The Old School

school

I spent my middle school years wearing white polo shirts tucked into dress pants – prayers three times a day, service at the church every first Friday. It’s a routine I only came to know once my parents suddenly decided to pull me away from Piscataway’s public school system and plop me down in a private Catholic school for a few years. Nowadays, they’re (my folks, that is) as devout as ever, and I’m a tad less so, but there’s a lot of good tied into that old school building. The more I think of it, the more I appreciate exactly how good those years were.

Of course, everyone yearns for their childhood to some extend. Hope you’ll indulge me a little here.

The grade system in the school was a bit odd – it was a K to 8th institution with a grand total of one class per grade. That meant that if you started school there in Kindergarten, it wouldn’t be bizarre to go through your middle school graduation ceremony with a majority of the other toddlers you were bopping around with. Couple that with a small class size (I only had about thirteen kids in my graduating class) and you have a number of groups of kids forced by right of proximity to forge a relationship pretty close to family. There were no cliques, there were no factions – just little people constantly in extended interaction, unknowingly making some of the best friendships they might ever hope for.

I don’t talk to many people from there anymore. I don’t think my case is too different from the others.

But ask me if I have any stories left over from that time, and you’d keep me talking for days. I’d be able to quote countless games of football on hard parking lot asphalt. Countless shitty inside jokes that would find themselves repeated and circulated into oblivion. The time we all took a field trip to a shrine and collectively got a stomach bug from drinking the “holy water”. Playing baseball with tennis rackets because our gym equipment was utter shit. Being part of a weird little family, at least for a little while.

The school closed a while back.

Catholic and private schools really aren’t doing so great around where I am, so the story’s rather common. The doors shut from an inability to keep the place running sufficiently. Now the place operates as a…hell, I’m not even sure what it is, anymore. I see people going in there to use the old gym for community basketball games, and the smaller rooms being used for pre-k sessions. But I’m not even sure when and if the other rooms are even still in use. It’s hard not to hope sometimes that I’ll sneak in there one day and find the old desks still in place – marked up in pencil, familiar handwriting and all.

It’s odd walking by places, knowing they’re not what they were. Buried somewhere underneath is the memory. The old routine. The page from the scrapbook. The simplest of things.

 

The Old School

A Non-Travel Blog: New Market Pond

numarquette
Huh. The iPhone 6 camera really isn’t bad in a pinch.

The pond sits almost at the very edge of my home town of Piscataway – just two or three minutes down New Market Road and you’ve already hit Dunellen. From there, you can buy a $20 something round trip to New York Penn, leave the suburbs in your bellowing wake, and lose the night wandering around after a few hours at that nice Japanese bar in the East Village. In that time, it’s easy to forget the small things your shabby stopover town has to offer.

So today, let’s forego the $20 something train ticket. Save it for a fast lunch later down this week. Park the car by the precarious intersection where the train whistles never stop blowing and the pigeons come to roost. Stay in town for the night.

Venture a bit closer waterside and you’ll notice all the signs warning you not to eat the fish – all sized small enough to remain unsettlingly vague as to why the hell not. The stories vary around town. Decades of pollution. Toxic runoff. Mutant pond sharks. The list goes on, I’m sure. Still, you’ll find no shortage of fisherfolk present on any given day – playing catch and release with the poor irradiated swimmers.

The water itself has two outfits. The first is for when it feels like looking young again – showing off that glistening, reflective veneer painted the color of whatever brilliant sky is hanging overhead that day. Check the prom photos taken there – you’ll see it showing off. The second is for sweatpant days, where it’s not as concerned, and sees no need to hide the teeming layers of pond scum floating in a green blanket on its face. The latter of the two is a bit more honest – the rotten core has just risen to the surface for the world to see.

From what I’ve heard, though, the sordid nature of this patch of pondwater is something that’s just happened with age. I used to have a physics teacher back in high school that always used to talk about when people could swim at New Market – back when they grew corn where the elementary school was, and the concrete wasn’t slowly anaconda-ing all the green. Can’t even imagine wading in there now. Might end up like one of those old cartoons – resurface after waddling waist deep with my ribcage and hipbones showing, either from acid water or piranhas.

But before you tell me to fuck off and drive to Dunellen for that train ticket, step back into last night with me. It’s 8 PM, and we’re sitting on the next gazebo down on the water, the one that juts out and wiggles and bobs when someone’s kid jumps up and down on the newly painted wooden planks. The sky is this brilliant lavender fire as the sun bows out slowly, the feisty 90 degree day ebbing out into the cool curtain of dusk. It’s a paintbrush that streaks the water. Even being there doesn’t do it justice. There are people sitting behind the railing from us, chatting in some other language, their laughter lifting into the air – carried away by a breeze that ripples the mirror – brushes the fountain. There’s a concert playing on the main gazebo. You can hear them from where we are.

They’re covering Marley.

You’re sitting there, smiling, in the town that’s seen more than a decade and a half of your life. The dirt is nowhere that matters.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

A Non-Travel Blog: New Market Pond