Saturday, May 16, 1987

At Lagunitas School

In this room was where the big kids sat, and across the hall was the principal's office: Mr. Fry. The office was where my skinned knees were bandaged, where I was sent down for being in trouble, and the WPA mural in the hall of the rich farmlands was the only thing that saved me.

I stared and stared at all that depth on the flat wall intrigued by the magic of paint and the outbuildings seemed so real. That wing is now a preschool. Where I did my first year of labor, my first grade class was in the old library building, a portable shed.

I dropped out of kindergarten, bored by at all and the painful years I spent in the other wing: third, fifth, and seventh grades seem to stand out the most. How we hid under our desks practicing for nuclear war and the brilliant flash in the eastern sky towards the Nevada test sites.

I'm not the first writer who suffered in these halls. It's not their fault, sheer numbers. I was not a socialized animal. They say the wounds make an artist. Did classmate Linda Gregg suffer that? Or was she a golden child?

Poet Bob Hass, in his book, 20th-century Pleasures, refers to this place as the Whitehill School where he played baseball. My uncles and aunts studied in these same rooms. I remember a class photo of them out front and my uncle played baseball too. But he was too old to have played with Bob Hass. Hass often gets confused in his geography and has Papermill Creek emptying uphill into Nicasio.

He said that Robert Frost spent time in Nicasio, and my family well remembers Kenneth Rexroth in Devil's Gulch. I remember stopping by Marie Rexroth's house under the redwoods studying the small signed nailed to the telephone pole.

I remember all my teachers names, well nearly all of them. Mrs. Burge, second grade who died of a heart attack, wanted me to collect the starfish maple leaves in fall to press them between tissue. I never did, it but I still keep trying to to fulfill that promise.

Miss Lenz, a popular redheaded third-grade teacher, had a pet skunk, whose cold claws and coarse fur was a surprise. The twins Adrian and Adair Daley were in that class, they were hellish. Adrian, the feminine one, packed a pistol, and a temper, and Adair, the tomboy, could swing punches with the best of them.

That was they year I failed to learn math but I learned to read.

Billy Joe Bianchi who got pneumonia in second grade, got put back a grade, so he was only one year ahead of me. We went into his room and a teacher demonstrated how to make carrot juice. We all had samples.

He drank his juice and said it was good. I drank mine, the bitter skin from the horse carrots was so overpowering, I felt betrayed. I have an aversion to carrot juice to this day though it's never tasted as bad as it did that first time.

I can't remember two teachers, one in kindergarten was an elderly woman who played the piano, and my fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Smith? I remember it was a fourth/fifth grade split class. Wasn't Billy Joe in that class too?

My fifth grade teacher was Mrs. Hards and she certainly was well named. I remember the magic that came from a ruler and construction paper, we made cable cars. First practical application of math, or was that in Mrs. Smith's class?

Mrs. Hards commented it was hard to find something grade level that I hadn't already read. The school used the SRT reading skills collection. I was never interested in completing the chapter tests and I did them halfheartedly. I only wanted to read, read, read.

I read my way through third and fourth grade SRT booklets with a voracious hunger. I remember learning about bats and dolphins, the good stories in the science SRT section had me mesmerized.

Sixth grade was even harder, my uneven learning skills forever separated me from the rest of the class. I loved Miss Kolanoski, her love of music had me singing in the chorus, but but my inability to do task work was a challenge.

My math skills were practically nonexistent and it took me 20 years and an accident to discover there was a reason for all of this, dyslexia. I'm still overcoming the horror of it all.

Mrs. Brice in seventh grade, was borderline cruel, but I did like the fact that she read to us in the afternoons. The Phantom Tollbooth had me impatient for each afternoon to come quickly. The story was like the minus stew, it made you hungrier for more. Mrs. Brice also introduced Spanish into my life.

Eighth-grade was even worse with the effeminate frustrated majordomo in a fussy canary yellow vest, and carefully combed hair over his bald pate. Mr. Sliney, who probably had no business being a teacher, with his military background, broke rulers over the boys' hands. As far as I was concerned, school was a full-scale war.

It was then, I realized my reading ability was unusual, during science, we timed ourselves how many words we could read per minute and most kids were turning into respectable double-digit scores. But mine was something like 500. No one believed me, so they retested me, asking me regurgitate what I read which I couldn't do of course. If I could have done that I could've done the class work too.

Reconstructing material in an orderly fashion was well beyond my means, in retrospect. Or so it seemed. About that time we switched over to multiple classes and teachers. What a relief to be out from under Mr. Sliney's thumb, who of all people, had to teach us sex education. I remember his livid face and bulging eyes as he discussed the distasteful subject.

Mr. Plant who was my geeky science teacher was a love. Then there was Miss Smith who could kill you with her sour looks, luckily she left me alone when it came to art. Something she admitted she knew nothing about and she was my art teacher. When we did pastel she handed me Kleenex to blend the colors.

Harry Roche, the coach, was another matter altogether. His method of teaching was to yell louder if you didn't get it the first time. For once, being assertive, I made the mistake of saying, I don't understand— it was probably fractions—and he came undone. As did I. My mind rolled up shop for the rest of the year. I was done with learning. Done with them.

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