School’s Out

Sweet HonestyToday I’m wearing Sweet Honesty. As in, Avon Sweet Honesty. If you grew up in the 1970s and 80s, chances are you either wore it or knew someone who did (Avon still makes it, fyi). Some of you might be wrinkling your nose at the mere thought of this cheapie, girlie scent. I like it, however, because on a warm June day like today, it reminds me of similar days back in high school. Days when studying and exams were almost over and the promise of summer lay ahead. Cue music.

St_Josephs_College_SchoolI went to St. Joseph’s College School in Toronto. A stone’s throw from the busy corner of Bay and Wellesley and a short walk from Yonge Street, St. Joe’s was close to everything. It was a quick hop to Cheapies Records, where I remember buying albums like Changes One Bowie and Blondie’s Parallel Lines. It was brief bus ride up Bay Street to Yorkville, home of Scoops, our favourite little bar with live music, where we drank under-age and felt so grown up. Our friend’s sister also ran a gorgeously cozy little café there, appropriately called Le Café.

Closer to school, I remember hanging out at Zeev’s, just down at the corner, where we would clamour around the pinball machine, whooping it up and spreading ourselves about the place every lunch hour (bless the owners and other patrons — we never, in my experience, were booted out or even received a complaint).

Macdonald Block.JPGAnd right across the street from St. Joe’s was Macdonald Block, the monolithic Ontario government building where we took over the basement cafeteria. The food was cheap and the seating plentiful. The mac ‘n cheese was a favourite. 

So all in all, our school was — despite being school — a pretty fun place to be.

It was probably even more fun, though, for the boys who came from De La Salle and St. Mike’s to meet their significant others and generally take in the large doses of tight jeans and lip gloss. On a sunny Thursday or Friday afternoon, the young lads would gather in ones and twos, sitting in the lobby by the front doors. Or they’d wait outside in their cars, windows down, music cranked

And on the night of a school dance, there’d be throngs of them. The gym would come alive, with the DJ pumping out tunes from his turntable up on stage, and the spinning disco ball sending flickering coloured lights around the gyrating masses. The guys weren’t keen on many of the fast songs, but that didn’t stop the girls from gettin’ down

Alas, school dances seem to have become a safety hazard in recent years. Not long ago, I overheard two young cashiers at No Frills talking and caught one of them saying, “back when there actually used to be high school dances”. The other laughed. 

Back in my day (did I just say that?), there might have been the odd joint smoked before a dance, or maybe a mickey stashed in a purse, but otherwise, from what I remember, the dances were pretty clean. 

Though everyone smoked cigarettes. Even kids who didn’t normally smoke smoked at dances. The dance was the one time you could smoke on school property without being hauled into the principal’s office. I remember looking around the cafeteria during the dance and seeing everyone puffing away, and thinking it was so odd that earlier that day, I’d been sitting there scarfing down my PB&J.

Tim Hortons that used to be ZeevsAfter the dance, when the cafeteria went back to being the caf, we smokers had to hide our illicit activity. Which meant sneaking out to the back laneway (officially St. Basil Lane) or slipping over to Zeev’s, which is now the Tim Hortons pictured here. Kinda sad, but I guess that’s progress, eh?

St. Basil Lane was a particularly risky place to smoke (as would be any place named after a saint). There was one wall separating our wafting billows of nicotine from the school, and no doubt a teacher could have looked out from an upper window and seen us — and I’m pretty certain that’s what happened the day I got caught. There were several of us, in fact, but only I made the mistake of tracking the teacher down afterwards and asking her what would happen to us. (It didn’t help that she was my math teacher — the same teacher who would tell me at the end of grade 12 that if I failed the exam, I would fail the course. I sailed through with a 51. *arm pump*)

She ended up hauling me down to the principal’s office, and I could tell by her exchange with vice principal Miss Caravaggio that this was the first the VP was hearing of it. If only I’d kept my mouth shut. I arrived home that afternoon to discover I was grounded. I spent a good part of high school grounded. Smoking. Drinking. Broken curfews. This time would be just one more episode in the big house. And I knew that with my dad’s short temper and iron rod of discipline, it was useless to argue.

Me and Maeve Zeevs high schoolNow, it’s hard to believe that high school has come and gone for my own kids. Yet in so many ways, I’m still that girl sneaking down the laneway, playing pinball, and buying records on Yonge Street. Funny how so much time can pass, yet we can feel much the same way we did in 1981.

To all the kids chomping at the bit for school to end — and to those of us reminiscing about it — here’s to summer, and happy 150th.