It was a snowy Saturday and I was headed to King Carol Record store on the Upper East Side to check out what new albums were in. Zig-Zag Records was nearby so I could swing by there as well.
It was the 1980’s and I was totally into music like the Talking Heads, Duran Duran and Devo and all the other bands that were becoming popular on a new channel called MTV.
It was late afternoon and I don’t remember if I was baked but I’d say the odds of that were 50-50.
As I crossed the street, my reveries were interrupted when from the corner of my eye, I saw a familiar, reddened face. Coke-bottle glasses and a pencil-thin mustache huffing and puffing white clouds on this cold winter day.
That’s weird I thought to myself.
It’s always weird when you see a high school teacher outside of the classroom on the street. Like a regular person. I was glad he didn’t see me. Reminded me of the shock I once got when in Elementary school the Principal walked into the boys bathroom and started urinating at the urinal not that far away from us. He was a nice guy and I remember he once complimented me during a student “career fair” that I was great at shining shoes. In retrospect, I guess I should be glad he wasn’t my career adviser.
High School for me was somewhat akin to boot camp. An academically rigorous private school in the Bronx where “type A” rich kids always seemed to be getting A’s while I struggled to get by as an average student. My twin sister was my best friend and she made everything better. I had other friends as well. We were fellow soldiers who would commiserate about the stress, homework and pressures of life.
Pretty normal stuff.
The Headmaster looked like a movie star or politician. He drove around in a cool car and was the coach of the baseball team. I remember one time I was cursing out a defender on our soccer team when we were playing our arch rival on the big field and I must have cursed too loud because to my embarrassment on the sideline there he was in a bright orange sweater, the school’s Headmaster watching me intently. I would have apologized then and there for shouting obscenities but before I knew it, I was fending off another shot on goal. I always had a big mouth even though I was an All-City goalie.
Sports and extracurricular activities helped relieve the pressure of school-work and getting into college a little bit. My other best friend was into music so he got me to join the Glee Club with him for one semester. Before Glee Club was cool thanks to TV. I wasn’t into it. The conductor looked like a mad scientist and there weren’t enough hot girls to make the club worthwhile. I liked to sing but not that much. When I was supposed to learn an instrument I actually lost my trumpet on the subway. What I really liked to do was write. So when I had the chance to join the school’s music and arts magazine, I jumped at it. I wrote about the bands and music I watched on MTV and at clubs around the city like The Ritz, The Peppermint Lounge and The Beacon.
The only time my twin sister and I ever took a class together was ancient civilizations in 10th grade.
We both got B+s, so I must have dragged her A average down.
Pencil thin mustache and coke bottle glasses was the teacher. He was weird. He talked in a low voice but always seemed like a volcano that was about to erupt. He had an annoying habit of walking behind random students in class while lecturing and grabbing their shoulders to make a point or get someone’s attention who wasn’t paying attention. When he tried that to me, I discreetly shrugged him off to let him know I didn’t like that one bit. As it turned out that semester, this guy was also my academic adviser and even though I had been doing well in my classes — for me, my progress report said I had an “attitude problem.” When I told my parents how weird this teacher was — they said “we know you don’t have an attitude problem — there is something strange about that teacher just stay away from him.” Which of course I did — until one day he chased me down the hallway.
“Bugowski! I’m suspending your newspaper the Pop World Press.”
“Why? What did I do wrong?”
He showed me an article I wrote about NYC clubs that he took objection too. After I explained the article in detail, he suddenly relented and said, “OK, from now on no more articles about clubs, got it?”
School wasn’t all that bad. I ended up falling in love with a beautiful blonde girl my Senior year from our rival school after she and I met at a sweet sixteen party in the city. She threw up on me that night and I met Pele in the bathroom of the club where the after-party was taking place so it was quite a memorable first date. Before long I was invited to sleep over at her house in Riverdale when her parents were away after the big soccer game against her school. It was actually the same game where I was cursing out my defender. I think we lost but I played well so I wasn’t too bummed out. That whole night when I lost my virginity was so exciting and magical. Even though her braces forced us to end the BJ part of the night early and proceed to the main event.
I remember how excited I felt and how alive I was. Even my English teacher at the time complimented me on my reading of Shakespeare in front of the entire class. It was a story of love and suddenly Shakespeare made complete sense:
“Hear my soul speak. Of the very instant that I saw you, Did my heart fly at your service.”
I was so in love that I even convinced The school’s driving teacher to let me drive to the other campus in the middle of the day — so I could surprise my new girlfriend. It would have been a lot cooler in retrospect if I had my own car — but us city kids didn’t really know from cars.
The golden moments are fleeting however. When she broke up with me that was tough. She still liked some other guy or something. She wasn’t very honest about her motivations. All I know is that it was done and that was that. You move on. Fortunately, there were plenty of other girls to help take away the sting of rejection. Yet even today when I hear our songs “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye and “Nasty Girls” by whoever — it still hurts a bit.
I haven’t been back to my High School since the last reunion where it was nice to see some of the old familiar faces.
The school has been the subject of much negative publicity in recent years ever since a former student revealed he had been molested by one of his teachers. Suddenly dozens of other students were sharing similar lurid tales of sexual abuse involving various members of the faculty.
I knew all the teachers involved, of course. And I believe every story I’ve read and heard from classmates.
Among those named in the articles and sex abuse probe were the mad scientist from the Glee Club, my Shakespeare teacher, the driving instructor, a couple of other teachers I never had but knew by name or sight and the School’s Headmaster and his boyfriend. As it turned out, the Headmaster’s boyfriend was none other than my old ancient civilizations teacher, pencil thin mustache and coke bottle glasses.
The New York State statute of limitations ended up protecting most of these pedophiles and predators. The high school itself hid behind lawyers as they completely dishonored the victims all while ignoring the school’s famous motto of “Great is the Truth and it shall prevail.”
Pencil thin mustache and coke bottle glasses who ended up getting dumped by the Headmaster and fired from the school before the sexual abuse scandals became public, took matters into his own hands and killed himself with a shotgun.