On Outliving Two Classmate
By Anthony Buccino
The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth. Psalms 25:8
For a while, anyway
There is no joy in the news that another Belleville schools classmate has gone on ahead of Judgment Day and me.
It brings back that sunny afternoon in 1969 or so, when our class returned late one afternoon from one of Mr. Forte's field trips.
The school buses had long gone and everyone needed to make their own way home.
A tall skinny friend, Jay, and I walked up Holmes Street. I was going to catch the Public Service bus at Union Avenue and he was going to walk the rest of the way to his garden apartment off Belleville Avenue.
About a block from Union we caught up with Mike and Frank and a few of their hooligan friends.
They were all laughing loudly which is what most hooligans do when they get together.
Then Mike, the beefy kid, says to Frank, the skinny kid, "I'll give you a quarter to punch him in the face."
"Sure!" Frank then pops me in the jaw with his bony fist.
"Give ya another quarter to punch him in the face!"
"Sure!" Frank yelled, and then popped Jay in the jaw.
The tough kids all laughed. Jay and I stood there. Our cheeks stinging, embarrassed, not sure what to do and being outnumbered by the rough kids.
Sure, I knew kids from my elementary school who now, or any time, actually, I could call in to rectify this situation. But they were nowhere around. And these hoods couldn't have found two nicer kids to intimidate.
"I can't believe that you did that," Mike said. "Give you a quarter to hit 'em again!"
"Sure," Frank said, hurling a sucker punch at me and then another one at Jay, as their friends surrounded us.
Frank was wiry and Mike was stout. If either Jay or I was the scrappy type, we could take on that bony Frank and probably outmaneuver lardy Mike.
But, alas, Jay and I were the good kids, the quiet kids, the ones who meekly did their own work and kept our noses clean. We made our parents proud. And we never told them about stuff like this.
You know that Frank and Mike never worried about any of that stuff. By sixth grade, Frank already had a reputation in town. He went to another school in another part of town and kids at my school already knew about him.
They had their pals and we had ours. And except for a few flukes such as this, our worlds never intersected.
Jay and I never talked about that afternoon. From then on we were mostly cordial when we met.
Frank went on to become a nurse, of all things. Michael went into business. Long after, I met him one day at Burger King in Nutley, where the Grand Union used to be. Mike was behind the counter trying to help out. But he was out of place. He may have been a manager or even the owner for all I knew, but he was only messing things up behind the counter and much to the annoyance of the folks paid to do that job.
It seemed he was trying to treat me special, like you would do with an old friend who brought his family to your new restaurant. Or maybe he didn't even remember me? I was cordial, but I've never forgotten the quarters.
Michael died a few years back. He was in his forties. Frank died recently, in his late fifties. Jay is still around somewhere local. I never run into him. I'm not all that sure I'd know him after forty years. He doesn't do reunions.
Now, I don't know much about the Judgment Day stuff, but it looks like Jay and I inherited the earth, at least for a little while.
Adapted from Greetings from Belleville, New Jersey, Collected writings by Anthony Buccino
On outliving two classmates first published on Belleville-Nutley Patch, May 19, 2011
NOTE: About the time I heard of Jay's passing in 2013, a classmate told me that Jay had seen the story and remembered that day.
Update: Frank died 2011; Michael died in 2003. 2021 - I'm still here.
© 2011 Anthony Buccino
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New Jersey author Anthony Buccino's stories of the 1960s, transit coverage and other writings earned four Society of Professional Journalists Excellence in Journalism awards.
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