Lawrence High School

November 5, 2011 at 8:58 pm (Uncategorized)

I entered Lawrence High School in September of 1957, a shy, skinny 110-pounder who kept to himself and said very little. Odd. Today, most people wish that I would just shut up. And I certainly don’t weigh 110 pounds any longer! Truthfully, I was a late-bloomer in many ways. It would take the Army to finally make something of me, but I would have to wait six more years for that.

Back then Lawrence High was located in a beautiful brick building on Broadway in Lawrence that has housed the junior high school since 1960. There was no junior high in the district in those days until construction of the new high school on Peninsula Boulevard in Cedarhurst was completed. Then the sophomore, junior and senior classes relocated there.

I was a member of the first graduating class from the new Lawrence High School in 1961. That turned out to be a rather unique year. If you flipped our class ring upside down, the 1961 on it still read 1961. We heard that it would be thousands of years before you could do that again. I tried figuring out the exact date before I wrote this, but quickly gave up. I guess I didn’t develop very good math skills while at LHS. Anyway, that’s just a curious bit of useless information that seems well-suited to a wacky class that included me, Richie Vicario, Donny Leone, Joe Parlo and a host of other off-beat characters.

Richie and I walked to school together every morning, meeting at the corner of Rockaway Turnpike and Pacific Street in Cedarhurst. Then we’d cross the tracks and hang a right onto a dirt path that paralleled the railroad. We followed that to Lawrence Station, which was sort of the mid-point of our daily journey. In the winter time especially, Richie and I sometimes stopped there to warm up before resuming the trek to school another half-mile along Lawrence Avenue. Often the building would be deserted, and we’d sit there for five or six minutes listening to the soft ticking of the station clock and the gentle hissing of the radiators while we recovered from exposure to the elements. Reaching the comfort of Lawrence Station during a blizzard was like finding an oasis in the snow. I think that probably saved us from a couple of cases of frostbite over the next four years.

One evening, I called Richie and told him to meet me at the corner and we would walk up to the village to get an egg-cream, as we often did. I had just purchased a gorilla mask, and I ran ahead to hide in the bushes. Peeking out, I saw Richie approaching. When he came abreast of me I jumped out with a roar. Poor Richie turned in mid-stride and raced several blocks up Rockaway Turnpike before he heard me laughing uncontrollably and stopped. He was not happy with me, to say the least.

We quickly learned that autumn Saturdays were THE days for LHS students. That’s when football ruled, with home games played at the magnificent brick wall-enclosed Horn Stadium behind the high school. I remember at the end of the first game Richie and I were sitting in the stands when a fight broke out across the field. We rushed over to get involved, but it ended before we got there, which was probably fortunate for us. I mean, it took a lot of gall for two runts like us – Richie was even skinnier than I was – to do that. We almost certainly would have gotten a serious butt-kicking (see Brawl on Summit Avenue).

After being a good student in elementary school without working all that hard, I soon learned that I actually needed to study in high school if I expected to do well. That was a problem. I had virtually no study habits and didn’t care about developing any. I was much more interested in playing baseball or working on my technique for chasing girls. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good at either, and my academic career suffered accordingly. I received good grades in the courses that interested me, but seldom cracked a book for the ones that didn’t. As a result, my record at Lawrence was sort of boom or bust. My idea of studying was merely to cram on the night before the finals. That was a liability that plagued me throughout high school and my brief stint at college. Looking back now, I wish that I had applied myself more vigorously.

My freshman year was, typically, a mixed bag. I got great grades in English, Science and Geography, but bombed out in Mrs. Costello’s algebra class. I never did take a liking to any of the math courses in high school. It’s amazing to me that I eventually went on to a banking career, of all things. I don’t really remember much else about that year, except that we had several big snowstorms. I recall sitting in study hall daydreaming while I watched the snow come down instead of finishing my homework like I was supposed to be doing.

That snowy winter turned out to be a blessing in one way. Richie’s sister, Barbara, worked for the St. Joachim’s parish in Cedarhurst. Every time it snowed, Barbara recruited the two of us to shovel out the church grounds. The job paid $10 a day, which was pretty good money back then. In fact, we almost felt guilty taking our pay from old Father Flanagan when we finally finished. Almost. After we collected, we usually walked down Central Avenue to Alfredo’s Italian Restaurant and ordered a pizza.

