Tunes and Tales


Saturday, April 29, 2000, 10:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

Excerpts From My Unpublished Book Relating To Poly:

In light of my parents' fears that, if I attended junior high or high school in the New York City public school system, I would immediately become a homicide statistic (although my sister, who weighed about as much as my left leg, a few years later was allowed to risk certain annihilation in a public high school), it was decided that I would attend private school. I was therefore sent to the Polytechnic Preparatory Country Day School for Boys, affectionately (if not just more briefly) referred to as "Poly Prep" (causing it occasionally to be mistaken for a parrot obedience school), located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.  To some degree, the school's name was a misnomer. In my mind, the closest it came to being "technical," much less "Polytechnical," was in Shop class, where I spent a year making an autobiographically-tilted end table which was destined (also like me, perhaps) to go through life mateless. As the school was located in Brooklyn, it really could not legitimately be called "Country," although it did contain two ponds, populated by ducks whose parents had presumably similarly feared for their safety and taken them out of public waters.  On the other hand, the school was usually in operation during the "Day," was indeed a "School," and was certainly "for Boys," as only years after I graduated did the admissions office apparently learn of the existence of a second gender (calling into question how "Preparatory" my experience there truly was).

Although the school was located in Brooklyn, it was still a great distance from where I lived at the time. I had a two-bus commute traversing the breadth (geographically as well as culturally) of Brooklyn. This daily trek, which occupied over an hour each morning and again at night, provided me with some of the most poignant and enduring memories of my youth. Preparing us for our eventual corporate careers, Poly students were required to wear a jacket and tie to school each day. Many opted for traditional "Poly blazers," emblazoned with a large embroidered copy of the school seal. With our short hair, glasses (usually), and business attire, we resembled miniaturized Yuppies (as we would years later be disdainfully appellated), off to attend a day of power school. My experience, however, was that, inexplicably, not everyone we came into contact with was thoroughly impressed with our dress and overall appearance. Indeed, a besuited and bespectacled Poly student, carrying his Poly book bag, with his nose buried within the pages of a Latin textbook, for some reason stood out on a crowded Brooklyn bus as if he were carrying an illuminated, flashing sign reading "Nerd. Please injure." Although such reactions were thankfully rare, we were advised by parents and school officials to always sit in the front of the bus, either just behind or across from the driver, so that he (hopefully a Poly graduate) could come to our aid in the event of attack. I was fortunate during those years to have avoided any serious incidents, except for an occasional scuffle with an elderly or disabled person who tried to beat me out for one of the remaining front seats.

At Poly, the academic curriculum was a classic one, going so far as to require the study of Latin (apparently in recognition of the fact that a large percentage of graduates traditionally went on to careers in law or medicine, or would end up teaching the language to yet another generation of perplexed offspring of financially-comfortable families). Although courses like Geometry and Calculus appeared inconsequential to me when I took them, they years later proved to be invaluable for such critical tasks as assessing just how large a sofabed would physically fit within the confines of a Manhattan studio apartment, or how many decades it would take for me to pay off my national-debt-rivalling student loans.

However, at Poly, excellence in athletics was prized almost as highly as excellence in academics. Thus, the school day often ran late due to team practices and competitions, providing further useful training for those planning candle-burning careers in life-negating professions. I played three sports: soccer, which I lettered in my junior and senior year; track, lettering as a senior shotputter (which enabled me to throw out my arm way ahead of schedule); and baseball, from which team, despite my love of the game and mastery of its siblings stickball and softball, I was cut four consecutive years. Not making the baseball team was very traumatic for me. And I couldn't understand why it happened: I had clearly demonstrated to the coaches that I had a strong enough arm to play third base, evidenced by my straight-as-an-arrow, albeit somewhat high, throws to first which sometimes landed as far as 200 feet beyond their target. And I had a powerful, home-run caliber swing, which, had I ever actually made contact with a pitch, would undoubtedly have resulted in a Herculean blast. Moreover, the whole selection (i.e., rejection) process was embarrassing: even before I was finally cut, the coaches, having given the better players jazzy new doubleknit uniforms, handed out to the marginals like myself old outfits made out of a decrepit, gauze-like material that probably dated from a time when professional baseball players needed to work a second job to support themselves. These outfits guaranteed that, if by some fluke you actually got into a game, and then were foolish enough to attempt to slide, you would end up essentially wearing a pair of cutoff shorts and a matching set of ankle warmers.

There was, however, one "sport" at which I truly excelled. "Hall Soccer," jointly created by a number of Poly students with time and excess energy on their hands, was played in one of the long, narrow, windowless hallways in the basement of the school. It was like an indoor version of soccer, or a concrete version of ice hockey. The doorways at each end were the goals, and a tennis ball was the puck. The ball could only be advanced by kicking it (which explained the emergence of heavy work boots as the footwear of choice by players), unless you were a goalie. Teams were composed of two or more players, the record being 12 one afternoon. And, since "checking" opposing players into the brick walls was permitted (i.e., encouraged), it could be rough, like the time one player (known affectionately as "Leadfoot" due to his predilection for vigorously introducing his metal-reinforced shoe to opposing players' groins) viciously slammed a hapless opponent face-first into the boards, breaking up the play (as well as the two pencils in the latter's shirt pocket).

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