Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Clinton Junior High

I went to junior high school in Chelsea. Our school had a weird setup. Admission was by interview, so it was a lot of kids from the neighborhood. We occupied the top floor of an elementary school on 21st Street between 8th and 9th Avenue. We used the back entrance on 20th Street which had this weird sort of lobby/room which we would hang out in until they let us go upstairs. We had to be given the okay because we used the same stairs as the kids in the elementary school and they had to time our use of the stairs so as not to cause traffic jams.

(Sidenote: For years I thought that high school depicted in movies were completely mythological -- in NYC no one drives a car to school and the thought of modern buildings was pretty much unheard of. The average school in NYC was built at the turn of the century (no kidding) without modern amenities like elevators or air conditioning. Most schools had peeling paint and bars on the windows. Kind of like jail! NYC kids hate school. So you can imagine what I thought when I saw Sixteen Candles et al.--I literally though that the types of schools depicted were fairytale/movie schools, not remotely based on reality.)

Clinton Junior High only had about 90 or so kids. 83 of them were black or Puerto Rican. (At that time Chelsea was essentially a Puerto Rican neighborhood). We had five classrooms along one hallway. We didn't have a proper gym -- the school converted one of the far rooms to a "volleyball" room which was hilarious because if you spiked the ball too hard it would bounce off the ceiling. The other "gym" we had was the roof -- the game that we played for gym was called "Killer." This was essentially a free-form version of dodge ball and it was vicious. This was a school-sanctioned game, which was weird.

Our principal was Mr. Catugno, known as Mr. C. The rest of our teachers were a melting pot -- Mr. Nazario, our animated super gay Spanish teacher (who sadly later died of AIDS), Mrs. Get, our very cranky Asian math teacher (when you got questions wrong she woudl throw chalk at your head), Mr. Fialkof,f our very professorial mid-50s white English teacher, a science teacher who was Indian who was universally hated for some reason (his name escapes me), and the Social Studies teacher, Mrs. Tennenbaum. Mrs Tennenbaum wore those weird polyester brightly colored 70s prints that you see in the Salvation Army and wonder "Who would ever wear that?" She had grey hair and wore a super bright red-orange lipstick. She always spoke about herself in the third person ("Mrs. Tennenbaum is going to assign homework tonight!") and was constantly asking us to present outlines of assignments, rather than acutal assignemnts.

The school offered what I guess was a decent enough education. Even though the racial mix was lopsided I remember always feeling respected. There was definitely a divide -- when most of my class was listening to Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, I was listenign to the Clash. However I was voted president of the school my last year there and when I came in third in the city wide spelling bee, I remember pretty much everyone in the school came up to me to personally congratulate me. I had some classmates that went on to fame and fortune: Jerry O'Connell (who filmed Stand By Me while we were in school together), and Mario Sorrenti, who went on to become a famous photographer who dated Kate Moss and Milla Jovovich. On the other hand I ran into a girl years later who had become a hooker.

I remember our graduation ceremony being super hilarious -- they made us sing "I Believe the Children are Our Future" and then had some lame speakers. I was completely unsentimental about it. Everyone was crying and I was just like "Get me the F-- out of here."


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