I grew up in a small town--think Wonder Years meets 90210. I’ve known many of my best friends since we were 5 years old. I can still picture them in their florescent jelly sandals and Kindergarten-sized Esprit skirts playing “kiss the Chris” during recess. We all had crushes on our classmate, Chris D. who had the cutest little-boy freckles EVER and a contagious giggle that I can still conjure up in my mind. In second grade, we merged with another elementary school. Enter Robert W., the new collective crush.
Unlike Chris, who playfully egged us on, Robert kept his distance, focusing on his sporty pals and hilarious ways to piss off our teachers. Obviously, his lack of interest in our pleas for attention only made us like him more. We couldn’t help but swoon over him, though, year after year. He was tall, standing heads above the rest of us, cute (gorgeous blueish green eyes with sandy blond hair), and best of all, he was tough—real tough.
Granted, tough for Chatham, NJ isn’t exactly gangsta freak, but he was the kid who would take off his JACKET on the playground in the middle of WINTER revealing a T-shirt with a sports team logo. This way, he could maneuver better when playing the I’ll-take-you-down tackle game du jour with the other athletic guys. Meanwhile, the rest of us were bundled up in jackets with fur around the hoods, wearing gloves (mittens weren't quite up to the third-grade fashion standard) and a hat with a boppy ball on top, counting down the minutes until the recess aid would let us back inside. If you’ve never experienced February in NJ, trust me, it’s cold.
Not only was Rob tough (he became Rob around the time we entered middle school), but he was also hilarious. He knew exactly what to say to get a rise out people. He was one of those kids who would say something totally obnoxious to a teacher, but even that teacher couldn’t deny how funny the comment was, and we’d all get to watch the teacher struggle with all her might as she tried to hold in her laughter. She knew if she laughed, her authority and dignity would immediately be called into question, yet not laughing would run counter to whatever sense of humor she may have had. It was quite a battle to behold.
By the time we got to seventh grade and merged schools with our sister town (the infamous “Regionalization” initiative), Rob had earned quite the reputation as a trouble maker. The kids from the other school knew him right away, especially the girls. A superstar football player standing well over six feet, he was more alluring than ever.
In order to finesse the spacing issues associated with the regionalization, our eighth grade class was housed in a separate building for the entire year. We loved it—not only were we closer to the older kids since the building was adjacent to the high school, but having our OWN SCHOOL somehow translated in our 13-year-old minds to mean…FREE FOR ALL! Looking back, I have no idea why this sociological phenomenon transpired, but I can assure you we were completely out of control. (Side note: some of the girls were so misbehaved and bitchy that year that the school psychologist made them—err, us—participate in weekly group therapy, a meeting fondly known as “bitch bunch” where we were taught the importance of respecting authority figures and fellow classmates).
Anyway, one of my favorite moments from that year was a group uprise sparked by none other than Rob. The day was progressing like any other. We were all in the lunchroom, my friends and I likely misbehaving and disrespecting our peers when the vice principal walked in, looking notably solemn. He flickered the lights to get our attention and made the following announcement:
“Everyone? May I have your attention, please? I have some sad news to share with you all. You may have noticed that Mrs. [So-and-so] is absent today. You all know her—she's the wonderful woman who sells you your milk each day with a smile. She passed away unexpectedly last night and I thought you'd want to know."
Following the uncomfortable announcement, Rob stood up--clearly he had something to say. Confused, we looked up at him, incredulous that he would take it upon himself to represent our class with a response about the unfortunate lunch-lady situation. Totally deadpan, he then said, “We all know what THIS means…” There was a heavy pause followed by the rest of his sentence: “FREE MILK!”
Our response was immediate, unanimous wild laughter. We knew better than to laugh about the situation, but the comment was simply too funny to handle. People began cheering and it’s entirely possible that a “free milk, free milk!” chant broke out. The vice principle looked at us in disgust and yelled, “You people are animals! I am very disappointed!” He then walked out of the lunch room, leaving the lunch aids to settle us down.
Rob passed away on August 10th yet he still has me laughing to the point of tears. We’ll all miss you, Rob.