Ambitious minds have to struggle for room in a world full of conformists. This is something I have experienced over and over again in life.
Lately I have been thinking about the past a little bit more than usual. Reading Amy Kaufman Burk’s fine book about Hollywood High got me meditating about my own experiences. No doubt I was involved in a lot of stuff that other people would find to be of interest, right? I’ve got a lot of photos and letters and journals from back then myself. Probably I could write a book or two about my teenage years that could be turned into an excellent mini-series. Yes, and a little sincere effort would produce some pretty good literature, too. It’s important to give back something to the community, I’m sure you agree. Plus, it would be cool to make a few million bucks off of my personal experiences without having to do a lot of work.
My academic advisers at Hollywood High told me I should take a lot of math and science classes. They said studying that stuff would discipline my mind. The problem was that the school didn’t offer the science classes I really cared about! That, and the higher math classes conflicted with printmaking and the other fine arts classes that mattered to me.
You might be as shocked today as I was back then to discover that Hollywood High didn’t have a single class about numerology or astrology. You’d think a public high school in the entertainment capital of the world would actually teach their students about the key decision-making tools in The Industry, but no. Like I said, the big world out there tries to crush independent thinking at every turn, but some of us are strong enough to resist.
Unwilling to run with the herd, my thirst for knowledge wasn’t thwarted by people who only think inside the box. The school wouldn’t even give me independent study credit, but I persisted. After months of patient, hard work, you know, the kind that many great scientific breakthroughs are built on, I came up with a theory and an experiment to test the theory.
CB radio was a big cultural phenomenon back in April 1975. It seemed pretty sensible to me that extra-terrestrial life forms had to be monitoring CB radio transmissions. Plus, my careful study of ancient writings carved into the concrete in front of the Egyptian Theater revealed that they had the same numerological structure as the Hollywood High School Fight Song.
In the photograph, you can see I have a microphone. It is hooked up to the school’s PA system and to a CB radio. I’m tapping out a Morse code on the microphone to reach out to the aliens, and periodically I’m using a cassette tape machine to play the three notes of the NBC Chime, which insiders know is a universal greeting used by passing ships in space. My calculations strongly suggested that this formula would result in a flying saucer actually landing on the athletic field. (Steven Spielberg based the key scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind on this, but do you think he paid a penny for the idea? NO.)
As it turned out, my meticulous formulas weren’t correct. That’s OK. Everybody knows that science is advanced by errors as much as by breakthroughs. Probably you know all about the Michelson-Morley experiment, which sought to prove that light moves through an ether, producing waves that are strikingly similar to water currents. It failed, sure, but it made way for Einstein’s theory of relativity. You may also know that the guy who discovered penicillin, Alexander Fleming, had bacteria growing all over his lab, and when he started leaving fungus around too it turned out some of the bacteria wouldn’t grow near the fungus.
You might wonder who the other people in the photograph are. The young woman sitting next to me is Sophia, and the other students all were working for her. They were “serious” students, earning college credit from UCLA doing some independent study in psychology. Among other things, they included me in their final report. That’s fine; I’m glad to be helpful. I still remember the last words Sophia and her colleagues wrote about me: “…his unique view of reality doesn’t pose a risk to himself or to others.” Maybe not, but what about the up-side?