If it was possible to go back in time to Midland School in the 50's, and ask my teachers how I was doing, I'm sure they would all agree: "Raymond does not pay attention in class." Of all of the things that could have been said about me in the Teacher's Comments section of my report cards, that was the one that appeared most often. So often, in fact, that it was one of the few things that I was able to memorize when I was a student.
I'm sure that my ability to concentrate improved greatly over the winter months, when all of the windows were closed, because most of my classes seemed to be in rooms facing Rochelle Avenue. With the windows open in the early fall and spring, it was hard not to be distracted by the sound of a car or a truck passing by. You would have had to be there to understand that a truck or a bus, or an occasional motorcycle coming down Rochelle Avenue, was a rare event back then. The street was relatively quiet all day long, with almost no traffic at all.
Like most kids in my class, I collected bubble gum cards with baseball players on them, but I also collected cards that featured cars, trucks, and odd vehicles that we normally wouldn’t see in Rochelle Park. Some of the more unusual ones that I remember included a small, three-wheeled, bug-eyed thing from Italy, an Army tank, and my favorite, the Euclid.
A Euclid was a huge yellow dump truck, with tires that would have been way over my head if I had been able to get close enough to stand next to one. It had a permanently fixed ladder leading up to the door of the cab, which seemed small compared to the rest of the truck, and a big, scoop-like bed in the back to haul dirt or coal. Even the windshield was big, with three separate panels of glass, each with its own wiper blade. I'm not sure if they still make Euclids, but I've seen similar trucks at strip-mining sites in West Virginia.
Other than the Euclid, I really didn't know much about trucks until I got to know Ed Church.
By the time he was 12, "Eddie," as we used to call him, had already put together a great collection of jazz records. I remember sitting in his room after school and listening to Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz, and Ahmed Jamal. Not exactly household names, but great musicians just the same. Eddie also had a thing for trucks. He was the only kid I knew who could identify them accurately by the sound of the engine, or just by seeing the silhouette of a rig coming over the hill on Route 17.
One night, Eddie took my buddy George and I up to 17 with a clipboard, a pair of binoculars, and a flashlight, so we could write down the names of the trucks as they came by. It was after dark, so we walked under the highway where it crosses Central Avenue, and staked out a spot along the northbound lane about where Burger King is today. Eddie had the binoculars, and George and I had the flashlight and pad. It was our job to write down the names of the trucks as he called them out to us.
"Mack, B-65 Thermo-dyne."
"Right. Got it."
"Jimmie," (short for GMC), "650 Diesel."
The trucks hadn't even reached our lookout point, but as they barreled by, we could see that Eddie was right every time.
About 10 or 15 minutes later, a police car pulled up. The officer turned on his lights, stepped out, and asked us what we were doing.
We told him about the trucks, but he didn't believe us. Who would? He thought we were using the binoculars to look in the windows of the houses on the other side of the highway. I vaguely understood the implication of what he was saying, but I'm not sure I knew what it was we were supposed to be looking for. We showed him the short list of trucks that had already passed by, and he seemed to soften up a bit, and then drove each one of us home, without telling our parents.
It must have been our lucky night.
I'm not sure if that episode occurred before or after the day the Euclids came to town. There were two of them. I remember sitting in class and hearing the sound of an engine I had never heard before, a deep, powerful rumble that seemed to reverberate off the walls of Midland School, shaking the windows, and lifting me half-way out of my seat to see what it was.
I recognized it right away from the bubble gum cards. It was the biggest truck I’d ever seen, yellow, with huge tires, and it was going past our school, heading toward Central Avenue.
"Holy mackerel," I yelled, "a Euclid!"
All of a sudden, pandemonium broke out, and it seemed like every boy in class jumped up to look out the windows. We watched as the first Euclid went by, and stood long enough to see the second one too. It was just as loud, and just as big. I couldn't believe my eyes.
Somewhere in the distance, I could hear another sound too, a faint voice, yelling, "Raymond. Raymond, sit down!" but I guess I wasn't paying attention. I was dreaming of Euclids, and wondering if the three-wheeled, bug-eyed thing from Italy would be passing by soon, and whether or not the windows would be open wide enough for me to hear it.