You want heroes? I’ve got mothers.

The last time I saw Lincoln was a dozen years before. I had sat on this humble high school stage with 406 kids whose mothers thought they were smarter than me. They won the awards and the prizes and the scholarships. I got nothing.

“You know,” my mother said, shaking her fist in my face, “you should have won every award up there. You’re smarter than all those kids combined. You just don’t apply yourself, young man.” It was when my mother called me “young man” that I knew I was in big trouble.

I would, out of fear, eventually learn to apply myself. I would become a writer and I would go to work for the city’s magazine, and I would win some awards. First some local ones and then some national ones. Big awards with crystal trophies and lots of money. Now, my mother would be proud.

“The University of Missouri?” she said. “That’s who gave you an award? Do you know anybody who goes to the University of Missouri? I don’t even know where it is.”

Luckily, she had heard of Lincoln High. When Lincoln asked me to be in their Hall of Fame, I made sure my mother had a front row seat. And there I was, resplendent in my return, with a whole auditorium full of kids waiting to cheer me on. Oh, sure, there were other inductees. Some science nerd who invented a new Petri dish. Or something. And a guy who had a regular role on television. If you could call a soap opera television.

They introduced us one by one. As we each rose, the principal read a long list of our achievements. I stood up straight, smiled at the big crowd and looked down at the first row. My wife was beaming. My sister was smiling. But I couldn’t see my mother. All the flashbulbs were in my eyes.

When it was over, I walked down to where she was sitting. “So, mom,” I said, “what do you think now?”

“Very nice,” she said, dismissing me. “Listen, can you introduce me to the TV star? He’s on my story.”

We went back up on stage. I introduced her to the TV star. It made her day.

Meanwhile, others were congratulating me. Old teachers and counselors. People who truly looked proud. And then I saw him. Walking right at me. A little Jewish man with glasses. “Maury,” he said, “I’m Nate Weiss. I always knew you’d make it big.”

Before I could even answer, my mother turned around and yelled at him. “Nate Weiss, you son of a *****!”

What you need to know about Nate Weiss is that he was boys’ vice principal when I was there. In 12th grade, just a couple of months short of graduation, he tried to kick me out of school because he saw me in the lunchroom with a copy of Playboy. I told him that, as editor of the yearbook, I had it on hand because of the design. There was no way he was buying that.

Within minutes, he had my mother in his office. He threw the magazine down in front of her. “Do you know where your son gets this smut?” he said.

“Yes,” she said. “I buy it for him at the newsstand in front of Horn & Hardart. Do you have a problem with that? Last time I heard, this was still a free country.”

Weiss could say nothing. He just growled and asked us to leave his office. And, now, he was congratulating me.

It took three of us to hold my mother back.  “Mom,” I said, “forget about it. We won. I’m in the Hall of Fame and he’s still a grumpy old man.” As we pulled her off the stage, she managed to get in one more volley. “He wants to shake your hand?” she yelled. “Tell him he can kiss my ***.”

You want heroes? I’ve got mothers.

May 2011
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