Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org & Knatz.com / Personal / Stories / pk by Age / College Years /
@ K. 2006 02 03
Best Friend George
pk said, “George, do you think you’ll find being stupid a handicap at college?”
(Co-workers guffawed helplessly.)
George said, “I’ll break your leg. I’ll break both your legs.”
This morning I decided to add the above quote to K. It needs a little context: so I’d put it among my Quotes with a Story. No, the story is too complicated. Too many other stories go with it. So I make this module in my / Stories / pk Chronological / College section: tell the basic story, then add to it at my leisure.
Actually it doesn’t belong even in the college section. I was a month or two short of college: and George was a year and a month or two short of college: if indeed he ever got to college. George committed suicide I am sad to report: very young. But I’d lost touch with my one-time best friend, can’t say when or what his circumstances were at the time he cashed his chips … (or did he cast them?)
I’d just graduated from High School. I’d been accepted to Columbia and had accepted the acceptance. The major portion of my high school teachers, shocked and alarmed that Columbia had accepted me, were wagering that Columbia would have egg on its face when I failed to meet its final requirement: that I actually graduate. Those teachers had calculated my actually graduating to be an impossibility. The clincher was physics. I’d have to pass physics to graduate. They believed me to be a good bluffer. That might work in English, in history … but not in physics. Even if I somehow bluffed locally, the clincher was that I also had to pass the state regents exam in physics: no bluffing the state, you actually had to get some answers right: quantitative answers: you had to know the formula and do some math. They had me for sure.
Or so it seemed. What they hadn’t allowed for, even thought they were perfectly right that I hadn’t paid attention, hadn’t done a single assignment, was that at about ten O’clock the night before the following morning’s state regents exam in physics I, despairing, actually opened the text and started to read it. I may even have continued to read it, right through the time I’d normally watch Steve Allen, eleven PM to 1 AM, see which jazz artist he’d feature. I certainly didn’t read all night. No, I slept. But I had read some of the text: and scored somewhere around a ninety. They had to pass me: and graduate me, pass me on.
Graduated from high school and Columbia bound, my mother assuring my father that if he didn’t pay the tuition, keeping at least that one promise, this time she really would put him in jail (ah, but that was one debt my father wanted to pay — he was Columbia, he wanted his son to be Columbia: even though he hadn’t cared till then whether his son lived or died), I took a summer job with the Parks Department.
We whipped weeds, painted fences …
That department had a regular crew to mow the ball park, weed along the highway, paint park fences, lifers, year round: and for each summer they swelled its ranks with college kids. You had to have some political influence to get that summer job. I can’t imagine what my influence was but my mother managed something. I applied, I was accepted. We had a couple of guys from my class, a couple of guys from the Catholic school, and several more guys from both schools working their second or third summers. John had been in my sister’s class, was about to be a junior at Amherst. One of the Catholic guys was a Rhodes scholar at Notre Dame. One of the Catholic guys was a sophomore at Villanova. Another Paul was from my class, Hofstra bound, I believe.
And then there was George. George had been in my class back in the eighth grade: but I think George was older: been left back or something. George’s mother was a school teacher, and she had him organized within an inch of his life: how to do his homework and so forth. That didn’t help, so she pulled him from public school and put him in Saint Paul’s Academy over in Garden City. It didn’t do much good. George still needed tutors and all sorts of shit to stay dangling by a hair.
Guys in “my class” were now seventeen going on eighteen. George would have been nineteen or twenty. Sad, but George was still only five foot six or so. Future growth didn’t look promising. But he was iron muscled, worked out, lifted weights, had one of those biceps that pops. When he was first at St. Paul’s he’d invited me over to Garden City to watch him play football: tackle. All I remember was all the penalties George incurred for his team. At the snap of the ball he’d bulldoze into his opponent and push him backwards, way down the field. Long after the whistle blew George was still driving his man backwards into his end zone. This was maybe the ninth grade, but George was Varsity!
