Monthly Archives: August 2012

old school

   I found an old class photo recently : Corpus Christi School , Pacific Palisades , Calif. , Grade 8   1964 – 65 . I am peering out from an edge of the paper ,looking directly at the camera , beady-eyed with a tentative smile . Say cheese !

   Eight of the boys are wearing ties . Not me . Ten of us aren’t . We’re casual . I wonder , as I look at it now , if it made any difference in the long run if a tie was worn that day or not . John  X  ( they will all be X ) is wearing a tie . He faces the camera relaxed , self-confident . John was alway self-confident , energetic , extroverted , headed for great things . In high school he started the Spanish Club . There were two or three spectacular Spanish Club – sponsored parties , financed by the student council , until the administration realized that all that the Spanish Club did was party . ” It was fun while it lasted , ” John said . Then he went off to some ivy league eastern university .

   Tom X is there in the photo not wearing a tie . For years Tom was the top student , academically , both in elementary and also later  in high school . He , too , went away to an eastern university . Most likely to succeed . Say cheese ! Tom has a contented look on his face , not quite arrogant ,  but somehow self-proud , satisfied with himself . Content .

    Monty X is there , too , the handsome one , muscular and blonde . A big happy smile lights his face . Monty was  a heart throb for the girls . So was John , by the way . But , John was grittier , rougher , not as classically handsome . John made up in extroversion what he lacked in looks . Number two tries harder . Monty  just was . He was an extremely nice guy , too , humble , kind . I once made the mistake of double-dating with him , and all night my date wished that she was with Monty . I should have known .

    And then there was Cary X . He occupies the photo spot next to the nun . No coincidence , I think . It’s as if  even in a class photo  Cary had to be watched . The practical joker . The class clown . The one who in a lower grade stole five dollars from his mother’s purse to donate to what we called Pagan Babies  . When five dollars was raised by a class the class could then name the pagan baby that the money would supposedly go to . Cary had “donated” the five dollars all on his own so he claimed the privilege of naming the pagan baby : he chose Melvin , I think . He later got caught , of course . Cary always got caught . Low grades , good sense of humor ,deviously  creative , always volunteered to be ” garbage monitor ” . Garbage monitor passed the garbage encrusted , stinking , little metal garbage pail after lunch . Cary claimed that disgusting job all through elementary school .He never had challengers .

     There is Margaret X , whose mother was smoking in bed and was burned so badly in a resultant fire that she died several day later , days of agony in a hospital reflected on young Margaret’s face at school day by day , an agony shared , in our way , by all of us .  Margaret was taller than anyone else in the class . Taller by inches than any of the tallest boys . She took a lot of teasing for that . Poor Margaret .

And there is Laurie X . All the boys were in love with Laurie X . Even shy I was . Laurie had an aura .  She was eighth grade gorgeous , and gracious , and unpretentious .  No one was left out of her glow . Now that I am writing this , I hope that she made it in life , lived a happy prosperous life . She deserves it for the kindness she shared in school . Funny thing is , I see two possible Laurie Xs in the photo . I think I know which one is Laurie . But , then again , she might be the other one .

  Funny . I can name most of the boys in the class photo , but not most of the girls . I remember a few . I see Holly X , who wrote the nasty letter about Mrs. So and So in fifth grade and Mrs So and So held it up to us , and told us how terrible the words were , and how hurt she felt by it . But she wouldn’t read the letter to us . She left it to our pre-teen imaginations what the words were , what had been written . 

Dolores X is there , too . Dolores  was the one who answered a religion test question with ” California ” .  The question was : In order to receive the sacraments , a person must be in the state of ________ . Sister What’s her Name read Dolores’ answer to the class .  Grace  was the correct answer . We all laughed . There’s nothing like sarcasm and ridicule to motivate students ! Thanks , Sister .   Watch the birdie . Say cheese !

  There in the photo is the billionaire’s son , next to the photo of who I think is Laurie X . He once tried to sell me a booklet on the care and feeding of guinea pigs . I had a couple of guinea pigs at the time , Henry and Henrietta , and this kid didn’t . Fifty cents ? I can’t remember his name , but  I got along with him o.k.  I was over at his house once . He wasn’t in the class long , though  — maybe a year and a half . Then , I suppose , his father’s work took them to other parts of the world .

  And here is Mike X  , of course , my neighbor , and the guy whom for years I considered my best friend  . In terms of loyalty , Mike was up there with the likes of Benj.  Arnold and Mr. Quisling . Why he was my best friend I find mysterious , even now . But he was .  Mike is  one of only three classmates in the photo wearing glasses .

