Back when I was a kid growing up in Kensington you rarely saw a parent taking a kid on the subway at eight in the morning. And if you did, is was probably for a doctor’s visit down on Clinton Street, or a day off to see the Christmas Tree at Rockefeller Center. No, no trains here, we just walked up our block and made the right on Avenue C. Our loyal institution of learning was just that close, and that was “too close”.
Oh, public school 179, how I hated seeing you from my front window each and every day. With your two gigantic smoke stacks rising high in the sky there was no way I could miss you, even on the weekends. And on those dark winter mornings you were there too, the classroom lights just turning on before my little blue eyes. Flick, flick, flick, “yes we’re open for business”, “see you soon!”. Oh, and lets not forget to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” an hour and a half before we said it again in class. There was that little tiny figure again standing on the roof of the school, raising the “Stars and Stripes” on that tall white flag pole.
Sometimes I even used my binoculars to see if it was one of my teachers trying to send me a message. But my best instincts told me it was just the maintenance man. Forget Pre-school, Pre-K, or Special-K, it was kindergarten when you were five years old and nothing else.
“Pete let go of the pole”.
My cousin Pete and brother Joseph were the first to fall victim to the giant “Monster of Grout” on Avenue C. But Pete’s first day had to be the most memorable. There he was just holding on to the dark green enamel pole in the gym for dear life. My Aunt Dolores and Uncle Pete trying to un-lock his tiny arms that were wrapped tightly around it.
“No, no, no, I’m not going, noooooooo!”
At some point according to history my Uncle lifted my cousin up by his "Buster Browns" and held him horizontally trying to pull him off the pole. My cousin did loose a valiant battle that day, his little hands succumbing to the strength of two massive adults. But not before he scratched off some lead based paint from the green pole.
And me? well I had a whole year to absorb all the horror stories about your “first day”, and the nightmare called “kindergarten”. The strange kids, the white paste, ice cream sticks, and the dreaded colored construction paper. Yes, my “Castle of my discontentment” was right there before me, and I saw it every day.
And forget any “gifted programs” at 179 back in 1963; no, you were just ranked by your class number. The low digits meant you were smart, i.e.; 4-1, 4-2. While the high numbers meant you better start learning how to mix concrete, because you weren’t going to law school any time soon. But kindergarten was still a mixed bag, where they proudly paired the lawyers and the plumbers of tomorrow all in the same room.
“Hey kid, do you have any “Pez Candy?”
“What do you mean?”.
“Lopezzzzz, Pez Candy, Lopezzzzz!”.
And that’s when I started to cry. My first day of kindergarten and I was already being mocked. I tried to stay calm but then suddenly I felt rage building inside of me, just wanting to glue that kids face with some construction paper and white paste.
“Ronnie, just remember the first day is always the hardest”,
I could hear my mom's voice from deep inside my head, she always calmed me down when I was about get angry.
So I put down the glue and just walked away.
Well, the days turned to weeks, the weeks to months, the months to years. Junior High, High School, College. And the days at P.S. 179 just became a distant memory of my childhood.
It’s strange but I still see the giant smoke stacks of P.S. 179 from my front window, and my son passes it almost every day on his way to school in Bay Ridge. I wish going to school for him was as easy as it was when I was a kid. Just a walk up the block and then a right on Avenue C. But that’s just another story for another day.
But maybe some things really don’t change; every September when school starts my son Andres gets very nervous about the new school year. I just try to remind him that “the first day is always the hardest” and if he ever gets mad, just “put down the glue and walk away”.
The truth is my "Castle of Discontentment" actually became my "Castle of Enchantment". And I still smile like I did in my kindergarten class photo each and every day when I pass P.S. 179, never forgetting my first day. (I am second row, second from left)