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Saturday, July 2, 2011

I Left My Heart in Frackville

When I was a boy, I used to handily and regularly eschew field trips. I tried a few of them, early on, but found them to be unnecessarily anxiety-provoking disruptions of the routine that I craved hungrily, and I could not ascertain the alleged and purported benefit of these almost exclusively lame excursions.

So, typically, I refused to go.

I would be given a permission slip in class, just like everybody else, and I would dutifully bring it home and present it to my mother. She would regard me for a moment and I, thin-lipped and gazing forlornly at the linoleum flooring, would wait for her question that would come, as a matter of course.

"Well?" she would prompt, "do you want to go to the _____________ (factory, park, public place, governmental building, prison, local air strip, etc)?"

I would invariably shake my head in the negative. Now it was her turn to regard me, thin-lipped.

"Okay," she would reply, in an almost resigned way, mechanically checking off the box next to "I Decline to Grant My Child Permission".

By fifth grade, this routine would occur in pantomime-- no words were necessary anymore. Harrisburg, The Herr's Potato Chip Museum, the Crayola Crayon Factory, French Creek State Park, The Nabisco Factory, the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and probably a bunch of other shit that I don't remember passed me by. Normally, the misfits and rejects who stayed behind during field trips were consigned to near-empty classrooms manned by a janitor or some teacher's daughter home from college break to do meaningless busy work and mimeographed ditto sheets in their own, private Valhalla.

I either stayed home or chilled with my mom at the local public library: her place of employ.

This pattern of mine continued throughout middle school and even into high school, though the number of field trips taken once you've hit puberty declines rapidly, principally (most likely) because they're afraid you're going to wander off with a peer and have sex somewhere. This was never an issue in my case, because, in those days, the only person who wanted to have sex with me was me and it wasn't like I was going to randomly start masturbating at a Philadelphia Orchestra concert, though I'm sure I went to school with at least one or two guys who would, and possibly did.

In high school, though, I did start to come out of my shell, and my rampant fear of unpredictable events and circumstances subsided somewhat, as did my near-obsessive thoughts about throwing up on the bus on I-76 or getting molested by a park ranger or having a heart attack somewhere out of the reach of prompt medical attention.

When I was a senior in high school, I took Physics for exactly two days. I rapidly came to the conclusion that I did not, and would never, grasp even the most basic concepts of this discipline after the teacher's first lecture, and I was irrevocably convinced of same after looking at the cover of the textbook and being thoroughly confused.

I dropped the class and, instead, signed up for Geology and Astronomy in its place.

Academically, this was almost the single smartest move I ever made-- second only to my decision to not take math during my senior year. Both of which were decisions that enabled me to become a high school, and, later, a college graduate. Not only were Astronomy and Geology fathoms easier than Physics, but the teacher (the same for both classes) had a delightful sense-of-humor that meshed effortlessly with my own, and three classmates and I kept him in stitches for the entire year.

And I got a full letter grade added to my final for singing "The Galaxy Song", from memory, from "Monty Python's Meaning of Life" in front of the whole class, with every astronomical measurement precisely recited.

The best part of that class, however, was a field-trip.

"You'll love it," the teacher told me, "you'll finally get to meet people with no teeth."

Hey-- did this guy know how to sell or what?

We boarded a bus to Fuckmeintheass, Pennsylvania. We toured a real, live coal-mine-- underground! We walked around Centralia, a town that has been smoldering and on fire since the 1960s. What high school guy doesn't love fire? We went on a hike and pretended to give a schist about shale.

Hanging around on the porch outside the coal mine gift-shop, there were, indeed, two men without teeth. Inside the shop, there were dozens and dozens of objects made out of coal. I picked up, of course, a four-foot-tall, highly-detailed rendering of the Crucifixion ($68.00) and brought it to my teacher, making puppy eyes.

"Are you kidding?" my teacher said, his eyes wide, "Your parents would kill me. Put that back before somebody shoots us."

So I bought a penguin made of bituminus coal, that stood proudly on a base of anthracite coal. A year later, I would give the penguin to a new friend who directed me in my first college play, "The Dumb Waiter" by Harold Pinter. My friend named the penguin "Shitballs" and, in a haze of pot-fueled idiocy, he broke it playing catch with it on the quad with a couple other morons.

During the hike, my friends and I spotted a huge rock-- a boulder, really, probably about the side of a car tire.

"Do you think this is igneous or sedimentary?" one of them asked.

"You know what I think?" my wily-haired friend, vaguely psychotic friend said, his eyes ablaze, "I think we should beat the fucking SHIT out of this thing!"

And so we took our little two-foot pickaxes, that were probably given to us for a more benign, academic reason, and that is exactly what we did. The four of us took turns hacking away mercilessly at this poor sonofabitch rock while the rest of our class, and our teacher, stood and watched us with gazes ranging from amazed to shocked to disturbed. We took out every ounce of our pent-up, suburban, adolescent rage on this object that earth and wind and rain took millions of years to produce and we screamed,




And, after our energy was sapped, there was a huge, coffee-can-sized hole, dead through the center of this now much smaller rock. And we posed for a picture of it with our arms around each other, grinning like the fucking crazy schmucks that we were.

It was our "Stand By Me" moment.

It was the best field trip ever, man.


  1. Our civilization, bequeathed to us by fierce adventurers, eaters of meat and hunters, is so full of hurry and combat, so busy about many things which perhaps are of no importance, that it cannot but see something feeble in a civilization which smiles as it refuses to make the battlefield the test of excellence.

  2. Well, that's better than "This waz gud, my friend. Get a BIG pen1s with Ci@lis!"


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