Now here we had all these college kids, all these scholarships, great grades, all sorts of distinctions. Then there was the regular crew: of whom Sarge was my favorite. (Sarge had been in the army for more than a couple of decades: until the army instituted an intelligence test. Poor Sarge was asked to leave.)
I, despite the company, was the intellectual. I talked a blue streak about jazz. That summer I was quoting Aldous Huxley left and right. All the Rhodes scholars didn’t know or care shit about jazz or Aldous Huxley: or anything that I could tell. No, I, idiot Paul, bottom half of my class, was the intellectual. (And clearly more than one believed I had to be a fag as well, since one day I actually admitted that I’d just seen a ballet: admitted it, and liked it! described it approvingly!)
And then there was George. I talked about Brubeck, and Miles, and Mulligan. Amherst, Notre Dame, and Villanova talked about the weather, about girls. George talked about college. College was all George talked about. George would be taking special catch-up classes. Then he’d graduate from high school, after a couple of extra years of trying. Then he’d be accepted at some really great municipal college: and boy, then we’d really see him. Amherst didn’t talk about Amherst. Notre Dame didn’t talk about Notre Dame. I didn’t talk about Columbia: I hadn’t gone yet. (Though I don’t doubt that everyone, from the public high school at least, was acutely aware where I was headed: if only because it was so ludicrous.) But nothing was more ludicrous than George forever going on about how he was going to knock ’em dead once he got to college.
Finally, after June, July, and half of August, I could stand it no longer and uttered the above cruelty:
Of course I’ve never had any sense. I’m standing there with a paint brush in my hand. John is also dripping paint. George, his muscles popping, is standing over a ditch manning a spade: sharpened heavy steel tipping stout hickory. George goes still. He turns beet red. George’s muscles start twitching. His face twitches. I think he’s more stunned by the instant cackles from Amherst and Villanova than he is by what I’ve said. He may not have absorbed what I said right away, maybe he’s still processing it. Whether or not he’s fathomed the exact meaning, he knows he’s been insulted. I think he knows he’s been accurately insulted.
I’m thinking that the end of my life has just arrived. But George finally puts the shovel down. George puffs himself up like the Arnold Mr. Universe we would come to know in subsequent decades, and shouts his rejoinder: “I’ll break your leg. I’ll break both your legs.”
But by that time we all know that it’s just more words. Nothing bloody is going to happen, at least not here on this day.
If I ever get my scanner hooked up to the Mac mini and network over to PhotoShop on the G3, I may scan some pictures George and I took of each other back in the halcyon summer before the eighth grade: George having invited me to spend a week with him at his family cottage on Spofford Lake, New Hampshire. [2013 09 21 Scanner’s up: I’ll try to find the pix.] George had sought me out, made himself my instant best friend toward the end of the seventh grade. The following school year we’d all be attending the junior high school: at that time still Rockville Centre’s senior and junior high schools in one. My seventh grade had already been moved over there. His had remained, like the others of Rockville Centre, still domiciled in the grade school: too many kids I guess in my grade school district. School systems are always winging it in a bubbling population. George arrived at my house. Introduced himself, and pushed, pushed, pushed to be friends. Why quickly became clear: George had seen my next door neighbor, Betsy: a classmate. George was in love. Maybe getting close to me would get him close to her.
Betsy would become stunning, and monster bosomed. But in the seventh grade she looked like a pig to me. (I was far more taken by the younger sister, who in a few years would become not only the bombshell of Rockville Centre, but the bombshell of New York, starring belly dancer of a string of clubs over on the west side, spreading Egypt north of Fourteenth Street: Irish blond among the Egyptians. Betsy, around seventh grade, had poked me with her tit buds. I recoiled. They were hard as a rock. What the hell was she wearing? (I’ll further confide that Betsy was the only girl in the immediate neighborhood my age or younger I had never invited behind the garage to join my harem.) (I had eighty or so sex stories at K., but I’ve moved them to an anonymous blog.) But George was smitten.
