Girls

Built in 1910 this is the girl’s entrance to Gansevoort Elementary School in Rome, N.Y. where I grew up back in the 1950s.

The boy’s entrance looks the same (with the one obvious difference). I rather doubt kids today are made to go in through gender-designated entrances. It seems silly now but I guess young people were herded through these separate doors a hundred years ago, “for their own good” by wise, righteous and all-knowing old farts. I can see it now—some dried-up old bitch or bastard wagging his or her finger at the little innocents and glaring down at them intoning “It’s for your own good—go through the door that you’re supposed to.”

Gansevoort was/is on the west end of Rome. The school I went to—Columbus Elementary School—was on the east end of town. You can walk from one school to the other in less than an hour (Rome’s not a very big town). But back in the 50s—the world of an Upstate New York, blue-collar kid growing up in that suffocatingly tiny-minded socio-economic milieu—was very small. When teachers or other kids mentioned Gansevoort it was like someone today talking about Terra Del Fuego—it was just “out there” somewhere at the edge of the known world.

When I was in the 4th grade I had a wonderful teacher—Mr. Taverna. When we finished our class work he would tell us stories about the pasta people. It seems the macaroni nation was always declaring war on other, less-powerful pasta nations—like the Zitis or the Linguines. The way war worked in the pasta world was each nation would bomb the other with delicious tomato sauce and those who were unfortunate enough to be hit were instantly devoured by others. With enough tomato sauce Genocide was possible.

We loved Mr. Taverna’s war stories—especially the ones where the heroic Penne soldiers would rush into combat wearing rain coats and hurling tomato-sauce grenades. Hand to hand combat in the trenches could (obviously) get pretty messy.

The wars dragged on endlessly until one day the macaroni people developed the ultimate weapon—a weapon so terrible it would make war unthinkable—the multi-dirigible delivered Alfredo Sauce Bomb. An enemy combatant did not have to be covered in sauce as with the old tomato-based weaponry—the Alfredo sauce was so devastating if even the tiniest drop of the incredibly delicious sauce landed on someone he would be instantly torn to shreds by those around him. It was a terrible thing to see.

The less powerful nations of the pasta world lived in fear of the macaroni people’s Alfredo bomb for many years until a brilliant and imaginative young Penne scientist—working in conjunction with other courageous scientists from the Zitis, Linguines and Rotinis—developed a weapon even more terrible than the Alfredo bomb. Working night and day for years the multi-national team of pasta scientists put together the sausage-peppers-onions-in-tomato-and-garlic sauce-bomb.

With no warning the ghastly weapon was dropped by a multi-national dirigible air-force on all the major cities in macaroni land and when the screaming finally ceased, the macaroni nation was reduced to a pitiable wasteland of half-devoured pasta shreds and tatters.

The conquering nations all agreed it was a terrible but deserved fate and would not have happened if the macaroni people had been more charitable. And certainly it had to be the will of the great pasta god in the sky or it could never have taken place.

Mr. Taverna left at the end of my third grade year—to sell insurance I was told. I guess the insurance gig didn’t work out because he came back to the Rome City School system at the start of my 5th grade year.

But Mr. Taverna did not return to Columbus Elementary School. He was assigned to Gansevoort.

I heard from a kid who transferred from Gansevoort Mr. Taverna was fired a few months into his first year there. I later learned someone reported him and he came under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee—headed up by the infamous Senator Joseph McCarthy.

I don’t know what happened to Mr. Taverna after that. But every time I eat pasta with Alfredo sauce or peppers, onions and tomato sauce (I’m a vegetarian—I don’t eat meat) I think of him. And when I’m home and drive by either Columbus or Gansevoort School, I think of him. I like to think he escaped to some far away place like Terra Del Fuego where no one knew who McCarthy was and where kids could listen with delight to his tales of farcical war and heroism and divine pasta justice. In the pasta world justice and goodness finally prevailed. I like to think justice and goodness are contagious—they could perhaps spread to this world—parts of it anyway.

Who knows—maybe in Terra Del Fuego kids could not only enjoy pasta people stories but not even have to bother with gender-designated entrances. Sometimes life really is stranger than fiction.

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