  Dan X is over on the opposite edge of the photo from me . Dan was a handsome guy , too , and sociable . He was a big hit with the girls during high school . He had a twin who the nuns put in the other 8th grade class . Now that I think of the two classes , all through elementary , they were like parallel universes . No one switched classes .  I don’t remember much about the other class , the parallel one , coming up through all those grades , but I know it had rougher customers than my class , more troublemakers . There was the smart class and the dumb class . We all knew . Don X was the brother twin condemned to that other group . I used to hang around with Dan and Don after school . They lived a few blocks up my street and our mothers were friends. They raised mice in their garage to feed to their pet king snake . Everything went well until the king snake died but the mice kept multiplying .

  The nun is in the top right hand corner of the page . She has a view of all of us . Cary is next to her , of course .But , she’s watching us all .   We used to call her Fiddle sticks . Behind her back .  She was a good one . She became principal of the school the next year .

  And there at the bottom of the page is little Raymond X , whose uncle became a famous TV star . His uncle took Raymond and me to Pacific Ocean Park once when I was in first or second grade . We called it Pea Oh Pea . It was right there somewhere at the ocean end of Pico Blvd.  Smile ! Look this way ! Say cheese !

   I don’t know what happened to most of those people . I know that top student Tom X worked for a company that raised bees . John X  married a teacher . He was a teacher , too , in high school , until he had an affair with a student , ruined his marriage , and ruined his teaching career . Dan , I think , lives in Florida and works at Disney World . Fiddlesticks is long since dead . John died recently . Monty owns a high tech company in Silicon Valley .  I’d like to know what became of Cary .

  Oh , I just realized who the other Laurie in the class photo possibility is . She’s the one who  married a professional football player and used to live in a big house in the Palisades  .  Maybe she still does . Smile ! Cheese ! Look at the camera .

    I suspect that some of these people have kept in touch all these years . It would be nice to have friends who were friends way back in elementary school . I’ve run into a few of the guys in recent years . But , they are strangers . We were trapped , in some odd way , in our past shared experience . It was almost as if the eighth grade class photo had suddenly strangly come to life . How have you been for the last forty-seven years ?  ? Say cheese ! We were on camera for just a moment , commenting on the old times , sharing a memory or two . Craig X and I cleaned out a school storage room once . Craig was afraid of dark corners . And then what ? Do I want to know if he’s still afraid of dark corners ? I remind him that he told me when we were ten that  ever since he’d been  bitten by a spider he had been afraid of dark corners . Funny how we can sum up a life in one memory . Straighten your tie , Craig ! Smile . Good .

  Say cheese ! You’ll be a one-dimentional on- paper person soon  again . Nice to see you , in a way . Take your place again on the page . Look at the camera . Smile .

   I want to think that someone else from the class is somewhere looking at the class photo , too , wondering who those kids are , what became of them , how did those days and those people affect who I am now ?  I smile at some of the memories the picture stirs up in me . Smile ! Say cheese !


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non-alley walking

   I sometimes walk down Foothill Blvd . , cross Santa Anita , and head up Rancho , or one of the other streets that lead into a quiet , tree-lined neighborhood .

   I seldom see anyone except gardeners . The wide streets are empty . No sidewalks . I almost feel like an intruder . If anyone were home I imagine that they would be watching me through the curtains , wondering , suspicious .

  Who lives in these houses ? What kind of jobs do they have to bring in the money to keep them up . They are all well kept up . I sometimes think it’s just a set , a facade . Someday I might walk past the security gate of one of them and look behind . Is it just a facade ? Would it collapse in a strong wind ? A show only ? For what purpose ?

I noticed that the mailboxes in this neighborhood are solid . Secure . Don’t mess with our mailbox !

Not every house is protected by a gate and a fence, but many are . Most of the gates and fences are decorative . They send a message , I suppose .  What is it  , money , security , exclusion  ? I will leave the exploration of that theme for another time .

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flags forever flying

   On the Fourth of July the real estate folks plant little flags at all of the houses . There is a paper attached , of course , with their name and business  . Every property  gets a little American flag .

   But now are the waning days of August . Most of the little real estators’  flags are still out there .

   Some of the neighbors have left their larger cotton flags out since Fourth of July , too .  Maybe the little plastic real estate advertisement flags have caused these people to forget flag protocol .  Wasn’t anybody a boy scout ?  A flag comes down at sunset , unless it is lit all night . Then , I guess it can fly nightly within the rules .

   What are people trying to prove by letting their stars and stripes hang there on the pole , day in and day out ?  I wonder . Maybe the flag hangers have forgotten to take them  down . Maybe Fourth of July came and went and the flag was forgotten , and every time the owner sees the flag still out he or she thinks : I’ll put it away tomorrow .

