Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Red Hook High School Drifter

For some people, high school is a rite of passage. For me, it wasn’t really anything special. It wasn’t that big fairy tale that you see in John Hughes’ epic teen comedies or anything like that. It was a little more generic than that. Well at least for the first two years anyway.
            Junior High came and went without much incident and nothing really to talk about. As far as high school went, for me it was pretty much the same as Junior High at first. I was sort of just like every other high school kid: Chasing after girls and all that stuff. I did not really play any sports during my time in high school and I wasn’t really the class valedictorian either. Now looking back, I was little more than a drifter who drifted among the cliques.
            The previous year in eighth grade, I was sort of a staple at the school dances for every dance except for one. In fact, I was voted “Best Dancer” for that reason. I was also nominated for “Biggest Flirt” for that reason because I was actually trying to get a date back then because that is really where the dating scene actually starts: In junior high.
That all changed when I got into high school where at that time there were only two dances all year: The Christmas Ball and the Senior Prom and while the dances in junior high were cheaper to get into and were held in the gym, the dances in high school were held at more expensive places like for example, the prom was held at a hotel in Poughkeepsie and it was like thirty-five bucks to get in if you’re single and seventy bucks for couples. Now I certainly do not recommend going to either one of these dances single which is why I didn’t go because technically, these dances (especially the prom) require couples.
            My freshman year of high school was average. I did struggle a little bit academically and I also struggled a bit socially. After all, high school was a completely different ball game than junior high. In high school, the pressure on you to get into a relationship was high because everywhere you walked in the hallway, you saw couples together and you feel like you should be coupled too. The only problem is that you frequently run into girls who use the old “I have a boyfriend” excuse to keep from dating you. Except in my case, pretty much all of them were true. Sometimes girls attempted to lead you on and pretended to actually want to date you. And that has happened to me as well, dating back to eighth grade.
            There was one instance where I almost went to the prom in my freshman year. Around that time, I started going to watch softball games and the pitcher of the softball team was concerned that her boyfriend at the time would be unable to take her to the prom so she actually considered having me go as her alternate date. Eventually, her boyfriend ended up taking her and to this day, that was the closest I ever got to going to the prom. However, I did keep in touch with her the following year when she went away to college.
            Then came sophomore year and it ended up being the same as the previous year. It was uneventful and as far as the relationship front goes, it was the same as always even with the crop of freshmen that came in. The school did get some interesting exchange students that year and there were a couple that were attractive as well. I saw one from Norway that was attractive and there was one from Japan as well. Unfortunately, neither one went anywhere. Still went to softball games and I went to a couple of volleyball games that year too. And I did achieve a milestone during finals week where I finally saw my first movie alone in theaters. I had one final exam that day and afterwards I walked from the school to the Lyceum 6 because it was the opening day for Batman Forever and they had an 11:00 in the morning showing. But like I said, nothing exciting happened that year.
            Which brings me to my junior year where things really started picking up for me. During my time in high school, I never played sports despite the fact that my junior high gym teacher was trying to get me to go out for track. However, that year was the year I ended up being the manager of the girls’ basketball team which at that time was the best in the area. My responsibilities there included keeping track of the statistics as far as rebounds and assists; getting the girls water during time-outs and whenever a player was substituted; and running the stop clock during home games. I got to go on away games as well and we went to West Point during championship games. That was the first I’ve been to West Point. However, we ended up losing in the regional semi-finals to the Our Lady of Lourdes basketball team which was a Catholic School team based in Poughkeepsie.
            After the basketball season ended my attention next turned to my Spanish class trip to Puerto Rico which happened on Spring Break and since I already told that in a separate story there is no need to repeat that story here.
            Following my return from Puerto Rico, the next major event that happened to me in my junior year was the High School Lip Sync competition. I did take part in similar Lip Sync shows back in elementary school but this one was different because there was a cash prize involved. The winning act received a hundred dollars. And in order for me to win, I needed to do something that was totally unexpected. And as it turned out the only logical act that I could do to ensure that I had a winning act was the act that I eventually went with: Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
            The song I ended up selecting was “Jailhouse Rock” but then again I could have gone with any of Elvis’ earlier songs because they were the easiest to do but actually “Jailhouse Rock” was probably the way to go and it was a much easier act. Someone actually loaned me an Elvis wig and a gold jacket. Rehearsals took a couple of days and I didn’t really have too many problems with the act.
