Sunday, April 19, 2015

365 Project - Day 109 - "Mr. S"


April 19, 2015 - "Mr. S"

I have to start off this post by apologizing to my parents and to my children for what I'm about to reveal about myself. I'm not proud of it... and certainly do not condone such behavior and actions.

High School was very tough for me. I went to three different high schools in three different states: Florida, New York and Connecticut. The majority of my high school career was spent in Orlando, Florida. It was a brand-new school. The first day of my freshman year was the first day the school was "open for business" - in the late-summer of 1990. I remained there until a little more than 3/4 of the way through my junior year, when my family moved to New York state. I then went to school in Shrub Oak, NY to finish what was left of my junior year... then we moved again over the course of the summer, and my senior year was in Danbury, CT. I graduated in 1994.

Now it's 21 years since I've been in high school. This coming September I will have two kids in high school: My daughter will be a senior and my son will be a freshman.

So much time has passed! Where did it all go!?!

I'm finding myself feeling quite nostalgic these days... as several old high school friends and I discuss fond (and some "not so fond") memories from back in the day.

Even though I went to three different high schools in three different states, I've always considered the high school in Orlando to be "my high school". That's where I spent the most time... and it was definitely the best of the three schools, by-far. It was there that I had the most friends... many of which I'm still in touch with today via Facebook and social media and texts and such.

My years at in Orlando were not easy. My freshman year I got bullied a lot. I was always behind on the style... and, well, just plain "unpopular". I was also rather chubby - which didn't help at all. For some reason all of that changed during the summer between 9th and 10th grade. I lost a lot of weight (I became a toothpick, basically)... I developed my own sense of style... I had a best friend... and I got myself a girlfriend (a REAL girlfriend too... not "some girl who you wouldn't know because she lives in Canada").

Unbeknownst to all but a VERY select few (which did NOT include my family at home, my best friend or my girlfriend - but did include my brother Peter back in Connecticut) - I had also discovered the "wonderful" world of drugs and alcohol. I'm not going to say where it was coming from... I'll only say that a majority of the time I was going to school drunk, stoned or tripping on acid... particularly in 11th grade.

One teacher knew all of this though... my art teacher, Mr. S. He sort of became a mentor to me... and helped me to straighten things out in my life.

I first had Mr. S as a teacher during my freshman year. I took "Drawing I" and "Drawing II" with him. There was supposed to be this whole line of required art classes you needed to take before being allowed to take the advanced ones... but at the end of my freshman year Mr. S signed off on letting me skip all of the required classes and moved me directly to "Art Portfolio I" during my sophomore year. I was ecstatic!

Mr. S sort of took me under his wing. I wasn't the best artist in the class - that would've been a kid named Jason who was a phenomenal talent (I wonder whatever happened to him?) - but for some reason Mr. S seemed to have a bit of a soft-spot for me. He'd spend extra time helping me work through the details on my drawings. The drawing in today's photo was from that 10th grade "Art Portfolio I" class. I was having a really hard time getting the crucified hands to look right... so Mr. S sat down with me and we drew them together in my sketchbook until I was able to get them "just right" - then I went on to do them in the finished drawing. I remember him mumbling something to me about how I probably wouldn't struggle with the details so much if I wasn't drinking so much. But that was that.

One day I was particularly wasted. A kid sitting next to me started talking shit about my girlfriend, so I just turned around and punched him. Mr. S stepped in... and told me to go out into the hallway and take it out on the lockers instead. So I did. Punching the lockers was a bad idea though - it was hurting my hand - so I began kicking one of the bottom ones instead, until it was dented in a bit. Finally Mr. S came out and asked me if I was done. I said "yes". He said "Good. Now get back in class and get to work!". The kid I punched was OK. Nothing ever came of it. That's just the way it was back in the '90s.

In 11th grade Mr. S bumped me up to "Advanced Placement Art Portfolio II". He put up with a LOT of shit from me in that class! I'd show up late. I'd leave early. I'd refuse to sit AT a table... and, instead - preferred to sit ON the table that was along the side of the wall.

He'd come to the school on Saturdays and open up the classroom for whoever wanted to come in to work on projects. I would go... with my big-ass boom box, blasting "The Doors"... and would sit on the table, working on whatever I was working on.

