Saturday, May 20, 2006

High School Memories

The Couch
Just to put the capper on my high school reunion, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like the couch, made of the most bizarre plastic/foam rubber that was nearly indestructible that I must have crashed on 1000 times. Or the lunchroom, with the endless heaping pile of sandwiches that a private school teenager with a high metabolism needs.Lunchroom

Or the stairwell, with the 3rd floor landing that went nowhere, and only fit two teenagers lying down, but opened up whole new worlds. The "smoking lounge," where teachers and students could drop roles for a few minutes in a ritual of times gone by.

Why did I go to this school? Some of you know the story: my parents tricked me into going. See, when I went to junior high school, my town decided to close the junior high all kids from my grammar school had ever gone to. Instead, they decided we, being from a hippy, well-to-do part of town, should go to a junior high waaaaaay across town, in the only working-class part. The local folks, mostly classic Italian-Americans, were not thrilled: a classic setup. So, they decided to show us how unwelcome we were. On the first day, there were over 100 fights. Unfortunately, I made the big mistake: I won my fight. From then on, once a week, I would be "jumped" and beaten, sometimes head being driven into rocks, etc. Not a lot of fun, but I was determined to tough it out.

My parents, in the meantime, were beside themselves. They knew I could not stay there. So, they broached the idea of private school. I was deadset against it: I was no spoiled rich kid. They pleaded, demanded, cajoled: nothing worked with me. They finally resorted to trickery.

Mom and OliverFirst, they had me visit schools. Dressed me up in khakis and a polo shirt, had me tie a sweater around my neck; honest to God. I rejected every school we saw: all EXACTLY what I thought of private school. My mother was crestfallen; surely ONE of the schools was to my liking. She looked at her son, most recent scars and increasingly war-zone fatigued as I was becoming, and was determined to keep trying. She finally suggested this one school that was a little more artsy, smaller, and she had not REALLY taken it seriously: Beaver Country Day School.

BeaverWe went to visit Beaver. Yes, that's really the name: named after a famous ship of Boston (and, US) history: remember the Tea Party? Well, we arrived at the school; I ditched the sweater (again to my mother's chagrin), and we walked to the main entrance. See those three arches? One had students all chatting in it, one was blocked off...and the middle one had a tall student, in denim jacket and jeans, long hair, passed out cold. We literally had to step over him (Eli, who I would come to step over many times, in similar conditions) to get into the school. I smiled and thought this might be different. After the tour, my mother hesitantly asked me what I thought, and I said. "Not so bad." She sprang into action.

First, she had me take the SSAT's, a requirement for private school. Her ruse? "Take this as a practice to see how you do. If you do OK, you can take it next year, and we can decide if you want to see about high schools other than yours." I was skeptical, but sacrificed a Saturday morning to do so. The school year ended, and we headed to Martha's Vineyard for vacation: my parents rented a house in Chilmark for a few weeks. We'd been there about 3 weeks, when the phone rang; I answered. It was the Headmaster of Beaver, congratulating me on my choice, and looking forward to seeing me in the Fall. I was stunned: my parents had submitted my SSAT's, filled out my application, submitted it, and had me accepted, all without telling me.

Well, you know the rest. I eventually relented, leaving the junior high school version of Fallujah for a class of 60 people and an emphasis on the arts. For the first year, I spoke to no one. I carried my knife with me, to fend off any attacks...but none were to be had. My fellow students didn't know what to make of me: most had been in private schools together since toddlers. Towards the end of my first year, about 25 years ago, one guy (Italian, big guy, fairly imposing himself, who I had already pegged as the first guy who would throw this ruse of happiness away and start the beatings) started to talk with me. It became clear in 10 minutes that we would be extremely good friends.


And Charles has been my best friend, my brother ever since. I guess the deception worked out for the best!

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