Well, this one particular snowy day we were doing our usual job digging out the sidewalks and the church parking lot. It was a heavy, wet snow, and while we worked a steady drizzle began to fall. By the time we were done, both Richie and I were soaked to the skin. We went into the church to warm up. As we sat shivering in one of the pews, I got the bright idea to strip off our wet clothes and hang them on the radiators to dry. So there we were dressed only in our underwear, nervously glancing about as if half-expecting to be struck by a lightning bolt for this blatant show of blasphemy. Fortunately, the powers-that-be must have taken pity on two freezing nitwits and left us alone. And thankfully, we had no embarrassing explanations to make, since the miserable weather kept any potential church-goers away.

The summer before my sophomore year was a bit wacky as well. I was working part-time at Wenmore’s Market stocking shelves. On my off days, Richie and I played baseball at Cedarhurst Park or went fishing at either Woodmere Dock or off the rocks at Rockaway Beach. One afternoon in the park, Richie was hitting flies to me while another group of kids was playing a softball game on the adjoining field. Richie hit a towering foul ball so far to his right that I didn’t even bother to chase it. Playing left field over there was a kid named, I think, Billy Froemmer. He just stood there, oblivious to the heat-seeking missile that was racing toward him from behind.

But Richie knew what was happening. He watched that fly ball arc gracefully out of the sky and saw immediately where it was going to land. Richie started to yell out, “Hey, kid…”, but just then the ball landed square on top of Froemmer’s head with a resounding thud. The poor guy’s hair flapped violently up and down, and he sank slowly to his knees. It was like a scene from The Three Stooges.

While I roared with laughter, Richie snatched up his glove and took off running before his victim could recover. That was obviously the end of baseball for the day. Laughing convulsively with tears streaming down my face, I waited until I was sure that Froemmer wasn’t dead. When he finally staggered to his feet with a huge lump on top of his gourd, I headed for home two blocks away. By the time I reached the front door, my sides hurt so much from laughing that I thought I had done some serious damage to myself. As for Froemmer, I don’t think he ever found out who had cold-cocked him, which was probably a good thing for Richie.

We used to hang out at my house a lot during the summer, and sometimes one or another of our friends came by as well. I remember once Richie and I were up on the third floor when Schuyler Townsend came looking for us. Nobody else was home to answer the door, so he walked around to the back yard to see if we were there. We had the window open and I heard the gate slam. Looking out, I spotted Schuyler, and another brilliant scheme popped into my head.

I dashed into the bathroom and filled a wastebasket with water. Returning to the window, I called out, “Hey, Sky! We’re in the front!”

With that, poor Townsend opened the gate and came back out. As he passed beneath the window, I emptied the pail toward him. That water seemed to take forever to fall three stories, but the timing was perfect. It exploded onto Schuyler with a hissing splatter, freezing him in his tracks. Richie and I raced into the next room, where we climbed through a closet into the space behind the walls to hide. We stayed there trying desperately to stifle our near-explosive laughter until we were sure that our bedraggled and angry friend had gone.

During my sophomore year I met my nemesis, a tough, sarcastic young Irish woman named Noreen O’Sullivan, who taught Latin. Since I thought at the time that I wanted to be a scientist, I figured learning Latin was a good idea. Yeah, right. The logic seemed sound, but somehow it just didn’t work out.

Although I was quite proficient in English, that talent didn’t carry over when it came to learning Latin. And I wasn’t about to actually study, so I soon floundered. The red-haired Miss O’Sullivan seemed to delight in embarrassing me in front of the class by demanding that I decline some obscure Latin verb or other such nonsense. Naturally, I seldom got it right.

My modus operandi was to fail all year long and then pull out a barely-passing grade on the regents. After two years of misery, I finally decided as a senior to drop Latin. Miss O’Sullivan had gotten married by then and become Mrs. Gough, but her temperament didn’t improve. I suspect that she may have regretted losing her favorite patsy; however, I’m sure she soon found another.

Throughout our time in high school, Richie and I were deeply involved in bowling. On Saturday mornings you could usually find us at Falcaro’s Lanes on Rockaway Turnpike. A line of bowling was only 25 cents back then, so you could stay and bowl most of the day for just a couple of bucks while enjoying a basket of French fries to boot.

