Thursday, October 16, 2014

To the victors

Throwback (five centuries) Thursday
Now for some genocidal insensitivity.

That's me, dressed as Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, enterprising explorer or destroyer of worlds, depending. The marching band lent us the suit. The glue-on Van Dyke had begun to fray in the breeze.

Mike Pellerin lay in loincloth and headdress, slain on sandstone rocks overlooking the Pacific somewhere near Lompoc ("lom-POKE"), my hometown. No telling where Mike's outfit came from. I'm trying to remember whether the blood spilling down his chest is Karo®™ syrup or chocolate sauce, which would have shown up well in black-and-white.

My friend Wayne Singleton, photo editor of the school newspaper, took the shot. This is a print he made and framed and signed for me.

It was a triumph of journalism, and a stunning gamble on our tender psyches. Though it could have gone all "Dewey Defeats Truman" on us, we lucked out.

Cabrillo beat Lompoc 35 years ago. A slight wobble in the fall weather, an unexpectedly fragrant breeze, just reminded me.

Cabrillo was my high school, home of the Conquistadores (we spelled it Conquistadors, but I see the correct spelling has since prevailed), in operation only 11 years when I was a freshman. It was the upstart school on the bluffs overlooking Lompoc, for the Air Force Base brats, the country club kids, the posers, the suburbanites (if Lompoc could be considered big enough to spawn a suburb).
Our school stands high upon a hill.
We strive to win and win we will.

— Cabrillo Alma Mater
Lompoc High, home of the Braves down in the Valley of Flowers, probably as old as the town, educated the townies, the children of farmers and civil servants and miners of diatomaceous earth.

Both of these were true, and none of these. Maybe it's why John Steinbeck's opening to Cannery Row struck me:
Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, "whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches," by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peep-hole he might have said: "Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men," and he would have meant the same thing.
We were the same but believed ourselves different. (I wonder: Would a high school built today be named after someone like Cabrillo, or have Braves for a mascot?)

It was a real rivalry that my kids missed, having grown up in a true suburbia with high schools every three miles. At my elementary school, a unique mix of Lompoc and Vandenberg Village and Mission Hills and federal prison and Country Club kids, we were already loyal to our two high schools — future Braves played future Conquistadors for recess football.

The lore I learned is that upstart Cabrillo had quickly become a countywide sports power; if so, its power had diminished by the time I went to school. Cabrillo and Lompoc traded off: Cabrillo dominated in water polo and golf and girls' volleyball, Lompoc led perennially in baseball. Track as a team seemed to be better at Cabrillo. Lompoc was better in wrestling my senior year, though individual Cabrillo wrestlers beat their Lompoc counterparts.

The transience of Air Force life could radically affect high school life from year to year, especially sports. The basketball team my junior year won a south-state championship in large part because a talented Air Force kid transferred in.

Football, if I remember, swung Lompoc's way that year. Cabrillo was the underdog.

I was editor of the newspaper, the Fore And Aft, my senior year. A new journalism adviser had come to the school, and with it an arrangement to have our newspaper printed on an offset press, like a real newspaper. Mrs. Lucas had built my writing foundation before retiring; incoming Mr. Jory nurtured my growing interest in design.

Before then, our paper was printed on what seemed like leftover linen card stock. It wasn't typeset; it was typewriter-set: We typed the rough copy into prescribed narrow columns, counted the spaces between words, then typed the final copy carefully onto photo-sensitive paper, averaging the spaces on each line to create justified type — lined up evenly right and left, like in real newspapers.

Then we waxed the back of the paper and laid the columns onto grid paper, constantly splicing single lines of copy with a knife in a maddening effort to align and balance them. It looked about as good as you imagine.

The new printing capabilities, with sharper reproduction, gave us room and time to experiment, time we had wasted typing and counting, waxing and splicing. No better way to experiment than risk great big failure and ridicule all over campus. It was the week Cabrillo played Lompoc in the big game, and we wanted to make a statement.

Wayne hauled us and our costumes and props out to a place he knew along the coast, which may or may not have been on Air Force property, and set up the shot.

The Tierra Royal yearbook page about our
newspaper. Dennis Sherwood had the gall
to write his best wishes over the brooding sky.
We ran the photo over the entire tabloid cover of the new Fore And Aft, just the photo with the new masthead Kevin Wood had designed, printed over the roiling sky in the upper corner. No caption; our readers didn't need one. We had effectively made light of a brutal historical truth for the meaningless hope of a football game. But all in good humor! We crossed our fingers.

Cabrillo won, 14-7.

Don't ask me how. My late friend Greg Cox could have rattled off an accurate game summary. I bet Brian LaMay could too, if I called him. I have no memory except Cabrillo won. The cover of that paper looked so much better come Monday morning. Notwithstanding the echoes of bloody holocaust. (Would that cover pass muster anymore? I don't remember anyone raising ire.)

Times have changed, of course. Cabrillo plays different schools than when I attended. What used to be small-school towns have all grown up, and I suppose Cabrillo has shrunk, so they're on even footing now. This week's football game is against Pioneer Valley, a new (for me) high school in Santa Maria, in the north part of Santa Barbara County where the population continues to grow.

The Pioneer Valley … Panthers. Of course — safe, alliterative, unimaginative, pointless. I was going to guess "Pioneers." (The other high school in California named for Cabrillo, which is in Long Beach, is home of the Jaguars.)

Cabrillo's last regular-season game, following tradition, will be against the Lompoc Braves, at Huyck Stadium (some say "Howk," others "Huck;" what a challenge to live in my hometown!) After a quick read of clips, I think this year Lompoc might have the edge.

But just try and beat my school for barbarous mascot.


  1. Well done, Shawn. Such an evocative piece. Sorry, I would've let you down had you called: I don't remember the game or the outcome. It seems almost sacrilegious that I don't. I imagine Robert Reynolds had a good game. Maybe we caught Lompoc off-guard a time or two with a "quick kick." I remember repeatedly asking myself, "Who in the hell punts on third down?" The answer later dawned on me: a team with a QB who can't run and can't throw. Craig Wilde could hit a baseball pretty well (until our senior year, when everyone underachieved). But why wasn't Stuart Radford playing quarterback? (Perhaps it's only my cynicism that makes that a rhetorical question.) It's sad to think that wonderful, creative cover photo would be viewed by some today as ignoble. It's also sad to note that guys as talented as Stuart and Tony Pickett never played college ball. Only one thing to blame: too much dope. I look back with fondness -- and regret. In many ways, it was a lost era: too many broken homes, disengaged parents and underage keg parties. Halcyon times, tragic times. Thanks for the memories, bro.

    1. it seems you still know remember far more than i can; and it's the second time in as many days someone has invoked robert reynolds' name.