The Christmas of ’87: Part 1

WARNING: A little sad at first but it preludes a hilarious journey

We all have a Christmas which stands out a little more than the others. It’s the one that makes our heart skip a beat, brings back that certain excitement only kids get because the obligations of adulthood are still years away and Santa was absolutely the go-to when it came to our list of wants. We all have that one. Mine was Christmas of 1987 and brother, it set the bar so high, the years that followed never came close.

I remember the build up to that Christmas which never ceased in momentum of excitement and had me pacing the Eve, sick from too many Nestle Crunch Bells and worries that the inbound Santa would see me awake. But it didn’t start with such bliss. Actually, it could have been a Christmas to forget if it wasn’t for the “shot heard around Marietta” one fateful late November monday afternoon. It was my little “A Christmas Story” incident that is still talked about today in small circles with the family.

Growing up Catholic, I was forced to attend CCD classes one day a week after school. It was a version of bible study, all with the design to get a kid from baptism to confirmation without forcing the parents to spend thousands on a private Catholic education. I hated it. No kid ever liked to learn about why we are forced to go to church. It was like getting a quiz about the injection you were about to receive. But I hated it for another reason as well.

Every monday I would get home from school, have a snack and then collect my CCD workbook and pencil, get driven to St. Ann’s church and mingle with the hundreds of other kids until 4:00 rolled around and we separated into grade level classrooms to waste an hour listening to a lay person with no teaching ability. My real issue then was the fact everyone hated me. I was the only kid from another school since they built a new Catholic church closer to Mt. Bethel (my school). But, my mother had served for years in this church and there was no way I would switch just because it was five minutes closer.

Not being liked was a real issue for me back then for a couple of reasons. One, I had no siblings. There was no one to beat me up or compete with. My folks treated me as if I could do no wrong and everything was a gold star. I am sure that was a weakness which was obvious to kids I didn’t know but in my particular school, I was actually pretty popular. We had all grown up together since kinder care, so to be flung into a completely new environment with rich kids who all went to a different school together was like swimming with sharks. But that was only the start.

I didn’t understand this back then but it came to light later that my mom didn’t get along with a few ladies at church. One of these ladies in particular was Mrs. Conners, my CCD teacher for that year. In her disdain of my mom she fell right in line with my peers who teased me relentlessly in class. There was no safe zone for a kid who was forced, ironically, to learn about being kind to others for an hour after school. As an adult I can’t imagine being cruel to a kid who is obviously the target of class harassment and even more so, joining in on that behavior. But, the scummiest people can hide under the vail of religious institutions. Probably explains why I don’t go to church much anymore.

All of these factors were pretty bad but the leader of this torment was a kid named Bobby Clark. That is a name I will never forget. I don’t think many people forget their bullies. He was the devil who was the most popular in his own school and also the most popular in CCD. Even the fifth graders liked this kid and if memory serves me correct, it was in part to his big brother who had gone on to middle school, leaving a legacy Bobby could sail on.

From day one, Bobby never let up on me. At first I was more confused at why he didn’t like me and how all these kids can’t be laughing at me. I just didn’t understand but when we were waiting in line at the carpool area, Bobby and his buddy took things to a new level, challenging me to a fight as all the kids in every grade level laughed and taunted. I really didn’t want to fight but in a circle of shouting kids, you just can’t get hit in the mouth without doing something. And that’s when I found out what a shitty fighter I was as both Bobby and his buddy (Mike, I think) pushed me down and pounded the piss out of me.

As a boy in grade school, the worst thing you can do before, during or after a confrontation is cry. I knew this. It sticks in kids heads and you will wear that stigmata for years after. Not quite the same as shitting your pants but close. It’s a weakness and that afternoon I showed it after getting the wind knocked out of me. I couldn’t help it, all the adrenaline and anger came out in a rage of tears. I tried to stand up and run through the crowd looking for my dad who always picked me up on his way back from work but when I got to my feet my arm was grabbed by Mrs. Conners, screaming at the top of her lungs like that trombone teacher-talk only Peppermint Patty understands. Bobby looked at her and in a classic dick fashion stated, “He started it”. The other kids agreed and through my tears and disbelief of what just happened and what was about to happen, I sobbed harder, giving up all hope of redemption.

Mrs. Conners whisked me back inside and down to the bathrooms to clean up. I can’t fully remember what she said but it was essentially, “wash your face to stop crying and if you don’t tell your parents I won’t turn you in for fighting”. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT SHIT? That really happened.

