It’s the Principle, Principal!
“Sure, you’d get the occasional seventh-grader thrown in a garbage can, but never anything serious .”
Thus opined Joanne Roque, a 1992 graduate of Hunter College High, recalling the Upper East Side school’s long tradition of “Senior Walkout”–an annual rite in which the entire soon-to-be-graduating class blew outdoors during the first major snowstorm of the year and spent the rest of the day throwing snowballs and messing around.
“The seniors would run outside in the middle of a period,” said Greg Lichtenberg of the class of 1984. Flabbergasted teachers, he said, would briefly lose control of the school. “It was really exciting.”
No more. This winter, in what Hunter’s new acting principal, Christine Cutting, labeled an effort to protect student “health, safety and welfare,” Senior Walkout was officially adopted by the school’s administration. On a Friday late last month, as a small storm pounded the Northeast, Hunter seniors (of which I am one) racing outside were met by smiling teachers offering cups of hot chocolate, Krispy Kremes and gray fleece headbands emblazoned with the words “SENIOR WALKOUT 2001.”
The seniors were dumbstruck. In a moment, the storied rebelliousness of Senior Walkout had been Disneyfied and destroyed. It was as if Mom and Dad had walked into the prom, thrown on a CD and started showing the kids how to break-dance to The Real Slim Shady. (The coup de grâce came when Ms. Cutting instructed students to refer to Senior Walkout instead as “First Snow.”)
“We were tricked,” said senior Sarah Nerboso. “Walkout used to be an act of rebellion. Now it’s been totally bastardized.”
“The essence of what Senior Walkout was supposed to be was entirely lost,” added classmate David Roth. “What we had wasn’t even really a walkout–it was a sort of sponsored yard-time.”
Hunter alumni, informed of the changes, were outraged. “That totally defeats the point!” exclaimed Susan McDonough, who graduated nine years ago. “The reason Senior Walkout was exciting wasn’t because we didn’t have to go to school, but because it was our one day to call the shots.” Said John Wetterau, class of 1992: “The administration came down like a ton of bricks.”
Mr. Roth, who is graduating from Hunter this spring, agreed. “Fleece headbands,” he said, “are a poor trade for our independence.”
End of the World, Wide
A cursive, handwritten sign in red marker recently delivered the news: “Thank you for your patronage. The Worldwide Cinemas are now closed. Please visit another Loews Theater nearby.”
Grandiosely titled the Cineplex Odeon Encore Worldwide when it opened in 1994, the Worldwide, as it grew to be known, was the last cheap theater in Manhattan screening major, (almost) of-the-moment Hollywood films. With a marquee hyping guilty-pleasure blockbusters and a ticket price that never cracked $4, the West 50th Street theater was an urban cinematic antidote, a rare refuge from the city’s grossly inflated movie economy.
It was also a dump. “I was seeing Air Force One , I think, and I noticed a flickering light out of the corner of my eye,” recalled Worldwide regular Nana Asfour, 30. “I looked and there was a guy a couple of rows in front of me lighting up crack. At first I was like, ‘ No …,’ but you could see the pipe and the lighter. [I thought,] ‘What kind of movie theater is this, where people are so nonchalant about smoking crack?’ It was always something there.”
Indeed, taking in a film at the Worldwide was usually something of a trade-off. Patrons were grateful for the chance to see hits like The Matrix and still have money left for the train, but they were also forced to deal with sketchy bathrooms, barely edible popcorn and the stickiest floors in the city. “I think my ex-boyfriend saw a mouse there,” said Gina Neff, who once ventured to the Worldwide with her CUNY sociology study group.
Actress Laura Kachergus, 27, recalled a frightening episode after attending The Blair Witch Project at the Worldwide in 1999. “The credits were rolling, and we heard someone screaming, ‘No, no, no, no– he’s gonna kill me !'” she said. “The theater’s pretty empty–maybe 25 people, spread out–and it’s this woman in a red skirt-suit sitting in the next-to-last row, thrashing in her seat …. I’d never actually seen a freak-out like that.”
There were other unseemly, seedy tales: a thriller disrupted by a patron waving a gun; a well-known author of children’s books spotted with a cheap flask of bourbon that he passed to friends during A Very Brady Sequel ; a woman who spotted a pair of remarkably amorous attendees (“I really hope they were dry-humping,” she said) during A Life Less Ordinary . “It was the only theater in New York where the majority of people talked back to the screen,” said Andrea Rosen, a comedian and longtime Worldwide fan.
Alas, no longer. “I was really looking forward to seeing Charlie’s Angels there,” Ms. Rosen said, “but now it’s gone.”
Single White Murderer
Douglas Rutherford James, a self-described “millionaire playboy,” sat at a table at the Williams Club on East 39th Street, sadly eyeing a plate of mozzarella and tomatoes.
“It’s my favorite, but I can’t eat it,” he complained. “I’m on the Atkins Diet. I don’t think mozzarella’s allowed. You can have cheddar, gorgonzola ….”
Five minutes later, Mr. James was lying on the floor, dripping with blood. A gunman had stormed into the dining room of the club and shot him in the heart.
“What do you want?” Mr. James asked the gunman before he was killed.
“I want a date!” the gunman cried.
He wasn’t the only one. In fact, nearly every one of the 40 or so people in the Williams Club that night was looking for love, too. That’s because Mr. James’ death wasn’t an actual slaying–rather, it was part of a “Singles Murder Mystery Dinner” on a cold March night for lonelyhearts from the Williams, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Penn and Yale clubs. Mr. James and his assassin were actors, part of a troupe hired to tease and entertain the guests, who were then supposed to eat, flirt and figure out who had paid for the hit.
In the spirit of the New York dating scene, guests were instructed to “trust no one” and lie all they wanted. There was “blackmail” (a black cardboard postcard from one of Mr. James’ jilted lovers, sealed with a lipstick kiss) and other strained puns. When a second murder victim, a female, collapsed in a male guest’s lap and the detective declared his loins a “crime scene,” the man quipped: “Some women who’ve dated me have said the same thing.”
Then there were a handful of breaks to provoke mingling among the single Ivy Leaguers, and plenty of stilted conversation. One lawyer told her tablemates about a real-life dating horror story she had endured in the Hamptons; she and a date had been discussing “controlling behavior,” she said, when he told her, “I could control your behavior; I could throw you into the pool.” (She immediately called a cab and grabbed the next Jitney home, she said.)
At the end of the night, the guests were asked to write down the name of the murderer and his or her motive. Fake Oscars were bestowed to “the best supporting actors and actresses” in the audience and a Maltese Falcon–supposedly cut from the original mold–was awarded to the finest singles sleuth. The winner worked, appropriately, in risk management.