In 1965 I graduated from St. Augustine High School on Park Place in the Slope, an all-boys slaughter mill run by the Catholic Diocese. There were only 157 “Lancers” in my class and a few years later, the school closed down. We called ourselves Lancers because the school emblem was a knight with a huge lance. I always imagined it was a Christian Brother underneath all that chain mail ready to pounce if we stepped out of line. Over the years classmates still living in the metro area would gather in mid-December at some Bay Ridge watering hole and reminisce about getting beat up by the Brothers, but only a dozen or so would show up.
In the Spring of 2015 a few of us, led by our basketball star Pete Begley (4th floor Prospect Avenue walk-up shared with four siblings) and class prez Gerry Cooney (a converted one bedroom apartment off 6th Avenue shared by a family of six), decided to track down all our fellow graduates and summon them in November to a grand 50th reunion feast at Marco Polo Restaurant on Union Street. But as the months passed, we learned that at least two dozen Lancers had fallen from their steeds over the decades, while others were ailing, leaving us with a pool of only 125 to importune. And our importunings weren’t going so well. Many claimed our correspondence and phone calls had aroused dormant PTSD nightmares of various torture routines they had endured on Park Place.
One classmate vividly recalled a sermon delivered on the first anniversary of the December 1960 plane crash on Sterling Place & 7th Avenue, a little over a block away, that took 134 lives. The freshman class had been herded into St. Augustine church to pray for those departed souls, whereupon the priest who administered last rites at the site of the wreckage described horrific details of strewn body parts, wondering whether the decedents had committed masturbation prior to their last confession which, of course, would have qualified them for a one-way ticket to…HELL! “Don’t let that be your fate, boys!” he thundered from the pulpit.
There was only one thing left to do: bombard the class with social media! We created a Facebook page and began speculating that Charlie Purpura, the deceased Brooklyn-born screenwriter of the 1983 Hollywood movie, Heaven Help Us (Donald Sutherland, Kevin Dillon, Andrew McCarthy, Mary Stuart Masterson, Patrick Dempsey, Wallace Shawn) was kicked out of Augustine…Just like me, although I got reinstated after promising to stop masturbating. The flick, filmed in Sunset Park (St. Michael’s) and Gowanus (Carroll Street Bridge), was about the impact a sadistic Brother at a school just like Augustine had on the students’ bodies. We reached out to Charlie’s widow and announced she would address the Reunion. In the grand social media tradition, very little of this was true but it got us some RSVPs.
Then we began posting a mini biography of every classmate. Themes emerged from the postings: a quarter of the class had seen military service during the Vietnam war years. Many had forged careers in public safety, and just as many in education. Those who had achieved great success in business were exceedingly generous in giving back. We created slideshows featuring some of these lives of service and honoring the deceased. After gaining access, we also shot videos inside Augustine, recalling notable beatings. We posted all of this on Facebook and YouTube and emailed the links. More RSVPs!
My last task was to create a piece to elicit nostalgia for our teenage years. So, I uploaded to YouTube a 20-minute slideshow, featuring a musical score of 60s jazz and Simon & Garfunkel, consisting of hundreds of Brooklyn photos, most from the 1960s, as well as images of the Flushing World’s Fair, Yankee Stadium, the Polo Grounds, Shea Stadium, news headlines, 45 RPM record sleeves of the Four Seasons, Temptations, Beatles, etc. I also threw in stills from Heaven Help Us. As a result, some fence-sitters showed up and in the end 46 Lancers attended the reunion along with their significant others. A glass half-full. Ok, Ok, 37% full.
And there I thought my work was done. But alas my slideshow got caught up in the swirl of YouTube algorithms. Those who began watching one of the thousands of videos about Brooklyn would eventually be fed my opus, “The 1960s in Brooklyn.” 41,000 views and angry comments by the great unwashed ensued.
Failing to read my description explaining that many photos in the slideshow were not shot in the 1960s or in Brooklyn – the title image for the video is the picture sleeve of Telstar by the British group the Tornados for Pete’s sake – they excoriated me for including “at 9:53 a photo of the World’s Fair, which is in Queens, you idiot!” Or “you show Yankee Stadium at 10:22, which is in the Bronx, moron!” Or a shot of Stillwell Avenue that was “definitely the early 70s, not the 1960s, so thumbs down for you.” Some complained I didn’t show enough Black people, others complained Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Martin Luther King Jr. “were not from around here.” BTW, arguably the most successful member of our class was one of its few Black members, Jeffrion Aubrey, a NYS Assemblyman for the past 30 years. (The most notable Red Hooker was John McGettrick.)
But most of the comments lamented the “disappearance” of their old neighborhoods. Some were explicitly racist, others more accepting of the sad truth that time waits for no one and nothing ever remains the same. Realizing I had spent much too much time swatting away stupid comments and consoling ex-Brooklynites grieving for their youth, I finally found the page to disallow comments. Except YouTube is still sending them to me so their button must have broken. Or I’m still an idiot. In any event, I’ve been to confession, so take me now, Jesus, quick, I’m ready!