Two-Alarm Fire at My High School

by Bill Brenner on January 9, 2013

There was a two-alarm fire last night at Northeast Metro Tech, the place where I attended high school. Back in my day, it was called Northeast Regional Vocational High School or, as most of us called it, the Voke.

Mood music:


I have good and bad memories of the place. It’s where I:

  • Grew my hair long and cemented my love affair with metal music.
  • Truly started to understand, for the first time, that I could be capable of doing meaningful things in life if I would just fill in the deep chips on my shoulders.
  • Studied drafting and design. I didn’t become an architect, but I use the skills I learned there every day in my writing.
  • Swallowed a worm in the courtyard for a pack of cigarettes. Not surprisingly, you can’t smoke there any more.
  • Tortured and later befriended a kid everyone called Stiffy. I still shudder when I think of how mean I was to that kid.
  • Cut classes and smoked weed in the woods of Breakheart, the reservation that school sits at the edge of.

My time in the Voke included my last serious bout with Crohn’s Disease in 1986, during my sophomore year. I wasn’t hospitalized that time, but I pretty much lived on the living room couch. On that couch, I read “Helter Skelter” twice. I also got daily visits from a childhood friend who went on to become a thrice-convicted child molester.

I remember the teachers putting down the kids all the time. The jocks and nerds were embraced and nurtured. Everyone else was pretty much written off as damaged goods. This was especially the case in my shop.

A couple of years ago, my friend Kevin Littlefield coaxed me into a field trip to the Voke. It was my first time back in about 20 years, and it gave me more than a little hope for the future. The kids in our old shop that day were polite and appeared to work well together — nothing like the way we carried on in the 1980s. The big drafting boards had long since been replaced by flat-screen computers.

We also met some kids we graduated with who now teach there. One former classmate is the dean of students. Another, John Spagnola, is a teacher. Seeing him as a teacher was a trip. The kids really seem to connect with him. and his humor is as sharp as ever.

Back in our day it seemed like most teachers were always complaining that Generation X would never make it, that we were far to self-absorbed, spoiled and weak to carry the future. The teachers were right that we were a generation unprepared for the big challenges ahead. But many of us grew up. We got stronger. We learned to love people other than ourselves.

Now some of our children are going to that school, and they seem to be doing great. Generation X turned out fine, and our kids are going to do even better.

A few flames and a damaged building won’t prevent that.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

andy January 13, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I too attended the voke back in the 70’s graduated in 80, and saw the story, brought back a lot of memories good and bad. Your blog was right on jocks and the elite got the attention, ut one thing is for sure the next generation will be just fine. The meanness of some kids I will never forget, but still proud to be a vokie!

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