Friday, July 15, 2016

Tender Is The Afternoon

You know how memories can get stuck in the wisdom tooth of your mind, like a raspberry seed that gets all wedged up in there and you try brushing and flossing and a toothpick, until finally you give in and go get the needlenose pliers out of the garage?

Of course.  Memories.  It's funny that some other thought will dislodge them and you're suddenly transported 1967...

It was a long hot summer, made all the hotter because I spent five mornings a week sitting in the same high school classroom where I had sat five afternoons a week during the school year.  It was the Algebra II room, and since my Punchinello antics and general lack of attention had earned me a D in the class during the regular year, I was invited to play extra innings and take it again in summer school.  Our teacher was a goodhearted woman named Mrs Doris Saunders.  If you can imagine spending hot summer mornings with a room full of math-challenged hormone-rampant kids who weren't smart enough to avoid a summer in a brick hell, she made the best of it, gently encouraging, prodding our noggins, making us understand why we need to understand why x³ - y² = something I could care about.

A guy named Dave in the class (I guess that was his name outside the class too) drove a really boss '57 Chevy which, if he still has it, is his ticket to a cushy retirement, if he sells it.  Dave was motorvating onto the school parking lot one steamy August morning, and he was in such a hurry to get to class on time that he nearly collided head-on with a car being driven by Mrs Saunders. As he slid into his seat, he asked if she had seen him on Aigburth Rd that morning, and she replied that she thought that would be the last time she ever saw anything on Aigburth Rd.  

That was 1967, and in the summer of 1993, long since Algebra had ceased to have any meaning in my life, I was idly thumbing through a York PA newspaper when I read that Doris Saunders, a retired math teacher from Baltimore County, had been killed in a head-on auto accident in Pennsylvania.

I remember thinking about that nice lady and the irony of it all.

There's nothing ironic about the next memory that popped up the other day.  I don't even know why I had forgotten it for so long, but it took place in my junior year, in Spanish IV class. (Maybe that would be a great way to learn a foreign IV drip!)  The class was assembled but the teacher had not arrived yet.  Teachers who found me heckling them from a seat in the room tended not to hurry to get there, so Mr Micozzi was waiting until the last second to walk in and get us into a lively discussion of "Don Quixote," which we were reading in Spanish, ay caramba!  

Suddenly, in a scene that sounds like something out of a Fellini movie, a guy not much older than us walked into the room. He was dressed in a jockey outfit.  I mean it...the silks, the boots, the white pants, and I can only assume that he was wearing Jockey shorts to keep his horses in their respective stalls.  He began uttering a line of gibberish, talking in English, but the words sounded like he had cut up a dictionary and was just saying random words in no particular order, without meaning.

Sort of like the 1968 version of Rush Limbaugh.

We all were shrugging and laughing it off, but suddenly he started picking on the girl sitting next to me, saying rude things, and then...And then he started throwing pennies at her.

Quixotic then as now, I stood up and attempted to dissuade Jockey Joe from throwing more coins at the young lady by pushing him into the chalkboard, and he swung back at me, and then in walked Mr Micozzi, who got to start his instructional day by refereeing a fistfight between his Bart Simpson-style student and a guy dressed like Eddie Arcaro.  I did think thought it was really unfair that the teacher crouched down with a towel around his neck, giving the guy fighting tips to knock me out.

Image result for don quixote bookJust kidding.  He hustled us both down to the office, just like Glenn Ford in "Blackboard Jungle," and I had to go to the court commissioner's office that afternoon to testify against the guy. It turned out that he had walked away from the local mental institution that once housed Zelda Fitzgerald, and he went back there and I went back to class, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

And he didn't even send me a Christmas card, or offer a rematch.

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