I had my first real scheduling conflict when I was five-years-old. I got put in the morning kindergarten session at the nearby Catholic school in Olean, NY. That wouldn’t have been a problem, necessarily, except that my best friend, Tony John Marra, was put in the afternoon session. What that meant, from a purely logistical standpoint, is I wouldn’t be able to play with Tony John very much. More importantly I wouldn’t be able to ride Tony John’s pedal tractor. I had a pedal car of my own, sure, but I loved riding that tractor.
About a week after school started, I went over to the big brick house on the corner and started to pedal off on the bright red tractor up the sidewalk. Mrs. Mara would have none of it.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she called out from their front porch.
“Just riding the tractor,” I called back. “Tony John said it was okay.” I had asked him one evening before school started. An attempt at a contingency plan.
“Well it isn’t,” she said, “you can’t play with Tony John’s toys when he’s not here.” Didn’t she know he had left it out in the driveway for me?
Tony John Mara, his real name by the way, was one of those three namers. You never called him Tony. He was Tony John. Like Thomas Alva Edison, or Billy Bob Thornton, or Lisa Marie Presley. Okay, maybe nobody called Thomas Edison, Thomas Alva, but you get my point.
It didn’t take me long to figure out in my five-year-old brain, that I would never get sufficient riding time on the tractor anymore since I hadn’t seen Tony John in a week. And since he was going to kindergarten when I was getting out, this was never going to work out. Something had to be done.
I told my mother about it, begged her to get them to move me to the afternoon session. She couldn’t or wouldn’t understand. You can play with Tony John on the weekends she had said. In later years, I figured out that parents and teachers did this on purpose in elementary school to keep “best friends” out of the same classrooms. They were always breaking us up. I had to take matters into my own hands. But how?
I decided I needed to get to the head nun. The Mother Superior. The one in charge. How best to do that? By getting in trouble. If I caused trouble in class, I figured, I would surely be sent to the principal’s office. That would be Sister Agnes. Everyone was afraid of Sister Agnes. It was rumored, early on, that she paddled misbehaving children with a flat-iron skillet that hung on the wall behind her desk. It sounded like serious punishment to a five-year-old, but I wouldn’t be deterred. I was going to get this schedule change.
I put my plan into effect the next day. Just after class started, I started to cry. They were crocodile tears to be sure and Sister Bernadette wasn’t putting up with it.
“If you don’t stop I’m taking you to the Mother Superior’s Office,” Sister Bernadette hissed.
Perfect. The plan was going to work. If anyone had the power to move me to the afternoon session, it was Sister Agnes. I cried louder, working up more tears.
“That’s it,” she said, grabbed me by the arm, half-lifting me off the ground, and headed out the door and down the shiny linoleum hallway, dragging me towards Sister Agnes’ office. While I was being dragged, I started to have second thoughts and the tears became real. We arrived in front of a big door with a frosted glass window. Painted on it in gold letters was “Mother Superior” in an arc. I couldn’t read yet, but I know what it said. We walked into what seemed to me at the time, this ginormous office. At the far end, under a window was Sister Agnes, glaring at me. I noticed the flat-iron skillet on the wall right away.
“Sit down young man. What seems to be the problem?”
I took a seat, with a little unnecessary assistance from Sister Bernadette, in one of the chairs in front of Sister Agnes’ desk and could barely see over the top.
“Well?” She leaned over the desk so I could see her glaring at me.
I stammered out some gibberish about Tony John being my best friend and he was in the afternoon session and I never got to see him anymore and it just didn’t seem fair, and God knows what else, in between the sniffles. I left out any mention of the tractor. I let that be.
“I see,” she said. She leaned back in her chair so I could no longer see her. “So you want to be moved to the afternoon class? Because of this Tony John? Your friend? I couldn’t see her but I knew she wasn’t going for the skillet. “Sister Bernadette, do we have room in the afternoon session for Lenny here? He seems to have gone to a lot of trouble to be with his friend.”
Since she taught both the morning and the afternoon sessions, she agreed that it could be arranged. It was done. Starting tomorrow I would come to school in the afternoon with Tony John. I had pulled it off. Then my excitement waned when she said, “I’ll have to call your mother of course.”
I guess my mother was okay with it, because I started afternoon kindergarten the next day. Later that afternoon, Tony John and I took turns riding his tractor.