I Got Schooled


In the 1970s, I attended Harry S. Truman Elementary School in Parlin, NJ.  That’s it up there.  It provided what I would assume was a pretty typical suburban grammar school experience for the revolving groups of 5 to 11 year old children that passed through its doors and probably still does.  Yet I have to assume that there is a world of difference between the grade school experience of 1977 and that of 2017.  The people who designed, accommodated and stocked these schools with supplies when I was a boy had clearly forgotten how easily stressed grade school kids tend to be, not to mention that traumatic experiences at such a tender age will end up shaping a child’s psyche accordingly, assuring an adulthood marked by extensive psychotherapy and alprazolam prescriptions.

When I say that grade school was traumatic, I’m not implying that anything truly horrible ever happened to me there.  The bullying I endured was mild and the teachers kept their hands to themselves.  What I’m referring to is the expectation of a satisfactory performance in any given subject – including (maybe even especially) gym – when the supplies we were provided for our assignments were of such poor quality and design that every one of us should have been given a box of gold stars just for managing to connect a pair of tongue depressors without gluing our fingers to the insides of our noses (where, let’s face it, many of our fingers made their second home in those days).

The nightmare began at 9:00 a.m. when at the conclusion of the Pledge of Allegiance, we were all expected to fetch the required items for the upcoming class from our cubbies:


The ones pictured above are rather modern and brightly colored, but ours were Band-Aid hued hard plastic rectangular bins with our names displayed across the front in Magic Marker on bits of masking tape.  I hated my cubby.  Everyone hated their cubbies.  How many times, since grade school, would you estimate you’ve used the word “cubby”?  Probably never, right?  Nobody says “cubby” because nobody uses cubbies for any purpose as an adult.  Some of the shit we might be expected to retrieve from our cubbies would be items needed for an arts and crafts project, i.e. FIGHTING WITH AND OCCASIONALLY EATING ADHESIVES.  We were all provided little tubs of paste whose lids and labels were invariably coated with the sticky residue of crappy art projects of the past.  Some kid would always end up eating some of the paste and be sent crying to the nurse’s office because what the fuck else were we expected to do with this lumpy, white substance whose adherent qualities obviously only kicked in years after its application and even then, only to jar caps and Elmer’s labels, but never to construction paper?


There were, of course, many other glue-related abominations present in the classrooms of the era:



Gym class in elementary school during inclement weather was obviously what Colonel Kurtz was remembering when he intoned his ominous last words “The horror.  The horror.”  I probably don’t need to describe why indoor gym class frequently left me with severe rope burns on my palms because I’m pretty sure kids are still subjected to the seemingly purposeless activity of climbing “the ropes”.  But do you remember scooters?  Not proper, upright motorized or foot propelled scooters, mind you, but this miniature wooden dolly with a hole in the center that for some reason is only considered a scooter by K through 6 gym coaches:


If your fingers just recoiled into your fist, that’s because the visual caused your brain to call up a long-forgotten protective instinct that, if verbalized, would be: “Keep your fucking fingers away from the goddamned wheels!!!”  We’d roll aimlessly around the parquet floors on these things crushing our own and each other’s digits beneath our poorly distributed weight until all 10 of our hand’s projections were bruised and sore while the coach admonished us for not following the “rules” of the non-existent game of scooter that is played exclusively on cheap wooden non-scooters.  It was as if some guy walked into a sporting goods store in the 1970s and demanded, “I want to buy a scooter immediately.”  “Sorry, ain’t got no scooters.”  “But I want a scooter – NOW.”  “I got a piece of scrap wood with a hole in it and some rusty wheels from a little girl’s roller skate.”  “Yes, that will have to do.  Slap those wheels on that sucker and hand it over!”  The rest was history, but without all the romance inherent in the moment when someone first dipped their chocolate into a jar of peanut butter.

This is why it was actually a relief when the coach would instead choose to have us “play” with a big, round piece of patchwork cloth he called a “parachute”:


Nobody knew what the fuck we were supposed to do with this thing, but at least we survived the class with our fingers intact.

