Monday, August 4, 2008

Bronxville Days, Part 9

The main building of Public School No. 8 was built in 1896, a fortress of steel and stone and brick. The long halls, smelling of milk, floor wax, vomit and sweeping compound, were lined with tall, windowless doors and transoms. I remember most the gymnasium/cafeteria.

When the weather was nice, we had our gym class on the playground or ran wind sprints on the street at the rear entrance to the school. But in winter and on rainy days we were in the gym, performing exercises that no school district would ever allow now. I imagine that after so many ruptured spleens and broken arms, someone probably decided that forcing grade-school children to perform on the pommel horse and parallel bars was maybe not such a good idea. Ditto for climbing the rope to the top of the gym and slapping the girder to which it was attached. I get a knot in my groin just thinking about that now.

The girls dreaded gym class the most, and it's no wonder. They were required to wear gym suits: clownish white costumes that billowed at the hips; that, and also to be humiliated in relay races and dodge ball.

Every so often, there would be a dance in the gym – a sock hop, our parents called it, even though they didn't make us take off our street shoes to protect the gym floor. Girls had to wear party dresses, and boys were required to wear sport coats and ties. I was peculiarly fashion-conscious for an 11-year-old, and my idea of looking cool was white athletic socks. My parents refused to allow me to leave the house dressed up as I was in anything but black socks, so I had to hide my while socks in my pockets and change into them on my way to the dance.

Dancing with girls was exciting, although I was a little too young and a little to dense to understand why. My mother had forced me to take dancing lessons at Mr. Barclay's School of Dance, so I could do a mean fox trot and cha-cha. But I preferred the slow box step, to the sound of the Fleetwoods singing "Mr. Blue," when I could touch the crinkly material around a girl's waist and feel her soft, damp hand within mine, and smell her shampooed hair and wonder why all of that seemed suddenly so interesting.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You can blame JFK and his national fitness campaign for that climbing the rope and pommel horse crap, which I went through, too. In the 40+ years since I got out of school, I have not once been asked to climb a rope or use a springboard to send myself flying over a pommel horse. Call me deprived.