A walk down memory lane...
It’s College Day at Bronx high school of science. At the beginning of this, my junior year, we are all assigned a college advisor to assist us in navigating the dark waters of college selection and the minefield that is the financial aid process. On this particular day, all third year students meet with their faculty advisor and their parents to discuss their options, and strategize the upcoming application process.
We are all lined up, in pairs (or triads in rare cases), parent and student on a line that stretches all the way down the 400 feet from the guidance office to the boys locker room, and snakes around the labyrinthine hallway that comprises the basement level of the school, all the way to the cafeteria, awaiting our respective turns to pow wow with the shaman that is our advisor.
My mother accompanies me today. My father, who as usual is toiling away at the printing plant on Long Island, has sent her as his proxy. She is a proud, old fashioned, Italian woman. She immigrated to the states from Argentina in the seventies, and in her mind, it’s still Italy in 1950; a fact that will come into play very shortly.
To say she is over protective and embarrassing is a bit of an understatement. Rather like saying that Al Sharpton probably disagrees with the Klan on the issue of affirmative action.
I try desperately to appear cool and unfazed by my mother’s presence in front of all my friends and contemporaries. One’s image in high school is the social capital that one draws upon to climb up the ladder to “cool status”. The cool kids enjoy perks the grunts don’t: safe passage to the subway, invitations to the hot parties, and a hook up with Anna K. , the girl I have been fantasizing about since freshman year. She of the miniskirts, bright slutty red lipstick; bad girl reputation, and pack a day camel lights habit; is the object of my lusty intentions. I have been scheming on her for the better part of three years now.
Of course, Anna happens to be perching two places behind us. She and her mother, looking at times bored and at times equally alluring. This is a fact that never leaves my mind as I play social chess with my mother. She is in rare form today.
“Chreeeesteeeannn!” she coos, LOUDLY.
“Mom, I am right next to you, so you don’t have to raise your voice.”
“Ahh,” she waves her hand away in an effort to swat my objection out of the air.
“Howa longa dooo we aff to hwait for deeess?” , she demands in her broken English, sure to say this in her stage voice for all to hear.
“I don’t know.” I whisper sotto voce through a smile of gritted teeth.
People around us start to stir from their boredom and begin to zero in on our conversation. My mother relishes this.
“Staand upa straight!. You wanna you friends tinka youa bomm?” she admonishes.
“Mom, LATER please” I hiss as I feign a cool, disaffected look.
I peer over my shoulder to see if Anna K. has picked up on my mother’s antics. Phew! I exhale. So far, the coast seems clear.
I have been looking forward to this day. I dream nightly of escaping the bonds of the gulag that is my familial home, with thoughts of college dorms, frat parties, loose women, and different scenery. College is the modern highschooler’s term for the land of milk and honey.
“One more year til freedom.” is my mantra. After an hour spent defusing the social grenades of embarrassment my mother casually lobs, Eureka! We are next!
We enter and Mr. Frisch, my advisor, greets us warmly and immediately sizes up my mother. He calls her “Mrs Galliani” from the start and kisses her on both cheeks.
Mr. Frisch is also my English teacher and a tall, brown haired orthodox Jewish New Yorker, complete with the Yarmulke and Upper East Side Woody Allenesque accent. He is laid back, pragmatic, and funny. All alien traits in my household.
“So, “ Mr. Frisch begins
“Christian has a lot of potential, but just needs a good kick in the ass.” He diagnoses, while reading my chart through his professorial spectacles.
“I think college will give him some maturity.”
My mother nods her approval. “Wow” I think to myself…this is working so far…
“So we’ve got it down to a couple of schools- Dartmouth, is a reach but doable for him, depending on the aid package, and Alfred university, upstate, is his safety school.”
My mother stares at Frisch as if he were an extraterrestrial.
“Mrs. Galliani, is everything ok?” He inquires.
I perspire profusely as I sense disaster careening in my direction…
“Where are deez schools?” she asks suspiciously
“Well, Dartmouth is in New Hampshire, and Alfred is in Upstate NY”
My mother looks at Frisch with the disdain one reserves for a homeless person covered in their own filth sitting next to you on the subway.
“How is he going to get back and forth eva-ree day? Dey don’t have universities in New York?” she demands condescendingly.
Mr Frisch chuckles “No, Mrs Galliani, he would be living there. The baby has to leave the nest some time.”
I start to smile, but halt as I notice the shocked look on my mother’s face. She is incredulous and at once offended. It’s as though Mr Frisch reached across his desk and slapped her face.
“Wha-at?!” she manages to stutter
“Yes Ma’am. It’s time. It will be good for him.” He reasons gently.
“I can’t live with you and Dad forever, Ma. It’s how it’s done in America” I add, hopefully
“Thank you very much for your time.” My mother manages to say through an indignant scowl as she gets up and turns to exit Frisch’s office.
Frisch shrugs and shoots me a wan smile. Yup. I’m screwed. Parole denied. No early release from Alcatraziani prison for inmate number #1.
As we exit the guidance office my mother whines under her breath as I desperately try to plead my case. Every eye on the line of waiting people is fixed on us. I am in full on dread mode, as I feel the tidal wave of drama cresting over me in slow motion.
Anna K. peers up from her book quizzically, just in time to see my mother stammer through tearful sobs, stomping her feet for further emphasis:
“WHY DO DE CHILDREN ABANDON DE PARENTS IN DIS COUNTRY?!”
It is as though someone scratched the proverbial record in a movie and all action comes to a sudden, screeching stop. Deathly silence hangs in the air as the deathblow lands. Checkmate. I’m ruined. I feel the sledgehammer of embarrassment hit my stomach as my street cred detonates in a million pieces.
Any hope of getting to second base (or anywhere in the same zip code for that matter) with Anna K. or any other female at Bronx Science evaporates as my mother’s tantrum causes eruptions of laughter from the 300 or so students and parents left on line. I feel like I’m naked on a stage.
The cab ride home is a tense affair as I ignore my mother’s melodramatic yammering about me being her baby, and daydream different exit strategies for next year. I could simply move out and enlist in the armed forces, or run off and join the circus. Both, I reason are equally appealing options, as I am likely to have just as much access to the opposite sex in the army or in prison as I will anywhere in the five boroughs after my mother’s little display.
That night I smoke cigarettes and go writing graffiti for the first time, intoxicated by the sweet rush of petty rebellion coursing through my veins.