New Kid In School
The Belwood Crier has been
By Anthony Buccino
Two boys can always get along, but a third usually means something's going to get out of kilter. And so it was that day in the first half of the block of Carpenter Street when Big Ernie and I came to blows...
Over the summer of 1964 I had forgotten how to spell. This became painfully aware to me when my new fifth grade teacher at School 10, Mrs. James, asked the class to spell "been" on a quiz.
Flushing, I found I could not write past the letter "b" to begin with, let alone figure whether she wanted a feed bin or a has been. Here, a few days into the year I was washed up. There was so much to learn about how they do things in public school.
One of the smart girls, Cindy, asked if I had gone to a parochial school before moving to Belleville. I said, "No, it was a Catholic school over in Nutley."
The area around School 10 was called Bellwood. Depending on which sage you believed, that stood for Belleville's Woods. Others called it Soho because of the isolation hospital across the street.
The Bellwood Crier interviewed me because I was a new kid in school. The school paper had news, profiles and jokes. I always read the jokes. All I remember from what they printed in their interview of me was that I said I liked the Three Stooges. Alas, if only Mom hadn't cleaned my room in 1966, a few other details about life in those days could be ascertained in a fragile, yellowed copy.
There were three other new kids in class that year. All boys.
Neil's dad had flown racing pigeons back in the Bronx, but he had given them up to move to their new house on Fairway.
Vinnie lived right on Belleville Avenue in a modern-looking house. In sixth grade he had a birthday party there and invited all the boys and girls in our class. Girding nervous grins and sweaty palms, we danced like Clank the Robot in the basement of his split-level house.
Big Ernie lived over on Fairway somewhere. He had an older sister who didn't go to our school. Sometimes he walked down Carpenter with my classmates. Then, when he got near the apartments on the terrace he cut through the parking lot and private yards as if he owned them.
Big Ernie was a foot or so taller than me. He palled around with Bobby and Donnie. Bobby lived in the apartments. Donnie lived all the way at the end of Carpenter. He had the longest walk of all of us on the street.
Moe and Hoss, as they later started calling each other were best friends. Once a week they had a knock-down drag-out fight with each other. The next day, always, they were friends again.
Two boys can always get along, but a third usually means something's going to get out of kilter. And so it was that day in the first half of the block of Carpenter Street before the apartments where Big Ernie and I walked. A bunch of rough hooligans, our new classmates, in other words, succeeded in instigating a fracas between the two new kids in class.
Of course, our friends didn't have anything to lose. They didn't have to choose sides. Heck, they hardly knew either one of us very well. They wanted to see the new kids duke it out. What the heck? And most of their money was on the big kid who would whup the little fat kid in no time flat. Who knows, maybe he'd even rip that stupid paisley shirt or make the fat kid's nose bleed.
It didn't take much, whether words or actions, or lies yelled across the sidewalk, that set the 10-year-olds to pushing and shoving. Each, shoving, pushing, talking loud, yet subtly trying to get to the point in the path where the big guy would have to cut away to get home and the other one could walk the rest of the way home with encouraging talk from his neighbors.
With all the rousing from the sidelines, there wasn't much of a fight after all. The big kid swung a roundhouse and missed. The little fat kid used his new leather shoes and with all his might kicked the big kid in the shins. While the big kid was moaning and groaning, the little fat kid ran off with his buddies. It was over.
No future sportswriter called in the results of the big fight to the Bellwood Crier. In fact, once it was over, nobody ever mentioned it again. Till now, of course.
In sixth grade, Miss Beneziano chose Vinnie and me to work the a/v. We got to get out of class and hang out in the auditorium showing science and history films for the other classes. When the films broke down in the projector, between the two of us, we could usually get it rolling again. We also got to work the spotlights for the little kids plays.
When we were in class, Miss B. had a group of us sit in the front at a separate worktable and she taught us the New Math. She tried, anyway. All I ever got out of the New Math was extra homework that the other kids who sat at their own desks coloring didn't have to do. Therein lay the reward for being smart.
In sixth grade at School 10 I had my first joke published. It was, of course, in the Bellwood Crier.
The first guy says, "Science says that fish is brain food." And the second guy says, "I've been eating it all my life." And the first guy says, "Another scientific theory disproved."
When the next issue of the Bellwood Crier came out, I saw that I had been listed as the editor. Now, I don't remember doing anything special for that newspaper to be named as its editor. I can only guess what inspired Miss B. to list me on the masthead.
"I see, in the crystal ball," the soothsayer said, "in three decades, give or take a couple of years, that funny-looking little blond kid will remember you and this sixth grade class with ink stains that have dried upon some page. Or is that Glenn Campbell I see? No, it's the little boy who shows the movies and shines the spotlight. Glenn Campbell is much taller.
"I also see others of those little boys... one will be on the board of education... another could have been something called Bruce Springsteen but I see him cutting hair - and making a very good living at it too! Yes, some will be doctors and lawyers. And some, those ruffians will be dead or in jail."
So, Miss B., who got married and left school some time after we went on to the junior high, must have taken the prognosticator's words to heart. She named me editor of the Bellwood Crier whether or not I could spell bin for Mrs. James. And ever since, I've been writing about what has been.
Adapted from RAMBLING ROUND Inside and Outside at the Same Time
© 2009 by Anthony Buccino, All Rights Reserved, used by permission.
2013 update: Big Ernie passed away. 2021, I'm still here.
Read more Back To School!
You might also like:
Essays, photography, military history, more
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.
Permissions & other snail mail:
PO Box 110252 Nutley NJ 07110