We participated in intramural bowling all four years that we were at Lawrence. In fact, as a sophomore, I volunteered to serve as secretary. My job was to collect all the score sheets after each session, figure the averages for each bowler, print a schedule and assign lanes. It paid two dollars a week, which figured out to about twenty-five cents an hour considering how much work was involved. Mr. Frank Whitman, who administered the activity, was quite happy that I took the job, since otherwise he would have had to do the grunt work.

I attended my junior prom at Carl Hoppl’s in Baldwin, and it turned out to be quite a farce. Since none of us were old enough to have a driver’s license yet, my date and I had to be driven there and picked up afterward by a family member. How humiliating is that? And even worse, disaster struck when I ordered lobster for dinner. About half an hour later I began to feel a tingling in my cheeks. I ended up having a full-blown allergic reaction that resulted in huge red welts covering my face. I have a photo of the group hidden someplace that shows a hideous creature in a white tuxedo jacket who bears a strong resemblance to Frankenstein. Not my favorite memory of high school, I can assure you.

Also during my junior year, Richie and I made the bowling team under Mr. Whitman, along with our friends Butch Mazza, Donny Player and several others. We thought we were really hot stuff. Every Saturday we’d gather at Falcaro’s to practice, wearing our Lawrence shirts. Those were fun times. In fact, I recall having the high game that season, 238.

My uncle, Ralph Bevilacqua, was at Falcaro’s several times during our practices. Uncle Ralph was a highly-accomplished bowler who participated in all the local competitions and eventually was elected to the Bowling Hall of Fame. He often spent time watching me and offering some good advice. I thought I was well on my way to a distinguished bowling career. Well, as they say, pride comes before a fall.

In our senior year, Richie and I figured that we were a shoo-in for the bowling team. Mr. Whitman had turned over the program to Mr. James Mattison by then, but with Butch and Donny having graduated, we were the most experienced keglers to try out for the team. Much to our shock, Mr. Mattison didn’t select us for the squad. That remains one of the greatest disappointments of my high school years, and from that point on my bowling career floundered.

We had moved over to the new high school on Peninsula Boulevard in September of 1960. Richie and I continued to walk to school every day, only in the opposite direction. That same month, Hurricane Donna tore north up along the eastern seaboard and passed right over Long Island. I recall how we were buffeted by high winds and wild rain squalls as we walked to classes both in the morning and afternoon. Why they didn’t close the school that day is an enduring mystery to me.

That winter I became interested in joining the track team. I could run pretty well in those days before I began to gain some weight. But I was never able to find my niche. I wasn’t quite fast enough for the sprints, and I lacked the stamina for the longer races. My coach, Mr. Irv Mondschein, wracked his brain trying to figure out what to do with me. Eventually, as was my pattern in high school, I became bored with track and dropped off the team.

During our senior year, Richie, Joe Parlo, Al (The Kraut) Habersberger and I, along with one or two others, often hung out together after school. Joe was the only one with a driver’s license and a car, so we spent a lot of time cruising the streets of the 5 Towns in his old Buick looking for girls to pick up. For some strange reason, we never seemed to find any.

We continued to attend the football games every Saturday. Somehow, Donny Leone had managed to make the team despite his diminutive size. He even got to play in the final game, much to our delight. Joe was also on the squad, but had broken his arm early in the season and didn’t play much. After the games, we all usually ended up at White Castle in Lynbrook, where they still had waitresses who came out to the car with the 5 cent hamburgers. We’d each order twenty “belly-bombs”, laughing uproariously as the poor waitress staggered out to the car with more than 100 of the accursed things. If we couldn’t finish them, we’d drive around flinging hamburgers at each other in some half-assed competition. Life was lots of fun back then before reality began to set in.

As a senior, I prospered at LHS. Without Latin or a math course to drag me down, my grades were quite good. Later in the year I also did very well on the college boards, earning a regents scholarship. My goal then became, if you can believe it, to study meteorology. I applied to New York University, which had a science department at its Bronx campus and was the closest facility to home that offered a weather curriculum. In February I received an acceptance letter from NYU, prompting me to feel that my future was now assured.

During the latter part of June, 1961, my class graduated from Lawrence. The ceremony took place on the football field behind the school, and it was a blazing hot day. I couldn’t wait to get out from under that sweltering robe. Our high school career had finally ended. Richie headed for Texas after joining the Air Force, Donny Leone enlisted in the Navy and my transition to a collegiate environment would soon begin. Unfortunately, my stay there would be a short one. I guess John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

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