You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘James Russell Lowell Elementary School’ tag.

…but that didn’t stop teachers from giving me some sweet awards over the years.

First, I got this Certificate of Citizenship (whatever that means) from Principal Josie B. Gray and my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Koury of Lowell Elementary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This certificate was for “continuous effort” and “development of responsibility,” which you’ll notice are underlined. You may also notice that “good behavior” and “practice of courtesy” are crossed out. Yeah… sounds about right.

Framing that one!

I hit that milestone on June 10th, 1986 at only nine years old. BOOM, Y’ALL!

And on April 23rd, 1990, at the obnoxious age of 13, I got this Certificate of Award (pretty sure that’s not even proper English) for “Acting a Fool in Music Class” from Principal I.M. Nutty of Reform School. Or, more accurately, Mr. Ellington, my chorus teacher at Jackie Robinson Middle School.

Truth!

I’ve made a living out of acting a fool,

-Shady

Advertisements

“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget:
“How I Made Jeffrey Van Riper’s Eyes Bleed”

During the 1980s, if you spent even one winter of your childhood in the frigid tundra that is Wisconsin, you know one item stands alone as an icon of those times.

Of course, the first imagery that comes to mind might be that of a towering snowman, a brightly-lit Christmas tree, or a well-traveled sled. Unfortunately, the icon I’m talking about isn’t nearly as thrilling. The wintertime icon of the 1980s, or at least to those living in Milwaukee during that decade, was moon boots.

Even beyond their hideous appearance, moon boots were an odd item of clothing. They were made, I assume at least, to keep one’s feet warm in the winter. That, or they were simply a cruel fashion joke played on dumb kids by evil parents.

I can see the PTA meetings now:

Teacher: “Next order of business: Keeping the children’s feet warm in the winter. Any suggestions?”

Parent: “How about these moon boots I’ve been hearing about?”

Teacher: “Do they work?”

Parent: “No. But they’re ugly as shit and will scar them well into high school.”

Teachers & Parents: (hysterical laughter, together)

Teacher: “Done! Next order of business: How can we make that powder we spread over puke even more disturbing?”

The whole idea behind moon boots was that they were supposed to keep feet warm and dry. But if you ever dissected a moon boot (or, more accurately, accidentally slid the “guts” of a moon boot out of its shell) you’re well aware of what space-age materials we’re dealing with here.

The boot is essentially a foam sock wrapped in a cheap plastic cover. In the world of foot warmth, I guess this passes as suitable coverage. This is the type of information I now find to be exceptionally useful, because if that’s all it takes to protect a kid’s toes from subzero temperatures I’m gonna save a ton of cash by whipping up a homemade version for the next generation of Shadys.

I won’t spring it on them until they’re just about to leave for school:

Me: “Put your foot in here.”

Kid: “What’s that?”

Me: “A moon boot.”

Kid: “A moon boot? It’s filled with cotton balls.”

Me: “Yep.”

Kid: “What are they stuffed into?”

Me: “Condoms.”

Kid: “What are condoms?”

Me: “Never mind! Just get your feet in here so I can tie a rubber band around the tops of ’em.”

Kid: “I don’t know about this, Dad.”

Me: “It was good enough for me back in the 1980s and it’s good enough for you now!”

Kid: (silent hatred)

Me: “They won’t change colors or anything fun like that, but they’re ribbed so they’ll at least leave interesting tracks in the snow.”

Oh, you remember: When subjected to cold temperatures, some moon boots would change color or show different patterns on the boot’s sides. Of course, the only time I actually paid attention to my pair of moon boots was when I was outside in the freezing cold, so for all I know those patterns were always there.

I suppose I could have hung out with them while at home, like a kid cuddling up on the couch with the family dog. Just me and my moon boots chilling out on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying an episode of “Heathcliff” as microscopic bits of my foot fungus grow deep within the foamy fibers of the boot’s innards.

Mmmm….

Why did parents let their kids wear these petri dishes again? Whatever the reason, they did, and my parents were no exception.

The rules of the moon boots, or at least the rules of the moon boots in the Shady Household, were these:

Moon Boot Rules:

1. Take a pair of real shoes with you to school in a separate bag. Change into said real shoes when you get to school. This will save you from looking like a badly-dressed astronaut all day long, keeping the ridicule from your classmates at bay. Of course, they will already be ridiculing you, but that’s neither here nor there.

