My Trip To Poly Prep

 


I was awake at 6am.

It wasn’t easy.

I had had an episode of The Chris Gethard Show the night before, one where I got dubbed my official show-name “The Man Behind The Plant”, which oddly brought me some pride. Everyone always goes out after the show and I have to admit feeling the slight temptation, even now that drinking isn’t too fun for me anymore, just to celebrate my renaming.

But I still had to be up at 6am.

And so I went home and left Keith Haskel in his Banana Suit and Ro-Beardo Malone in his Evil Kneivel costume to get drinks with the rest of the crew and headed home.

The alarm got me up, groggily, as I wandered over to the Prince St NR Station preparing to take my trip, forever, to the end of the R line, Bay Ridge-95th St.

It was a misnomer, really. That area was on the border of Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, a fact noted in Poly Prep’s school song which begins:

“Far down on the heights called Dyker…”

The song I memorized which would now never leave me, except by Alzheimer’s or death.

I had invited back to Poly Prep out of the blue, by my old 7th grade teacher, a bright spot in my loathed history of attending the school, Mr. Khan.

Mr. Khan had encouraged 7th grade Nicholas to write poetry, to find his voice, to begin to speak to his situation just when he started to have a situation to speak to. He didn’t coach any sports (unlike most of the teachers), he just loved his students and gave them all his energy. I would look forward to his class eagerly the 3-4 days a week I would have it.

The rest of my history at Poly Prep was not too happy as those who know me or read the blog know. In fact, I feel like it’s something now I bring up pretty early in conversations or in dates, how unhappy my high school experience was. When I gave monologues for “The Armando Diaz Experience” roughly half my stories were about how unhappy I was in high/middle school.

Poly Prep, for those who don’t know it, is a huge Ivy League private school in New York City, situated on the tip of Brooklyn on a palatial estate, looking like something out of “The Rules Of The Game” or “Gosford Park”. It has 2 duck ponds, 3 tennis courts, 2 soccer fields, 3 baseball fields, 1 full-size football field and a quarter-mile track. I’m sure I’m forgetting many things but so be it.

Suffice it to say, the focus is on sports and academics, with some minor interest in theater. Everyone else was marginalized to various degrees or left to fend for themselves. When I was there, class boundaries were the biggest “cliques”, with partying Manhattan Kids (“MKs”) making up one sect, Park Slope hippie sons-and-daughters making up another, the middle-class Italian Staten Islanders and then the kids brought in on sports scholarships, a large section of the population, but one that kept to itself.

Why not? If you have some kids talking about vacationing in Martha’s Vineyard and some kids seeing their single mother kill themselves working nights, you’re going to have some disjunction.

But still, I was invited there, a none-of-the-above, spending my time growing a pony-tail and sitting in abandoned corners of the library or the newspaper office trying to avoid people.

The first thing I noticed when I was back was that they now had Ronnybrook Chocolate Milk in their milk dispensers. It used to be “GAF E. SEELIG” whatever that meant. It still didn’t taste that good, but then again, I put it in some bad coffee.

After a couple of announcements, I was put on stage with three other alumni who had had various experience, including a girl who had struggled with coming out at the school (no easy task) an upper-middle-class West Indian woman who mostly enjoyed her time at the school and a kid from my year who had ended up an investment banker, but who had been expelled for a year or two from the school for stealing a laptop from someone’s locker. I look forward to hearing him talk.

I had warned Mr. Khan and my other old mentor there, Mr. Cox, that I would speak my mind on stage and “try not to curse”. They laughed and said it was fine. I mostly marveled on how normal the other people on the panel seemed as they went down and listed where they went to college and what they did now.

“Hi, I’m Nicholas Feitel.” I told them. “Uh, I’m not really sure what I want to do with my life, but that’s cool. For now, by day I’m an assistant to a producer and by night I do comedy and stuff. Uh, I’ve been on TV a bunch of times.”

Pause.

“Uh, check me out on Youtube?” I offered quizzically.

The crowd roared.

I felt good saying what was on my mind. I told students who didn’t like the school to get some perspective and find interests outside it. To know that “this is not it”, even if knowing that doesn’t help because “you are in it”. I told them that Poly conditioned me to hate myself, which is why I didn’t leave. I told them that they should know that “the people who were d-bags to me in school are now fat and have bad jobs.”

Not really values looking back that I want to associate with comeuppance, but it got a lot of applause.

It ended up fine with a mostly positive response, though when asked if I wanted to stick around I told them no and they called me a car which I took reluctantly after my hour-twenty on the R train getting there. It was still just a lot to be there and think and feel that all again.

The only thing that surprised me was the student who had been expelled, who stayed silent about it his whole time on the panel. When I talked about how Poly had conditioned me to hate myself, he said when he got the mic:

“Oh Nick, I’m so sorry to hear that. I wish I had known that when I was there so I could have pulled you on to the happy train I was on.”

My therapist noted that an earlier Nick would have outed him there on stage. Would have made him bring it up.It wouldn’t have been right. It would have been patently wrong.

But I just left it and left the school and went home.

I got an email earlier this week from Mr. Khan.

“My man Nick!” he typed exuberantly. “One of our superstar seniors has to do an interview with a working adult for her project. After hearing your speech she has abandoned her previous choice in favor of talking to you. Would you be willing?”

I’m meeting her at 5:15.

I hope the whole conversation won’t be about Bethenny Frankel.

***

I’ve been feeling less creepy lately.

It’s nice.

