Saturday, April 24, 2010

Spring Fever

Spring is here and I'm counting the days until summer vacation. I can't wait for this first year at Gateway Regional High School to be over. No more gym class or industrial arts, and I certainly won't miss the cafeteria.
It has been a tough year, getting used to a new routine, new classmates and teachers. I'm looking forward to a few months of not worrying about whether or not I remembered to bring my gym bag or if my book covers need replacing.
I'm getting good grades at Gateway, but I don't feel comfortable in this school yet. You don't really get to know your teachers very well since you don't spend all day with them, just "periods" in the schedule. There are several kids I'd like to be better friends with, but they live in other towns, and we're all only thirteen, so it's hard to see each other.
I don't even see many of my former classmates from Woodbury Heights, either. Mostly Steve Kay and Vince Fitzgerald. Sometimes I'll play baseball with Paul LaPann and Billy Hills and some of the other guys from the Heights, but mostly just Steve and the younger kids who live in my neighborhood.
The news seems to get worse. The civil rights movement and the war over in Vietnam; violence on the TV every night. I still worry that the Russians might start a war over something in East Berlin again, and India and China seem to want to start something as well.
I lay awake at night thinking about all this stuff, and I don't want to. It makes me nervous. I wonder why I don't have the nerve to ask girls out on a date, even though I'm attracted to a lot of them. I don't see a lot of the girls from Woodbury Heights in my classes now. I meet a lot of new girls. Sue Parker and Linda Williams. Jill Springer and Marilyn Wernig. Hard to get used to not seeing Joyce or Sheila or Judy.
Despite the fact that I don't date anyone or even ask anyone to date me, I think a lot about girls now. They look different, that's for sure. The girls' bodies seem to be developing faster than the boys, you know? They're looking less and less like little kids and more and more like young women. I'm not sure, but I think I'll miss being around these girls over the summer. Maybe if I mow a lot of lawns and ride my bike or play war with Steve a lot I won't think about them so much.
I'm thinking about the class trip that's coming up. I can't wait for that. The school is taking us to the World's Fair in New York, and I've been there several times already, and I just can't wait to get there again.
Such promise for the future is there. So many amazing things to see. A lot of my classmates haven't been there yet, so I can have fun being a guide to the place. This will be a great trip, a chance to forget about the world blowing up, a chance to see the future again. It will be a great way to end the school year.
We've got final exams coming up, and the Bookmobile will come again, and I'll get a chance to buy a lot of paperbacks about history. The Bookmobile is one of my favorite things about high school. Books on wheels, and they come to you! I've never seen so many books about all the different wars throughout history. It's a dream come true for me. I love the smell inside the Bookmobile too. Reminds me of the way the newsstand in Woodbury smells. Wood pulp and ink, the aroma is intoxicating to me.
Just a few more weeks now and the school year will be over and the summer can't come quick enough for me. Tests and more tests, and then the World's Fair and freedom!
Maybe if we're lucky the world will calm down for a while, you know?
Just for the summer maybe?

Thursday, April 22, 2010


It's hard to understand, this civil rights stuff, all this black against white. For years now I've watched people getting beaten, knocked down by fire hoses, attacked by police dogs and I've seen the bodies of those who have been murdered on the evening news. White people who marched along with the black people have also been killed and beaten, and I tell you I don't understand. Do my classmates understand any of this? Our school is all white except for one. Just one dark face in this sea of white. A girl from Wenonah - Michelle Smith is her name, and I don't know her. She's in the Seventh Grade like I am but she's not in any of my classes, so I don't ever have much of a chance to talk to her.
Michelle's mother is Irene Smith, one of the leaders of the local NAACP, and I've heard she was responsible for stopping the minstrel shows that used to be put on in the Heights. When people mention Mrs. Smith's name in Woodbury Heights, they seem to spit it out, and you can feel their anger.
I don't know if Michelle Smith is treated poorly here in Gateway Regional High School, but there must be some kids that don't want her here.
What must it be like, I wonder, to be the only black kid in the school?
Does she get threatening notes from other kids? Do the girls talk to her, or do they shun her? I don't hear anything, but then again I pretty much keep to myself, and I'm not part of any group, so what do I know?
It's got to be scary, I think, with all this racial hatred going on and you're the only one who's "different".
This is South Jersey not Alabama, but the hatred is there. I've heard all the words and the jokes, and we don't socialize with the black families who live across the street from us even though they are our neighbors.
Every now and then there are stories in the newspapers about crosses being burned on the lawns of black families, or the letters KKK painted on their houses and their churches, but the stories say it's just people playing bad practical jokes, that the Ku Klux Klan isn't really responsible.
This is South Jersey not Mississippi, but there are no black kids swimming in the Woodbury Heights lake in the summer, not yet, not in 1965.
It is something I do not understand, this hatred, this black against white, and yet I'm a part of it, we're all a part of it here in Gateway Regional High School.
Most of us don't pay much attention to it really, even though it's always in the news.
But there is one of us who knows.
Just one dark face in this sea of white.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

On The Defensive

President Johnson had said that the United States was not seeking a wider war in Vietnam. We would only be advising the South Vietnamese army, training their soldiers and providing artillery and air support in their war not a war with the Communists in the north.
More and more American "advisers" were sent to Vietnam in 1964. They get killed no matter what we call them.
In January of 1965 President Johnson sent more American planes to Vietnam in order to help defend the South Vietnamese. Purely defensive the government tells us. We must prevent the Communists from toppling all the other nations of South-East Asia. If we don't they will fall like a row of dominoes.
Here in March of 1965 I watch United States Marines walking ashore in South Vietnam. Three thousand, five hundred United States Marines. They are touted as the first American combat troops to enter South Vietnam. I am confused by this. Aren't the Green Berets combat troops? The pilots and the soldiers and sailors who are protecting South Vietnam - aren't they combat troops. I guess not. I guess they are just teachers in this war not a war.
Ho-Chi Minh, leader of the Communists in North Vietnam asks us if we want to make war like the French, and if so he and the North Vietnamese will make war for twenty years or more if that's what we want. He says that he does not want to topple the other nations in South-East Asia like a row of dominoes, and if America would like to make peace he would make peace.
It is complicated, this war not a war. The North Vietnamese claim they just want to unify the country, and our government claims they want to take over the world just like all Communists want to do.
So we will send in the Marines, like we always do.
"Yeah," I think, the Marines.
This war won't last much longer now.

Blood In Alabama

More violence on the evening news. More people killed. The black citizens of Alabama are marching on Selma. A voters' rights march. What do we understand about it, all of us here in Gateway Regional High School? A story on the evening news.
March 8, 1965.
We've seen this before.
Tear gas.
Police on horses.
Protesters, black and white,
Attacked by police.
George Wallace
Denying black Americans
The rights they are entitled to.
March 9, 1965
We see it all again.
White ministers attacked
By the good ol' boys.
James Reeb, a white minister
More violence on the evening news
A terrible story to be sure,
But we have book reports to finish
Looking forward to Easter.
The civil rights movement
Does not falter
Dr. King will continue
the march
from Selma to
Montgomery, Alabama.
Despite George Wallace
And the Ku Klux Klan
And police with clubs.
March 21, 1965
On the highway they march
Black and white
Protected by the army
And the National Guard.
Four days later
They rally in Montgomery, Alabama.
Songs of freedom sung
And Dr. King asks,
"How long?"
Later that night
Viola Liuzzo, mother of five
White mother of five
Detroit mother of five
Shot to death
Driving marchers
To and from the rally.
Viola Liuzzo
Shot to death
Another terrible story
On the evening news.
But I've got a book report
And Easter is coming
After all.