10/08/2004 Entry: "Punkie's Earlier Years: "The Amazing Me: Side 1" - Hello from Longfellow Intermediate Hell School"
[ where Grig relives his youth via cassette tapes his best friend Neal saved from over 6 years of letters ]
Alas, the tape labeled, "The Great Me," starts off with my description of Longfellow (which I call "The Isle of Misfit Teachers") from 8th grade in comparison to Eastwood Knolls, Neal's school in El Paso. It is quite obvious from my tone that I am not pleased with the school. I also mention I started my hatred of poetry because of the name, "Longfellow." Thank you, Miguel, for turning me around. I go on about how someone stole letters from the front of our school, which now only says, "L n l ow." Heh.
I mention that I have to walk to school with John Wickland, a neighbor who grew up next to me, who was one grade behind me. The Wicklands were kind of a surrogate family of sorts, but I have the feeling they only did so out of pity because after I was out on my own, only their youngest daughter, Jennifer, made any attempt to keep in contact me. And that was a while ago. I spoke with Sonja, the mother, a few years ago, but she seemed kind of nervous around me, like she was a little uncomfortable. I suspect that my father, who continued to live next to them for the next 13 years, made their life uncomfortable. Sonja, it should be noted, was my mother's best friend along with Carolyn, the neighbor next to Sonja. Sonja took me into her house when my mother was too drunk to answer the door, which happened a few times a month. She would feed me, keep me out of the weather, and let me watch TV until my father came home. That was never fun, because then I'd have to make it to the door before my father locked it behind him. And then he'd be all mad that my mother was drunk, the house was a mess, and so on. I tried to clean up where I could, but I was a kid, and never did the housework completely right. The Wicklands never spoke to me about what was going on, because my mother being the neighborhood drunk was certainly well known enough to be considered a "taboo topic," sort of like asking a native of San Francisco, "What about Earthquakes, what are you going to do when the Big One hits?"
Anyway, for the first part of 8th grade, apparently it was me, Andy Oman, Mike Dukes, and John Wickland clumped together and made the 1.5 mile trek to Longfellow. Yes, we did walk a mile and half, uphill, some areas without sidewalks, even in the snow. For some reason (and this was a big hot button for the neighborhood), the bus zoning system was messed up in our neighborhood, and so kids got bussed if they were 2 miles or more from the school, or 1 mile or less... but if you were between 1-2 miles, buddy... you were walking. Or bike-riding. Or more likely, your stay-at-home mom drove you and some kids around you to school. I did have that last option from the Lee family across the street (Gu-yon was in my gaming group, and his sister Chung-eug was in my grade), but my father went on and on about how he had to walk some great distance in Chicago snow drifts that were ten feet high. This may have been true, he and my mom grew up in the Chicago slums, but even though I had to walk to school, I never made my kid do that on bad weather days (he's been lucky, all of his schools are right next to each other, and about 5 blocks away, so if the weather is good, he walks, but if it's not, we drive him). Mike (who confessed some of his family details last year) did not have that option, Andy came from a single-parent home, and Mr. Wickland also walked to school under horrible conditions as a kid (I knew his parents, they were just mean).
Apparently, Andy and I got into fights. I also mentioned that Mike finally got sick of us, and stopped walking with us. Sorry, Mike, I bet we were dweebs.
When you got to school, before 8:30, you had to file to the cafeteria. You weren't allowed to be in any of the halls, at your locker, anything. Mr. Burnsworth, who looked like Dr. Frankenstein, would be in the main intersection, screaming at people to go to the cafeteria. Some of us would try and walk slow so 8:30 would ring and we didn't have to go to the cafeteria. But he was wise to that, that sly Mr. Burnsworth. At 8:30, the rush from the cafeteria was so brutal, many of the slow kids (i.e., me) got run over or knocked into lockers. I forgot about that. Yeah. That sucked.
I describe my locker as "a mess held back by a plastic ruler." Heh. Later, I would stop using my locker because I usually ended up with a locker so far between classes, I just started carrying everything with me. I was fat, not in good shape, and running the length of the school twice in the 5 minute hall time was simply not enough.
I make a passing mention of my new nickname as of the previous year, "bucket." This came from the joke, "What's the difference between Greg and a bucket of lard?" That name stuck with me for 4 agonizing years. A few still called me that in my senior year, but not really as an insult. "I never knew your real name," said one girl, apologetically. I should have fired my marketing department.
I name more bullies. Yee. I wish I had forgotten their names, but I mention them, and now memories come flooding back. I won't mention their names now because most of them grew out of bullying me by my sophomore year. A few moved away, but I assume they also grew out of it. One went mental (sort of my fault, my first experimentation of playing with people's heads resulted in him freaking out and being... well, I never saw him again). Another I attacked and hurt real bad, which I am not going into here. But him and his friends never bothered me after that.
I describe my teachers. And substitutes. There was a sub named Mrs. Rooney was was so clueless, she'd believe anything you'd tell her. In one incident, she asks if we did our homework. The class says, "no." So then she decides to do something else. Someone balked, "But I missed all my TV shows to get this done, you guys are liars!" To which we replied, "Shut up, Kit!" I heard Kit Coleman later became a commercial airline pilot. Showed us, she did! Greg Cullen and Andrew Birchfield used Rooney time to get in on some erase fight action. When Mrs. Rooney turned her back, they would chuck chalkboard erasers at each other. Another time, they tossed paper airplanes at her helmet of curly hair. One day, one landed like a dart and stuck in her head, and she didn't even notice. We left it like that for the rest of the class, and when the next period came in, we told them not to tell her. Man, we were so bad...
I complain that TWO MONTHS into school, the seventh graders still get lost. Man, those seventh graders... get with the program will ya?? Heh heh... what's funny, is I sound just like Chance, my friend Sean's 10 year old daughter.
I describe my shop teacher, Mr. Dyzak, as "Nothing bad ever happens in his class, therefore, he's boring!" I suspect the old Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times..." applies a little here. My former shop teacher, Mr. Dileo, has later charged for molesting a student. But that was a few years after I had left. I do mention one incident, where an unnamed student used a copper rod to fling tacks at girls. Man, things were really bad back then! For years, I have had this nagging doubt that parts of my youth were exaggerated with time, but I am telling small stories that make me go, "Man, it was a madhouse in Junior High! A MAAAAAAD HOOOOUSSSSSE!!"
I had forgotten some of my Valley Girl speak from back then. I mean, I remember "Gag me with a spoon," or "tubular," and "grody," but forgot, "Ooooh, what a burn!" and "No DOY!" Plus all the Welcome Back Kotter and Happy Days influences, like "Up your nose with a rubber hose" and "sit on it!"
Nannoo nannoo... I am Mork from Ork. Shazbat!