Hellacious High School
I enjoyed ten hour days at a private elementary school, until Dad lost his business. Dad could not afford tuition, but the school allowed me to graduate from eighth grade.
I was eligible to attend Lincoln or Sheepshead high school. However, a Guidance Counselor convinced my parents to send me to Midwood High School: a 45 minute commute.
25 disciplined students graduated from elementary school with me. Midwood High School had 6000 students.
I worked for Dean Kussein (cue‘–sin) during ninth grade. My primary job was escorting juvenile delinquents from class to his office.
One of these misfits, Kenny, always forced me to stop in the bathroom so he could smoke a cigarette, “for my nerves, man.”
Kenny and the Dean
Dean Kussein asked me to retrieve Kenny whenever he had the temerity to show up in school. I always wondered what they discussed during their 15 minute sessions.
Near the end of my first term, I said, “Kenny, I brought you here, at least 30 times. How come you never seem to get in trouble?”
You can do anything you want here, man. Come on, man. I’ll show you what to do. —Kenny
Our Own Rules
My elementary school teachers expected daily homework and weekend reports. Nobody challenged me at Midwood. I did homework on my way to school.
Kenny’s lifestyle intrigued me. So I became an “Avenue K Boy.”
I hung out with 15 year old Kenny and his 29 year old friend L., in her “crash pad.” Avenue K Boys sat on cushions in a smoke-filled room adorned by a spray painted peace symbol. I do not recall any fights, arguments, visits by police.
He Came Five Times!
Kenny was best known for standing on Avenue K for a couple of hours, shouting “I came five times!” after he met L.
I did not enter her garden of unearthly delights. But most of the Avenue K Boys praised her.
I am not absent. I am late.
During the following year, tenth grade, Avenue K Boys gathered in front of Midwood High School at 7:30. We waited for the “late bell” to ring at 7:45. Freed by the late bell, we got late passes from the main office before we walked out the side door.
Once in a while, someone would tell us that we were not allowed to leave the school. We ignored them.
Our group was absent from home room, so we didn’t have to attend classes. But we were also on the “late sheet.”
The late sheet was not distributed until the afternoon, so we weren’t “cutting.” We could miss weeks of school without an excuse!
Joe the Cop
Midwood High School occupies an entire square block. NYC assigned “Joe The Cop” to protect us. I cannot recall if Joe ever arrested anyone. People sold heroin, cocaine, pills – but I avoided them.
Two older men showed up every Friday, recruiting assistants to rob houses over the weekend. They smiled before saying, “Don’t worry. If you get caught, you’re too young go to jail.”
“Joe The Cop” patrolled the front of Midwood High School until Kenny wanted to smoke marijuana.
Kenny would say, “Joe, don’t you think it’s time you checked out the back of the school? We’ll watch the front for you.” Joe would say, “Good idea Kenny. I will come back in 15 minutes. Get me if you have any problems.”
One day I said, “Kenny, why don’t we go to the back of the school?” Kenny said, “Why would we want to do that, man? Everything’s happening in the front!”
Spirit of ‘69 at Midwood High School
Midwood is across the street from Brooklyn College. BC was a favorite haunt of the Yippies.
Abbie Hoffman, a fantastic motivational speaker, proposed student strikes. Kenny met with Abbie. They came up with the idea of “student solidarity.”
So, as soon as the weather got warm, Midwood High School joined Brooklyn College. We went on strike for the rest of the semester.
Woodstock Festival dominated the summer of 1969. I was too young to drive, but my late buddy Henry hitchhiked to Bethel with me. Woodstock really annoyed the reactionary crowd. Midwood High School decided to get tough the following year.
For the “establishment” — the most annoying part of Woodstock, was that there was no violence. A few people hurt themselves, falling from stage structures, but nobody hurt anyone else.
Phys Ed Fizzles
High School attendance was no longer compulsory, except for gym. Students with over five unexcused absences from gym got a “39” in all their subjects, and forced to repeat the semester. We called returning Seniors, “Super Seniors.”
Two resourceful Seniors, who were accepted by colleges, saw no reason to attend school. They figured out how to beat the new system.
Burning High School Records
These fellows, whose names I have forgotten, came to school one night, when the only occupant was P., the night watchman and maintenance man. They brought P. a quart of whiskey, and pretended to drink with him, until he passed out.
Finally, these brilliant students took all the attendance records from the first floor, brought them down to the gym and set them on fire. After the gym was on fire, the boys woke P., carried him outside, and called the fire department.
The gym was useless after the fire department extinguished the fire.
The fire destroyed all the attendance records! No gym, plus no attendance records, equaled no school for the rest of that term!
This forced the administration to change the rules again. Students were only required to attend midterms and finals!
Students and teachers loved the new two day semester. And that ended eleventh grade.
Forced to Stay in High School
In NYC, students applied to college during the eleventh grade, and City University of NY (CUNY) had an open admissions policy, i.e., all NYS HS students were guaranteed a free college education. For example, when I attended Kingsborough Community College, tuition was $46 per term. With proper planning, a student’s only requirement was to complete English 7 and English 8 during their senior year.
During twelfth grade, attendance was still midterm/final. The gym was considered unsafe, and would not be rebuilt for another year.
Sadly, New York City replaced the administrators who implemented the two day term.
New geniuses figured out a way to get even: students were no longer allowed to take both Englishes in one term.
My first term was comprised of English, Music Theory (taught by a friend’s Dad who gave everyone an A), and Major Art, taught by a male pedophile who dated female students and played Donovan records during class. My last class ended at 10:41.
Final class: English 8
I attended one class for two days, during my final term.
Mrs. Delgaudio wanted us to pass two exams, and write a paper on Macbeth. I aced the first exam, but completely forgot about the second.
Fortunately, an Avenue K Boy who was trying to avoid the draft, realized that he was a half hour late for his final.
About forty students surrounded this fellow at the public telephone across the street from the school, so nobody could see who was using the phone. DNA was not an issue! He called in a bomb threat. He said he was a member of “The Puerto Rican Liberation Army.” But I do not recall why they wanted to blow up Midwood High School.
It was amazing to watch everyone leave the school after his call. This student graduated.
Life was perfect until I realized that my test was the day before. I also neglected to read Macbeth. I rushed into school the following morning, found Mrs. Delgaudio, who is still a favorite on classmates.com.
She gave me another day to write a paper on Macbeth, and allowed me to take the exam in her office. I passed the test and graduated HS! Hurray!
A Tragic Ending to High School
Our alumni led the world in drug overdoses.
Kenny, the charismatic leader of the Avenue K Boys, might have grown up to do great things. But he died of a heroin overdose, one week after his eighteenth birthday. His death deppressed members of our graduating class: a sobering reminder that not everyone made it through those turbulent high school years unscathed.
I still think of Kenny often, imagining the successful adult he could have become if not for the demons that led him down a darker path. His magnetic personality and easy charm made him stand out. Kenny needed a chance to mature and find a better way. But some fires burn too bright to last.
My childhood ended when Kenny died.