It took a couple of days to get that “Ring Around The Rosie “song out of my head. I was spooked by the game and the history behind it. I’m in my fourth grade class at PS 27 this afternoon looking at my teacher, Miss Kent, telling us about the settlers who came to America to make a better life for their families. The immigrants who came here in the eighteen hundreds had to put up with all kinds of problems. First, the good news you made it to America. Now for the bad news, the streets are not paved with gold. The people who settled here earlier hated them. They hated the new arrivals because they had nothing and they would work for very little money. That means that there would be fewer jobs to go around and the jobs you’re competing for paid less. The new immigrants dragged everyone down with them. So when they got off the boat at Elis Island no one put out a welcome mat for them.
The lucky immigrants were the ones who had some family or friends here in New York City, to greet them and give them a place to stay while they get settled. The unlucky immigrants were forced to pay what little money they had to strangers who they just met at the dock. These strangers, promised to help them understand the language, give them a place to settle and food to eat. But these con artists were ready to suck the blood out of them. After the new arrivals to America were beat out of what little money they earned, some of these families travel west for more freedom and less competition for work. Now these poor immigrants have to hook up with another group of con men who promised to help them get passage out west and free land so they could farm for a living. If they’re lucky enough not to die before they got there, they now have to fight the Indian tribes who want to kill them. The Indians were doing their best to stop the invasion of their country because the immigrants were the enemy. The new settlers would hunt their food, fence their land for farming and shoot Indians on sight to protect themselves.
All of a sudden the school bell rang. Miss Kent stopped the history lesson and asked the Catholic students to line up. For a second I didn’t know what was going on. I forgot, then it came to me, it’s Wednesday and the Catholic students have a one o’clock early release on Wednesday for religious instructions.
We have to line up, leave the building and walk from PS 27 to Visitation Church for religious instructions to prepare us to receive Confirmation. I hated the fact that we had to go to Visitation Church for this bullshit. The only lucky ones are the Catholic School students at Visitation Church because they get to go home early to make room for the public school students who have to learn about their religion. Don’t get me wrong, I Love God, but I don’t love the Nuns or the Brothers who teach us at the Catholic School. As I was lining up I feel a spit ball hit me in the back of the head. I thought to myself “what the F*!@#k was that all about?” I turned to see my school chum, Frankie Coochie Coo holding a straw in his hand. I like Frankie but he can be a big pain in the Ass. So I turned and gave him the finger. There are too many teachers around for me to give him a smack in the head. But it’s a different ball game when we get outside the building; there are no teachers to see me kick his Ass. Because once we’re out of the school building we’re on our own, without any supervision. I wonder who thought up that great idea. We started to walk to the Catholic School and we cut through Coffey Park which makes our trip a little shorter. Now’s my chance to pounce on Frankie for the spit ball attack. He starts to run way ahead of me because he knows what I have in mind. Meanwhile, it’s like a mob scene in the park. Mostly the boys are attacking each other, fighting and rolling around in the grass. The girls stand there with their arms folded laughing at the boys. By the time we get to the Catholic School for religious instructions we are all messed up. We’re doing our best to find the books we lost when we were fighting. They were thrown all over the park. I never did catch up to Frankie who ran away from me like a Bat out of Hell. But I will get him one day to even the score.
By the time that we walk into the Catholic School, our clothes are pulled all over the place. We have dirt on our faces, grass stains on our arms and clothes, and we looked like we went through world war three. As we walked into the classroom, our Nun, Sister Mary Catherine, didn’t waste any time. She hit us with her ruler as she marched up and down the aisles between the desks to restore order. She always has a mean look on her face, dressed in her black Habit and head cap she looks seven feet tall. Her black cap covers her head and only has a white opening framing her face.
She wears big heavy black shoes that make the ground shake as she’s rushing up and down the aisles between the desks. The large Rosary around her waist, sound and looks more like a chain. She keeps hitting us and shouting “You are all doomed! You are all going to Hell!” After three whacks with her ruler, I am feeling some serious pain. We all do our best to keep quiet, looking straight ahead, folding our hands and placing them on the desk in front of us. Every student in the classroom calms down and we do not dare to make a sound.
