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>The American School/Andrew/Sandy’ Panties

March 14, 2010


My sister and I spent only ten weeks at the American School in Guadalajara before Mom took us both out and enrolled us in Mexican schools. One reason was that she was determined we were going to learn Spanish, something that would never happen as long as were speaking English at school and English at home. In  my case, however, there was a second, equally compelling reason: the American School was terrible. For example, not all staff were certificated (the algebra teacher was a retired plumber); secondary boys, as you’ll read, were out of control. It’s not a pretty picture. 
In all fairness however, today’s American School of Guadalajara ( bears no resemblance whatsoever to the one I attended fifty years ago. With over 1200 students enrolled, it has a modern facility, fully certificated staff, and it’s accredited to US universities.

Finally, before you start reading, a reminder that I’ve changed people’s names into order to protect their privacy. 

The American School

September meant a new school year was about to begin. No different here than back home. Valerie and I would attend the K-12 American School on Avenida Vallarta. When Mom went to register us, they put me in seventh grade, even though I’d already completed seventh grade at Van Nuys Junior High. Until they received transcripts, they said, I’d be in seventh grade. I spent the first week of school making sure everyone knew I was headed for eighth grade just as soon as those transcripts came in. Valerie entered first grade without mishap.

There are probably schools that are worse than the K-12 American School of Guadalajara of 1956, but once you’ve reached a certain degree of ineptitude there’s not much use in continuing to keep score: there’s no honor in being the best of the worst. And so it was with this school.

For example, Mom discovered that some of the staff had no teaching credentials. Some never completed college. Some probably never started. The algebra teacher had been a plumber before retiring to Mexico. The school administrators, a husband and wife team, were a dentist and a psychologist. They spent a lot of their administrative energies arguing over who was going to throw and who was going to fetch.

None of that was of any particular concern to me. What did concern me was my status of “new boy” in the school. Before moving, even going into a new grade at the same school where I’d been made me anxious. Now I was not only changing schools, I was changing countries. Ironically, only the grade level stayed the same, which did nothing to relieve my anxiety.

SNAPSHOT: A half dozen older boys stand by the railing on the large, second floor balcony of the school that looks out at traffic going by on Avenida Vallarta. Big chunks of plaster are missing from the railing. A boy is tearing out another chunk.
I was reminded of my status during my first week at the American School. I walked out on the second floor balcony one morning between classes and into a knot of boys gathered at the railing. “There’s one, I see it!” said one of them, pointing down the street. I looked but saw nothing out of the ordinary. The other boys moved forward, anticipating something. Clueless, I sensed a mounting tension in the group.

A boy in front tore out a chunk of masonry the size of his fist and hefted it a couple of times. “OK, guys, here it comes! Watch this!”. The knot pushed closer to the railing to get a better view.

All of a sudden it dawned on me just what was going to happen: He was going to throw the chunk at a bus that was approaching. Both aghast and mesmerized, I couldn’t believe he was actually going to do it, but I had to watch.

The boys cleared a throwing space around him. “Here goes!” he whooped
and let fly the piece of masonry. I watched, transfixed, as it arced out over the street and smacked the roof of the bus. Everyone erupted in laughter.

“Way to go, Frank!”

“Jeez! Did you hear that clang? Bet that scared the shit out of ‘em!”

“Bet the driver’s pissed.”

Then one of them saw me. “Hey! It’s the new kid. Let’s see how good his aim is! C’mere!”

“No thanks,” I stammered.

“Then get the hell out of here!”

I was only too glad to exit, still in disbelief. Judging by the amount of missing masonry from the balcony, this little “game” had been going on for some time.

Just before the start of an American History class I watched, once again in amazement, as two boys exploded in anger, smashing a desk and hurling pieces of it at each other. Other boys picked up the pieces and hurled them around the room, laughing. The girls wisely left and I followed, along with a few other boys.

Every day there were students who cut classes to pass the day at Mario’s, an outdoor café across the street, smoking, drinking coffee (or beer), and occasionally waving cheerfully.

There was a young and attractive English teacher who wore tight skirts to class. Instead of standing up to teach, or sitting behind her desk, she liked to sit on her desk, legs slightly spread. Maybe she wasn’t aware of it. Or maybe she did it to cut down on absences and tardies: the boys showed up as early as possible to get a front row seat for her class. One boy said he was going to bring a squirt gun . . .

The Biology teacher quit, not just in the middle of the year, but in the middle of a biology class. “I’ve had enough,” he said quietly, put on his jacket and left the room. To underscore his point, he turned off the lights on his way out.

I watched all this, first in amazement, then in a kind of morbid fascination, much as crowds gather to watch a fire or a dog fight. Sometimes I felt like I should participate. I was a boy and if this is what boys did, then I should join in. But I never did, sometimes feeling ashamed that I didn’t have the guts to participate.

No school I’d ever attended, no school I’d ever heard of, permitted students to do the things that routinely occurred at the American School. Where were the adults? Where was the supervision? Where was any sense of order or decorum? That’s what Mom wanted to know. After two months she yanked both of us out and put us in Mexican schools.
Not all the problems with the American kids occurred at school. I went to a Friday night party at the home of Andrew Carson, a senior and the school tough guy. When not fighting, he picked on younger students. My turn was that night.

