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.