Friday, October 28, 2011

"Confessions of a Class Clown"

By Jerry Zezima

The Stamford Advocate

If life begins at 40, I am 17 years old, which was exactly my age when I graduated from high school 40 years ago.

This was the belated math lesson I learned recently when my wife, Sue, and I attended our 40th high school reunion.

We are both proud members of the Stamford Catholic High School Class of 1971. I was the class clown, even though, still crazy after all these years, I have no class.

My goal in life was to be silly and irresponsible and actually get paid for it, which is why I went into journalism. My decision could be encapsulated in one word: algebra.

Here, as I dimly recall, which is how I recall most things these days, is the typical algebra problem:

The Smiths are leaving New York for Boston at 9 a.m., averaging 55 mph. The Joneses are leaving Boston for New York at 10 a.m., averaging 50 mph.

Question: At what point in the 200-mile journey will they pass each other?

Answer: Who cares?

This was my attitude toward high school algebra, which explains why I got a D, which stood, of course, for Dumb.

I always did better in classes where I really didn’t have to know the answers. I was especially good on essay tests because I could bluff my way through them. If high schools gave BS degrees, I would have graduated magna cum laude.

In an English class, each of us was assigned to write an essay on the same topic (I forget what it was) and get up in front of the class to read it. Nobody wanted to do this -- except me. Everybody took it seriously -- except me.

I wrote the silliest, stupidest, craziest, funniest stuff I could think of. When it was my turn, I got up in front of the class, read my essay and got big laughs. I thought: Maybe I could do this for a living.

All the teachers at Catholic High were extremely supportive. Even though they were too kind to say so, they strongly implied that I was spectacularly unqualified to do anything else.

One teacher, a very smart, decent and patient guy, wore an obvious toupee. I’d often go up to him and say, “What’s on your mind?”

Yes, it was sophomoric. Then again, I had his class in sophomore year.

Another teacher, also a terrific guy, caught me playing floor hockey in home room. He told me to go home that night and write, 100 times, on lined paper and in my best handwriting, “I will not play floor hockey in class,” and bring the paper back to him the next morning.

“Very good, Mr. Zezima,” the teacher said when he saw I had completed my punishment. “I hope you have learned your lesson.” Then he gave the paper back to me.

Instead of throwing it out, I put it in my notebook. The following week, I was caught playing floor hockey again. The teacher once more assigned me to write, 100 times, “I will not play floor hockey in class.”

I went home that night and watched TV. The next morning, I handed the teacher my original paper. “Very good, Mr. Zezima,” he said. “I hope you have learned your lesson.”

I did, indeed. From this teacher, I learned creativity and ingenuity. In fact, I learned a lot at Catholic High and had a good time in the process.

The best thing that happened to me in high school was that I met Sue, who at the time was dating someone else. On the advice of my attorney, I can’t say who or where he is, but he didn’t show up at the reunion, which was a lot of fun.

Sue and I laughed, danced and reminisced with old friends. And everyone looked great, especially Sue.

I did, however, resist the urge to play floor hockey. Maybe, if I can find my notebook, I’ll do it at our 50th.

Copyright 2011 by Jerry Zezima


Dave Astor said...

I can definitely relate to this column because my 40th high school reunion is coming up next year. (Not sure if I'll go.) Extremely well-crafted piece, as usual -- with a wonderful mix of humor and warmth. Your algebra Q&A was absolutely hilarious!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Dave. Except for algebra, high school was fun. So was the reunion. Go to yours. You'll have a blast.

JustRex said...

I never had a head for algebra either. But I could turn out an essay in minutes flat on almost any subject. If I had been thinking clearly, I would have gone into journalism. But then who thinks clearly in high school?

Jerry Zezima said...

I'm still not thinking clearly, Darev2005, which is why I've lasted so long in journalism.

rel said...

I loved this piece when I read it in the Watertown Dailey Times, Watertown, NY on 3 November. Aside the fact that you're a gazillion years younger than me (my 50th is coming up 2013)and my wife's name is Diane not Sue, this piece could easily be mistaken for my 17 year old self.
The apptitude test we had to take in jr. high determined that I might succeed as a nurse or journalist. Stunned and offended, I resisted every opportunity to succeed academically, prefering to major in girls, sports and music.
Ironicall I went on to become, and continue to practice as a nurse anesthetist; one who enjoys writing.
At age 66, I'm enrolled in a creative non-fiction course at ESC (Empire State Colleg) on-line. I've cut out your piece and intend to site it as part of my course- end critique.
Thanks so much!

Jerry Zezima said...

Rel, thank you so much for your very nice comment. Even though I am bad at math, as evidenced by my pathetic grade in algebra, I am not a gazillion years younger than you are. I am, however, far more immature. I am happy you liked my class clown column and that you are going to cite it in your creative writing class, which I hope you don't flunk as a result.

Anonymous said...

Can I relive my high school years vicariously through you? I was so shy I hid out in a bathroom stall. I had my 30 year reunion last year, but I didn't go. No one knew the girl in the bathroom stall back in 1980. Did I really think they'd remember me 30 years later?

Jerry Zezima said...

You certainly may, Veryverybusymom. You will, of course, have to play floor hockey. Fortunately, you won't have to write, 100 times, "I will not play floor hockey in class." Go to your 35th reunion. I bet you will have fun, especially if you don't spend it in the bathroom stall. Thanks for your comment, Veryverybusymom. Take care and keep smiling.