I’m still losing weight (yes, I know my personal weight loss is my readers’ favorite topic of discussion) and I’ve recently found a weird phenomenon which is that my stomach folds into itself when I’m reclining. It feels weird, but I’ll take it as a good sign I think.

As my therapist said, maybe there’s less there so there’s more room to fold.

As usual, I still have young ladies sending me subtle signals I’m better at reading that they’re not interested in me. Though now I get to hear these stories of people online dating in my improv classes where young ladies are like “Well, we messaged back in forth for two months and I kept telling him I didn’t want to meet and I wasn’t interested in him and fast forward we’ve been together for four months. He’s a personal trainer.”

When I head that story, I literally said “That’s creepy, I would have just stopped if you told me you weren’t interested in me.” But both the girl telling the story and the teacher of the class (who had done a one-woman show apparently about online dating) both looked at me and said something along the lines of “Well you’ve got a lot to learn.”

Sigh.

I’ve been working hard on feeling more confident and trying to put myself out there unembarrassed. I asked someone on online dating the other day to get a drink to me, something which I never had the confidence (as stupid as that is) to do before. Coffee, lunch, or, MAYBE, dinner, I would think. A drink I’m just telling them that I’m flirting, that I’m DTF, that I’m some confident jerk.

Or just confident.

But as stupid and simple that is, I noticed it and it felt cool.

But then there are still things that hit me, even if they hit me less now that I have some built-up self-confidence or built-up lack-of-creepiness.

Like a girl in my improv class last night thinking that I was going to hit her with a chair.

It’s sounds stupid and it’s a stupid story, one involving stupid improv.

I was in a scene where my game was to prove my courage against this girl who was playing a menacing groundskeeper. So I walked over to her and gently karate-chopped her and she laughed it off and pushed me to the ground and shot me with an improv gun, so I improv died.

But I needed to prove my courage, so I came back as an improv ghost and tried to karate chop her again.

“Hah, you’re a ghost!” She said. “You can’t do anything to me!”

“Oh yeah?” I replied and used my improv-poltergeist powers to pick up a chair and loom it menacingly towards her.

And the scene was edited.

Except after the class when I went to ask the teacher about some notes he’d given me, the young lady from the scene approached our teacher to ask him something and I walked away as I’d have other times to ask.

Except she said, “Actually I wanted to talk to both of you” and talked about how “uncomfortable” I had made her feel, that she “was like What the Fuck is he going to do, hit me with a chair” and again “how uncomfortable it made [her] feel.”

Again, I handled the situation well. I apologized profusely as did Brandon saying that she should never feel endangered and that I would never hit anyone with a chair and that I apologize if I made her feel uncomfortable.

But as I walked home I felt both how annoyed it made me feel now and how awful it would have made previous incarnations of me feel.

I know it was all about her and who knows what this girl’s issues are, but someone thinking I would hit them with a chair? What the fuck do I seem like to them? How terrible or creepy must I seem?

And even remembering how I would have internalized it made me very upset. I didn’t see any shows. I just walked home, the two miles, that heavy backpack on my back, full of half-a-dinner, back-issues of the New Yorkers and my newly-beloved mini-laptop.

Not to use a tired metaphor, but I carry around a lot of baggage when dealing with my romantic life and the way I’m perceived by people.

There’s still that Nick from Poly Prep who is conditioned to hate himself, to feel unworthy, or creepy, defensive or “other”. And as much as I fade away from him, I still carry him somewhere.

And he rests heavy there on my back.

But also, what the fuck?

Even he wouldn’t hit someone with a fucking chair.

***

I still get to have nice things.

After seeing Melancholia with my grams and feeling bummed out (more by the movie and less by naked Kirsten Dunst, which is pretty sweet, what, I’m a guy) I wanted to find something sweet to take my mind off it all.

Luckily, even though there was nothing to kiss, there was at least a good cookie in my pocket.

Although my Grandma and I ultimately ended up going to a secret ‘Wichcraft inside the Lincoln Center Annex on 63rd St, we did pass by Epicerie Boulud, the new “Pret”-type place by Daniel Boulud (DBGB, Daniel, etc…). While the “Amish Chicken” salad didn’t really seem my style, they had a smallish chocolate-chip cookie that looked pretty good.

Now, I have my qualms.

Firstly and importantly, it’s made with milk-chocolate, which isn’t usually my style. I think dark or semi-sweet works better for artisinal cookies with the sugary surrounding batter providing the contrasting sweetness to the intensity of the chocolate. It’s just like drawing, chiarroscurro.

But what this does provide is an intense sugar rush experience, the confectionary equivalent of being 5 again, with all sweetness and buttery flavors coalescing into adolescent glee.

It was small (which is good for me, not necessarily for others) but felt like a welcome thing to small ones or to those who wish to be so.

And that’s fine.

***

EPICERIE BOULUD

Chocolate Chip Cookie- $2.50

SE Corner of 64th St and Broadway.

1 to 66th St.

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2 Responses to My Trip To Poly Prep

  1. Lisa says:

    Excellent post! Your ability to reflect and clearly write about it continues to grow and improve. You go!

  2. heartbreaking says:

    I don’t like poly prep anymore. Before I loved it, it was everything ever wanted, it was a change I was looking for. But then poly prep rejected me it broke my heart and i spent days crying in my bedroom. It hurt so much and it felt horrible, I guess you could say i felt like I wasn’t good enough. I blamed it on myself, and I started to hate myself for it.

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