being such a damn smartass.

That's the kind of teacher I wanted to be, years later. But that's for later.

So anyway we sometimes got to listen to music in class, and on this hot May/June/July day I had brought in my favorite album. I had gotten it a few months before through the almighty Columbia Record & Tape Club. I knew every last rock and rollin' classical-ass note of the damn thing. My dad liked it, my mom liked it, my brothers liked it. I just knew everyone in class would like it.

Mark K., the coolest kid in class (his dad owned a Porsche dealership in the next town, he lived in the only swanky part of the district), came over to watch while I took the record out of the slipcase and put it on the public-school-level-nasty record player. I carefully placed the needle on the outer band and turned up the volume so everyone could rock out to Electric Light Orchestra.

Problem: I picked side 2, the side that starts with the weird disco-pop number "So Fine." If I had done side 1, starting with "Tightrope" I might have...nah, I was pretty much screwed either way. This was not a record for a 5th grader to bring to class, at any time, ever.

The class was unhappy; there were snickers, Kitty H. deployed her famous sarcastic wit. Mark K. called me gay. Ultimately, though, I didn't care. It was good for them to hear a good record. I refused to take it off and they all had to sit there, in that sweaty classroom, all through the next 17 whatever minutes -- all the way even through the extended coda of "Shangri-La," with all those little tinkly notes falling down like stars, like a million Bill Walton hook shots, like the sparks after fireworks. They hated me and I hated them and it was beautiful.

Walking in the woods
the critic looks at the trees
Seen 'em all before

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