     I suppose a person might think himself or herself more patriotic by flying the flag every day and night . But letting a flag droop there by the front door on it’s wooden dowel , abandoned and ignored ——-  well , it doesn’t shout patriotism to me .  Maybe something more along the lines of neglect .  Sorry . I know you guys meant well .

   I’m not against flag waving . We have a flag that we display every national holiday . I feel bad if I forget to put it out . I like to see the houses on the street all flying the flag on those patriotic days . There seems to be an unspoken and unwritten  notice on those days that, hey ,  we  all share an identity , that we are all on the same team even if we’ve never met one  another , even if we root for different sports teams  or political candidates , even if we can’t stand the same music or the same foods . And then I like to see the flags  go . 

    One day after school several years ago two of my eighth grade students wanted to talk to me . They had a problem . I could see  anguish in their eyes . I braced myself for something serious .

  ” We have this flag and we have to get rid of it “.

” Throw it in the dumpster , ” I said .

” We have to either burn it or bury it ,” they told me . ” And we don’t have a place to burn it or bury it .”

” And that’s the problem , ” I said .

” That’s the problem .”

” I’ll take care of it for you , ” I assured them . They were relieved . They took deep breaths and let them out . They calmed down and their eighth grade eyes smiled .  They left my classroom   , having done their duty to dispose of a flag properly . It had been important to them .

  Don’t ask me if I burned it or buried it . I won’t say .

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alley walking

   I have a routine walk around the neighborhood .  I go up the hill , usually , and make a right on what used to be Banana Avenue , and I go a few blocks east , sometimes to Highland , a grand old Ave . with big old houses on big lots on a wide street .  If I’m  too lazy , though , or tired , I go down one of the other streets toward Foothill Blvd .

    I don’t take Foothill back . At least , almost never . I cut down along the alley that runs parallel . Alleys are better . No one needs to put facades up along an alley . Alleys are blue collar  places . They’re places to park the car , to put the trash , to dump the old chair .

   I like to walk the alleys . It’s a safe neighborhood . Not many people hang out in the alleys . Some other souls walk them , or ride their bikes along them . The alley is a good place to walk .

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all the world is but a slang-tree

1. slang : the special vocabulary of low , illiterate , or disreputable persons ; low , illiterate language (1758)

2. slang , adj.  Slangy : 1758 . Rakish , impertinent

3. slang : to remain in debt (v.i.) ca. 1770-1800 . 2. to exhibit at a fair (1789) ; 3. to cheat , swindle , defraud (1812) ; 4. to fetter  ( ca. 1810-1850) ; 6 . to abuse , scold violently ( 1844 )

4. out on the slang : to travel as a salesman

5. slang-dipper ; -dropper : A slang dipper is one who gilds metal chains for the purpose of selling them as gold . A slang dropper is the man who disposes of them , as he usually does by pretending to pick [one] up in the street under the nose of his victim [whom]  he immediately asks to put a value on ( 1935 )

6. slang it : to use false weights

7. slang the maulies : to shake hands ( London 1871 )

8. slang-tree : a stage

9. slang-tree , climb the : to perform ( mid C. 19-20 )

10. slanging : 1. exhibiting at a fair or market; 2. abuse ; violent scolding

11. slangs : fetters ; leg-irons ( 1810 )


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nobble : a poem


nobble , nobble , nobble ( I heard them )

twice a  nobble plus

nobbling princes and nobbled pigs

rolling nobbled panoramas no longer in focus ( I saw them ) .

green slimey cactus plants in concrete – lined barrels  and magazines gone to toxic in old town

rare manacled contentions in nobble realms vanished

but recent .

Caught piggy nobbling . To be nobbled

at a later date . A date palm shading redemption

caught in desert thorns . Raindrops but Hamlisch gone . Nobble him ? Never .

Moldy nobbled stone soup for billions . Politics or business ? Step right up .

Anti-nobble pill to swallow for sale  : $$$$ . See the man . Like the pill and help save the pig . T shirts sold in the lobby .

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more slang slung

1. bilge : nonsense ; empty talk (from 1906)

2. billy-goat in stays :  an effeminate officer , naval ( 1870-1885)

3. bobbery : a noise , disturbance , squabble ( from 1800 )

4. chin music : conversation ( ca, 1875 )

5. daisy kicker : a horse ( ca. 1770 )

6. do a star pitch : to sleep in the open ( ca. 1850 )

7. ear-biter : a persistent borrower

8. flivver : a cheap motor car ( 1920 )

9. glass eyes : a person wearing spectacles

10. yackum : human excrement ( C. 19-20 )

11. zizz : to sleep ( Mostly R.A.F. , since 1930 )

add-on 12  .   nobble : as in nobble the (prize) pig [ I have no idea ! ]


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