TORONTO – I was just sitting here listening to Verdi’s Rigoletto - Questo A Quella, when it suddenly dawned on me that summer is almost over. Soon the little rug-rats will be off to school again, pissing and moaning about homework, and clogging up the public transit system with their particular brand of insanity.
Lucky little bastards.
I never would have admitted it at the time, but sitting on my ass all day scribbling 2+2 is 4 in a notebook and making google eyes at the girl next to me seems like a pretty good deal right now. A PB & J sandwich and milk for lunch, a quick game of “Murder Ball” (Dodge Ball to all you Americano’s out there) and the day is complete. No worries, no fucking bills, nothing; except the occasional dust up with a monosyllabic troglodyte bully, or not getting to the bathroom on time and shitting your pants in school. But these are minor trifles compared to what we deal with in the adult world. Admit it, who REALLY gives a shit about you at work? Sure people are nice, but deep down they hardly tolerate your very existence. They got their own shit to deal with. There was nothing like grade school; it was a smelly three ring circus. Have you been to a grade school lately? It’s where they herd the little tykes through hallways that smell like Plasticine and unwashed humanity.
God how I miss that.
Fall, 1984, St. Dorothy’s Elementary, eighth grade, Toronto; It’s my first day at this new school. It’s an old place, built in the early sixties, and cramped as hell. The halls smell alternately like Hubba Bubba bubble gum (before the Gum Prohibition) and melted pencil erasers. Its lunch time and they have herded us into this squashed little room to eat since this place has no cafeteria. There’s twelve feet of snow outside, but you can’t see it because this particular room has no windows. My buddy Sal sits beside me, chomping on a Salami and cheese sandwich. The stuff smells like shit, but I don’t care because Cathy Stewart just walked in to the room. She’s a cute girl, despite being crossed-eyed.
There’s a record player in the room with a Beatles 45 on it, Revolution, (B-side to Hey Jude for all you Beatle nuts) that this Idiot Mike discovers has a John Lennon scream on it, so he plays it over and over, scratching the disc as he lifts the needle to replay the scream again. The fourth time he does this he is serenaded with a chorus of “Yeaaaeaaeaaarghs” in a pale attempt to reproduce Lennon’s throat-tearing yodel. I’m trying to eat my fucking lunch and Sal is belching Salami particles at me; so all in all, a good afternoon of chaos and hilarity ensues.
They kick us outside, despite the sub-atomic temperatures; what to do? A snow-ball fight erupts in which there are not actually snow-balls but chunks of ice the size of the Larson-B Ice-shelf being hurled at my forehead. Good thing I’m quick, but Sal, being quite slothful and dim-witted, manages to get one right in the noggin. We all get in deep shit, and are all herded back inside the stuffy and musty catacombs of St. Dorothy’s halls.
Back in those days Toronto had an exceptionally large population of kids; we were the children of the Boomer generation, 65 million of them, and there were a lot of us; the schools were crowded. I mean I’m talking CROWDED. St. Dorothy’s was no different; it was like a mini-Calcutta. Result: We were crammed into small rooms a lot. We were not unlike hobos jammed into box-cars. The result was hallway-chaos; kids screaming, teachers yelling; complete madness. Even as a kid in the Eighth grade I pondered the wisdom of squeezing so many children into these tiny halls and the future implications that would be visited upon us. Sal would usually tackle me at moments like that, shattering my chain of thought, and causing me to stop all such pondering: a head-lock and a noogie in a teeming diaspora of unwashed eight graders will do that to a fellow.
The library after lunch; it’s Friday, and they don’t know what to do with us, so they pile us in to watch a movie, “Freaky Friday” with Jodie Foster or something. There aren’t enough seats, so we scatter, strewning ourselves across the floor like mud-caked hippies at Woodstock. I sit on the floor next to Laurie, who has blue eyes, dark hair and a smattering of freckles across her pale cheeks. Bonus; she smells like strawberry bubble-gum and dove soap. I am entranced. Most of my (male) compatriots haven’t learned to use soap yet, so I sit close to her through the movie. It’s dark and warm in here; the film projector is chittering quietly. Most of us fall asleep.
This is how I remember school.
Nowadays, such reverence is rare. The workplace is populated with dour-faced middle-aged people with far too many problems and not enough time for anything resembling fun, let alone making new friends. I miss guys like Sal, who, despite the constant Salami-like waft emanating from him and his large frame was always there to give me a big fat smile and a hello. I didn’t think much of him then, but I miss him like hell now.
That’s my story Mac. So tell your kids to enjoy their time in school, that someday they’ll be shoved out into the cold reality of life burdened with back-breaking debts and perhaps an ex-wife who’s taken him to the cleaners. He might even get jacked by the IRS.
And when they meet a guy like Sal, don’t shun him because he smells different. Be his friend.
Post-script: I’d like to hear any memories of school you have, and share them with us. Take care.