Tag Archives: School

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Inspiration: To draw, create or write. It comes in many forms.

One can draw inspiration from a sight, a sound or from a blog post written by a friend.

This story comes from the latter.

My good friend Chris recently penned a coming-of-age story about his first brush with mortality (someone else’s) in the summer of 1977 in New York City.

That was an incredible summer that included a very long heat wave in an economically struggling city that endured a major blackout while also gripped by a serial killer who took his murderous orders from a neighbor’s dog.

Oh, and the Yankees won a World Series in dramatic fashion later in the year.

An image that Chris described vividly was his first close look at a dead person not in a casket or at a traditional wake or funeral.

That image was my muse as it brought back a memory of my first dead body — actually two dead bodies.

My encounter happened in the spring of 1976.

I was in sixth grade, attending a public school that I started halfway through the year after returning from one of my parent’s long stays in Argentina.

It was a bright spring morning and I entered the schoolyard.

The three-story L-shaped school building was along the right side. Along the left ran a side street adjacent to the Cross Bronx Expressway, a hellish portion of Interstate 95.

Separating the students from the street was a 12-foot chain link fence. Put razor wire across the top and the school would be indistinguishable from a detention center or jail.

The top grade at P.S. 36 was the sixth, so we were the oldest — the top of the food chain.

As I entered the yard, I immediately saw that it was empty of runners and chasers of any age.

Uh-oh. Was I late?!

Nope, there they were, all piled up against the fence at the corner of the yard looking out at the side street.

The whole area was abuzz.

“Can you see it?!”

“Is it bleeding?!”

“Ewwww!!”

But I couldn’t get close enough to see anything. All the teachers who were normally inside the fence were outside of it, some telling the kids to calm down and get away from the fence and talking to each other, gesturing to a parked car.

From our angle, the car was just far enough up the street that we could make out some shapes in the front seat and not much more.

The teachers were moving in front of our line of sight to block a clear view. But what we knew from all the whispering and buzzing was that there was a dead body in the car.

The school yard rear delimiter ended past the school building.

It had the same chain link fence, and at that moment, most of the school had climbed up a large portion of it.

To the right was another fence and a back gate. A teacher typically was posted at the front and this rear gate to ensure that any child that passed through it would not attempt to leave.

It was unguarded. And now my friend Jaimie and I quickly devised a plot.

He lived in a house adjacent to that rear fence. He had come in the back gate, hooked up with me and another kid and gave us the rundown of what he had seen.

From his home window, he could not see much and his mom had shooed him out their back door and into the school gate before he could get a closer look.

But now he told us that we could go out that gate, in his house’s back gate, down the alley along the side of his house and get right up to the front and take a look.

We were like mini ninjas. We ran out the back silently. We ran through the back of his house and into the alley.

Somehow I was in front and ran right up to the passenger door of the car.

Like a comedy, my two partners in crime probably banged into my back when I stopped short. I don’t remember.

But what I do remember vividly was the open window and the view into the front of the car.

Two dead bodies, extremely bloody from the holes in the sides of their heads and bodies.

One was slumped over the steering wheel; the other had its head back in the passenger seat.

That image freeze framed in my mind forever.

I can’t recall any other details of the car or bodies, just that there was a lot of blood.

We then heard a yell directed at us, and just as comically, we stumble-ran back through Jaimie’s house alley and back into the school yard.

I can pinpoint that it occurred on a Friday because I remember trying to find something about it in the newspaper the next day. There was a small paragraph in the crime blotter. Two unidentified men were found shot to death in a parked car, and very little else.

I can’t say that the event shocked or scarred me.

Anytime I see “Goodfellas” I am reminded of it.

Recently I introduced my kids to the movie and afterward I retold this story to my kids.

They were more fascinated with my story than the movie.

We sat at my computer and I brought up my old school on Google Maps and switched to satellite view. Very little had changed structurally and I could point to all the landmarks in my story.

The only difference is a storefront now exists in front of Jaimie’s house, where the teachers were all milling around that day.

