For the umpteenth time we were in anoth­er school. You nev­er got used to being the new kid in town. It wasn’t easy hav­ing to fit in. Every­one else had best friends already, long­time friends or a cir­cle of friends. It wasn’t easy and down­right uncom­fort­able at times to be an out­sider try­ing so earnest­ly to be one of the gang. It was embar­rass­ing to be hauled in front of the class to be intro­duced, and asked, “Mike, tell us a lit­tle bit about your­self.” Like a good navy kid I gave my name rank and ser­i­al num­ber and prompt­ly head­ed for the near­est emp­ty seat. Or, you’d be point­ed out in the back of the class as “The New­com­er” and asked to stand up while every­one gawked at you sus­pi­cious­ly as though you were a spy or from anoth­er plan­et. Man, I hat­ed that, but did my best to look cool as I flicked my bangs to the side and waved casu­al-like at my new class­mates.

Girls were always much eas­i­er for me to make friends with at first. If they thought you were cute they were very friend­ly. Although I was extreme­ly skin­ny, I had my afore­men­tioned Bea­t­le bangs and could flash my dim­ples on com­mand. There were times then and lat­er when I found myself in trou­ble for that. Oth­er boys didn’t think it was so cute and I was threat­ened for look­ing at someone’s girl friend or talk­ing to his girl. I didn’t even care about hav­ing a girl­friend at the time, I just liked being liked, and that’s all. Inevitably, in a few weeks at the most, you’d get over that painful hump if you man­aged to keep your cool, act­ed agree­able and helped your team win at kick­ball. Once they got used to you, you made friends with kids you had some­thing in com­mon with.

My broth­ers, sis­ters and I liked our new ele­men­tary school. For one, it was just across the way and even bet­ter; we didn’t have to wear a uni­form. We only had to dress up on Sun­days now. Pub­lic school was con­sid­er­ably more fun and in a Cal­i­for­nia way, much more laid back. The school build­ings were one sto­ry and spread out in rows with small court­yards between them, each con­nect­ed by canopy-cov­ered side­walks. The school­yard was a huge sandy lot with play­ing fields par­ti­tioned with chalked lines main­tained by the jan­i­to­r­i­al staff. At lunchtime, there could be as many as four kick­ball games going on at the same time. At the north end was an assort­ment of mon­key bars, a domed jun­gle gym and swing sets com­plete with pull up bars and a set of rings.

It rarely rained in San Diego so the win­dows and doors were open most of the time. I liked that. There were out­door bench­es and you could eat your lunch out­side if you could get a seat. I enjoyed lunchtime and sam­pled some inter­est­ing food that I swapped for. Kids are finicky and didn’t care for every­thing in their lunch­es, so we trad­ed sand­wich­es and desserts every­day. My mom usu­al­ly made us peanut but­ter and jel­ly or baloney sand­wich­es. I hat­ed peanut but­ter and jel­ly so I always had a baloney sand­wich of one kind or anoth­er- with mus­tard, mayo and let­tuce, some­times with cheese, or a com­bo with all of the above or the clas­sic baloney and ketchup.

Some­times, I swapped for some inter­est­ing fare, includ­ing egg sal­ad, tuna, tongue and Under­wood Dev­iled-Ham sand­wich­es. I always liked canned meat and there’s noth­ing more sat­is­fy­ing than a fried spam sand­wich. Any­way, some kids had fash­ion­able lunch box­es dec­o­rat­ed with pop­u­lar icons of the time like Pop­eye, Bar­bee or the Mun­sters. One lucky bas­tard had a Bea­t­les lunch­box. I on the oth­er hand had a sim­ple but func­tion­al brown paper lunch bag. That meant my wax paper-wrapped sand­wich was mashed into inter­est­ing shapes when I pulled it out. They still tast­ed good. Many of the kids with lunch­box­es had a ther­mos filled with iced soda or still-warm chick­en noo­dle soup. I usu­al­ly had an orange or an apple or a few crum­bled cook­ies with my sand­wich, but was usu­al­ly unsuc­cess­ful trad­ing those for a more desir­able dessert like a dev­il dog or slice of cake.

I think I did just fine in school and enjoyed it, espe­cial­ly art class where I could shine. There wasn’t the stiff com­pe­ti­tion like I had back in Mary­land. Not many bud­ding artists in the group except for one kid who was pret­ty good at draw­ing Rat Fink dri­ving var­i­ous hot rods. In Decem­ber that year my art teacher asked me to paint the three kings on the back wall. She rolled out a six-foot long sheet of heavy paper and pinned it to the bul­letin board. I paint­ed the kings on camels framed by tall palm trees and the Star of David glow­ing bright­ly in a star­ry sky.
One of my teach­ers, Miss Vaughn, was a twen­ty-some­thing bomb­shell. She wore tighter, short­er skirts than the oth­er teach­ers and was stacked. Fun­ny, I don’t seem to recall her face. My friend, Kevin Fer­ring, and I dropped a lot of pen­cils to sneak a look at her legs when she sat in thought­ful repose at her desk. I drew lurid draw­ings of her with our heads lodged between her ample jugs or hav­ing one of our eyes poked out by one of them as she passed. Inevitably things would go awry. As it did that after­noon when she noticed a com­mo­tion in the back of the room. The draw­ing was passed around one too many times and she con­fis­cat­ed it. She looked at it with­out say­ing a word. She pulled the kid to the side and spoke soft­ly to him. I saw her ask, “WHO?” That pan­icked lit­tle weasel fin­gered me. I was mor­ti­fied when she marched over, crum­pled the draw­ing in front of my face and bounced it off my fore­head. She bent down to whis­per in my ear, “You wish!” Then she spoke out loud, “Now pick it up and throw it in the trash where it belongs! If I find anoth­er one of these, we’ll pay a vis­it to the prin­ci­ple — Got that Mr. Adams?”

Gulp. “Got it!”

In fifth and sixth grade we had Span­ish class­es. I was called Migueli­to… “lit­tle Michael” because there was anoth­er Michael, a big­ger kid in the class, who was called Miguel. Yeah, he was big, a big jerk! I sat near Juan, Boni­ta, Catali­na and Estephan, as we were forced to call each oth­er. Between Hola and Adiós, I didn’t retain much. I nev­er had the chance to prac­tice with any­one out­side of class. I don’t think I ever met a real Mex­i­can dur­ing our stay in San Diego. That was iron­ic because we were a stone’s throw away from the bor­der. Out­side of class the only Span­ish we spoke were curse words we picked up out in the school­yard. If you had the mis­for­tune of get­ting a ball kicked into your groin, you screamed, “Mier­da — Me las bolas!” (Shit —My balls!) Then called the kid who kicked the ball, “Cara de culo!”(Ass face) I also learned anoth­er nick­name for my penis, El pipi, and one for Mrs. Vaughn’s rack- grande chichi’s.