NYC stories Part 3: high school art days and remembering Mr. M

June 7, 2010 |  Category:   life nyc remembering

Remind me never to go to a place like the South Street Seaport on a holiday weekend like Memorial Day, but that’s exactly what we did. I haven’t been there in well over 10 years since the time Mark lived down there when we first moved to NY. He shared a small, dark apartment with a college friend and it was one of those situations where he was camped out in the living room. I think all of us New Yorkers lived in some sort of crazy, cramped living situation like that at some point or another. But last weekend we wanted to check out the Water Taxi Beach, one of 3 here in the city (the other 2 are on Governor’s Island and Long Island City in Queens), but I had sort of forgotten that the Seaport is always crowded, loud and full of tourists. DJs spinning music, beer flowing everywhere. It’s like a party zone at all times.

Which is exactly how I remember it, always. The Seaport’s another place from the past that conjures up old memories – this time, high school. It’s not like I came here a lot so I don’t really understand where the association comes from, but maybe it’s because my friends and I ended up at the Seaport very early in the morning after staying out all night after going to some club like the Tunnel or the Limelight the evening of the Prom (or is it just “Prom”? It always bothered me in Pretty and Pink when Andi would say “what ABOUT PROM, BLAINE!? what ABOUT PROM!?”). I remember feeling tired, but still buzzed from the excitement of being allowed to stay out all night for the first time. This might have been pre-breakfast, but we all just walked around the boardwalk and gazed at the water, caught in those few rare hours sandwiched between late night bar hoppers and early morning merchants when the Seaport was quiet and calm.

Ah, (the) Prom. It’s Prom season you know and I thought about the Prom as we were eating oysters and drinking beer on the sand at the Seaport. It’s not like I went with a boyfriend so it was innocent enough since I went with a friend of my best friend’s boyfriend – an Irish Catholic boy with red hair who reminded me a little like a young Johnny Lydon, Public Image Ltd days. Our Prom was held at the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, one of those old grand, NYC Art Deco hotels that’s maybe considered a little tacky cheesy these days, but for a high school Prom? It was quite grand. We rented a limo (of course). My dress was black (of course). I had constructed it from 2 cocktail dresses that I found at one of those Broadway Vintage stores in the Village – maybe Unique or Canal Jeans (I know, that is SOOO Pretty in Pink). I also made a prom dress for a friend of mine, but hers was a vision of soft pale yellow tulle, floaty and light. Mine was the opposite of that, strapless, black, with a tulle petticoat underneath and as goth as I could make it without trying to scare anyone. I wore pointy patent leather heels. My hair was dyed jet black and short with bangs. The inspiration for the hair at that time was the Jesus and Mary Chain. Thank god I don’t have any pictures anymore.

But high school was like that. I went to a large Catholic school in Queens. The student body was about 3000 kids and when you have that many kids, you have a lot of different cliques – you know, the jocks and the cheerleaders, the academic stars, the drama kids, the math and science geeks, the marching band, the heavy metal kids, and the art crowd, among others. We didn’t even have to wear uniforms until our Junior year when the neighbors complained that the Catholic School kids in the neighborhood were running around with long hair and rock band t-shirts (true). Even then, the school only mandated a half uniform (to ease us in, I guess???) so we wore whatever shirt we wanted with our Catholic school pleated skirts. The Art/Goth/New Wave/Drama kids wore the skirts as long as it came, with collared shirts buttoned up all the way to the neck and often with some sort of vintage brooch and granny cardigan. The cheerleaders wore their skirts as short as they could get away with it. I got busted by one of the nuns once with a uniform violation for altering my skirt on a sewing machine. This still makes me chuckle.

In high school, I straddled across a bunch of cliques – the academics, the school band and sometimes drama, but I was most definitely with the art crowd. Our school was big on music and art and you knew who the art kids were because we’d lug around these big, ridiculous black portfolios from class to class like some sort of status thing or maybe it was a shield to hide behind, much like our floppy bangs. Unlike perhaps a lot of people, I loved high school. The last year and a half was filled with art classes and hanging out with our art teachers in their classrooms. They were like our friends, in their late 20s and early 30s listening to the same music as we did and even letting us drop in at 2am one Friday night (what my friends and I were doing driving around at 2am, never mind dropping in on our art teacher’s apt, I don’t even know).

But my favorite art teacher was Mr. M. He also happened to be my homeroom teacher so we spent a lot of time together throughout my high school years. Mr. M had his groupies and we even had a nickname for ourselves, but we weren’t groupies because of some silly adolescent teacher/student crush. Mr. M was married and had 2 little kids, drove to school over an hour each way with a long commute outside the city and busted his ass on a second job on the weekends to support his family. He was just really, really cool and the best art teacher ever. We loved hearing stories about the funny things his kids did or said, debating over Joy Division vs. New Order, singing Depeche Mode songs, and confiding in all our high school angst and problems. He was our mentor, our first real role model for what a cool adult and parent was like and a true friend, a friendship that we would maintain for years after we graduated from high school. As much as he influenced me during those years, he repeatedly told me later on that I inspired him too – to want to paint, draw, and create art again, not as a teacher, but for himself.

Mr. M, I know you’re not reading this. I don’t know where you are and by now your kids are adults and you are much older yourself, as we all are, but I still think of you and remember fondly, the days spent talking and drawing in your art room. I think about you when I’m telling Claudine and Mia stories, just as you told B & J stories back then. Those were good times, some of the best ever. I hope you are out there, well and ok.

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  • Anna @ D16 June 7, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    I haven’t finished reading the whole post yet, but I just have to comment really quickly about the “prom” vs. “THE prom” thing. That’s always really bothered me, too (and yeah, I totally notice it in PiP!! — I’ve always said “THE prom”), and I’ve come to the conclusion based on the survey of 5 people that:
    New York = THE prom
    everywhere else = prom

  • Kris June 7, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Dunno, it may be a seaport thing.. All those I know in Charleston, SC where I grew up and New Orleans where I live now call it “The Prom”

  • scentual soundtracks June 7, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I love your sentimental moods.

  • Caddy June 7, 2010 at 11:16 pm

    This was a sweet post. High School was a fun time for me too!!!

  • quyen huynh June 8, 2010 at 2:15 am

    such a nice sentimental post. i love hearing stories about teachers and how they’ve inspired students. i hope that you find Mr. M and connect with him again. he would be so super proud of you!

  • amber June 8, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I really enjoyed reading this. 🙂 Some teachers do their job so well: to inspire and encourage even after school days are long gone.

  • bronwyn June 8, 2010 at 11:00 am

    Haha! I never thought about “prom” vs. “the prom” before. I mostly said “prom”. I think everyone else did too. This was in Northern California so Anna seems to be on to something. I liked reading this post and remembering my own high school. Yours doesn’t sound so very different from mine 3000 miles away.

  • jennifer July 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Found your blog via doorsixteen- must chime in on PROM vs. THE PROM. That always bugged me in PIP as well! I grew up in NYC and it was always THE PROM. Saying just “prom” sounds grammatically dicey.
    Also, your description of high school sounds suspiciously like the high school in Queens I went to… St. Francis Prep? Mr. Maron? I was a black portfolio lugger myself…

  • Jenna July 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    jennifer, omg, will email you because yes, that is where I went.

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