J. J. Collins
At this point the "Poor Me Syndrome " or Persecution Complex entered my life. I fought it for years after. I believe I have finally left it behind. The high school principal, James.J.Collins that year, was a past detention monitor who believed in strict unwavering discipline. His first act was to establish a gymnasium rule that all students must wear white shorts and sneakers. This was in the depression years when no one had a dime to spare. I, believing in authority, bought the items from my earnings from carrying golf clubs. There was no security in the locker room and the locks were use less. Everyone stole each others clothes including mine. I recognized mine on a fellow student who said someone took his so he was keeping these.
There might have been a confrontation, however Johnny Motts was not a clean person. The sneakers probably smelled to high heaven and the shorts no doubt sported a family of bush bunnies. I decided to let him keep them. Later when he offered them back I still said no. The coach under orders from the principal, had to report me as non-conforming with rules. I was told to report to the principal's office. Sitting down with Mr. Collins, I explained the circumstances of the locker room, but he said that was no excuse. "Give up cigarettes for a couple of days and you'll have the money."
"That is not a solution", I replied, "they will only be stolen again".
He did not like my attitude and told me to go home.
"Don't return", he said, "until you have shorts and sneakers".
I related the meeting to my father who was skeptical of my honesty.
"I will see the principal in the morning, but if you haven't told me the complete truth you will be in deep trouble".
I was as fearful as any accused waiting for the jury's verdict.
Dad asked to see the written order from the State Board concerning shorts and sneakers.
Old J.J. Collins couldn't produce it.
Dad said, "never mind, I must go to Albany this week. The president of the board is my old principal of Christian Brothers Academy."
I was back at school the next day.
Later I designed a poster for Fire Prevention Week. Miss Tildon was impressed and entered it in the nationals. I received 2000th mention. Well!....I was not yet a Rembrant.
Other students had completed poster drawings, but only in pen and ink.
A meeting was called for the entire student body in the auditorium. The school board was seated in a semi-circle behind the podium with J.J. leading the ceremonies. All the drawings were put on display with mine at the front center of the stage. Fellow students patted my back with congratulations.
Awards were granted beginning with third prize, then second. First prize went to the board president's son (Raymond).
Old J.J. proudly announced, "honorable mention goes to Clarence Coogan."
Lord knows how he explained this decision to the school board, but it must have been a beauty.
Students around me encouraged me to stand and be recognized, but Coogie was mad seeing this as an affront by J.J. and refused to stand.
J.J. looked me in the eye from the stage and demanded, "if Clarence Coogan is in the audience I want him to stand."
Clarence Coogan never did stand.
Miss Tildon left Elmsford at the end of the season.
Clarence left school some where in the senior year.
Ray, the president's son, was a good person whom we all liked. Later in the hall, Ray and a group of students wanted me to take the first prize cup. I expressed my appreciation, but said we can't do that because the winner had already been established.
J.J. received his just reward after the war when he return from the navy. I was surprised to find he had survived friendly fire. There was no position open to him at the school. I believe the killing blow occurred when he insisted all the girls must wear girdles.
I was employed as an auto mechanic when I returned from service. Christmas time I enjoyed walking the streets of White Plains viewing all the items in the window displays.
At the Sears Roebuck store I was amazed to see James J. Collins in the window demonstrating a Shopsmith woodworking lathe. I might have laughed, but instead I felt a deep sorrow and shame for the poor bastard. What a comedown!
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