Back in the Sixties, I went to grade school in Kenner at St. Lawrence the Martyr. I am scarred by this experience in every imaginable way, from the daily tardy slips in the front office to the daily call to my parents from teachers who wanted them to explain what was wrong with me. So when I was informed by a sometime client of a reunion coming up, I hoped to hear next that the date would be one when I was out of town. I felt I should go to the reunion, but I didn’t want to. The date did not cooperate. I was absolutely available. This meant I would have to make an active decision, something at which I am remarkably terrible.
Why did I feel this way? The last reunion I attended 25 years ago in the school cafeteria was a blast. I even enjoyed the company of a woman I considered a nemesis in school. We all bonded by fawning over one Brian Van Clief, a boy who was with us only for the fifth grade, leaving a trail of broken hearts when he moved to Connecticut.
The reunion was posted on Facebook, a social media tool I joined only to sell my book. But I never go there, so I didn’t see it. The woman organizing it called me last week. I had to call her back because I really like her, but I couldn’t commit to going. And as all decisions that torment have an expiration date, this one was last night. We drove back to the school, which has long ago closed and is now a Catholic Charities Hispanic outreach center.
I saw the door where I had to get the tardy slips, (pictured), the auditorium where I embarrassed myself in a school play, the bathroom that was so stinky I’m shocked my avoidance of it hasn’t caused permanent bladder issues. I made my way to the cafeteria which is the scene of the American cheese trauma that lasted for decades. (the daily third-grade cheese sandwich with side pickle.)
We went in for a minute and I was uninclined to stay. Tom was encouraging our departure so he could have a proper dinner somewhere. We left, and on the way out I ran into the person who originally told me about it. And my brother, whose class was also part of this. Both were mystified by my early departure, though everyone knows how reunions rattle those psychological skeletons, so there was no judgment.
Tom and I drove around this once familiar place which now looked completely foreign, and headed to Ruth’s Chris in Metairie. Back to our regular life. But there were no tables to be had, and a wait for the bar at 45 minutes. The phone rang. My brother called to tell me that people were asking about me. With no table, and Tom willing to accommodate this nonsense, we returned. He announced that I would be allowed six mind changes, and I was already at three.
We walked back toward the building where I ran into the same woman I enjoyed at the last reunion. Her husband and Tom struck up a conversation immediately, and we chatted in the cold for about half an hour. We went in and people came right over to chat, and before I realized it I was having a great time. I loved all of these people as kids, and it was a really fun evening. Bob Walker played tunes from the era, and it was like a time warp. We left after everyone had completed our musings about Brian Van Clief, and when someone asked me to join a line for the Harlem Shuffle.
Russell Hendrick, the owner of Russell’s Shortstop Po-Boys, is an alum of the school, so he catered the event. There were trays of poor boy sandwiches and chafing dishes of gumbo and jambalaya. When I tasted the jambalaya I told him it seemed more like dirty rice. He agreed, saying that the recipe was one from a worker. This was absolutely delicious stuff, and I will make a trek out there again to have some more.
Short Stop Po-Boys
119 Transcontinental Metairie
Friday & Saturday till 9