Sunday, September 26, 2010

Back to School

My late father always had a strong dislike for the word “interesting.”

It was his unshakeable belief—and he had many of those—that this word meant absolutely nothing.

If you told him that anything from a movie to a plate of food was “interesting” he maintained that you hadn’t told him a damn thing.

I think of the times I've used this word and it's usually when I don't want to come out and say something negative.

So, I went to my grammar school reunion on Saturday and it was really…interesting.

I hadn’t been to this Catholic school in Brooklyn in years and I decided I would join my sister and some friends and revisit the place where I spent eight years of my childhood.

The event was held in the gymnasium, where the school used to put on dances and where Mr. Keating, my gym teacher, once ruled with an iron whistle.

I still remember him walking up and down the rows of boys twirling his whistle on a long cord, which would wrap around his index finger and then promptly unwind in a blur. I don’t think I ever saw him actually blow on the damn thing.

The reunion took place in the afternoon and there was plenty of food and drink. I saw people from classes going back to the Fifties and I think there was even someone from the Forties in attendance.

I saw one guy from my year and after some mutual squinting at our respective nametags we realized we hadn’t been in the same class and never knew each other. The conversation, such that it was, quickly fizzled.

I saw my old 8th grade teacher who didn’t seem to recognize me at all, but then how could I blame him? I graduated in 1971 and he’s had plenty of students since then.

I hooked up with some people I had been anxious to see and I was having a good time—until one of my companions pointed to another ancient life form—a nun, actually, walking with a cane—and told me that she was the dreaded lunch room monitor who had turned my early grade school years into the childhood equivalent of Abu Ghraib.

I mentioned her in a 2006 post where I said “if there's any justice in this world, she's rotting in hell right now and will continue to do so for all eternity.”

It looks like justice delayed really is justice denied.

This massive creature used to loom over me like a toxic cloud and force me to eat every morsel of that equally toxic food they doled out in the school’s cafeteria. She was mean, fat, and ugly—and there she was, just a few yards away from me.

I could feel the anger building up in me—yes, damn it, after all this time. I wanted to get a plate of food and purposely not eat it right in front of her.

Better yet, I would stand over her and make her eat everything on her plate--and then the plate and the table cloth and couple of dead skunks if I could find any. How’s that working for ya, sista? You know it’s a sin to waste food!

Tales From the Crypt

Now this may come as a surprise, but I didn’t actually do anything like that. I looked at her, this old, withered lady, and realized that the monster that she had been had long since left the building. It was like the Hulk changing back into Bruce Banner.

And that makes me even angrier. This crackpot abused me, insulted my sister, and harassed entire generations of children and now she’s morphed into this little old lady with a cane. What a scam.

I exchanged nun horror stories with some friends, mentioning the incredible Sister Frances, my teacher/psychopath, who I hope has called it day--God forgive me. But given the longevity of the Lunchroom Lecter, who’s to say?

I did find it funny that in her later years Sister Frances had gone completely crackers and could no longer strike fear into the hearts of the children at the school where she wrapped up her career.

I’m told she used to shriek at the kids to close the window because the Devil could get in--seriously, this is what the woman said.

No, honey, the Devil doesn’t need the window. He walked in through the front door and don’t look now, but, ah, he is…you.

The gym was boiling hot and I was getting tired. I made the mistake of talking to a woman who told me we were in the same class. I didn’t recognize her, but I just kind of smiled and said “really?”

“Yeah,” she said, “back when you had hair.”

Oh, great, hair jokes. Of course, you don’t know me, we haven’t seen each other in something like 40 years and this is the first thing that comes out of your mouth. She and a companion shared a loud laugh at my expense and I just burned.

I don’t talk to people that way and unfortunately I live under the delusion that people will return the favor—despite decades’ worth of evidence to the contrary.

I would never make remarks about anyone's appearance. If someone is extremely overweight, for example, I don't make jokes about it because that's just rude.

I don’t think that way and, though part of me really believes I should, I guess that would make me another crass moron in a world that has way too many already. But it still pissed me off. I wished I had Mr. Keating’s whistle.

My sister and I took a tour of the school with a very bright eighth grader and I kept talking about how things had changed over the years. But when you really think about it, so what? Time passes and things don't stay the same—this is news?

At one point during the day I heard “Don’t You Forget About Me” on the sound system, which I suppose is required listening at these affairs, sort of like playing “Celebration” at weddings.

But I tell you, there are plenty of people whom I would cordially invite to forget about me. Just walk on by, don’t call my name and I will do the same.

I think a better theme song would be Rick Nelson’s “Garden Party,” especially that line about “if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.”

So the day was…interesting. I’m still glad I went. Yes, I did get irritated, but it’s all right now. I learned my lesson well.

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