Lesson no. 1: Keep Your Mouth Shut

Everything we needed to know about life we learned at University High

Photo by Fred VerhoevenNine months after we started an underground paper at University High School in Irvine, we're in the principal's office facing expulsion. I guess it was inevitable—isn't this the way it always ends up on the WB?

This isn't our first run-in with the administration, but it's the worst. What landed us here? Well, let's just say that it wasn't our most sophisticated act.

There had been genuine high points, however. During a school-year-long effort, our paper had exposed election rigging, questioned the sexism inherent in cheerleading, fought for equal treatment of deaf students, and indulged in snippy satire. But it was this yearbook thing—this stupid, stupid thing involving the word "fuck" in the yearbook, Odyssey—that landed us in the principal's office.

And as Ms. Principal yells at us about five-day suspensions and $1,000 repayments—the going price for five substitute teachers hired to sit in a "secret room" and cut out the page with the "fuck" reference from several hundred copies of the yearbook—all I can think is how much I hate high school. And how I'm not too fond of my friends at the moment, either.

The principal says this won't have any effect on our college admissions, but we're all pretty nervous—the principal included—and I think it occurs to everyone that all it would take is one angry teacher, administrator or parent to call the universities on a whim and—hey, I'm young—maybe that could destroy us.

About this time, I think I can make out that the principal is crying. I feel bad for her. She tells us we've been sold out, betrayed, and maybe she's right. She says it was one of my friends, and I know—we all know—who she means. She might even be right.

This principal was one of my best friends when I was working on the political campaign to get more money for the Irvine schools; so were most of the other teachers. I was a good boy, the best; that's what it said on the Principal's Award Ihad gotten a few weeks before. And now they walk into rooms and call me "asshole"—all because of the stupid, stupid yearbook thing? No way. I'm convinced it can't be all because of the yearbook thing.

It's got to be something else, something deeper. Seven editions of it.

NINE MONTHS BEFORE, Ramy dodin called Josh Sperling and me and told us to meet him at Ray's Pizza. When I arrived, Josh and Ramy were already sitting at a table, working on a large onion-and-pineapple. I dished out 3 bucks and grabbed a slice. Amid fluorescent lights and posters of race-car drivers and women in bikinis, Ramy outlined his plan for a high school revolution: we would launch an underground newspaper.

For 20 minutes, he sold us on every conceivable positive about being radical publishers: we would expose the "hack culture" of the school's official newspaper, The Sword and Shield; we would become—simultaneously—Public Enemies No. 1 and Most Admired Students; we would produce CDs and a website; there would be parties; we would rule the campus, the school district and the universe.

We agreed that Ramy's idea was a great one; Adam Rachlis would later refer to this as our "starry-eyed" period.

We named the newspaper The Trojan Kode, a play on the administration's own "Trojan Code of Conduct," which governs everything from where you should park to what you shouldn't wear to what you shouldn't say.

Perhaps we were sold on the paper because none of us had anywhere else to go. I had tried sports—freshman year, I won 32 straight wrestling matches, becoming the junior-varsity Pacific Coast League Champion. But I didn't much like it; it seemed the better you got, the more beat-up you got. The next year, I didn't go out for the team.

Instead, Ramy, Josh and I tried intellectual sports. We became vice presidents and presidents of Debate Club, Junior Statesmen of America, American Social League, Young Free Thinkers Alliance and Young Democrats Club. But our only real pleasure came from holding premarital-sex debates in front of the squeamish girls' soccer team, which quickly dwindled in attendance after the condom demonstrations. I had tried student government as a freshman, but when the chief plank in my platform—paper toilet-seat covers in all campus restrooms—was denied by the administration despite unanimous student support, I quit.

Ramy wrote something for The Sword and Shield and was offered a position there but turned it down, figuring his work would be censored.

There was the other, regular high school stuff—the stripper parties and beer feasts—but the fun was expensive and got old.

I don't know how to say this without sounding arrogant, but we weren't your average high school seniors. Josh had perfect scores on almost every college entrance exam. Ramy commanded every room he entered, from classrooms to living rooms full of adults. I started an online business and traveled to Honduras as part of a medical delegation.

As we planned our underground paper at Ray's Pizza, story ideas ranged from reviewing high-school parties to ridiculing Saturday detentions. We laughed in the face of possible trouble. Caught up in exuberance, I suggested a bold six-month plan for our movement: "First, our school; in three months, all the schools in Irvine; and in six months, all of Orange County."

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