            The night of the Lip Sync, I wasn’t really nervous partly because my act was closer to the end of the show. I was the third-to-last act to go up and perform and it went off without a hitch. The crowd was definitely going wild as far as me showing my dance moves goes and at one point, I threw off my jacket and that really drove everyone wild. After my act was done, I was also in the slam-dancing act where I actually ended up getting knocked down and at one point I did bite my lip but I was all right. I was also in the finale where everyone was on stage performing “YMCA” by the Village People.
            I think up until I was officially announced as the winner that I knew I pretty much had it in the bag. And sure enough, my gamble to use Elvis as my act paid off and I won the hundred dollars. But then again, it didn’t really net me any girlfriends or anything like that.
            And with senior year right around the corner, I was wondering how I was going to top junior year. As far as I was concerned, I probably wouldn’t. As far as I was concerned I more or less peaked in my junior year.
            I was considering getting a job in high school like normal kids but I was talked out of it. Also at that time, I wasn’t really planning to go to college. Back then, I saw it as a waste of time. However, that thought about college came back to bite me in the ass later on which prompted me to go back to college later in life.
            As I started my senior year in high school, I got an idea to write a fictional novel loosely based on my junior year as high school. The main character was obviously modelled on myself while everyone else was modelled on people I knew. Of course I never published it because I hadn’t finished typing it until after I graduated.
            I returned for my second year as the manager of the girls’ basketball team and again we made it as far as the regional semi-finals where we lost to a different team. This time we lost to Oneonta after an otherwise undefeated season. As a reward for managing the basketball team, I got a movie pass to the Lyceum which was useful for me going to see a few movies, including the special edition of Return of the Jedi and I also used that to see Batman and Robin which again was released to theaters on a day where I only had one final and it also had an 11 am showing.
            Another notable thing that happened during senior year was that we had that April Fools’ blizzard during Spring Break where we had no power for about a week and we had to use a generator to cook and we had to listen to a battery-operated radio. That was a pretty rough time.
            In addition, there was another thing I did in high school that probably wouldn’t fly in today’s society and that was when I did my report on the Spanish Inquisition for my Spanish class dressed up as Jason Voorhees. I had to make the hockey mask out of paper and my Spanish teacher just happened to have a wooden machete that she used as a decoration and I wrapped foil around it to make it look more real. And as part of my presentation, I had to have another classmate go in and say that I was dead. After all it was all part of the act. This was actually two years before Columbine and people weren’t really as politically correct as they are now. I mean if I tried this same act now, I probably would get expelled and I was a guy that never got detention in high school. Plus, I did get a good grade on the project.
And of course this year would be the year of the Senior Prom. And of course I wanted to go and it wasn’t for lack of trying but I couldn’t get a date to go with me and as you all know, you can’t go to the prom solo for obvious reasons. The fact that I couldn’t get a date and the fact that I didn’t have the money made my choice pretty clear. I ended up staying home and watching Game 3 of the NBA Finals with the Chicago Bulls vs. the Utah Jazz and the Bulls lost. Remember, this was 1997 and this was back when Michael Jordan was still playing. Eventually the Bulls won the Finals that year.
And sure enough, I ended up not being the class valedictorian but then again I wasn’t the class slacker. I did end up near the bottom of my class when I graduated and I did graduate with the rest of my class on the lawn of the Linden Avenue Middle School on June 28, 1997 at the age of nineteen. I couldn’t believe it was over. It seemed like my senior year went by too fast. And I was still single to boot. But while everyone else was going to college, I was busy getting ready to go into the work force. I was gonna see if I would try to make it in the real world without having to go to college but it took me a decade to realize how wrong I was.
Looking back there were some things that I could have done differently. One of which was I probably should have tried harder to get a job and maybe I probably would have been able to go to the prom. But everything happens for a reason.