I collected myself, after a few of those multiple hyperventilating inhales, I opened the door and Mrs. Conners was there handing me my workbook and walking back to the curb to personally see me to my Dad’s truck. I honestly don’t remember the ride home but I remember not eating dinner and playing sick the next day from school. It was insult to injury because I still had to go to the doctor’s and get my finger stuck.

I thought a lot about the events from the previous day and had many fantasies about pulling a lightsaber on Bobby. But in my stomach, I felt completely defeated. Not only was I the gross kid to everyone but also the baby who cried. It sunk in and there was no one who could help.

I pleaded to not go back that following monday but the first week of Advent (Catholic thing) was then and it was a special mass and all grade levels from Monday, Tuesday and Thursday had to attend.

I remember a lot of detail, huh? Well, you’ll see why.

There had to be at least six hundred kids from first grade to eighth sitting in the main church. My class was smack in the middle and I felt every eye on me because I was sure that last week’s incident spread like wildfire. Bobby walked taller looking more smug than usual and the respect of his peers shown through their idolized gaze. Maybe I am being dramatic but that really was my perception. I was the slug. The weirdo no one would talk to or be caught being nice to for fear of reprisals. Even Mrs. Conners scowled in my direction, raising her eyebrows as if to say, “Remember what we talked about?”. It was as bad as it got for a privileged kid who should have been thinking about GI Joe and Optimus Prime.

It’s hard to rationalize this but what happened next, in my opinion over the years, is nothing more than divine help. Bobby sat directly in front of me next to his jock crony, Mike. They whispered and teased, glancing back every few seconds. Bobby writing “Hi gay” on his palm, pretending to stretch making sure I saw and also everyone else did too. The rage was welling and I couldn’t believe I was the butt of all these jokes and it seemed the entire CCD crowd was too. I tried to ignore it and just read words out of the thick bible/songbook held in the pew’s shelf. I had to distract myself to keep from crying again. I felt it coming on and that heat in my face building. I wrapped the book mark ribbon tightly around my hand and clenched it in my fist.

Then, loudly, Bobby put both palms to his face and blew, loudly mimicking a fart and shouted, “EWWW BILLY!”.

The entire church erupted in laughter. I was in the middle of thirty kids on either side and there was nowhere to go. I felt the tears run down my cheeks and then I made the decision. It wasn’t like a blacked out moment of adrenaline but one I made very delibrately to avoid sitting there in tears as hundreds of eyes witnessed my humiliation. I stood up and beat the shit out of Bobby and Mike with a bible. I swung hard, smashing the four hundred page good-book time and time again until the red ribbon separated, sending the bible sailing. Then my fists, fingers and elbows took over.

There were screams, I am sure, but I didn’t hear them. Mrs. Conners was trying to climb the pews to separate me from the fury I was unleashing on the two boys but it was a slow process because we were packed in there like sardines. I hit those kids so hard and so often, everyone around stood out of the way. When the teacher finally got there, she herself was hit (accidentally) and screamed bloody murder. I was probably 60lbs at most and unless she had that glass-bone disease, I think she greatly exaggerated.

I was separated from the two boys who were openly wailing at that point. I still had fight in me but not much. I hadn’t exerted that much energy ever and it went right to my stomach and the second I got outside I puked. I had been carried out by a male teacher who sat there saying words like “buddy” and “it’s okay”. I felt a sense that it really will be okay.

I sat in the church office across the street until my Mom came to pick me up. I remember there was a lot of apologizing from her and I had a long quiet ride home. Then Dad came home.

It was obvious that it’s out of character to for me to beat the shit out of kids with a bible in church. Possession was probably not out of consideration but it soon became obvious I was being tortured for months by my peers and when I told him that Mrs. Conners made a deal not to tell them, he lost his shit.

I don’t know the repercussions my Dad laid from my last CCD class as a 10 year old. All I know is I no longer had to go and later in the week, word spread in my school about how I “blessed” Bobby Clark to tears with a bible. That lived on well into high school.

My December of 1987 took a huge upswing and I think a little guilt led to my greatest Christmas ever and it all started with a find in my parent’s closet. You’ll remember this one tomorrow.

I still think about that time in CCD. I think of kids who experience this not once a week but everyday in school. It never left me and I have always looked for kids who might not fit in like Michael Garucci in high school who gave out Glamour Shots our freshman year. Someone has to take them aside and lead them away from Bobby Clarks.

