In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Land of Confusion.”
Over the course of my school days I had always been quite a reasonably good student. Math and science were the two very definite exceptions to that rule, however. As a high school freshman at St. John the Baptist in West Islip, I somehow got put into a biology class, in spite of the fact that freshman biology was intended for students who were good in science. Mr. Richard Morabito, my teacher, frequently called my mother and complained to her that I could never keep up with the work. He wondered if maybe I should start wearing eyeglasses again. When I was a senior I took Mrs. Joan McGrath’s probability and statistics class. She, like Mr. Morabito, knew that I was a conscientious student but that I just couldn’t handle the subject matter. One of the very last things she ever said to me officially as a teacher of mine was that it would be a bad mistake for me to study math from then on. The next year, as a freshman at S.U.N.Y. Farmingdale, I was a liberal arts major. During my first semester I was forced to take another statistics course. During my first week there the professor insisted upon my dropping out of the course because he knew I’d never be able to pass it. Those are only a few representative examples of the horror story that was my life in math and science classrooms. My late cousin Karen, who was a math teacher, once told me that she could never understand how anyone could possibly be a poor math student, considering that it was so logical. Perhaps that’s my entire problem. I must not be capable of handling courses that are too logically consistent. I appear to require the twists and turns that go with the humanities and social sciences.
If I were ever forced to point out an era during my lifetime which I could refer to as the very best of times it would be fairly easy.I’ve always thought that there’s a tie between my very early days, up until my twelfth birthday, on 92nd Street in Jackson Heights, when I was attending St. Gabriel’s Elementary School in East Elmhurst, and the time somewhat after that, during my teens in Lindenhurst, when I was attending St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip. During my very early days in Queens, I lived in quite an exemplary neighborhood where there were all sorts of colorful characters. Two thirds of the families on my block were either Italian or Hispanic and constantly spoke Italian and Spanish. I was involved with a lot of activities at St. Gabriel’s, in both the church and school, especially Brother Thomas’ bowling league, and the glee club with Brother Edmond and Brother James. My friends, many of whom are now on my Facebook friend list, were quite an exceptional group of kids. We spent a lot of time together, visiting each other’s families. During my teens, at St. John’s, I had such a nice time too. Many of the kids I got to know there are also now on my friend list list on Facebook. It was a time for me to learn about new things and ideas, and to grow into what would become ultimately my current persona. Then, as in Queens, I was known as the kid with the obnoxious sense of humor. Unfortunately that period was the disco era but once I got over that I enjoyed all the other things about it. I was involved with lots of activities, including the student council and chess club. I realize that those weren’t perfect times for me. I had all sorts of trouble in certain ways. They were quite exceptional though in the sense that the bad very far outweighed the good.
“Wow, isn’t that Linda Brown, the prettiest girl in school?!” Jim gasped.
“Five feet, four inches tall, black hair, gigantic blue eyes, and what a sweetheart!” Mike stammered.
The salesman behind the counter wanted to chase them away but seeing how lovely the source of their distraction was, he understood, so he humored them.
“Get a load of that,” Jim mumbled. “She’s so enchanting she’s made the numbers on that clock fall down.”
Long ago I attended St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, New York. In Mr. Wally Lace’s twelfth grade sociology class there was a girl named Jane who sat fairly close to me. She was short and somewhat plain in appearance and didn’t seem as if she’d turn out to be the least bit of a bad person. Her looks even gave the impression that she was quite a decent character. Having never met her I couldn’t say from experience what she was like. A couple of decades later though, I ran into her at one of our class’s reunions and got a bit of a jolt when she re introduced herself and proceeded to inform me of what a horrible impression she’d always gotten of me in school. She described me in a way that left me thinking she was an ignorant, smug, self satisfied little creep. For some reason entirely unknown to me this rather harmless looking little character took it upon herself to ramble on at me about how much of a mess she thought I was. It’s a good thing her opinion hasn’t ever meant anything to me whatsoever to me anyway. Although she could pass, from a distance, as such a quiet shy studious perfect lady, she turned out to be nothing but trouble.