I turn a little to my right and see Frankie Coochie Coo sitting at the desk next to me, looking like an Angel. Oh Crap! How did he wind up next to me?” We don’t have assigned seats in Catholic School so this shit head is sitting next to me just to make trouble. He knows that I can’t look at him without laughing out of control. If I crack up laughing Sister Mary Catherine will kill me with ten whacks of her ruler. Because of this laughing problem, at PS 27, Miss Kent assigned us to seats at the opposite end of our classroom because we can’t stop laughing if we’re next to each other.
Frankie knows that I’m dead! But I’m not going down alone, once he looks at me he can’t stop laughing either. Sister Mary Catherine is doing her best to teach us our prayers, while I’m trying not to look at shit head. It takes every bit of my self control I have not to look at him. I keep my head low and I turn a little to the right, I can’t help it; it’s like a death wish. Out the corner of my eye, I see him doing the same thing, turning his head a little to the left. That’s it! We laughed and laughed so hard we started shedding tears. Sister Mary Catherine runs at us swinging her ruler like a baseball bat. She hits me hard, two or three times, on my back and arms, I’m in such pain. My laughing tears change into crying tears. At the Same time she reaches over and grabs Frankie’s ear and drags him out of his seat, pulling him as he’s screaming in pain, to a desk at the other end of the room. Frankie still had his arms raised to protect himself, but it didn’t do him much good. I could see that his ear was beet red with a little blood on his ear lobe. Ouch! Better him than me. All the kids in the classroom are scared shit-less. Our classroom got so quiet that you could hear a pin drop.
Sister has that mean look on her face again. She walks to the front of the class, turns to look at us and keeps slapping the ruler in her hand, daring us to make a move. She then continued her lesson about the Catechism. I started thinking, why should we learn all this stuff? It’s a waste of time. When my mother drags me to Church every Sunday, I sit with her and I don’t have a clue of what’s going on. It’s all Latin to me.
The only time I do understand is when our priest starts to explain the sermon in English. But most of the time our priest talks about the money the Church needs to pay the bills so they can do their good work. I rather be outdoors playing games with my friends. At the end of the class our priest comes in the classroom to give us a quick quiz on today’s lesson. Then he tells us not to sin, like cursing, disobeying your mother and father, not going to Church on Sunday, and eating meat on Friday and so on. He warns us to watch out for the biggest sin of all, when lightning will strike you dead on the spot and you will go right to Hell. This sin that you must avoid at all costs happens, when you go into a non Roman Catholic Church like a Mosque, Synagogue, Buddhist Temple, or whatever.
Then he gives us this weird look, points his finger at us and says in a deep voice, you better listen to me or else. He scared the whole class to death. I hear this warning every time I go to religious instructions but I don’t believe him. First, I don’t feel that God would zap a bunch of kids to death and put them in the fires of “Hell” because God loves us. Second, I was fixing my bike one day, when a little old man started waving me to come over. I looked around and I didn’t see anyone else so I went over to him. He told me that he pulled the light cord too hard and it broke. He asked me to follow him into the building and climb on to a platform and reach for the broken light cord and turn on the light for him. He said that he is just too old to climb up on to the platform himself. I said okay and walked into the dark building with him. It was so dark that I could barely see anything; the old man felt for the platform with his hand and said “Here it is. Please step up on this platform and feel for the broken light string.” I got myself up on the platform, found the light string and pulled it. The light went on and there I am standing on the platform, holding the broken light string, adjusting my eyesight to the bright light. Well, when I could finally see this big room clearly, I realized that I was standing on and alter in a Jewish Synagogue. I almost shit my pants while I was waiting for the bolt of lightning to hit me and the Devil to pull me down into the fires of “Hell.” You know what, it didn’t happen. I got off the platform and the old man, who was the Rabbi, thanked me for helping him. He then offered me a quarter as a tip for helping him. I said “no thank you.” My mother told me never to take money from older people who need your help. That’s why I don’t believe the priest’s warning about the Cardinal Sin. The religious instruction class was over. I hooked up with my friend, Frankie Coochie Coo, we put our arms over each others shoulders and walked home together.