I also think of people like Mrs. Conners and how at ten years old I can still remember what she said. Kids remember. Be mindful what you say and the example you set. Always pull the struggling ones by your side and teach the stronger ones how to do the same. Don’t be a kid like the ones you are in charge of.

And I hope Bob still twitches at bibles.

Tomorrow is all about the best Christmas TV specials and my Christmas finds on the road to the best Christmas ever. It’s a three part series. Goodnight.

Inspiration from a Skating Wall-Walker

Inspiration doesn’t come easy these days. I try to find it by volunteering or helping those less fortunate but even then it’s a fleeting moment of “meh”. I’ve been sucked into corporate America and closing on a house, so soon I will be assimilated into the masses who go to Home Depot on Saturdays and become an active member of a home owners association. While it is necessary to leap forward as an adult, I still do require a bit of inspiration that reminds me of simpler times. And that happened a few weeks ago when I took some kids roller skating.

Let’s be clear, I don’t skate. Charlie don’t surf, Billy don’t skate. I will, however, watch those who do and that’s mainly hoping for wipeouts or older male teens who have roller skate dance-offs. I like to laugh at misfortune. But after an hour or so the hilarity diminishes and I am forced to complain that the music stinks or the fact sweaty kids are gross. My volunteering for the local rotary chapter always turns out to be more painful than I anticipate.

I don’t know how roller skating was decided as the activity I was chaperoning but I will say, stepping into a roller rink building is like stepping back to 1987. This carpet agrees. There is not much that can change besides the music and if the main activity is roller skating in circles and a few limbo games, you gotta stick to what works. Even the arcade barely changed, I assume. There is no way a place would buy half of these “push the quarters off the ledge” machines.

I think what really hits the nostalgia bone is the fact nearly 90% of all the elementary and middle school birthday parties I was invited to was hosted at Sparkles Roller Rink. And I hated every single one of them. The reason being is I can’t skate. To this day I have the worst balance and if there are wheels under my feet, my face is on the floor. What made it even worse was being forced to wear the damn skates because everyone else would know I suck. By putting them on I could at least hang on to something and avoid the constant torment of adults questioning what wrong with me like “aren’t you having fun?” or “are you feeling okay?”. If there is anything worse than your peers making fun of you it’s the parents of the birthday kid asking if you wanted special treatment. I always opted for catastrophic falls and holding on for dear life to an awful video game no one wanted to play and without of quarters.

Lost in my own thoughts when I should have been watching the kids we brought, I spotted something that I had not seen in years. It was a roller skating wall-walker. And what really blew my mind was the fact he had to be at least 60!

This is not the greatest picture but in a room full of strange kids, I had to take my pictures quickly and discreetly.

As you can see he is walking that wall. It’s clear that if this wasn’t his first time on skates it had to have been at least 40 years since he has graced the rink. It was both inspiring and a little nerve-racking. This dude’s hips were in definite danger especially when negotiating the breaks in walls that were for access to the rink. There were a few “whoa” moments and even a spill or two.

Every time he completed a lap (which took 20 minutes) I was certain he would just return to a bench and join the other adults who, by the way, had their feet firmly planted to the ground. But no, he just started a new lap. It was like watching a goose trying to cross a highway. He didn’t give a shit.

Around the fourth lap or so, I had to give this guy some encouragement. So I waited until he crawled his way past my side of the rink and I said “way to go, man!”. He shot me a look like I just told his daughter to wear shorter dresses. I was a little taken aback because I had been so impressed with his resilience and stubbornness to master an activity designed for an 8 year old that I was certain he would give me a thumbs up. Nope, he was a bit of a dick.

Well, even though his attitude towards me was shitty, I am still inspired by his determination to both look foolish and not give up. I can’t imagine the amount of aspirin this dude had to take the next day. I saw him flail and flop on the ground no less than a dozen times. So, every time I am engaged in a long and arduous activity I will think of the 60 year old wall-walker and remember, don’t give up.

Okay, I just reread this post and I disagree with all of this. The guy never got better at skating but in fact much worse. He should have given up the second he started tap dancing backwards and making arm gestures like a mime pulling an imaginary rope. He lost 16,000 man points and I can’t imagine at 60 years old, someone would aspire to be a decent roller skater. There are so many other great activities that don’t require you to look like a cat with tape on its feet.

Sorry for all of this. Happy Thursday!