And it’s a good thing, too, because after gym class, we might have had to buckle down on our penmanship and when my blocky letters came out less than perfect, I was expected to remedy the situation with one of these:


These useless pieces of pink rubber actually managed to make the composition paper look worse than it did before I made the mistake.  The last error lifted from a page by some other kid would re-smudge itself onto my assignment causing me to rub the thing even harder across the area resulting in a cascade of eraser detritus that I would then blow into the face of the unsuspecting kid sitting across from me.

Chances are, that kid was allergic to eraser detritus and shortly after weathering the storm of flying pink rubber confetti, he would become green of complexion, slap his palm over his mouth and run out of the classroom.  It was at this point that I and the rest of my classmates would have a good laugh at the fact that someone other than us was vomiting in the hallway, the eraser schmutz-accosted kid would get sent home and the downtrodden janitor would be called on the intercom to schlep his mop and bucket over to the scene of the puke along with a big bag of this:

vomit sand

Vomit sand.  Now that I think of it, maybe grammar school was far more traumatic for the janitor than it was for the rest of us.  Perhaps I should count my blessings.


15 thoughts on “I Got Schooled

  1. “Mistah Kurtz–he dead”. Awesome post! When I first started teaching over 25 years ago, I had Grade 2 Phys. Ed. Aside from “Soccer-Dodge-Baseball”, the thing they like the best was the parachute. All they wanted to do was fling it in the air, run under it, and have it float down on them. Those kids were the best:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post was a blast from the past! Those scooters were awful, the parachute was fun in a pointless way that I liked and yes, I did sometimes eat paste. Minty.
    I got hit in the nose twice with a dodgeball. Gym class sucked. I never did do a proper sit-up.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Unless you’re a fitness instructor or a professoinal athlete, sit-ups are just as useless as cubbies in real life. And I can honestly say that I have yet to find myself suspended by my hands from the edge of a skyscraper and thinking, “thank god I aced the flexed arm hang for the President’s Physical Fitness challenge in first grade.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re a bit older than I am, so thankfully I don’t recall that.
        I do however still have a slightly crooked nose from The Great Dodgeball Fiasco of 84′ and ’86.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hm. Interesting. I guess we all have different experiences from school. Mine were usually good, though things got a bit tougher socially for a while in the early parts of highschool. I always wanted to be a bit problematic as well for some reason, but, all in all, not too bad:)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I also remember a bit of injustice I had to endure too, for playing stickball. Us guys had made a baseball diamond near the coal pile and were playing stickball, and a little girl accused us of throwing coals at her. We had to go to the principal’s office. We insisted we were only hitting the coals, but he made us each write 200 times “I will not throw coals at the girls.”

        Liked by 1 person

  4. My school was so backward that we had to make paste using floor and water. The good news is you could eat it without throwing up, the bad news was you were constipated for a week.

    We didn’t have a parachute, but did have one of those ridiculous silver-foil Christmas trees with a light that shines through 4 rotating, colored panels. The tree would change from yellow to green to blue to red. It was so exciting that we students would either puke or wet our pants. NOT! At least it makes good writing fodder 50 years later.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Now I feel terrible for the janitor. When I was in second grade one of the school janitors retired. We had a special presentation for him that included singing a farewell song. It was very emotional. One of my classmates even broke down crying.
    None of us were emotionally attached to the janitor. I think that kid just didn’t handle change well. In fact if we had any inkling what he was leaving the theme of our presentation would have been “We’ll Make This Quick So You Can Get Out Of Here”.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. OMG! I thought the parachute was only a Didsbury, Alberta thing! So glad to find out that it actually was a thing. Tec Heimer (yeah, that is a name) shoved a button up his nose in grade 4, then attempted to dig it out in front of the whole class. I think he did that after playing with a parachute and sniffing some Elmer’s glue. I throw up a little in my mouth anytime someone mentions snot to me now. Show me a dead body, and I am fine, but one booger and I am totally fucked. Thanks, Tec. Thanks for the trip back in time, Paul!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We’re close to the same age. I’m older than you, which was a good thing in 1977. More recently I chaperoned an elementary school overnight trip, in which I stayed with a teacher in a barrack of boys. The kids would bring money that they could spend at the canteen, on things like big sugary drinks and inevitably (it happened every time I went, which was three), someone would throw up. I remember the teacher in my barrack going to clean it up and saying, “I’m not a big fan of this trip.” And he had to do it every year. So, yes, sympathies for the Janitor.

    Liked by 1 person

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