I don’t know whether there’s any one thing I should desperately like to do which I have never done before. It would be really nice, though, if I could either learn to speak another foreign language or learn to speak Italian and Spanish better than I already can. I took three years of Spanish at St. John the Baptist high school and two years of Italian at Farmingdale college. That’s not counting the two weeks of German I took in junior high school, at the beginning of the seventh grade. It would be quite an exceptionally interesting experience for me to be able to be as fluent as possible in Italian and Spanish, or even to start another language entirely. As far as I know there most probably isn’t any insurmountable obstacle that’s preventing me from studying at least one language intensely, except for the fact that I haven’t made a definitive decision to do so. Because of the internet I now have lots of connections in several foreign countries. I’m constantly being confronted with phrases, sentences and even entirely passages in books and periodicals, that are in foreign languages. I have quite an interesting time looking up the translation of each passage in order to see what it means but it would be especially good for me if I could understand things like that really well without having to bother to cheat. In the city I live in, Long Beach, New York, there is an intense Hispanic population. Sometimes I have to talk to someone who spontaneously rambles on in Spanish and it gets me crazy. I still have no idea why so many Hispanics never bother to learn English in an English-speaking country. If there’s anything that would make things easier for me these days, it’s to become proficient in a few languages. At least I can be reasonably certain that I’d be able to handle it.
“Hurry up, Myrtle”, said Mrs. Fleener. “Your brother’s fourteenth birthday only comes once, you know.”
Myrtle gasped a resigned “Yes mother, whatever!” as she abandoned her Faceboook and Myspace friends in order to appease the gods of family life.
It was a cool August night, crickets chirping pleasantly. Jasper and Myrtle would soon start the ninth and tenth grades at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School.
Mr. and Mrs. Fleener knew they’d reminisce fondly someday about this night but at the time it was annoying. “Ob-la-da, Ob-la-da!”, he exclaimed.
Yesterday I went to the funeral Mass at Maria Regina Church in Seaford for my ninety one year old Aunt Norma from Massapequa. All went well. After the Mass we all went to St Charles’ Cemetery on Pinelawn Road in Pinelawn. Mr. Gargiulo, a teacher of mine from St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School, was the deacon in charge of the ceremony there. After that we went to Sal’s Place in North Massapequa. That was where I made my big mistake. There was an open bar. As soon as Steve pointed it out to me I made sure I asked the bartender for a gin martini, straight up, with an olive. Unfortunately I drank it on an empty stomach. To my credit I made quite sure I only got one, and that I drank it exceptionally slowly, only a sip every few minutes. I know my limitations quite well by now. Alas it soon backfired on me. I got a very violent headache. I thoroughly enjoyed being with both my cousins and their families and friends-I’ve known their relatives and friends for quite a long time- but the crowd, combined with the length of time it all took, and the drink, made me miserable. After Steve, Bridget and I left, he wanted to go to Amityville to do something on his boat, and then to Lindenhurst to see my old neighborhood. Somehow we managed to convince Bridget not to shop for shoes and ice cream. As soon as we got back to the house I fell straight into bed, thoroughly exhausted and in pain, for the rest of the night. I still feel wiped out and need quite a lot of rest to recuperate. The worst thing that could possibly happen to me today would be if I push my luck and for lack of sufficient rest, end up getting even sicker. So far most of my headache is gone but it could come back very easily. The best thing that could happen would be if I refrain from doing anything that could provoke any further trouble. All I need right now is sufficient rest. Nothing very eventful is happening in my life these days, so I don’t expect my circumstances to change especially drastically in either direction. All I want is to recuperate from this truly wiped out feeling. I’m quite confident that I’ll be back to normal soon.