I don’t know if George ever got near Betsy. He got near me: and thereafter started his practice of going steady with my ex-girlfriends. He went hard after Doralee, my fabulous dance partner.
I fear that poor George was always suicidal. Poking around my front yard together one day, he was enraging me one way or another. I protested somehow. He put me down somehow. I took a swing at him. He ran into my house. I found him stuffing aspirins into his mouth by the handful. Surely he wasn’t in pain from my pitiful powderpuff fist!? No. George explained to me that he was committing suicide. He had made his best friend mad at him. As for my fisticuffs he assured me that it was nothing. He hadn’t even felt it: like a fly buzzing. Then he wondered what a bullet would feel like. At first, just like a wasp sting, he guessed.
Even then George had the iron muscles; I was like PopEye’s Olive Oyl, made of pipe cleaners.
Olive Oyl shows her fisticuffs.
I never told anybody about the aspirins: till now. I didn’t know anything about suicide or suicides. Not many had yet been brainwashed by the psychologists and social workers. I’m glad I didn’t say anything, and the more glad that no one heard. It turned out that George’s young life was already way over-managed. At least I didn’t add a burden of psychologists to his woes. And if he killed himself by age twenty or twenty-one, maybe he knew what he was doing. Nothing ever went the way he wanted.
And he certainly did despise himself.
Don’t get me wrong, despite the initial tone above. George and I had some nice times together. I’ll never forget the day his mother took us to some famous New Hampshire gorge. That day also provided my first taste of coffee. His mother had brought a picnic for us, including a thermos of coffee for herself. I was startled to see George ask for a sip. She asked if I’d like a taste also. I hesitated, then accepted. She drank coffee with cream and sugar; not like my mother’s straight black. I thought it was delicious. Though once I started serving coffee to myself, I followed my mother, not George’s mother: straight black. Maybe with a tot of rum.
One benefit of being friends with George was that I got a gander at some Rockville Centre history. George lived in a big drafty house across the street from the post office, backed by the parking lot for the A&P: and a whole block of other stores: kind of the main commercial parking lot for commercial Rockville Centre: between Sunrise Highway and Merrick Road. George and his mom lived with her mother. That was their estate. George had a much older brother who went off to Africa to film lions and rhinos. Best of all, the huge old kitchen had a wood stove! Grandma always had a kettle simmering: as a humidifier.
2014 11 24 Watching a documentary of a park trying and failing to protect gorillas in the Congo has my misanthropy seething but also some nostalgia happily simmering as I recall George’s brother showing us some of his Africa footage, a rhino showing a truck who’s boss. That was a priceless experience, far better than anything I’ve ever seen on TV on the same set of subjects: pk traveling the world from the confines of Long Island in the early 1950s. I sailed the world too, once my mother introduced me to Captain Johnson and his schooner, the Yankee.
They had some money, but of the saddest I now know kind: they were eating their capital, their inheritance: all that commercial expanse had been the forebears’ farm.
Thinking about it now it occurs to me they may not have had much choice. I bet Merrick Road had been there, as old, or almost as old as the farm. But I bet Sunrise Highway, and the railroad, and the A&P, and the bakery … had been added. I bet the state took their land: too valuable to be private. Chopped down to nothing but a backyard, why not sell the yard too? for a parking lot.
Olde Rockville Centre
When we first moved to North Forest Avenue, soon after Pearl Harbor, 1941 or so, there were still a couple of signs in the neighborhood of rural Long Island. Across the street, somebody still kept chickens, grandfathered in. Up the block and around the corner somebody still had more than 150′ x 75′ of land: a big back lot, with a barn, and horses. The horses too were grandfathered. And they rode them: on the silly pavement: so sad I now see. Soon the chickens were gone, and then the horses as well. If I went back there today I bet there’d be a condominium where the barn had been.
There was even an empty lot. Once that went, I knew, even then, Rockville Centre, and the whole world, was done for.
Thinking of George I now remember another suicide I knew. Already those other Rockville Centre stories are geting a free ride in George’s module. This other suicide I’ll tell separately.
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