2. At the end of the day, change back into your moon boots, placing your shoes into the bag. Try and do this once every other child has left. If possible, wait until the teachers are all gone, too. You don’t have to worry about the janitor seeing you, however, because he’s a drunk. Moon boots or not, you’re still better than him.

3. Walk home, lock the door behind you, pull down all the blinds, and cry deeply into your pillow because you have to do this all over again tomorrow. And with Wisconsin winters clocking in at around nine months long, many more embarrassing moments lie ahead of you.

This was the routine and I did it hundreds of times throughout the early 1980s.

My father was a shoe salesman at the time. I’m assuming one of the perks of being a shoe salesman was that he could snag the sturdiest shoe boxes and shoe-box bags from the store, because I vividly remember our family using  both quite a bit throughout my childhood.

For those of you who don’t know, a shoe-box bag is exactly that: A plastic bag that fits a shoe box perfectly. After placing a shoe box in the bag, you close the opening of the bag tightly with a drawstring. It was a perfect shoe-carrying device.

It was a better weapon.

Enter: Jeffrey Van Riper.

Jeffrey Van Riper and I were in the same grade at James Russell Lowell Elementary School. (Side note: I just looked up James Russell Lowell and learned that he was a 19th Century American Romantic poet and critic. I think he would have enjoyed this story if, you know, he hadn’t died 118 years ago.)

I can’t honestly say that Jeffrey and I were close friends, but we weren’t enemies either. I remember him getting teased in school because of his last name–after all, “Riper” rhymes with “diaper”–but back then I wasn’t one of those kids. Of course, I became one of those kids once I hit middle school, but that’s another story for another time.

Jeffrey and I lived in the same neighborhood and, because of this, we would walk to school together. His parents’ apartment was further away from Lowell Elementary than my parents’ apartment, so every day Jeffrey would walk to my house, ring the doorbell, and I’d run out and join him for the rest of the trip to school. After school, we’d reverse it: We’d leave school together, I’d leave him once I got to my house, and he’d continue on alone.

Jeffrey had thick glasses. And when I say “thick,” I mean “thick-like-airplane-windows thick.” Of course, when you’re a kid, the thickness of your glasses is irrelevant; just having a pair of glasses pretty much guarantees you being labeled as a dork. Back then, I think it’s safe to say that we were both dorks, but I’m pretty sure Jeffrey took the brunt of the name-calling because of his thick specs and rhyming last name. Ironically, Jeffrey Van Riper’s glasses would be considered very hip by today’s standards. If only he could have held onto them for three decades.

The glasses were definitely a factor in Jeffrey’s geekdom, but the thick strap that bound the glasses to his skull definitely didn’t help the situation. I remember him wearing it extremely tight, as if the band were strong enough to keep his glasses strapped to his noggin even in gale-force winds. The strap was so tight that the flesh above it bulged out and, in spots, folded over it.

No, Jeffrey would never be a fashion designer or runway model, but he was good for conversation on the way home after a long day of simple addition and spelling. Actually, let me rephrase that: Jeffrey was good for conversation on the way home with the exception of one cold winter day. A day when my moon boots were on my feet, and my shoes were in my shoe-box bag.

On that day, for whatever reason, Jeffrey began to run his mouth. Maybe he had gotten in trouble in class earlier in the day. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Or maybe he had just had enough of always being the pickee and never the picker. Whatever the case, it began.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember the actual content of the attacks. I’m sure they were whatever the standards are for seven-year-old children: Your mom is fat. Your sister is ugly. Your mom and sister are both fat and ugly. Whatever was being said, I remember it getting old very quickly.

Jeffrey was walking on my left; in my right hand was the shoe-box bag, my fingers clutched tightly around its drawstring. Inside the bag was a box. Inside the box were my shoes. And the weight of it all dangled between four fingers and a thumb.

It continued: My father was stupid. My parents’ apartment was dirty and smelly.

I remember looking at him, his dark eyes staring back at me through thick airplane glass. I told him to knock it off. He didn’t.

