Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Port Washington Union Free School District

I know I’ve said this too many times and in too many ways. But everyone needs a reminder now and then.

I am not brave in any way shape or form. I’m petrified. Fear has always been my motivation for everything I do. Without it, I’d be off somewhere lying on a beach chair drinking a piña colada. Fear gave me my “game face” when my whole world fell apart.

I used to live in Queens as a little girl. Right by Fresh Meadows in one of those really cute – they still are- starter houses with sidewalks, nice neighbors on porches to visit who would even welcome you with open arms, and a real honest-to-god life on The Block. It was beautiful. There was even a farm a few blocks away and we had a farm stand to pick produce. The farm closed several years ago. There was a plan afoot to use it in conjunction with our old school P. S. 26. I don’t know if it ever got off the ground. But that farm was the very last one in the city of New York.

Our family moved to Long island rather than Jamaica Estates, which was really close by and would have made every single one of us happier. Fall of ’68 was the New York City teacher’s strike and times were ugly. We didn’t honor the strike, and I remember climbing up the steps of elementary school, waving gaily to my picketing kindergarten teacher, “Hi, Mrs. Sammelson!” At least Mrs. Sammelson who never said much anyway, had the decency to look at me like a deer in the headlights.

Other teachers were hardly as pleasant, “Your parents don’t love you!” was one of the epithets I can recall. Now I didn’t see this, but a teacher, I’ve been told, lunged out to me. To do what, I can’t imagine. You try and hurt his little girl; you’re messing with the wrong man. A cop had to hold him back from ripping that woman apart. Well, they got me in and then they still had to go to the junior and senior high schools to do the same for my brothers. We all made it in and out alive and all in one piece.

Reluctantly, in lieu of the lovely Jamaica Estates, my parents decided the move would be to Long Island. And we did. To the edge of Port Washington with a Manhasset address. The basement leaked like crazy, both parents got horribly depressed and so did we three kids. (What choice did we have?) The family lore was,
“Thank goodness Franny so young. She escaped the horror that was Port Washington.”

Well I didn’t. How the hell could I unless I lived in a bubble away from my terribly unhappy family? I played it tough. I can handle it. (We all do what we have to do to get by.) I knew I wasn’t happy. But everyone around me said I was. You see, I learned at a very early age to doubt my instincts. By the way, I don’t do that anymore.

The schools were really nasty. Yes the vaunted Port Washington Union Free School District. Since we were “city” kids, we had to be ignorant and poorly educated. Doug and I were both placed in roughly the bottom of our respective classes completely ignoring the fact that our grades were sterling. For me Mom included an enormous list of books I’d read. No matter.

Doug was made to take a placement test which in the intolerable heat of an August day in the Carrie Palmer Weber Junior High School of The Port Washington Union Free Public School District. The thought balloon over his head must have something like, “Fuck you. I’m not taking your fucking test.” Whether I have the contents of the thought balloon right is irrelevant. Brave Dougie refused to take the test. And as a prize, he was placed in track two with a mess of thug-like people. Lucky for Doug, “He’s good with people.” He managed to become the “pet” of his fellow classmates as he worked himself out of the hole in which the school had placed him.

And the smartest one of us all, Eric, was kept on pins and needles for two years while the grand poobahs of Paul D. Schreiber High School of the Port Washington Union Free School District decided whether to accept his credits from his Queens high school. A week or two before graduation, he was told his old credits were just peachy.

I think it’s becoming clear why I feel as I do about Long Island in general and Port Washington, specifically. I never needed to figure out the rules of play while in Queens. I believe I was born with them. I was happy and friendly. And people responded back in kind. That was it. Simple and got the job done.

I had really big problems with Port Washington, and I think an awful lot of us had similar social issues. That’s why it’s so amazing to find such lovely people now who were there all the time.

So, fear has been a close friend of mine for a long, long time. Helped me be one of those “high achievers.” (Ugh.) And now, I go through my exercise and walking rigmarole, because, I’m more frightened about what will happen to me if I don’t do it. Except my newest hell is that I’m in a panic about doing any exercise at all. I’m so afraid of gasping for air and not getting it back. I can’t win.

Thank goodness, the psychopharmocologist recommended more Klonopin when I flip out. It’s something.

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