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Scoundrels

August 3, 2011

The graduating eighth grade class at the school where I taught traditionally went on a class trip towards the end of the school year. At one time it was to Six Flags Great Adventure down in Jackson, New Jersey. Great adventure is right, for the trip consisted of a bus ride of sufficient time to wind the hundred or so fourteen year olds up to then be unleashed, basically unsupervised, for a day of water rides, boy/girl watching, and gorging on exorbitant non-nutritious foods. Oh, yes, and then the high-decibel ride home.

At some point, an administrator had the stroke of genius to make the trip actually be Educational (like a Log Flume isn’t). Then, since there are a limited number of Educational Trips school kids can take (“Ellis Island again?”), it was decided to assign the type of trip by grade level to avoid repetition. The eighth graders then became the theater-going group. Not Imax or even a local production at the town’s walking-distance William Carlos Williams Center. No, this was a trip to the Legitimate Theater. In New York City. With one hundred fourteen year olds.

One of the early excursions was to see Starlight Express, an early Andrew Lloyd Weber atrocity in which roller skaters whizzed about a small stage which cast some doubts about the “legitimacy” of the theater in which we were partaking. But then Tony, an actual theatre-savy teacher (he was James Gandolfini’s first director in high school), joined our staff and took charge of this trip, so the bar was raised. This of course meant that the price was too, but the insatiable appetite of the adolescent for pizza at our weekly lunchtime sales took care of that.

Our end-of-year class theater exposure one particular year was to be Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. It turned out to be quite an eventful day. For starters, the bus got “lost” going there (how one accomplishes that five miles from the Lincoln Tunnel is beyond me). The first item on our agenda was a theater workshop at an old theater (now part of a Catholic school) on 47th St. One of the students in my homeroom was wheelchair bound. He had been out of school for three months after an operation and then complications with breathing problems. We originally tried to discourage his parents from sending him because of safety and logistics (the main reason he came back to school when he did, at his insistence, was because the dinner-dance was coming up and he was afraid “all the good girls will be taken”), and then we wanted the school nurse to come along in case of problems, but we ended up with his Uncle Bob who drove him and would be in charge of his welfare.

The kids went in and found their seats while I waited outside for Stephen and Uncle Bob to arrive. When they did, I asked the theater guy, who looked for all the world like a gnome, where the handicapped entrance was (we had been assured from the get-go there was one). He brought us to another door leading to a vestibule and a narrow flight of stairs. “The elevator’s up there,” he said, with no apparent sense of irony. Uncle Bob and I pointed out to him that it didn’t make much sense to have an elevator after a flight of stairs, to which he could do nothing but agree, so he went to get the custodian.

The custodian, a rather burly guy, assessed the situation and said, “OK, let’s carry it up.” Stephen pointed out that the chair (motorized) weighed 250 pounds. Uncle Bob pointed out that it took four strong firefighters to carry it when they first got it. I thought to myself, Lawsuit. The custodian gave the chair a test tug, then looked at me and said, ”Come on” (as in “what kind of a wimp are you”). I said I didn’t think so. He repeated the same to Uncle Bob, who claimed a bad back. He amazingly then turned to the gnome-like theater guy who calmly said, “I haven’t put out many fires lately.” Uncle Bob ended up carrying Stephen up the stairs sans wheelchair to his seat.

The next stop was lunch at a place six blocks away called Mars 2112. We perilously herded one hundred plus teens through lunch hour pedestrian madness (with numerous panicky head counts) while Uncle Bob drove Stephen. We entered the restaurant (made to look like Mars–red, dark, and rocky), sat down, got served (76 burgers, 18 chicken fingers, 12 pastas, and one garden burger for the Hindu kid, who suffered for his choice the remaining hour), and still no Stephen and Uncle Bob. Finally they appeared from the rear of the building. Turns out that their elevator was broken. It also turns out (what were the chances!) that Uncle Bob was an inspector for the city who fined them on the spot ($1000 a day until it was repaired) and promised to return tomorrow with another if it wasn’t  fixed.

After another harrowing crowded midtown walk to the theater, the play itself turned out to be riddled with humor ranging from risqué to downright foul, and, as a promotion, each kid got the CD to bring home (for, we envisioned, their parents to hear before deluging the school with angry phone calls the following day). Tony and I sat together and cringed through the entire performance, much to the delight of the kids in our area.

And, as if all this were not quite enough, the busses were late picking us up (by now 5:30 and rush hour), and as we were finally squeezing our way toward the Lincoln Tunnel, the lead bus hit a Lexus, whose irate businessman owner corralled a cop to detain the offending driver. Of course the kids had a field day with this event (no pun intended) with catcalls galore to the driver (bus and car), the cop, and every passerby who foolishly looked our way.

Needless to say, by the time I got home at seven o’clock, it was a multiple Excedrin evening. I headed early to bed, but not before typing up my request to return to Great Adventure next year.

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One comment

  1. This is my favorite one yet I think! And I agree a log flume can certainly be educational in several ways!



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