When I was a little, there was this older kid that lived down the street, and he was shunned by all the other kids.

He was shunned because he went to a special school for smart kids. Most everyone else went to either the local Catholic school (as did I) or the public school several blocks away. The school for smart kids was in the public school. A disproportionate number of kids who went to the regular public school were in one of two groups. They were either Catholics from my neighborhood who had been thrown out of Catholic school for being ruffians, or they were local protestants. I would later learn that most of the kids in the smart kids school were the offspring of the mostly Jewish mostly Professional families from the Jewish enclave, which started about two blocks from my house and was served by the same public school, and a very small number of other kids, like the kid down the block.

So this kid had to walk to the public school building amid the stream of bad kids, and of course, they would bully him constantly. By and by, I ended up with two kids who were my main best friends in that neighborhood. One was the Japanese kid who lived over the back fence. He was the only kid for several block in any direction who was different (not white, not Christian, etc.) and since all of our parents fought the “Japs” in World War II, he got to be the bad guys when we played “war” and he was also always bullied. But I never bullied him and we were friends. Also, I knew, and the other kids either didn’t know or forgot, that while he was seen as “Japanese” and he lived with his Japanese mother, and he certainly looked Japanese, his father was an Anglo-American who was a war hero, but dead. So much for that.

My other friend was the kid who went to smart kids school. I was reminded of him just now listening to the West Wing Weekly Podcast, when the hosts made a reference to Toby and Sam talking about which one of the two was Batman and Robin.

My friend and I were Batman and Robin, but since he was older, he was Batman. We were seriously interested in growing up to be crime fighters. We were smart enough to know that we couldn’t be Batman and Robin, but we figured we could be lawyers, so we got all the law books we could find out of the local public library and read them. Since we were kids, we had to steal the books as the librarians would not even let us into the adult section. But we figured that out, got the books, read them, and returned them. We easily went through all of the law books in one summer, as this was a very small local public library, there were only about three or four of them, and they were books written for the general public, not actual law books.

One day my parents had a conference with my third grade teacher, and came home, and brought me somewhere to take a test. It was an IQ test, and I got all the answer correct. An appointment was made, and I was brought in for another test, but this one was a bit harder, and I passed that one with what I’m pretty sure was also 100%. This happened a few times, until finally they brought me, no kidding, to a campus of big old red brick buildings, covered with ivy (to this day I have no idea where this was, but it was probably the “old campus” of the university, where I later would go to High School, but in these early days I had little clue of the geography of the area). This time the test was administered to me in a dark wood paneled room, at a giant wood table, with this man in a suit and me, no one else, and it was done verbally. He asked me many questions, and I don’t remember there being any questions without obvious answers.

So, after all this, my mother told me, “Guess what, you’re going to go to the special school for smart kids!”

Of course, I was horrified, in part, because I knew that the next several years of my life would be filled with terror, as I was now going to get harassed every day, just like my best friend down the street was, on the way to and from the school. But then, I realized, that he and I could walk to school together, and maybe there would be safety in numbers! So I ran down the street to tell him the news, but it turned out that he had some news to tell me.

His family was going to move to East Greenbush. That was across the river, a different county, different town, and clearly, in a day and in a culture where people did not drive around everywhere, I was never going to see him again, after the summer ended. Besides, he told me, if he was staying in the city, he’d be going next year to a different school anyway, the Middle School equivalent of the school for smart kids, while I was going to be stuck in the grade school version for three years.

The next part of the story went like this: I went to the smart kids school, and that is where I discovered that so many of the Jewish kids were smart. I did get bullied now and then. Going from smart kids school to religious class once a week (required of Catholics) was even worse than just normal going and coming, because it was just me and about five kids who had been banished to the public school for being violent, and we were expected to walk the five or six blocks as a group. What did instead was to learn how to traverse several city blocks without being seen, that was useful. And, smart kids school wasn’t anything special, just more work, higher expectations, and learning to deal with bullies.

So, why am I relating this now? Because, as one does, I thought I’d look up my old friend to see what he was doing these days, if anything. Maybe he’d be on Facebook or something!

It didn’t take long to find his obituary.

He died in 2007 after bing in a coma for seven weeks, following a car crash. His mother was still alive at that time (she died in 2011), but his father, and his son, had died already. It says he grew up in East Greenbush but was born in Albany, but really, he did part of his growing up in Albany. I was there, I saw it (though oddly I was not mentioned!).

He was in the Navy in Viet Nam. He later became an actor and director of local note, and owned a theater for a while.

He had moved to Denver, and started a company that appears to still exist, which produces prodcuts related to home improvements. He had grown a big beard and was an Evangelical Christian who did a lot of Jesus stuff. His sister, younger, whom I remember very well, was alive at the time of his death.

So, that’s what happened to my best friend. I guess we will not be reconnecting on Facebook.

Comments

  1. #1 Michael 2
    March 6, 2017

    “What did instead was to learn how to traverse several city blocks without being seen, that was useful.”

    I loved this story! You have a gift for telling a vivid story. It helps that I also learned to sneak to and from school to avoid bullies. There was no smart kids school where I lived so I had to dodge bullies pretty much every day of my young life and to a certain extent to this very day (the Peter Principle pertains).

  2. #2 Douglas C Alder
    Canada
    March 6, 2017

    Damn you Greg – now I’m deep into trying to find one of my best friends from my youth 🙂 We lost touch when we left elementary school as he was a block past the dividing line to go to the same one I was assigned to. I may have to take out a FB account just to see if he’s on there – lots of great memories building forts in the woods and much more.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2017

    I have a few friends from later years, around high school, that I’ve reconnected with, who were good friends then and now are again.

    People have different kinds of life stories. I had major breaks in social milieu that could erase or detach friendships when I was 12, 18, in my 20s, and later. It must be intense for folks who moved every year or two, i.e. , in the military.

    But, I have to say, having the same social milieu and therefore, potentially, geographically close contacts for one’s entire life is generally regarded as a full on positive, but I don’t fully buy it. There is a cost to having a sense that one is doing something wrong by, say, following a job by moving out of tow, or changing holiday patterns,etc.

  4. #4 Eric Lund
    March 7, 2017

    I had major breaks in social milieu that could erase or detach friendships when I was 12, 18, in my 20s, and later.

    Many people go through such things. Changing schools can do it, especially in a district with multiple high schools. Moving to another neighborhood can do it. Going away to college, especially if it’s out of state but even if it’s Flagship State University, can do it. Joining the military can do it. Taking a new job can do it.

    Facebook can be useful if you want to reconnect with some of your old friends who are still alive. But joining Facebook has certain drawbacks as well (specifically, you become their product), and so far I find these drawbacks outweigh the advantages.

    I have reconnected with university classmates and professional colleagues via LinkedIn, but that’s more for professional rather than personal stuff.