“I went to Burt’s wake Friday night ,” Toby told Debbie.
“Burt?” his friend asked.
“You remember,” he explained. “He was my eighth grade history teacher at O.L.P.H. He was such a good person and likable fellow I could even forgive his having been a liberal and liked ‘Star Trek’.
“The day of his funeral,” he continued, “was the birthday of my tenth grade theology teacher, Jerry. Life is always full of those weird coincidences.”
“It’s nice to keep in touch with friends for that long,” she reminded him. “But you always have to take the good with the bad.”
It’s time for another Wednesday of Rochelle’s Friday Fictioneers. The preceding story was inspired by the recent death of my eighth grade history teacher. Ted Strutz has graciously supplied this week’s photograph.
To this very day I can still remember my first day, on the verge of my twelfth birthday, in the seventh grade. My parents, Mary Anne and I had just moved to Lindenhurst from Jackson Heights. After six years of St. Gabriel’s suddenly I was in Copiague Junior High School, on Great Neck Road, where I was to spend the first two weeks of that year. I know it’s quite impossible to believe but I was such a square then. If I were ever to wake up tomorrow morning as an adult stuck in a twelve year old body, I should assume that all my discomfort would come back for different reasons. That’s not quite entirely true though. I should still feel thoroughly out of place. At first it might be a somewhat nice interesting experience, to be able to visit a bygone era of my life. With my perpetually obnoxious sense of the absurd I’d really want to let all the fun parts linger for as long as possible. At least then when I really was twelve I could blend in a little. Now, though, I have already been through all the experiences that an adult could be expected to have, and that would be well over a kid’s head. I’d be quite terrified of looking like some kind of a complete lunatic. The only way I could ever be expected to get through a day in that kind of environment would be if I were to pretend to be abnormally shy. I don’t know what’s going on in the lives of kids that age these days so I couldn’t possibly be expected to carry on even the simplest of conversations. When I was twelve kids were listening to Carole King, and Sly and the Family Stone. I could just imagine the stupefied smirks as soon as I started rambling on about “It’s Too Late” and “Everyday People”. Today no one’s even heard of them. I’d have all sorts of problems with things ranging from clothing to slang terms. I’m way out of practice with skateboards, bicycles and yo-yos. Being a kid, like anything else, is a Garden-of-Edenish experience in the sense that once it’s gone it can never come back. All of life is like that. My teachers, as well as other kids and their families, would catch on immediately. There are so many things separating this September from September of 1971.
I always seem to go against what the fans and critics say. Although I’ve never read either Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” or any of J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” books, I’ve most certainly read and heard enough about them, from reputable source materials, to know that I couldn’t possibly be expected to be able to stand anything like them. The television show “Friends” is a good example of something I’ve seen and never especially liked. I never watched either “Friends” or “Seinfeld” until a significantly long time after they were cancelled. Cathleen, in California, gave me the idea to watch them. Although I’ve always especially liked “Seinfeld”-considering my eccentric sense of humor that’s most certainly no surprise-I’ve simply never been able to find “Friends” even the least bit appealing. For some reason it’s just not interesting in spite of the fact that everyone has always bowed down before its very shrine. It wasn’t the least bit bad. It simply left me entirely apathetic about it, without even so much as the satisfaction of my being able to complain. Perhaps there was something about it that I couldn’t catch onto. Was there some inside joke, or hep 1990’s style or charisma, going on there and I could never get the point? I found it all so plain, dull and ordinary. I’ve never been able to understand why everyone’s always been so crazy about the cast’s looks either. They’re all conventionally nice looking but in such an ordinary way. They would be nice neighbors and friends for married couples to have so that when a wife asks her husband : “Honey, do you think Rachel, Monica and Phoebe are pretty?” he could say yes without provoking any suspicion whatsoever. I just don’t get all the hype about what a legendary milestone that show supposedly was. I enjoy “Seinfeld” though. The people on that show are lopsided individuals who are even enjoyably lopsided looking.
If I were ever forced to make a choice between doing something stressful in the company of either friends or strangers, I should have to choose friends. Under either set of circumstances it’s quite obvious that there’s no greater or lesser a chance of success or failure. I’ve simply always felt very much more comfortable in familiar surroundings and in the company of people whom I’ve known for a while. By now I’ve gotten accustomed, more than ever before, to a much wider variety of nasty circumstances so I don’t especially have to let much of anything bother me anymore. I generally tend, these days, to overlook a lot that would have driven me crazy a while ago. I no longer run the risk of excessive dry mouth and shaking over relatively slight things. There’s no explanation for the fact that pressure used to bother me so much more then. At least when I’m in the company of friends I can count on their being accustomed, by now, to all my most predictable flubs and fluffs. When I deal with a stranger all he knows is that he’s up against some guy who doesn’t have any idea what’s going on. People I know are much more able to humor me and to understand my less competent, confident side. Because of his familiarity with all my strengths and weaknesses, a friend can give me advice based upon my personal circumstances instead of only an entirely theoretical textbook understanding of how things should be done. That’s the major benefit of having a common past. Even without that kind of help, though, I still always feel much more comfortable when I can count on as much familiarity as possible. It’s most certainly not as if for one second I especially care one way or the other what anyone thinks of me. That’s why I shouldn’t mind doing something stressful in the company of strangers. No one is ever put together logically consistently though. Familiarity appears to be the answer to everything for me. It’s quite the ultimate security blanket.
Both my parents, as a general rule, always seemed to have been quite entirely honest with me as far as I could recognize. When I was a kid, they and a few couples they were really good friends with always used to claim that I, upon growing up, should marry one of the friends’ daughters. Whichever friends were involved they always said that I should marry the daughter who was my age, even though there was always a younger sister too. I’ve always said that the only possible logical assumption one could legitimately make, based on that, was that couples, upon getting married, must always be the same age. When I worked at Citicorp Retail Services long ago, Carole, my immediate supervisor, told me that that was a little white lie that parents were known to tell their kids. She reminded me that it was comparable to telling them stories about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. I agree with her. A lie of that nature can’t be equated with a lie lie. A lie lie is the kind that’s told out of deliberate dishonesty, with the intent to deceive. As kids my sister and I could never stand liver. Once my parents, in order to fool us into eating some, told us it was steak. That didn’t work out terribly well. My parents both died last autumn when they were eighty years old. Although in all that time their track record for honesty seemed to have been quite exceptional, my father always considered himself to have been very much a raconteur, and he could always be counted on to regale one and all with an absolutely infinite supply of tall tales about his real and supposed exploits in school, at work and under all sorts of other circumstances. In a way he was sort of comparable to Andy Devine’s Frisby character in the “Twilight Zone” episode “Hocus Pocus and Frisby”. None of those was a lie lie either. Those anecdotal lies can be attributed to a need to pretty up all those ancient stories, none of which was necessarily that interesting while it was still really happening. All story tellers do that. Most of the time, the average story he told, from his point of view, somehow never quite seemed to have been the least bit in cahoots with what the other relevant parties claimed to have remembered of it. Even though I don’t remember having caught either of my parents in a deliberate lie lie of any serious nature, they were quite the experts at harmless lies.