 

 

 

Hardnose Hatcher

I always wait to pull the Holiday trigger after Matt does at X-Entertainment and though it feels early, I am already in full swing. This time of the year gets busy fast so if I want to squeeze all the fun in the season, it has to start now. But much like a sixth grade Sadie Hawkins dance, it’s hard to get the party started. How can we kick off the” Thanksmas” celebration? I think I will dissect a little McDonald’s holiday commercial from the Thanksgiving of 1987. If you don’t know her you soon will. “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher.

Long ago, when I was a kid, the McDonald’s corporation actually had decent, heartfelt commercials that were not only catchy but had cute messages like appreciate your teachers, don’t count out the elderly and having a part time job at McDonald’s was something your five year old would be proud of. Today, well, we have Happy Meals in bags with apples and Ronald McDonald does yoga while pitching child-size bottled water. Life today is devout of story and only filled in with sound bites and catch phrases. I miss the days of “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher.

This commercial will always be a holiday classic because it has been preserved in a VHS copy of the Claymation Christmas Special that aired on CBS back in 1987. The story is about a tough teacher from the perspective of a third grade class. They sing this cute song to the tune of the McDonald’s 1980’s theme “Good time for the great taste of McDonald’s” and explain what a total bitch she can be. As you can see above, she is shooing way the token ass-kisser of the class. Everybody was an equal maggot in Mrs. Hatcher’s class.

She paces the aisles of the classroom like Darth Vader, demanding to open the text books to a certain page or face a probable fate of a public chastising. The look of intimidation is reflective of the faces of the kids. Mrs. Hatcher has a standing rule of absolute no fuckery.

No matter what the excuse, like the legitimate “homework flew out the bus window” line, it doesn’t hold water with Mrs. Hatcher. She knows that homework only is eaten by dogs. Her ancient Kulu Flatchu “Stare of Truth” brings this lad to his knees, confessing the fact that he didn’t do it. One thousand knuckle push-ups in the back of the classroom!

The only reprieve from “Hardnose” Hatcher was an occasional substitute  teacher. The collective sigh and low-fives clearly express the constant tension and standard these kids are expected to uphold.

But soon the ways of Mrs. Hatcher prove to have an ulterior motive as inspiration and determination showed the kids that they can achieve anything through hard work. Hard work and an occasional hickory lashing on the side of the school building. (that’s on the extended studio release) When things got tough, she made them stick to it. As seen above, it appears that Jimmy Sad-Face finally mastered the dreaded cursive “Z”. Mrs. Hatcher maybe a “hardnose” but she was also a softheart. (God shoot me)

At thirty-seven seconds into the commercial we reach the last day of school and all the kids may have whip scars and calloused knuckles but hell if they haven’t mastered long division! The kids have a “Hardnose Hatcher” day of appreciation at the local McDonald’s as the class bitch announces exactly what they gave her from the menu. I think this was the #two on the menu back in ’87 but Mrs. Hatcher demanded that no cut-corners will ever be tolerated so she had to spell out the prehistoric McDLT, drink and fries. Mrs. Hatcher was pleased.

But we aren’t quite done yet. The third grade class still had one more parting gift for their teacher. Jimmy Sad-face is elected to present a t-shirt with everyone’s signature to her with the tear-jerking words “we’ll never forget ‘cha”. Jimmy Sad-Face isn’t thrilled with his name but it beats his second grade name of Jimmy Shit-His-Pants.

What’s this? “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher has the capability of emotion? It’s okay, Mrs. Hatcher. The year is over. Feel free to crack your horsey smile just once. The kids deserve a little peek at what’s behind that tough exterior. Summer is long to a third grader and next year is the big world of fourth grade. Your sweaters and lipstick stained coffee mugs will be a distant memory.

So, in just a over a minute we covered an entire school year and the legacy of “Hardnose” Mrs. Hatcher. It’s funny to look back at this because in 1987 I was the age of a third grader… I think. I remember watching this with an empathetic nod as the kids are forced to devote the third grade to Mrs. Hatcher when the next door class had the hot twenty-three year old fun teacher. I think everyone of us has had a “Hardnose” Hatcher. And in all honesty, they are the ones that we remember the most.

You just read a breakdown of a commercial from 1987. Feel good about that? I am sorry. If you have a spare minute you can watch it below and have the tune in your head till 2087.

Guess what??? It’s that time of the year again and Thanksmas season means that VeggieMacabre.TV has now switched gears. Come check out the new layout and soon all the X-Mas adventures will begin.

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