I was afraid to take the Bronx Science test. Bronx Science was a free public high school in the Bronx that was a really good school. You had to pass a special test to get in. I was one of the smartest kids in my class and my parents wanted me to take the test to get into the school so they would not have to pay tuition. But I was afraid. Not afraid to take the test, as I knew I would ace it and get in, but afraid of going to a school where I did not know anyone. A public school. My parents had instilled in me a fear of public school. They were afraid too, afraid I might get hurt. They had grown up in the 1940” and 50’s around 100th street in New York City, in a neighborhood of low-income immigrants, where heroine was rampant and public school was wild. The public schools of the 70’s in upper Manhattan were institutions where some crime could occur, where news reports said that kids robbed the sneakers off your feet. They sent me and my sister to Catholic school to protect us from those wild kids, the ones who might encourage us to take drug and have sex. Kids who went to public school wound up pregnant in 8th grade according to my parents and they wanted me to have a chance in this world.
Their dream for me was to become a receptionist and have health insurance. And I guess ultimately to get married and have kids when I was ready. They wanted only good things for me but their vision of good was really safe and tiny. I don’t hold it against them, my parents were both first generation Americans their parents had worked like dogs to give them a better life in the new world. It sounds so fucking prehistoric, huh? But it is true. My grandparents were immigrants and didn’t graduate high school, maybe even grammar school.
My long skinny grandfather, born in Puerto Rico while it was still a colony of Spain, father of my father, he worked in hotels, two jobs. His wife, my grandmother worked in her brother’s bodega. Her skin smelled like garlic and her long hair was braided and wrapped up on her head in big beautiful buns. She held herself like a classic indigenous woman, big and strong and loud, cigarette hanging out of her red lips, as she took money from the neighborhood gamblers hoping to hit the number that day. My mother’s parents worked like dogs too. They all wanted to give their kids a better life. It worked. Both of my parents got a better life than their parents, one half step up the ladder. They moved out of the tenements in the slums and into a pre war building in a nicer working class neighborhood. Their life was small but better, a step in the right direction. Mind you, they married in 1960, at a time when America was prospering so everyone did better than their parents. Ultimately, they both hoped to give me the same, a teeny weeny life, a little better than theirs. It wasn’t their fault, it was the best they could come up with.
I inherited a tiny scared vision of the big bad world and I was terrified to venture into Bronx Science. I made it easy on my self and made up a lie and told them that I did not want to wake up on a Saturday to take a test. I was adamant. It was true in that I didn’t. I was sick of waking up for school, who wants to wake up one extra day to sit in a school and take a test. But really I was just scared. They couldn’t get me to agree to the whole plan and that was that. It would not be long before I realized what a mistake I had made.
ps oh man, is the summer already over? it just started. i remember the first time i heard this song, second grade, brilliant! and i couldn't believe he actually said we can't even think of a word that rhymes...