Friday, December 9, 2011

Christmas 1972...Starring John Adams, Jams Onion, Apple McCarrot

Thirty-nine years ago this very month, St. John’s grammar school in Kingsbridge embarked on an annual field trip to Radio City Music Hall. All I remember is that my fifth-grade class rode the subway, which we could see outside the school’s east-facing windows, into mid-town Manhattan to see not only the hall’s Christmas spectacular, but a full-length feature film as well. In this instance, it was the musical 1776. A history teacher at Cardinal Spellman High School, Sister Josepha, remarked several years later that this entertaining flick contained “much too much levity” to be considered a fair rendering of the founding of our nation. And she might have been on to something, since the historical evidence is not exactly clear that Thomas Jefferson was incapable of writing the Declaration of Independence for a spell because he “burned” at being so far away, and for entirely too long, from the wife. It’s too bad he burned all of his correspondences with her, because we'll just never really know.

Anyway, fast forward four decades and times have certainly changed since that school field trip. On a positive note, the subways around here are much more efficient and comfortable than they were in the 1970s. During that snapshot in time, they were filthy on the outside and on the inside. Often riders had to sit atop the subway car’s heating source, too, and there was no room whatsoever under the seats, so the aisles were typically clogged with this, that, and the other thing. And Radio City doesn’t feature movies anymore at Christmastime, or anytime else as far as I know. It’s a lot more expensive as well, but then so is everything else.

I’d also hazard a guess the available chaperone pool for school field trips was much broader in 1972 than it is today. Most mothers didn’t work jobs outside of the home back then. One parent’s income often sufficed, which is rarely the case today. So, when my mother volunteered her services as a chaperone, I was afforded the opportunity to select three of my classmates to accompany me under her special guidance. So, that was four of us among a class of forty baby boomers. If my arithmetic is correct, we’re talking ten chaperones per class here.

The problem, though, with asking a ten-year-old kid to pick a trio of companions was that he might just have had four of five friends, and somebody would then feel excluded, even wounded. And that’s exactly what happened. Fortunately, our little clique of friends had initiated this rather clever naming game—for ten year olds, I suppose—where we assumed monikers based on foods and commercial products that rang familiar to our given names. I will thus use these nicknames to protect the innocent all these years later.

Foremost, I will come clean as Nicoban NyQuil. Nicoban was a trailblazing stop-smoking gum frequently advertised in the early 1970s. And, of course, who among us hasn’t swigged a dose or two of NyQuil at some point in time. Well, the first two contemporaries I tapped for my Radio City Music Hall troupe were no-brainers: Celery Rolaids and Jams Onion. It was the third slot that put me on the spot because there were two strong contenders. And although I preferred one somewhat to the other, I suspected the loser would be wounded by my subsequent choice. And I was right—he was. When I chose Apple McCarrot to round out our foursome, French Fry McReynolds Wrap let me know how deeply offended he was by the slight. He said something like, “I thought I was your friend.” He was my friend and I felt really bad about it—but, then again, so was Apple McCarrot.

Nevertheless, I suspect French Fry McReynolds Wrap ended up in another quartet that suited him just fine. Field trips to Radio City at that agog age at Christmastime were very exciting. When we returned to our regular classes the next school day, my "Language Arts" teacher at the time, Sister Camillus, informed us what “obnoxious” meant. A catchy 1776 musical number described John Adams as “obnoxious and disliked” within the Continental Congress of 1776. Almost two hundred years later, there was none other than Sister Camillus in St. John’s grammar school. It was nice, I guess, to have a living and breathing example of obnoxiousness on display, but the ten-year-old me just didn’t appreciate at the time.

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