I still walk the halls of my elementary school when I dream. It seems very normal when I’m there, even almost forty years after sixth grade. Because of its location—prime real estate in the French Quarter—rumors persist that it will be sold and converted to high-priced condos. My opposition is as vociferous as the next guy’s. Unless I could get one. The idea of spending my last years on earth in Ms. Brown’s class or Ms. Williams’ class is seductive. I can think of no better place to die. It would be like I died then, which casts everything since in hazy golden light. I never left the playground, I’m still in the cafeteria, still in the music room, or the library. The focus and intensity of an elaborate perfect daydream. Nietzsche calls it “the seriousness of a child at play.” Where is that kid anyway? Done run off, I fear.
McDonogh 15 was a crunchy hippie school in the 1970s. Ms. McCorkle passed out bumper stickers to her 6th graders: “Save the Whales—Boycott Japanese Goods.” We had lots of friendly animals on campus. A goat named Emily. A sheep, whose name I forget. We called the rabbit in Ms. Brown’s class Swee’Pea. He roamed around the second floor freely. Each class had its own garden plot in the front yard, facing St. Philip Street. Between the red walls and the garden was a row of oleander trees. Beyond the garden was a pen for the livestock.
All our playground equipment was handmade. Mr. Eckland built a treehouse in the Chinese Elm out front, and strung large sturdy nets from the high branches of the Sycamore in back. He also made a giant raft of a tire swing, some twenty tires roped together in the shape of a square and secured to four posts jammed into the ground. There was kind of a wild area in the rear yard, too, a patch of banana trees and weeds and brush allowed to grow unimpeded. Some days, especially after heavy rains had turned the wild patch into a marsh, I would go off over there alone and pretend to be narrating a documentary about an ancient tribe with some exotic name that used to thrive in the climate, until swept away by the winds of time. I felt then a precious color of mood, a velvety mental presence, that I’ve tried and failed to touch again many fantasies and drugs later. It’s the great game. The right dose of focused distraction to take the edge off.
For my mom it was TV. She’d hit the couch when she got home from work and lie there as the light outside dimmed and finally went dark. Then we’d turn the lights on and set up the TV trays and eat in front of the TV, too. An hour or so later, she would get up off the couch and I would take off the cushions and pull the fold-up bed out of it. That’s where my mom slept, in the front room, in the blue flickering glow. My sister had the next room, then came the kitchen, and then a little utility room in the back, where my brother and I had our bunk bed and a chest, and scattered clothes and paper debris all over the floor [...]