Thursday, October 25, 2012

Remembering My COOP

For some reason unbeknownst to me, I remember this particular date in history. Thirty-seven years ago on October 25, 1975—a Saturday (so easily verified in this Information Age of ours)—I took the COOP exam. A familiar ritual for boys and girls in their final year in Catholic grammar school, the acronym is short for "Cooperative Admissions Examination Program." Actually, it should have been called the CAEP exam. For me, it all went down at St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Fordham area of the Bronx, a few miles to the south of where I called home and attended school.

“Tolentine,” as it was popularly known, was one of the four high schools I requested the COOP results be forwarded to for either "admission" or "rejection"—a requirement, I think. There was, too, an “on waiting list” potential third response from the selected schools. Happily, I was offered admission to all four of my high school choices, although I had no intention of ever attending Tolentine or "the Mount," Mt. St. Michael. The reasons why we chose the high schools we did back then were typically multi-layered and ran the gamut from affordability to location; family tradition to gender exclusivity; "I wanna go where my friends are going" to "I have no choice because it's the only school I made." And, once upon a time, kids were actually rejected and placed on schools’ waiting lists. You know, when these institutions of fine learning were not hard up for business like so many of them are today. Baby boomers outnumbered the available desks in the 1960s and 1970s.

In fact, St. Nicholas of Tolentine High School closed its doors for good in 1991, the victim of declining enrollment in a demographically changing neighborhood that couldn’t afford the ever-rising tuition costs. It should be noted that after completing the arduous COOP exam, a handful of my grammar school buddies and I set out for home, but not before patronizing a local Kentucky Fried Chicken joint on Fordham Road. Last time I checked the place was still in business, although it called itself KFC now and its simple 1975 menu—regular or extra crispy—was a relic of the past. As I recall, one of my meatier mates from St. John’s grammar school in the Bronx's Kingsbridge neighborhood, ordered a three-piece dinner that day and somebody—not me—made the obligatory fat joke. Kids. By today’s yardstick, I suspect this thirteen-year-old would be considered svelte, and three pieces of chicken, a tiny cup of phony-tasting, dehydrated, instant mashed potatoes (which I always liked), and a small lukewarm piece of frozen corn on the cob would hardly qualify as a pig-out. After lunch—with our educational mission accomplished and appetites satisfied—we walked the few miles home without incident. We could have hopped on the Number 20 bus, but we were an adventuresome and energetic lot in those days.

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