Friday, August 19, 2011
Back To School
Late-August and some schools are already in session. Makes me think of those old days when we got ourselves ready to shift gears from summer lassitude to the chill of regimentation and rules like bricks upon rules. Early on there was a wardrobe rule and sitting-up-straight rule; no-talking and a sort of dress code. All of this was accepted without protest as long as we had new back-to-school shoes along with some hand-me-downs that felt like new.
Everyone was equipped with a three-hole notebook, reinforcements, ink eradicator, ruler, fountain pen and 2 or 3 sharpened pencils with erasers. We also needed book covers for the textbooks that hadn’t changed in fifty years.
Nowadays I imagine the back-to-school supplies (for high-schoolers) include an i-Pad, i-Pod, i-phone with 100 apps and possibly a box of condoms….along with ripped jeans, nose ring, tattoos and T-shirts all chosen with a careful disregard.
Returning to class might also have been a way of comparing myself to my classmates and generally suffering by the comparison. Voices had changed. Some of us were 4 ft. 10 and other 6 ft. 2. Suddenly I noticed girls. A few had learned the mating dance over the summer. Where was I? Maybe they found the meaning of life while I was learning how to hit a curveball. By eighth grade a few boys had started to shave. Some girls were almost women.
My most dreaded class was always English Composition with the first assignment to write what we did on our summer vacation. In point of fact I did nothing or could think of anything noteworthy. I hadn’t yet learned the truths that emerge from fabrication. I could have told about my trip exploring Africa with Captain Spaulding and how I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got there I’ll never know.
Or I might have written about my summer of neighborhood mischief. I was 11, no matter how you looked at it, with a nose for trouble (my middle name), when I started trailing Mr. Rios. He was a cross between Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman. When he dashed I flew after him in my new Keds. When he stopped to tie his shoelaces, I froze into invisibility. He led me down into the subway underworld where I might meet the Deadend kids or the Hardy Boys and with a little luck, the Boppsy Twins and Nancy Drew. Instead I was led into the laboratory of the mad scientist with his frothing flasks and bubbling beakers. I can’t give away the ending as I saved Gotham from the unthinkable.
When I was twelve, plus or minus, Peggy was twice my age. Now, of course, she is considerably younger than I. Back in1945 I worked for a woman in my building who designed hats and fashioned floral decorations for them. I was paid 25 cents a delivery plus a nickel to and from Manhattan, about 6 subway stops from Forest Hills. On a sticky August afternoon I would board the train with 4 or 5 weightless hat boxes. I was weightless, too, dreaming (retrospectively) of meeting Peggy on her way to the ballet. In that wind-rush tunnel I might have Ballanchined her with a pas-de-deux. Will you wait for me, I asked and she said yes even if it takes 34 years. And so I emerged on Lexington Ave. having crossed the waters into my new world.