Tuesday, September 6, 2011
First Daze of School: Cardinal Mooney
I thought it only fitting that since school is starting I would tell all of you about my first two days of high school. Not consecutive days, mind you. See, growing up I went to a Catholic elementary school. St. Theodore’s. From kindergarten through eighth grade. Now, where I live there were three Catholic High Schools to consider, and only one public school. My choices, in order of price-tag were, Bishop Kearney – which was an all boy’s school – was immediately scratched off my list; Aquinas – also at the time an all boy’s school, cheaper admission than Kearney, but still all boys – was scratched off the list as well; and Cardinal Mooney. Then there was Gates-Chili. Free.
Gates-Chili seems like the obvious choice, right? Wrong. The idea of going to a public school after spending nine years in a Catholic environment scared the hell out of me. I’d heard horror stories. Looking at a kid passing in the hall the wrong way surely led to beatings, or books pushed out of your hands, or cafeteria food trays slapped from your hands, wedgies, swirlies, being stuffed into your own locker … That’s the kind of thing I heard happened at public high schools. And me, I wanted no part of it.
Money was tight. My family was far from rich. They seemed to go broke trying to put me and my three younger siblings through St. Teddy’s. I wanted to continue that education – private school. If only to save my ass from unnecessary, and what sounded like, humiliating torture, I planned to pick up where my parent’s had left off. The only plausible way to accomplish this was to help pay tuition costs.
At the end of eighth grade, I turned 14. I contacted a family member who owned a party house, and applied for a job as a bus boy. Tuition was $1,200 a year. This was back in 1984. I made, I believe just over $3.00 an hour, or just under. I can’t remember, and am far too lazy to research labor laws to see what minimum wage was back in 1984. Regardless, if any labor laws had been followed at this unnamed party house, I’d never have made enough money to buy cigarettes without a loan. Thankfully, I worked fifty and sixty hour weeks all summer long. Fifteen hours per week on the books. The remainder paid in cash. No time-and-a-half available, apparently. Maybe the thought of paying a teenager $5.00 was too much for a Mob-facility, pulling in hundreds of thousands a year. Whatever.
I took and pass the entrance exam to Cardinal Mooney. I worked my butt off all summer to save for tuition costs, clothing, and books. And as September rolled around, figured I was golden.
I had/have this tiny bald spot on my head. It began to itch. Went to the doctors and learned a layer of “skin” had grown over the spot, and needed to come off. My grandfather took me. The procedure was performed in the office. Two days before school.
I focused on the fact that I no longer had to wear strict elementary Catholic school uniforms—the yellow shirt, navy blue tie and pants. That I could now wear any color shirt, tie and pants—as long as they weren’t jeans. Wow the freedom of individualism!
And while the doctor jabbed ten times into my skull needles filled with Novocain, I cringed, and maybe cried, and possibly cursed. When the doctor said, “Oops,” and “Hmmm,” I closed my eyes. Pretended not to hear him. Figured it was my overactive imagination. I mean, everyone dreads hearing a doctor say “oops,” and sound perplexed. It can’t just be me.
“Son,” he said. I was not his son. In fact, we were not related. “The needle is broken. None of the Novocain is coming out. I’m going to have to do this over.”
Uh-huh. After a total of like twenty stabs to the head, my skull numbed. I was informed I’d feel scraping, tugging and some pulling, but little pain. I didn’t believe him. He was right though. The procedure was painless. Then. When I have nightmares about it now, it hurts like hell. So the doctor was only half right. But that also makes him half wrong.
Afterward, he wiped the blood that dripped all down my face and the back of my neck, and with gauze, wrapped my head. And cringed—more than when the needles were used—as he told me I’d have to change the bandages, and keep it wrapped like this for the next three to four days. No showers.
School. The first day of high school. As a Freshman. At some new school. Two days away.
Oh, the horror! Sanctuary! Sanctuary!
Of course, this guy was a pro. He’d wrapped my head tight. Looked like a Mummy head, on the scrawny, awkward body of a teenager. The morning of the first day of school, my mother and I wrapped my head. Hair jetted out between strips of gauze. Tufts billowed here and there. I also wore glasses—making this tremendously shameful headgear that much more nerdy.
So with slick cowboy boots (yes, cowboy boots. Up to just below the knee. And no, we did not live in Texas, Arizona, or any southern state where cowboy boots were acceptable. And for the record, I am Italian, with more Mafia in my blood than cattle rustler…), corduroy pants, a white dress shirt, and a tie that looked corduroy and was the same color as my pants (no clue what color. Possibly some shade of maroon), and gauze that resembled what might happen if I let a blind person bandage me, snaking my skull, I went to school.
I will tell you, unfortunately, I do not remember much at all about that first day. I do not recall one second of the bus ride. Or any of the classes. The only thing that stands out is the lockers in the hallway. Mine was right near my homeroom. At St. Teddy’s we didn’t have lockers. We had desks. They opened. We stuffed are junk in there, and in the cloakroom—a dark alley in the back of each classroom, with rows of hooks for jackets and book-bags and lunch boxes.
Next to me was, I would later learn—after the bandages came off and the memory of having seen me wear them voided from people’s memory with the help of the mind eraser Will Smith used in M.I.B.—was Debbie. So as I struggled to figure out how the hell to work a combination lock, figuring out left from right without actually pretending to pledge allegiance, and refrain from kicking the damned door—she seamlessly scrolled through numbers, and unlocked her Master. And then helped me with mine. I’ll give her credit. And for a moment it worked. She smiled at me as she helped.
I thought I was almost clever by not knowing how the hell to align three numbers under an indicator arrow. As if I’d planned it. A slick way to meet women.
Until I realized two things. I pathetically attempted the lock unsuccessfully and frantically for too long to be cool. And I looked retarded.
In watching Debbie Release Her Lock (that is not a movie title, the caps just make it seem so), and then stepping aside to watch Debbie Do My Lock (again, not a movie title—just saying), I completely forgot that on top of my head was a Greek Medusa of gauze and flailing fingers of hair …
Need I say more about that particular first day of school? Ah, no. I think not!
(Look for Part II of First Daze of School: Gates-Chili, Junior Year)
Till next time …
Chase N. Nichols
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