View from the Woods



By JJ Gaspaarotti
By JJ Gaspaarotti

In the fall of 1957 my mother got a job teaching at Tustin High School and we moved to Laguna Beach. School had been in session for a couple of weeks. For a new transferring student that can be awkward. Even more for an already awkward seventh grader.

I met my first social acquaintance a few minutes into recess on the first day there. It was Sid and the social event he wanted to schedule was a fist-fight. Not being a person to put things off I suggested why not now with a punch to Sid’s nose. It wasn’t long before Sid became one of my first friends in Laguna.

Sid had issues. Lots of issues. He was always acting out. School treated him in the standard way. He was disruptive so they kicked him out. Suspended then expelled. He even rode to Tustin High School with my mother for a while. Suspended then expelled. The last I heard was he went to a private school where they played pool and smoked cigarettes.

One time visiting Sid at home I watched him fetch a 22 rifle from the back and take a couple of shots at the log in the fireplace. At least that’s what he said he was doing. But the ricochets came mighty close to me. Only years after did I finally get the idea that maybe Sid was trying to accidentally shoot me. Sid had deep dark issues.  Issues that stemmed from the fact that a few years before he had come home to find his father hanging from the rafters in the garage. Dead. A suicide.

Forty-years later I got a peek at what that must feel like. I was walking to catch a ferry to work and saw a young boy screaming and trying to hold his father up who had hung himself from the lamp post and was slowly choking to death. I cut the man down while the boy ran inside to call 911. The man lived. But can you imagine the pain and guilt that boy would have felt had his dad died in spite of his efforts to save him.

Imagine what guilt and pain Sid heaped on himself. If only he had gotten home sooner he could have saved his father kind of guilt. These issues of pain, guilt and grief can easily turn into anger and rage if left unattended. The kind of rage it takes to go out and shoot people. It took him a long time but Sid finally got his issues under control and found a measure of happiness. The world is full of people like Sid and we’re not very good at helping them.

We’ve just had another mass murder school shooting by a person who reminds me a lot of a Sid who didn’t get help. The students at that school have started their own movement to confront this horrible curse of mass violence in our society. They shouldn’t have to worry about this. It isn’t their job.

Those kid’s job is to be good students and to grow up into happy productive adult members of the community. Hard to do when you have to flee down a hall littered with your dead friends.

We’re the adults. Fixing this mess was our job and we failed to do it. The students have started a movement called March for Life. They are planning to march on Washington D.C. this coming March 24. What a good idea. Let’s give them all the support we can and hope they force a solution to a problem we’ve been unwilling to face. Perhaps we’ll send some students from Laguna. I’m willing to chip in.


JJ Gasparotti moved to Laguna Beach with his family when he was 11. He has loved it ever since. This column is the latest of his efforts to repay this home town that has given him so much and allowed him to take even more.


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