Late as usual. Shirley entered the classroom with her skirt feathering my arm. I was immediately swept far above the observation deck of the Empire State Building. She didn’t know it. How could she? We hardly exchanged a word in the classroom. They formed a wedge in my throat whenever I built up the courage to speak to her.
The bell rang for period 1. Mr. Kaplan’s geometry class in room 224 was a torture chamber. It was a relatively small class, so he saved the last unoccupied row for what he called, Dumbell’s Alley. A seat in that row was reserved for anyone giving a wrong answer. Sensing the embarrassment kept the Alley unoccupied most of the time. When I sat alone in that row, I felt like as an outsider, an intruder while Mr. Kaplan’s black moustache glared at me during his explanation of the Pythagorean theorem. I hated a moustache, and I hate them to this day. It’s a haven for all sorts of wildlife. At last, the bell rang for period 2.
While hurrying towards Señor Goodman’s Spanish class, a glittering poster scotch-taped to a wall in the hallway announced that the Senior Prom would be held on January 12. I shrunk into my shoes. I had no girlfriend. Who would I invite? I knew Shirley was always glancing in my direction, but what did that mean? Anyway, when the band played I probably would have butchered her ankles. Why was that? With my racing blades I was poetry in motion on the ice-skating rink. And how about that penguin tuxedo that I had to rent for twenty-five dollars? I could see forty-five Yankee games in the bleachers and buy a coke for that kind of money. Shirley would be an attractive ornament to bring to the prom, but Pa would have to finish fifty or sixty women’s coats for that twenty-five dollars. Forget it.
Señor Goodman was a pleasant man, but his Spanish with a Yiddish accent carried me back to the Inquisition. Torqemada be damned, why were so many misfits going to the Senior Prom and I was not? During my reverie, I revisited the skirt that brushed against my arm in the morning, but was abruptly awakened by Señor Goodman’s accent of the “j” as in viaje. It started in his trachea, slithered past his uvula, and then gathered saliva to explode in shower of “ch”. Two boys up front were at the receiving end of the mist, and they were going to the Prom. Last seat, last row was the usual seat with a name like Wolfe. Well, at least I was not on the receiving end of the Señor’s spray.
Mr. Epstain’s Earth Science class was more fun than the Fred Allen Show. He usually began the class with, “I know the score, set up and what have you”, or for discipline problems, “I’ll hit you, but hit you hard, and then rake you over the coals.” Most of the football team was programmed for his class. From there we left for the field house for football practice.
Uh-oh, three fire-drill bells. The cinder track adjacent to the ballfields was our appointed area for the drill. As we marched over the cinders, I called out,
“Hey guys, Epstein is taking us over the coals!” The class roared.
Mr. Epstein trotted over to me.
“Wolfe, I want to see you at the end of the period.”
Upon our walk back to class, the boys verbally patted me on the back. But, what was Epstein going to do to me? Towards the end of the period, a drowsing class heard Mr. Epstein read from an Earth Science textbook about the different types of volcanoes. Finally, the bell rang, and the class left. I walked up to Mr. Epstein.
“Wolfe, you’re a senior, and you’ll be a senior next year if you don’t change your ways. I know the score, set-up and what have you. I’ll hit you, but hit you hard, and then drag you over the coals if you continue with that behavior.”
I told him that I was sorry, and it wouldn’t happen again.
I left for the football field. The field house was where we changed from our street clothes to our football uniforms.
Motivating signs were pasted on the walls, “Get the Quarterback’s Arm!” “A Team That Won’t Be Beaten Can’t Be Beaten!” “Tackle To Hurt!”.
The field was a WPA project. Every rock below the field made its surface debut at least once. Grass on the field had not yet evolved, although it grew well under the stands.
On a brisk autumn day, I noticed Shirley sitting in the stands. She was watching the team practice while waiting for her mother to drive her home. Wasn’t she cold? Was she watching me? She did write in my yearbook that she lived in Jamaica, Queens. Was that a hint? Why did she come from Queens to Monroe H.S. in the Bronx?
In 2011 the White Pages on my computer told me that Shirley lived in Boynton Beach, Florida. It was sixty-three years since I last saw her, but at 81 years old I had a mountain of memories, but only a few remain at it’s summit. I phoned, but there was no answer. I pursued this further and found her cousin who was also living in Florida. She informed me that Shirley retired to Florida, and in 2011 was found to have cancer. She passed away that year.
What did she do after graduating Monroe? Did she have a happy marriage? Did she have children? Did she remember me? Questions, but no answers.