The Hammer

Chapter 2

The schools I attended in Farmingdale were pretty good schools, all things considering.  Farmingdale was a fast growing town in those days, one of the post World War II suburban developments springing up from Long Island’s potato and sod farms.  We had one of the better state community colleges, Farmingdale Agriculture College.  Many people commuted into New York City, the rest mostly worked in solid middle-class semi-skilled jobs around the local area.  All-in-all, I remember Farmingdale as a rather progressive community for it’s time, a newly formed bedroom community of New York City.

I attended tenth grade at Farmingdale High School, part of a graduating class of nearly 1000 students which was typical for the school.  The school had an open campus policy with teachers who were mostly excellent and cared about the students.  I got into several extracurricular and sports activities that I really enjoyed and started making good friends.  Near the end of the year I was accepted into an experimental educational program that could be considered an early model for today’s “magnet” schools.  Then, that summer we moved to Pine Bush.

Socially, Pine Bush was about as far removed from Farmingdale as one could get.  Most people in the area worked in agriculture, agriculture-related jobs, or general services that any community needed.  Some spent five hours a day commuting down into New York City (“The City”).  Over the previous few years a lot of people had migrated out of the New York metropolitan area into Pine Bush, and the town had seen a lot of fast growth. “Native” Pine Bush residents mostly looked down on “The City” and “city folks.”

The high school class I enrolled in was the largest that school system had ever seen; about 256 students.  About one third of the members of my class had grown up in that school system, the rest were transplants like myself, my sister and brothers.  Many of the “native” students at best tolerated us new-comers; others actively ignored us.

I was very shy and timid back then and didn’t make friends easily.  I was just coming into my own during tenth grade in Farmingdale, and in this new environment I retreated back into extreme shyness.  When I wasn’t in school or at my weekend job, I tended to stay close to home helping around the house. By early in my senior year I did gain a small circle of friends, but I was still pretty isolated from the school and community.

The things I remember the community being most interested in was farming, football, and hunting.  Track and Field, one of the two sports I participated in, was fairly high on the town’s list of interests mostly because the team had a several year’s string of unbroken victories at the time I enrolled.  Academics were pretty far down the list of things the community seemed to care about. My teachers were mostly uninvolved with students (especially new comers) and mostly mediocre compared to my teachers in Farmingdale.  At the bottom of my list of teachers was Mr. MB, my Pine Bush High history teacher.

Mr. MB “taught” social studies for eleventh and twelfth grades.  His classes consisted of Mr. MB sitting behind his desk all period long, each and every class I attended for my final two years of public high school, talking about everything except social studies.  Hunting stories were a big part of his repertoire.  He would often spend class sessions having a student tell about their background and what their parents did for a living.  On occasion, he’d come close to actually teaching us social studies by telling us what we’d learn in his class.  Someday.  Whenever he decided to actually teach the subject.  Alas, the day never came when he actually taught us the stuff that he occasionally claimed he’d teach us.

The only social studies I learned those two years came from reading the textbook I was issued at the start of each year, on my own.

In addition to his complete lack of interest in teaching us anything related to high school social studies, Mr. MB was arrogant and insufferable, acted superior to the rest of us folks, and seemingly considered himself one of the great people of the town by virtue of having a college degree.  I considered him a jerk and the most inept teacher I suffered through in my final two years of high school.

But this story is about a hammer.

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