The King of the Kids

I went to school in Mahopac from Kindergarden through 12th grade. And from the first days I showed up in school it was clear who was the King of the Kids.

He wasn’t the biggest kid. He was never the best athlete. But he was the leader. We all wanted to be around him. He knew all the best jokes and he told them the best. I can still hear him say, “See, there was this guy…” And you knew something good was coming.

When the season came around to play marbles, a very serious kid activity in those innocent days, he taught me how to play. And he explained to me that you have to carry your marbles in a little cloth bag that you hang from your belt. He told me that I had to ask my mother to make me one, so I did, and she did.

We went down to Pressman’s Drug store with our other buddy and stole a pack of Cigarillos and went to the railroad tracks to smoke them. 

And I still remember how we were at one kid’s house and he was trying to get another kid to join us. So he was talking to the mother, and talking to her like she was just another person, his equal. He said “Whereabouts do you live?” so that he could give her directions to bring her boy over. I was amazed how he could even get parents to do what he wanted.

He and I got in terrible trouble from trying to put a new kid through some kind of initiation ritual that he decided was needed. We put water and confetti on the new kids coat in his locker but the teacher thought we peed on it. So we got the worst punishment I ever remember any 4th grader getting: no recess for months and writing on the board hundreds of times… “I will not…”

During our punishment we hung out together and created our own original deck of cards, one by one, and played cards together. 

When we went from 6th to 7th grade everything started to change. Kids were now tracked into three categories: the smart kids, the regular kids, and the shop class kids.

The King was in that last and lowest group. His academic skills were just too weak. We all (the boys) took shop class, but being a shop class kid… you were looked down on.

I don’t know what else caused The King to fall from his position, but over the rest of high school his status kept sinking. 

Maybe it was from too much early drinking. We all fooled around drinking, but maybe he really fell into it.

Maybe it was because new kids were arriving every school year and he had no history with them; he was nobody special to the new kids.

Maybe it was that he didn’t know how to deal with girls. Status began to involve what girls you could connect with: I never saw him connect with any girl.

And then one day I saw what was, to me, his final fall from grace. There was a bench just outside the door from the school between the lunchroom and the gym. After lunch on warm days everyone gathered there to look down the steep hill on the playing fields.

There were four big football player kids on the bench, with just a little extra room on one end. So he tried to seat himself on one end but the four big kids slid over and pushed The King onto the ground. So he got up and went around to the other side of the bench and tried again. But they slid over and pushed him onto the ground again.

And I saw that as the final end of his reign; he was nobody.

I heard he ended up going to Vietnam and getting messed up by it, either physically or mentally, or both.

I heard he ended up drinking a lot, maybe even became the town drunk.

I don’t know.

But I do know that he was the King and he taught me all he could about how to be a kid, from marbles to squirt guns, to dirty jokes.

And it always makes me sad to think about how things just didn’t work out for The King of the Kids.