 Over the years, I have seen newspaper articles about former classmates getting engaged and getting married and with the addition of Facebook, I also learned a lot more. For one thing in addition to them getting married and having kids, I also learned that one of my former classmates died in a car accident. In many ways, I feel like Facebook has more or less defeated the purpose of the high school reunion so there was no real reason for me to go.
So in conclusion, I don’t really have any regrets about my time in high school and as far as the opportunities go, there were some I managed to take that defined me. And there were some opportunities that I probably should have tried harder to take, including the most obvious which is try to fit in and get a girlfriend. But in the end, that’s life. And like all things, high school is a defining moment in a person’s life and why should I be any different? Some things in high school has defined me more than others but it’s usually what comes after high school where you have a chance to truly define yourself and be more than just the guy who’s frequently drifting between stereotypes.
It’s like Ferris Bueller always said: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look once in a while, you could miss it.”


Friday, February 26, 2016

The Wal-Mart Baseball Bat Incident

            When you work in any profession there is always the chance that you can run into some type of dangerous situation, whether it is an accident which could cause injury and sometimes even death or there is a possibility that you could have a run-in with a dangerous and mentally unstable person who is looking for someone to take his anger out on. Normally this applies to high-risk occupations like police work, construction and so on. And as I learned one night in 2007, retail is no exception.
            It was a cold February night in 2007 while I was still working on the overnight shift at the Wal-Mart in Herkimer, New York. That night I went into work thinking that it was going to be another normal night of stocking freight to the sales floor so that customers could buy them. At that time I was assigned to the Electronics department even though as an overnight stocker I was expected to go wherever they needed me to stock. And on overnights, you usually have a more colorful group of characters that come into the store. There are the kind that are usually drunk and on their way home from the bar. You also got college students coming in and occasionally cause trouble with shoplifting and running around the store as though they are still in kindergarten. There was even one time around Halloween in 2005 where a local bar had a “hoe and pimp” costume contest and when that got out you had a group of young women coming into the store dressed only in lingerie.
            However, for the purpose of this story I am going to focus on that one particular incident that happened that night in February 2007.
            Also at that time, I had been blogging for about a year and was in the process of writing a book about the Chester Gillette case at the Herkimer County Historical Society, both of which I had been heavily involved in. I was also starting to use the computers up at the college to go on Myspace back when Myspace was a thing. In fact, I was planning to go back to the Historical Society to work on my book the week after Valentine’s Day and also after my twenty-ninth birthday. Unfortunately, those plans would be unceremoniously thwarted for the worst possible reason.     
When I first got up that night, I was feeling a little nauseous and I was debating whether or not to call in that night. Eventually the nausea went away and I ended up going into work. Maybe if I really was sick and called in, I would not be writing this story right now.
The first half of that night was going okay and it was around two in the morning which was when I normally went to lunch. While I was going towards the shoe department, I realized that maintenance was waxing over by those doors that night so I had to go back and go through the doors over by Electronics. I was not really paying attention as I was passing the Photo Lab because all I was thinking about was going to lunch.
And that was when I was hit in the back by a guy with a metal baseball bat that he took out of Sporting Goods. I did not even have enough time to react but then he kept swinging and backed me right into the Photo Lab. I put my right hand up to block and then he swung again, hitting my right hand. I screamed at him and he stood there for a second with a crazed look in his eye. Then he threw the bat and ran.
 The attack was completely unprovoked and I have had no dealings with the person before that. Other associates who were on overnights doing mod changes witnessed my attack and chased him out into the parking lot. During the chase, one of the associates called the police and once he got on the other side of the fence the Herkimer Police Department got there in time and he was arrested very quickly.
            Then the cops came into the store to get a statement from me and then they took me in the back where the police cars pulled up so I could identify the guy. Then the cops took photos of my injuries and the scene of the attack. After that I ended up going to the hospital where I was x-rayed. The doctors thought I had a little crack on my right ring finger but otherwise I had no broken bones or fractures. My luck as far as never having any broken bones was still holding. Still I ended up wearing a splint for a week and I had to put an ice pack on my back for a couple of days.