SNAPSHOT: Andrew’s house is a modern, one-story affair, gray with a roof that slopes slightly from right to left as you look at it. The small front garden is unfenced but neatly tended: two squares of grass, each surrounded by a low box hedge and between them a short curving walk from the street to the “look-at-me-I’m-red!” front door.
I picked up a blue Chapalita Line bus near our house and after fifteen minutes swung off the bus a couple of doors down from Andrew’s. Even at that distance I could hear Gene Vincent’s “Race With the Devil” blasting from a record player. When I arrived there were already a couple of dozen kids there, all American. I knew a few of them: the Ferguson sisters, Nadine and Penny ; Danny Jackson; Mike Kidman; Lawrence Hicks. Most of the rest I had seen around school.

Half a dozen boys gathered near the front door, drinking beer. A few empties littered the front yard. I walked into the house and picked my way through a crowd of dancers in the living room. Little Richard’s “Lucille” was the current offering. LPs and 45s were strewn across a table top next to the record player. A forgotten cigarette left on the edge of the table was burning its way into the wood. Two girls argued over what to play next.

I didn’t see anyone I knew among the dancers. I made my way into the kitchen, looking for a Coke and a friendly face. Instead, I found Andrew. He was my height but probably forty pounds heavier and nattily dressed in black loafers, black chinos and a long-sleeve gray shirt. This was the first time I’d come face-to-face with him and two things immediately stood out. One was his bullet-shaped head. It was long and narrow with a broad, flat chin and a head that came almost to a point, an effect enhanced by his butch haircut. The second thing I noticed was his smile. It wasn’t a warm and friendly, “Hi! How are you?” smile. It was more of a “Well, well, look what we have here . . .” smile. He finished mixing himself a drink and looked me over disdainfully. I had a gut feeling this wasn’t going to turn out good and I turned to leave, but too late. Putting down his drink, he walked over to me. “Dave,” he said with a now-disarming smile, and before I could respond he punched me in the stomach and stepped back. I bent over in agony, gasping for air. Andrew stood there for a moment, examining his handiwork. Apparently satisfied, he laughed and walked away. As I remained bent over, clutching my stomach, images of “Death for a Dame” came to mind. Maybe being a tough guy private dick wasn’t such a good idea after all.

Mike came in the kitchen. “What’s the matter Dave? You OK?”

“Yeah,” I wheezed, “Just a cramp or something. Gimme a Coke, will you?”

I didn’t tell anyone what happened, didn’t want to be forced into a confrontation with Andrew (“You gonna let him do that to you?”), didn’t want a whole lot of sympathy and attention (“Hey, everyone, look what Andrew did to Dave!”), and didn’t want to leave early (“Whatsa matter, Dave? Mommy says you gotta go home?”). I just wanted to forget what had happened and stay away from Andrew. The rest of the evening I clung close to people I knew, always watching for him and looking for escape routes. We made eye contact once. He smiled that same cold smile, looked down at his fist and blew on it. My stomach started hurting again. Around 10:30, I slipped away, hopped on a bus and went home.

 “You’re home early, David. You have a good time?”

“Yeah, Mom, good time. I’m going to bed.” I quickly went upstairs, undressed and slipped between the covers. My stomach still hurt but not as much as my pride that badgered me with “Why didn’t you fight back? Why didn’t you do something? Instead, you just stood there and took it. You coward. C-O-W-A-R-D. Coward.” It was Dad, all over again.

I reasoned back: “First, I didn’t just stand there and ‘take it’; I was bent over the whole time. I couldn’t have done anything. Second, Andrew’s four years older, a lot heavier and knows how to fight. What was I supposed to do? Offer up my face and my ribs as well as my stomach?“ The argument went on for over an hour before I finally fell asleep, hoping that Andrew wouldn’t go around bragging to everyone about what he’d done. I didn’t think he would: there’s not much glory in pounding on someone like me, not if you’re someone like Andrew.

A week later, he was playing with a loaded handgun. It went off and Andrew was history.
Sandy’s Panties
SNAPSHOT: Sandy’s panties are white.
Andrew’s beautiful sister, Sandy, was a junior at the American School. She had her own way of tormenting me. And not just me, I should add, but all the guys. She had dark hair, sported a perfect tan and wore tight sweaters. At night I’d fantasize about her. She was one of those beautiful young women on the cover of the pulp fiction paperback, tied to a tree with her clothes partly torn off.

I walked out onto the large portico one day during lunch and Tina, in a short gray skirt, was sitting on the low railing, her back to me. As I watched, she swung her legs up to swivel around and hop down on the other side. As she caught sight of me she spread her legs a little, just enough, and paused, a teasing smile on her face. I stood there, mouth open, transfixed. She laughed softly, hopped down from the railing and looked at me with an expression of “Liked that, didn’t you?”. She took her time walking past me, closer than she needed to, leaving her very sexy scent all around me. That vision of heaven replaced the tight sweaters at night and I relived it in private for many months afterward.

Next: Can You Really Convert a Fiat to a Helicopter?

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 15, 2010 4:50 am

    >Wow. That brought back a memory of sixth grade and a similar episode, but it involved what would be approximately Andrew and Sandy together. Strange things, these memories, and how many similarities there are in people's lives as they grow up (or at least, sort of grow up). So now await the italian helicar…Bep Poyz 2

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