My worst back-to-school day was 7th grade. Over the summer we moved from Delanco, NJ to Riverside, NJ. The houses were exactly one mile apart, as the Schwinn flies, but it meant a new town and a different school district. I was the “new” kid…
The new house was one block from the school, so that was cool, and we were directly across from the town park, which I guess would have been cool as well, if it wasn’t for the fact that this park doubled as the prime location for “Fight Club ’73.” Conflict resolution was handled at the park Joe Frazier-style.
On the very first day of school, I was called out to the park. John Pennell took exception when I got to go to the lavatory before he did in 6th-period health class. Apparently, it’s a massive breach of Riverside Middle School etiquette for a new student to pee out of order. Crap.
I couldn’t enter my home without passing the park. Sure, I could slip down Paine Street and sneak in through the side door, but not without exposure on the east side. Exposure meant humiliation and that’s not a very good look to start the 7th grade. I would fight!
Spoiler Alert: I don’t remember much about the fight. I’m not sure if I won, but I definitely didn’t lose. I had a lot of fights in that park—I was often told “Your mouth gets you into trouble, Prickett”— from throwdowns to slap-offs. I also played a ton of football, baseball, and basketball in that park. And I might have “made out” a time or nine. I remember those things, too.
My nemesis that day turned out later on to be a pretty good buddy. We played high school baseball together. We both played first base. I was decent, he was better. When I joined the Navy, I sold him my mitt.
We’re friends on Facebook now, and he’s a real good guy. He has no recollection of that day.