Our Town: A comedy about life in a typical L.I. school

Dr Tom Ferraro

I grew up in Queens and my well-intentioned parents sent me off to a local Catholic school to learn both how to read and write but also how to learn Catholic values.  

The experience was memorable.  

Since I had not attended kindergarten I was behind the kids in reading and was immediately elected as vice president of the Poor Readers Club in first grade. Pretty catchy don’t you think?    

I took some solace in the fact that my best friend was the president of the club. 

I found the experience so troubling that by mid-winter I had decided I would sit on the curb in the cold rather than entering school for the day. 

This tactic was blown rather quickly because when I arrived home later, thinking it was the end of the school day, my mother asked me “What are you doing home for lunch?” 

She brought me right back to school. 

I found it difficult to tolerate the days of total silence and the numerous punishments like kneeling on sand with arms outstretched.  

Maybe this was a good form of discipline to  improve my reading because I did eventually learn to read. I also recall be placed in a locker for a while in the nuns effort to teach me how to focus but I can’t be sure that’s true or not. 

The worst moment came one day in early spring when I playfully and swiftly swung my book bag toward the head of little Mary O’Neil.  That may have been a sign of slow building rage in me. But too bad for me, Mary was a very athletic and wise young girl. She ducked and I knocked over and broke a statue of the Virgin Mary.   

That was unfortunate indeed. All I recall was that the class fell silent and our teacher, Sister Mary Sinister, slowly came towards me with a large, thick and heavy yard stick. I don’t recall the rest of that event and perhaps that’s for the best.

Of course I am not unique in having traumatic memories of grammar or high school.  

George Orwell’s classic ‘Such, Such were the Joys’ was all about his horrendous memories of life at St. Cyprian’s Preparatory School which has long been known as one of the finest prep schools in England. 

Now it appears that there is another person I know who is still somewhat troubled by traumatic memories of school and is still trying to expiate them.  

I just reviewed “The Last Straw” which is a very funny full length film about the horrors of high school on Long Island.  The film was directed by Stolis Hadjicharalambous. (Please don’t ask me to type that again.)  

Stolis happens to be the son the owner of Harry’s Hilltop Deli on Hillside Avenue.   

Stolis and Chris Otis wrote the film and it was produced by Henry Borriello.

The plot centers on the oppressive experience kids feel as they go through a strict private school education and the revenge fantasies this produces. 

The film was a cross between “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” and “Revenge of the Nerds.”  

The most compelling character was the malevolent Dean Wolfgang Quint played by Jerry Murdock who would go to any length to instill fear and shame in the student body.   

The film was an hysterical romp through high school days with believable dialogue and characters you grew attached to.  

By the closing credits I was hoping that they would make a Last Straw II so that I could see how these characters turned out. One would assume that Bruce Benjamin Bauer would marry the sweet faced Scarlett O’Neil and that Vic would wind up on Wall Street but was the hapless Dean Wolfgang Quint destined to be banished to the janitorial service forever? I hope not? 

The director told me that The Last Straw was five years in the making and was filmed in a Catholic high school right here on Long Island. 

This film is all the more remarkable because  it had none of the big budget Hollywood support that we saw just two weeks ago when “The Book of Henry” was filmed in Hildebrandt’s.    

I consider the making of a full length film a miracle. This film  which took effort and perseverance and enormous amounts of multitasking on Stolis’ part. 

There are but a few high school films that are classic comedies.    

These include “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” 

“Fast Times at Ridgemont High” was about high school life in San Diego and launched the career of Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker and Eric Stoltz.  “Ferris Beuller’s Day Off” was a wildly innovative comedy about high school life in Chicago and launched the career of both Mathew Broderick and Jennifer Grey. 

Thank goodness Long Island now has a film that describes high school life in the suburban wasteland and how both the teachers and the students do their best to salvage some dignity and sanity amidst all the pressure we face here on the east coast. 

I can complain all I want about my Catholic school days and Stolis can too but the reality is that our parents footed the bills and the teachers actually cared a lot about us all. And we all turned out pretty well despite all the pain and all the punishment.  So let’s not get too tough on the nuns in their black habits and on Dean Wolfgang Quint either. 

If you want to take a walk down memory lane, re-experience high school life on Long Island and get a few laughs along the way go see “The Last Straw.”  

Maybe you can say you were there at the start of the careers of Stolis Hadjicharalambous, Henry Borriello, Chris Otis, Zach Locuson and the lovely Talia Marrero. 

But watch out for those spitballs!

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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