Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jerome Collins and The Three Hour Gang


Jeremy:
I read your blog about Jason Collins.
Me:
Thanks. Did you like it?
Jeremy:
It was OK.  Wasn’t Jason Collins also the name of the guy who beat you up in the 7th grade?
Me:
No, that was Jerome Collins 
Jeremy:
Why don’t you blog about him?
Me:
Because of the off-chance that he is not in jail right now and has suddenly learned how to read, I am afraid he may wish to do it again. 
Jeremy:
I really love that story.
Me:
Thank you.  Which part of my pummeling entertained you the most?
Jeremy:
I guess all of it.
Me:
I think I’m going to take a pass on Jerome Collins.  In fact, I was thinking about taking a week off from the blog.
Jeremy:
The blog is too new for you to take a week off.  You need to maintain your momentum.
Me:
Why are you such an annoying person?
Jeremy:
Genes.
Me:
Your mother?
Jeremy:
No.

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We used to refer to middle school as Junior High School.  And since Joseph Pulitzer was not a roll off your tongue kind of guy or even a president, we simply referred to our school by it’s municipally bestowed, “JHS 145.”  I was in the SP Program at 145 which combined 7th, 8th, and 9th grade into 2 years, the goal being to enter high school as a sophomore and finish it in 3 years.  On the other side of the spectrum were those students who seemed intent on stretching out their public school experience as long as possible.  I will tackle them later, or perhaps more aptly, they will tackle me.

My friends were a mix of my fellow SP class mates plus kids from my afternoon Hebrew School class.  At this point you are probably thinking “WOW, kids from the SP program AND Hebrew School..  What a cool group that must have been!”  Well, we certainly thought so.  We harassed our substitute teachers as well as those girls who had not fully developed by the age of 14.  We played poker a couple of days a week after school and we wore denim jackets, which were called dungaree jackets.  They were “bright blue new” and definitely not faded.  They allowed minimal arm movement and made a rustling noise if you tried too hard.

 At one Friday poker game Todd was excited to show us something great.  It was a round embroidered patch with a picture of a snake on it.  He saw it when he was in the fabric store with his mother and decided that it would be a great idea if we all sewed snake patches onto our dungaree jackets and become “kind of like a gang.”  “We could call ourselves “The Snakes,” he added, demonstrating his fine-tuned flair for the obvious.   He was so positive that we would be enamored with his idea, that he took out seven more patches from his bag and gave one to each of us.  Now I was not a student of gang history at the time.  However, I was fairly certain that the tougher ones did not trace their roots to a visit to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics with one’s mother. 

And speaking of mothers, none of us were adept at sewing, so the task at hand lay in convincing them of the benefits of “snake camaraderie” and then having them sew the patches on the back of our jackets.  Doing our homework, taking out the garbage, and running errands -- we had the weekend to apply the charm and work our magic.  On Monday, we would show up in our Snake Dungaree Jackets and win the admiration of our friends and schoolmates. 

I unfortunately was dreading the embarrassment as I could not convince my mother to ruin the beautiful dungaree jacket that she had paid $11 for by sewing a snake on it.  Todd and four others were successful in convincing their mothers to do the deed.  Jeff and Stewy did poor jobs of sewing on their own emblems but at least they were part of the gang. 
Come Monday morning, we stood together in the school yard – my clean patchless jacket identifying me as a snake outcast -- when a critical lesson of gangdom was about to begin.  Clarence Ledger, Jerome Collins and their posse came up to us and complimented us on our cool gang jackets.  We almost bought their admiration as sincere until they told us that since we were formally a gang, we were formally trespassing on their turf and that after school in the school yard, they were going to formally beat the shit out of all of us.

“Wait a minute,” I said turning around, my back facing them.  “I’m not a snake.  See,” I pointed, “no patch.”   When I turned back around, the tough kids were already walking away as we lookied at each other in despair.  And thanks to my lame protest, I also happened to snag a few looks of disdain as well.  During the course of the school day, The Snakes got desperate.  Jeff and Stewy were thankful for the poor sewing job they did and started pulling out the threads of their snake patches with scissors from the art class.  Lee and Carl threw their jackets in the garbage can in the bathroom.  Todd faked an asthma attack and had the school nurse call his mother to pick him up early. 
3’o clock came and we decided that the school yard might not be the best place to congregate and walking home as a group might not be the wisest thing either.  I was walking home quickly, eyes constantly looking back over my shoulder when maybe 2 blocks from school, my path was blocked by Jerome Collins.  He was the tallest kid in the 7th grade as I believe he was the previous year as well.  He wore a white t-shirt which had a box of Newports rolled up in one sleeve.  He wore black jeans without the nerd cuff and a new pair of black Chuck Taylors.  As I tried crossing the street he blocked my path and said in a muffled voice “you the biggest snake of all.”  And if that bit of irony and symbolism didn’t hurt me enough, he then powered into me with a fist to my stomach that bounced me off a parked car and onto the sidewalk.  A small group of students looked down on me as I took deep breaths and tried my hardest not to cry.  I was successful for all of 3 seconds when I started wailing. Mission accomplished, Jerome walked away and lit up a cigarette. 

Another day in the life for Jerome Collins.   As for me, snake patch or not, I never wore a dungaree jacket again.

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Me:
Do you like the draft?
Jeremy:
You seemed to cry a lot more when you told me the story.
Me:
I’m allowing myself literary license. 
Jeremy:
What does that mean?
Me:
It means that each embarrassing detail need not be embellished.
Jeremy:
I guess that’s why you failed to mention pissing yourself as well.
Me:
I guess.   Why do you continue to be such an annoying person?
Jeremy:
At least I’m not a snake.