Even though I haven’t paid a significant amount of attention to either of them in the many decades since I graduated, my two most prized possessions have always been my high school yearbook and ring. My yearbook is called the Forerunner because St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of my school. They most certainly aren’t the kinds of things an adult can possibly get any kind of mileage out of, but I always want to make sure I can account for them both. It’s boring for me to read all the things in my yearbook except on very rare special occasions. My ring, the few times I’ve tried to wear it, has always given me extremely bad blisters. My interest in them, though, has nothing to do with usage. It’s much more of a symbolic connection. I’ve always been quite smitten, perhaps even a bit inordinately, with my past, and also with the past in general. My yearbook and ring provide me with tangible links to a most significant part of my past. Neither can possibly be replaced. These days, thanks to the internet, I can get in touch with a lot of different people from my school days. I regularly communicate with former teachers and classmates of mine. My yearbook and ring, though, are in a category entirely their own. Associating with someone from my past brings him entirely into my present and there’s no way out of that. A yearbook and ring, precisely because they’re so inextricably linked with someone’s past, are especially specifically going to remind him of it. A lot of other people may consider a car, article of clothing or some other specific thing the most important possession someone can possibly have in his life. Most certainly the average individual would refer to something he at least occasionally uses. In my typically lopsided fashion, my most prized possessions are things I hardly ever so much as bother to think twice about.
I turned sixteen years old on September 16, 1975, during the disco era when Gerald R. Ford was president. I lived in Lindenhurst, New York. Back then, as during most of my lifetime, I was quite shy with people I didn’t know, but upon having gotten to know someone I could be quite the quick-witted obnoxious character. In my yearbook, when I graduated, people wrote several comments about my distinctive sense of humor, and complaints about how I let people get away with too much. A junior at St. John the Baptist Diocesan High School in West Islip, on suburban Long Island, I got along very well with all my teachers and the other kids in school. As a teenage boy, I could never help noticing how exceptionally lovely so many of the girls were. Fortunately most of the people on the faculty, and in the administration and guidance department were quite impressive. My favorite class that year was Mr. Brian Clancy’s seventh period American History class. History’s always been one of my favorite subjects anyway and Mr. Clancy really knew how to keep things interesting in a classroom. The single most distinctive memory I have of Mr. Clancy is that throughout the year, he kept trying to get each of us kids to recite, in order, the name of each president from George Washington to Ford. He always seemed to have been especially determined to drill it into my head. Not a day went by that he didn’t stop me at some random time and try to get me to name them all. Unlike my adult persona, in those days it could never have occurred to me to think of life as one big theology and philosophy classroom, or as a cultural battlefield between the forces of good and those of evil. I just tried to be a good kid and to have a few laughs. When my tenth grade theology teacher, Mr. Jerry Di Noto, now on my Facebook friend list, found out what kind of adult I’ve turned into, he was genuinely shocked because, according to him, I was always simply such a nice guy as a kid. Then, as now, I was never even the least bit interested in, sports, nor was I the least bit competent at anything athletic, so whatever references other guys in my crowd made to that kind of thing were all entirely over my head. Having always been very interested in chess as a youngster, I joined Mr. Nagy’s chess club. For some strange reason, though, that group fell apart after only a very short time. When I was a freshman, my homeroom classmates, who were among the most colorful, obnoxious characters I’ve ever met, made me their representative on the student council. I stuck with it throughout school. After I got home from school each day I spent most of my time hanging around with the Copiague public school kids in my neighborhood. Things were about the same with them as with my friends from school. I virtually always avoided sports except for something that vaguely approximated basketball in the street. No description any part of my lifetime could possibly be complete without a reference to my musical tastes. Maybe it’s because of my total lack of a connection to sports, but I’ve always been quite inordinately interested in music, especially the Beatles and everything else from the 1960’s. Disco, though it now might just as well not even exist, was an omnipresent curse in those days for those of us who didn’t like it. I used always to try to convince my friends that the music of the 1960’s was infinitely superior to even the best of what our era had to offer. On July 3, 1976, my cousin Larry, five years older than I, got married. I was an usher in his wedding party. Although I was still only a kid, it was a bit of a reminder that adulthood wasn’t extremely far away. Unfortunately my parents never let me get a driver’s license, or even a permit, until I was nineteen years old. At sixteen, unless someone was willing to give me a ride, I could never go anyplace that was any farther than either my feet or a bicycle could take me. I like to think I was quite a gentleman in those days. As far as I know I must have been at least reasonably decent because whenever I meet someone who remembers me from that part of my life, I get a nice friendly reaction and a reminder of what a very good time it was.