As I looked at the street view image I could still picture that car with its dead driver and passenger.

Oddly, this is my only memory of sixth grade at P.S. 36.

Editor’s note from Chris Mele:

Here’s a plot twist: It turns out that before Silvio and I knew each other, we had both had some experience of this very same caper.

Here’s mine:

It was a Saturday morning (the day after Silvio saw the bodies) and my best bud at the time Charlie Rauch and I got wind of this shooting.
We pedaled our bikes furiously up to the site as Silvio described.
But when we got there, the car was gone, though evidence of what had happened (broken glass and blood bandages as I recall) were on the street.
Ever the reporter, I think I asked at the local pizza shop or bike store nearby what happened and they told me the car had been towed to the 43rd Precinct house, which was then on Benedict Avenue in the Bronx.
We pedaled there (me with my camera) and sure enough, there was the car in the garage, the door wide open, no evidence tape or police tape or anything. 
I shot a bunch of photos, including the one posted here at the top!
Related:

 

 

Dancing as Lunchtime Therapy in a Bronx School

This story is about a song, a New York City public school, an energy-releasing lunchtime activity, and a unique policy by school officials that kept the peace during some rough times.

Growing up in the Bronx during the 70s was a rough adventure for most city kids. Gangs, violence and an economic downturn made it a hotbed of insecurity for the people who were struggling to make ends meet.

During 1976-78 I attended JHS 125, Henry Hudson Junior High, in the Bronx.

The neighborhood was a racially mixed group of working-class families, and I witnessed many in-school and after-school fights and beat downs.

I had my share of conflicts myself, especially with my personal nemesis, a kid named Kevin, who constantly picked on me and caused me grief almost every day.

During one lunch period, my backpack disappeared and I found it in the trash with all the discarded food.

I was so mad. And who was standing right there laughing? Kevin, of course.

I lost my mind and went at him. We were wrestling on the floor when we were pulled apart by the teachers and sent to cool off.

No principal’s office, no suspensions — they just broke it up and told us to stop. This happened so often it’s all they could do.

Nowadays things are different and we would probably have been detained by a school resource officer.

What did administrators do to diffuse the volatile dispositions during lunch periods?

They let us dance!

I am unsure if this was suggested by students, but a phonograph and speaker were provided, and kids brought in their favorite records.

I personally did the “Robot” thing made popular by Michael Jackson and the song “Dancing Machine” to the “Theme from SWAT.”

Then there was the track that only the best dancers were allowed to take the floor and set the place on fire as we all watched and cheered them on.

“The Mexican” was a progressive rock anthem recorded at Abbey Roads Studio by the British Band “Babe Ruth” back in 1972.

It’s driving drumbeat and funky bass and rhythm were perfect for the freestyle dancing that was being born at this time, as it was on its way to be one of the most influential songs of what was to become hip-hop.

The energy that was released by kids dancing to this tune and all of the spectators cheering them on was amazing.

We forgot about our conflicts and struggles and enjoyed being together and free during this short time during our lunch period.

Little did we know that we were witnessing and participating in the birth of the musical and cultural revolution of hip-hop.

“The Mexican” was one of the songs that was covered multiple times and used in so many songs that influenced that generation and the next.

Along with Kraftwerk’s “Trans Europe Express” and The Incredible Bongo Band’s “Bongo Rock” and “Apache,” these songs influenced and shaped the hip-hop music and culture.

Of course older songs from years before influenced the breaks and the beats of these tunes, and I do not want to misrepresent or disrespect the original artists who came up with these riffs.

“The Mexican” and the other songs represent how some kids of the Bronx during the late 70s at a school on Pugsley Avenue honed their freestyle moves during lunch periods and blew off steam instead of fighting each other.

Looking back, I wonder if the administration that allowed this really understood or realized the importance this activity had for the sanity and sense of freedom for these kids.

I know I still listen to “The Mexican” today and think back to this time as the beginning of an exciting and influential period in music and dance that is still with me today.

 

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