Fonzie and The School Wastepaper Basket
The year was 1974, and I was in my first semester of fifth grade at Sutherland School, located in Beverly on the far southwest side of the City of Chicago. I was 10 years old, and my favorite subjects were reading, geography and boys.
It was nearly 3:00 that Tuesday afternoon in our schoolroom. I kept one eye on the clock on the wall and started gathering my books, each neatly covered with a brown paper grocery bag. I wrote the title of each book across the homemade book cover: Geography; Math (yuck!); Science (yuck again!). I’d lug all three home to help me complete my homework, which I studiously implemented all while sitting in front of our television set.
Tuesday just so happened to be my favorite day of the week since Happy Days was on at 7:00 that night. I looked forward to that evening, so I could watch my beloved television show and sigh over the ultra-cool Arthur Fonzarelli in his leather jacket. Then there was Potsie, the well-mannered chum of Richie Cunningham. They were two (much) older dark-haired gentlemen who I found quite adorable.
Even at my age, I knew those Hollywood types were out of my reach. Knowing that and being pragmatic, I learned to set my sights on boys in my own class.
By mid-September, I had already scoped out my current crush for that semester. The lucky fella’s name was Greg — a tall and lanky 10-year-old himself, with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a devilish grin. What’s not to love?
“If only he’d notice me,” I thought to myself. I was certain we could have a wonderful romance – whatever that consisted of at our immature age. I had already learned Greg was a fan of Fonzie. So, we had that in common. It seemed to me we were already starting off on the right foot.
I daydreamed about the two of us, riding our bicycles to the hobby store or swinging on the swings in the schoolyard. We’d help one another with our homework, just like Richie Cunningham did with his best girl on Happy Days. By the time we’d reach eighth grade graduation, we would be voted Cutest Couple by our own peers.
Ahh, pure bliss.
I was knocked back into reality when our teacher announced it was time to wrap things up for the afternoon. The school dismissal bell rang at 3:15 every afternoon and we had only a few minutes left before we were free from the bondage of school… at least until Wednesday.
That meant it was time for teacher’s helper of the week to walk up and down our rows of desks, as he carried the standard-issued green metal trash can. It was our opportunity to toss out any unwanted papers (and contraband chewing gum).
This week it was Greg’s turn as teacher’s helper. My palms sweated as I waited for Greg to pass by my desk with the trash can in his left hand. Due to my last name starting with a “V,” I sat in one of the very last seats in class. This meant by the time he got around to me with the wastepaper basket, it was nearly filled to the brim with crumpled sheets of notebook paper.
My Pragmatism Kicks In
I never understood why the other students crushed their worksheets into a ball. Doing so just took up more volume within the trash can, causing it to overflow onto the floor at the end of the day. I clicked my tongue to myself. “Such a waste of space,” I thought as I shook my head at their ignorance.
Greg stopped short at my desk.
“Trash!” he called out loudly, breaking my sensible thoughts.
I looked up into his clear blue eyes. Trash! What a meaning he gave to the word.
I ripped out several old worksheets from my 3-ring notebook and dropped them – unfolded — into the side of the can. They fit in quite nicely, I thought, lying flat against the side and not taking up any extra space within the receptacle.
Greg looked into the basket and back to me. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. “Crumple it up!” he ordered, narrowing his eyes.
I was amazed at how quickly the anger crept in as he furrowed his brow.
Gee, he sure was dreamy...
I furrowed my own brow and shot back at him. “Why?” I boldly asked.
His ocean blue eyes glared at me with incredulity.
Greg jerked his hand, motioning toward the receptacle. He was astounded that I couldn’t see the obvious break in pattern of trash pick-up. For a few seconds, he was stunned and grasping for words.
“Be– because it’s trash!” he insisted, taken aback at how obtuse I was.
I looked down at the full bin and then back up at Greg. “But it’s in the trash can,” I explained, again locking eyes with him.
I let my argument sink in, letting it marinate for a second.
Greg hesitated, not knowing how to respond. His feet shuffled beneath him, as if they themselves wasn’t sure whether to move onto the next pupil or not. He looked down at my flat sheets of paper that disrupted the usual design of mass waste.
He finally gave up and walked away. “Ughh!” he cried, shaking his head. He headed toward the next pupil, who would certainly follow the unspoken rules of our 4th grade classroom.
I watched handsome Greg continue his walk along the row of wooden desks — toward the good students who did as they were told. Where no one else would interrupt the due course of the afternoon trash pick-up.
“There goes our first date,” I regretfully thought, turning back to my geography homework. I mentally kicked myself in my geometric-print polyester pants.
I took another look at the clock on the wall. Now it was mocking me. Tick tock, tick tock . It seemed to slow down with each click. For me, the minute hand couldn’t move fast enough on that most unfortunate afternoon.
My world turned sullen. I rested my chin on my schoolbooks and waited for the bell to ring. “Fonzie or no Fonzie,” I brooded. “Tuesdays are no longer my favorite day of the week.”
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