One day I was working on a rather intricate pen & ink drawing that had been in the works for quite some time... and I'm pretty sure that I was high or tripping or something. The kid next to me started dipping a freakin' toothbrush in black India ink and pulling back on the bristles with his thumb so the ink would spray all over the place. He was flinging ink all over the table... all over his own drawing and the drawings of people next to him. A drop landed rather close to my drawing - so I grabbed an X-Acto knife... reached across to grab him by the shirt... and threatened to stab him if he didn't stop. Mr. S stepped in... pulled the X-Acto from my hand... told me to go to the other side of the room... and told the kid to cut his shit, stop flinging ink around and clean up the mess. Today the kid's family would probably have pressed charges and I would be escorted out of the school in handcuffs like I deserved. Not in the '90s. Again, nothing ever came of it. That's just the way it was.

Things got progressively worse as my junior year rolled along and it looked more and more like my family would be picking up and heading out of Florida. I did NOT want to go. I did NOT want to leave my friends... my school... my life. I started to physically hurt myself. I began cutting.

I showed up at school with my arm wrapped in bandanas... and Mr. S instantly knew that something was up. He pulled me aside and made me show him what I was hiding. Then he immediately walked me to the school's guidance/crisis counselor's office for a chat. I remember I was in tears... and I spilled my guts about everything that was going on in my life. Today if something like that happens, the school will immediately notify your family and the authorities. Not in the '90s though. I basically reassured them that I would be OK... and nothing ever came of it. Besides... I was leaving the school very soon to move to New York.

(Today my left arm is covered in scars from those days of cutting)

My last day of school in Orlando was in March of 1993. It was an EXTREMELY difficult day for me. I had to say "goodbye" to so many people... and snapped a lot of photos of friends and of the school grounds and such.

At the end of my final class with Mr. S - he pulled me aside into this little office he had at the back of the classroom. I turned in my keys (I actually had keys to the art-room's side-door that led outside, even though students weren't supposed to have such keys... as well as keys to my lockable portfolio drawer where I kept my drawings and supplies). Mr. S told me that he was very worried about me. He knew about the drugs... the alcohol... the drinking... the sex... the cutting... etc.. He knew that my ultimate plan was to move to New York City and go to art school at either the School of Visual Arts (SVA) or Cooper Union. He knew that I planned to "make it big" in the art world someday. He told me that I needed to straighten up and change my ways... or else I'd be dead by the age of 27 (like Jim Morrison) and would end up becoming very famous for all of the wrong reasons. Then he hugged me... and that was the last time I ever saw or spoke to Mr. S.

I moved to New York state and sort-of straightened out. I stopped dropping acid and doing other hard drugs. I still got drunk at parties... but that was about it. No drugs. Then I moved to Danbury... started my senior year...  fell in love with two girls... dated one for several years... broke up with her... and married the other. We're still happily married... it'll be 16 years this June, and we'll have been a couple for 19 years this Halloween.

I never went to art school. I tried to, several times... but it just didn't happen for me. My anxiety got the better of me, and I'd chicken out. The closest I came to actually going was a plan to move to Boston and go to the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. I had quit my job and everything... and was packing to move to Boston when the apartment my girlfriend and I had lined up fell through... and we decided to just stay in Danbury. I remember that I had to beg for my old job back.

I did go to SVA for photography - but that was part of the Adult Continuing Ed program.

Anyway...

Over the years I've thought of Mr. S countless times... always wondering what became of him. I know that he retired from teaching years ago. I've tried to find him online, but have had absolutely no luck. He's got to be in his 70s now, I think. Maybe a bit younger than that. I'm pretty sure that when I was his student he was in his late-40s/early-50s and had already been teaching for 20+ years. I could be wrong.

Regardless... I don't really know why he did the things he did for me. I don't know why he handled things the way he handled them. By today's "standards", a teacher doing such things would lose their job in a heartbeat... and a student like me would end up in jail. I don't know why it happened the way it happened... I only know that I'm eternally grateful to have had Mr. S in my life.

He was the greatest teacher I have ever known!

"Thank you" Mr S!

Thank you!

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