Should I have seen "red flags" our first day together?

On the first day of classes, I showed up in the cafeteria for 4th period duty, the dreaded assignment I’d avoided for three years. Standing among the tables in the middle of the room was Jack, who’d be my partner for the year. He looked prepared—an authoritative frown on his face and a whistle around his neck. His long hair swung as he spun around to watch the room fill.

I had to shout when I introduced myself. That big shiny box of a room was vibrating with noise. The school had instituted a new policy—piping popular music into the cafeteria through the public address system to accompany the chicken croquettes and tuna casserole. So added to the noise level that only junior-high-school kids are capable of making, rock music filled the air—The Zombies, The Fifth Dimension. To this day I can’t listen to “Hey, Jude” without smelling hot dogs.

I looked at the sea of bobbing heads as I walked around the tables and felt a rush of pleasure. In two weeks I would be starting night classes for a Masters in School Counseling and before long, I hoped, I’d be working with kids one-on-one.

From the middle of the room Jack got the kids’ attention with a booming, “Yo. Qui…yet! Listen up, everyone. When I ask for your attention, I expect it . . . Got that? . . . Good.”

Unlike me, he appeared to welcome his assignment. I’d been at the school for the past three years, and he was on the third day of his first job. Well, he said he did just graduate from a teachers’ college, I reasoned, so maybe he’s learned this stuff in Cafeteria Duty 101.

 “Tweeeet!!  Listen up, everyone,” he shouted. A pause, and then another “Tweeeet!!” His next announcement covered the routine for trays and trash.

Geez, I hoped we’d have some laughs, I thought, but he’s all business . . . He’s pretty short. Maybe it’s a Napoleon complex or something.

And yes, I also thought . . . he is cute, though.

Every day I looked forward to fourth period cafeteria duty, a fact that would have astounded any teacher who’d have heard me say it. With second period free, I could stop in the faculty lounge and check my hair and lip-gloss in the bathroom mirror. In the glare and noise of the packed cafeteria that September, Jack and I patrolled the tables and developed our routines. I stopped and talked to the kids who were sitting alone or looked uncomfortable. Jack sought out the troublemakers. There were always plenty of both.

 “Where do you live?” Jack asked one day as we ambled along the tables.

“In a high-rise in Forest Hills,” I said, excited that he’d asked a personal question. Hiding a smile, I said, “What about you?”

“Hey, you!” Jack shouted, turning abruptly from me. “Just where do you think you’re going?” I watched a child-like seventh-grader, probably looking for a bathroom, shrink even more as he slid back to his table. Poor kid. Jack was a little harsh there.

He spun back to me. “I live in Queens, too. Bayside.

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 “What did you do this weekend,” he asked one Monday.

“My roommate Lynn and I saw a good movie Friday night,” I said. “My Night at Maud’s.”

“Never heard of it. Is it playing around here?”

“No, we were in the city. It’s French,” and with my best Edith Piaf imitation I said, “ ‘Ma Nuit chez Maud’. There’s a theater for foreign movies near the Plaza. Lynn’s a French teacher too so first we had dinner in a bistro in the 50’s. THAT is our idea of an exciting night.” I got him to smile.

He was waiting for more, so I said, “We did go into the Plaza afterwards for a Mai Tai at Trader Vic’s,” as if having a sugary cocktail at a tourist trap made it more cool. I failed to mention that on Sunday night we wound up at Lynn’s parents’ apartment in Flushing watching “The Ed Sullivan Show” with her four younger siblings.

“I go into the city a lot but never around Midtown,” he said. “The Village, mostly.”

The Village. It figures. Cool.

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The piped-in music provided a soundtrack for our daily encounters; it made the job almost bearable. I kept the radio on whenever I was home or in the car, and I’d been dancing alone around my house since the early days of “American Bandstand.”

“Oh, listen. I love this song,” I said to Jack about the tune playing on the PA system. “I heard it on the radio everyday the year I started here . . . ‘Cherish is the word’… ” I lip-syncked along with the Association.

“What station do you listen to?”

“Usually WABC-AM and sometimes—“

“Oh, that terrible AM pop junk. You should listen to WNEW-FM.”

So driving home I clicked to FM and moved the dial to his station. But at least once a day I clicked back over to AM to see if I could catch, “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”

When it came to our tastes, though, the most important thing in 1969 as the Vietnam War raged was that we were both Doves. Had he or I been a Hawk, that revelation might have ended our story right then and there.

 

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