January 10, 2018:

I was ever the contrarian. If it was hot out I'd wear my jacket. If it was cold I'd go outdoors in a t-shirt. Whatever it took to be different.

Exercise period was in the cafeteria. We'd lay out thick rubber mats to do calisthenics. It was very military. Jumping jacks, pushups, sit-ups. Those stupid standing stretch things where you put hands on hips and try to bend sideways far enough to touch your elbows to your legs. The exercises you'd see in films of basic training in the army. Preparing us for the Russian invasion. We'll kick their asses by bending sideways! Whatever. My absolute all-time favorite was bicycle crunches. Why? 'Cos all the kids hated them so much and I had to be different. The teachers would call on a kid to choose the next exercise. On my turn I'd yell, "Bicycles!" and the entire room would groan. It was great.

Everybody loved me. The older kids loved me and let me join their games. The teachers were sincerely interested in helping the children. I did art, sang, read at a very advanced level, and loved loved loved being there.

That all changed the first day we moved from the County Schools to the City Schools. Third grade. A kid in afterschool care bullied me. I was utterly confused. A kid being mean? No prior experience. I let it happen until the end of the week, then made the sad but necessary mental adjustment to highly changed circumstances. On Friday I threw him to the ground and pounded his face until there was blood everywhere. It took two teachers to pull me off him. "What happened?", asked one. "I beat him up!", I answered, throwing an imaginary and triumphal punch. Boy you learn quickly. Depressing, that.

The teachers didn't care about the kids. That was another change. They were there to enforce discipline. Mostly centering around the length of the boys' hair. I had the third longest and was very proud. A kid named Mike had the longest. Later in high school he died after a helmetless motorcycle crash and the girls were all crushed. Here in grammar school the authorities made him cut his bangs, so now I had the second longest hair. The new leader was named Rodney and they made him cut his, too. Now I was The Man. I could pull my forehead locks all the way down past my chin. Before they had a chance to make me cut it they sent me to another school, the magnet program for gifted little twats, where seemingly hair length was less the concern. It would have been better for me to keep me where I was and make me shave my head.

Mike taught me the major lesson I learned in third grade: what the word "communist" means. In four square he said, "Hit back to me and you're a communist." Got it. That and how to throw a punch were what I learned at that school.