By this point, the entire Shady Family Tree had been labeled stupid. I think this probably included my grandparents, though I’m not sure about aunts, uncles and cousins. Logic would make one assume that at some point the “stupid gene” would cease to bleed out into my familial periphery.

Looking back on it, I would’ve liked to have asked Jeffrey which of my family members were safe from such a label. It would have been nice to sit down with him and explain to him that, realistically, it’s probably impossible for everyone in a family to be stupid. That would have been the smart thing to do.

Instead, I bashed him in the face with a box of shoes. My brain didn’t even realize what my hands were doing.

Brain: “Whoa! What the hell is going on down there?”

Hands: “This! Suck it, Van Riper!”

The bag with the box with the shoes hit Jeffrey dead in the center of his freckled face, his thick-glassed spectacles shattering immediately on impact. But, hey, you know what? I had warned him, and I didn’t feel guilty about it one tiny bit… until I looked over and saw blood squirting out of his eyes.

Of course, eyes don’t really have blood in them, but tell that to a seven-year-old who just smashed a kid in the face with a box of shoes. What was really happening was, the glass from Jeffrey’s glasses (yes, they really used glass in glasses back then) had shattered. As it did so, it created small cuts on his cheeks. He was crying (understandably) and his tears were mixing with his blood.

I remember it dripping off his face and into the snow around my moon boots. Jeffrey’s glasses, which were now two halves being held together by the fat band that had once kept them glued to his skull, dangled off his shoulder.

In reality, it was probably just a little bit of blood and tears. In my mind, though, it looked like a horror movie. I was Jason Voorhees, the shoe bag was my machete, and Jeffrey Van Riper was the pot-smoking, oversexed camp counselor who just didn’t know when to shut the hell up.

Convinced that I had just blinded and/or killed my friend, I did the only thing I could: I cried along with him.

Jeffrey: “Why’d you do that?!?”

Me: “I’m sorry! I told you to stop making fun of me!”

Jeffrey: “I’m bleeding!”

Me: “Are you blind? Can you see me?”

Jeffrey: “Yeah.”

Me: “Okay! Let’s go to my house! My mom is home!”

Jeffrey: “I’m telling my parents!”

Me: “I don’t think there’s any way of avoiding that. Your glasses are broken and your eyes are bleeding. But I’ll buy you a new pair of glasses. I promise!”

Jeffrey: “How are you going to do that? You’re only seven!”

Me: “I know! I’m just saying that out of fear and confusion!”

Jeffrey: “You know, you speak awfully well for a seven-year-old.”

Me: “That’s because I’m finally transcribing this conversation twenty-five years later.”

Jeffrey: “Oh.”

We ran the half block that existed between my parents’ apartment and what I was sure would soon be labeled a crime scene, both of us crying, one of us covered in blood.

The look on my mother’s face as we barged through the front door was somewhere between “What the hell did you do?” and “Get Jeffrey Van Riper’s bleeding eyes out of my house!” I tried to remain calm. Honest, I did. But what bubbled out of my no-longer-innocent lips was something along the lines of, “And… said our family is dumb… shoe box… blood on moon boots… airplane glass… ahhh!” This was followed by inconsolable bawling.

Looking back on it now, I’m guessing my mother studied “incoherent babble” in college because she seemed to understand me and quickly took control of the situation. She told me to sit still while she drove Jeffrey home, which I had absolutely no problem with whatsoever. She delivered Jeffrey to his front door and carefully explained to Mr. Van Riper why he’d have to pick glass out of his son’s face before eating his dinner.

In the end, I’d say the adults were remarkably understanding. Sure, Jeffrey’s father flipped out a bit after noticing that his kid’s face looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse. And, yes, I was read the riot act for what I did and warned to never again use violence as a resolution. You know, typical parent stuff. Someday, when one of my kids pummels one of their friends with an iPod shoved into a sock, I hope that I too can be that understanding.

After that day, Jeffrey stopped coming by my house in the mornings. I can’t say I blame the kid. But if he ever happens upon this post I want him to know this:

Dear Jeffrey,

I’m sorry I hit you in the face with my shoe box and made your eyes bleed. If my parents hadn’t forced me to wear moon boots it never would have happened.

Sincerely,

Justin Shady

A story I’ll now never forget,

-Shady