9.11.05

David Green is an Astronomer!


That’s what I believed when I was in fourth grade, while attending Edgar Allen Poe grade school on the south side of Chicago.

I knew it because I had read it.

I didn’t really know David Green. He was in the fifth or sixth grade. I knew that he was a school crossing guard, which was something akin to royalty at Edgar Allen Poe. Crossing guards got to wear spiffy orange belts. They were made of seatbelt material. (I was intimately familiar with seatbelt material because I used to play jet pilot in the back seat of the family car. Back in the late 60s only some cars came equipped with seat belts. Nobody ever wore them, as I recall, but I used to have a blast playing with them.) The crossing guard belts featured one strap that went around the waist and a second that came up over one shoulder. They were totally bitchin’.

If you were a school crossing guard you got to leave school a few minutes early so you could beat the crowds to your appointed intersection. The guards didn’t have stop signs, but they had orange belts and that seemed powerful enough to make cars stop.

(I petitioned really hard to become a crossing guard, and the next year, my last at Poe school I made the team. The only problem was that the intersection I was appointed to was far off the beaten path. The entire time I stood guard not a single kid needed help crossing. Not a single kid crossed. After a week or two I stopped going. I kept the belt and used to play around with it for a while, until I grew too fat to fit into it.)

One day I actually had occasion to stand face to face with David Green. I was in an upstairs hallway of the school admiring a fort that someone had built as a class project. The entire thing was built out of Popsicle sticks. A couple of kids were standing around it. I thought to myself that whoever built it must really like Popsicles. There were hundreds of them. One of the other kids admiring the model joked that it would have taken the kid who made it a hundred years to save up enough Popsicle sticks. He continued on that it was a good thing that you could buy the sticks at the art store. I laughed along with the joke, thankful that my tongue was stuck in first gear that day.

I don’t know if he was the one who made the model, but I talked to David Green right next to it. It was a long time ago, but our conversation went something like this.

“Hey, you’re David Green, right?”
“Yeah, so?”
“Yeah, well I hear you really like astronomy. I think that’s cool.”
“What are you talking about, kid?”
“I just read it. That’s all. Sorry.”
“Where’d you read it? Show me?”

And so I did.

Edgar Allen Poe was a three-story brick affair, built in a section of Chicago that used to be called Pullman. It was called Pullman because that’s where the factories where they used to build Pullman railroad cars were located. Around the turn of the century Pullman employed a lot of people, so he build his own housing, churches and schools. There was an abandoned factory at the end of my street, and another one just one street behind our house. My friends and I spent countless hours climbing around inside the derelict buildings. It’s a wonder we survived, or at the very least didn’t fall victim to lockjaw from all the rusty ladders we used to scale.

Poe school was built with functionality in mind. Safety came second, or third. My parents would have died early deaths if they knew the hours we spent up on the school rooftops. It was pretty easy to get up there because there was a metal fire escape that ran up and down the outside of the building. At some point they had constructed a cage of sorts around the lowest section of the fire stairs. The cage was made of cyclone-type fencing, with a sheet metal door you could exit out of the cage through if you came down the stairs. This safety precaution was easy enough to defeat. All you had to do was climb up the cage and then you had access to the fire escape, and the lower of the roofs. Once you were on the lower roof you were good to go.

David Green followed me outside, to the cage. We were the only ones outside. The blacktop ‘playground’ that formed a big ‘U’ around the back and sides of the school was empty. The cage, along with the metal door in the middle of it had been painted probably a dozen times. The fencing was thick with multiple coats of paint. The door showed old coats of paint where kids had scraped into the surface.

I was still pretty na├»ve at the time, so I didn’t understand all the words and phrases that were scratched into the paint. I do remember that someone had stuck a bumper sticker on the door that read “Save Water—Shower With A Friend”. I still blush. Near the bottom of the door I showed David where his name was scratched in.

It said DAVID GREEN IS AN ASTRONOMER.

At least that’s what I thought it said.

David Green stooped down to read. He stood back up and then pushed me down on the ground. He waved a fist in my face. “Did you do that?” he asked. “Do you think that’s funny?” he continued.

It must have been a chilly day. My face had to have been cold, because I could feel the warm tears running down my cheeks. I might have said something, but I can’t think of what. He stood over me for a moment and then was gone. I’m pretty sure I never saw him again.

For the life of me I didn’t know what in the world had happened. I ran home.

Later that day, or maybe it was the following day, my best buddy Donnie Draves and I returned to the scene of the crime. We looked at the door and then I saw the problem.

Reading letters scraped into layers of paint on a metal door is hard work. Especially for a kid. Donnie and I examined the writing and figured out why I got pushed down.

David Green may or may not have been an astronomer, but that wasn’t the subject of the message. Donnie and I figured it out.

DAVID GREEN IS AN ASSHOLE.

Truer words have never been written since.

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