            Even though I went home from work after I returned from the hospital with a side trip to the police station to drop off my doctor’s report, the doctors said that I didn’t have to miss any work. I also had to take a drug test which is mandatory for Walmart associates who have been injured on the job. Then I had to get forms from Bassett Health Care in Herkimer. And in all that time I was still debating about whether or not to tell my family. They found out eventually and they weren’t mad that I didn’t tell them right away because it was obvious why. I did not want to worry them.
            And so I spent the last couple of weeks on light duty at work which was basically doing break packs, returns and zoning various departments. It was pretty annoying not to be able to do my full job, at least partially.
Then I went back to Bassett where I was examined. I was able to get my splint off and was x-rayed again. The doctor said that I had to remain on light duty at work for at least another two weeks. Or so I thought. I had to get a doctor’s note before I could return to full duty which took about a month to get.
            As a result of my ordeal, I could not blog on my site for at least a week because my right hand was still hurting and I was worried that using a computer would aggravate it more. I also had to take more time off of my book at the Historical Society which set me back a lot. Thankfully, it was only for about a week. After I got the splint off, I blogged about my ordeal. But other than that I had to take it easy for a bit.
            During my recovery process, I did feel like I was suffering from a temporary moment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder where I kind of burst out in rage which I thought was natural considering that something like this has never happened to me before or since then. Sure, I have dealt with bullies in school when I was a kid, but nothing that would lead someone to nearly kill me with a weapon. He probably would have had he aimed at my head and there was also the fact that there were other associates around that saw him attack me.
            And then a strange thing happened. To this day, I am not sure if it was the shock I still felt or whether it was the ibuprofen talking, but I had visions of a young woman holding my hand and telling that everything would be all right. Call me crazy, but I swear to god that this is the truth.
            In the weeks that followed and I slowly recovered, I went to tell my story to the Grand Jury so that the District Attorney could build his case against my attacker. In the meantime, he was held in the County Jail which incidentally was right down the street from my house and he was not let out on bail. When he was first caught, he had no sense of reality and had no idea why he was being arrested. Other associates who have seen him described him as a manic-depressive person who has had problems with the store before. While he was in jail, my attacker had been undergoing psychiatric evaluation to see if he would be fit to stand trial. That was another thing I had to worry about: Would I have to go to court and testify again if the case went to trial? I was hoping to put this behind me as quickly as possible.
            And yet I still managed to do some things that helped me take my mind off the ordeal. For starters, about a couple weeks after the incident, I went to Hamilton College with a person I worked with to attend the ceremony where Chester Gillette’s prison diary was donated to the library’s collection of Gillette memorabilia for which I got my picture in the Observer-Dispatch again. I also went on the Heart Run in Utica with my mother as well. And I received my first laptop computer from a contact I made in Houston, Texas as a result of the Gillette blog. Now with that computer, I was able to continue working on my book and at the same time I launched what is now my main website. It seemed that slowly but surely that my life was starting to return to normal.
            And throughout the remainder of the year, I got updates from the District Attorney’s Office on the status of the case and on the defendant. I basically wanted the defendant to get whatever sentence the court deemed fit to give him. I did not sue him because he looked like the type of guy who did not have anything to go after. Eventually, the case ended up not going to trial and he ended up getting sentenced to five years’ probation. And I never saw the guy again after his arrest. Finally, the ordeal was over.
            As far as what happened, I have long since gotten over the incident and I do not have any long-lasting lingering effects such as pain in my right hand or any bad memories of that night. Looking back on what happened that night, I could not fight back because I was on the clock and there has been some controversy about losing your job if you act in self-defense. However, if this happened on the street, I would have had more options and I would have been able to fight back. But all in all, I acted accordingly in that case.
Hopefully I will not find myself in that situation again but then again, retail can be just as dangerous as police work especially in terms of the people you deal with. There will always be crazies out there that are looking to do an innocent person trying to do his or her job harm. I was very fortunate to be alive that night but there have been others that have not been so lucky. The world is a pretty dangerous place which is why people have to be vigilant because this is just one of many things that could happen to anybody if you are not careful.