Steve Bergsman's 'Growing Up Levittown': 'The Brawl,' An Excerpt

10/02/2011 11:27 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2011
  • Steve Bergsman

In 1967, there were four high schools in Levittown, each catering to a specific geographic area of the township. Since we were all rivals to each other, the men and women who ruled the educational districts tried to keep strife to a bare minimum by rarely scheduling sports events between the schools. In my senior year on the football team, we only played one game against another Levittown high school, Division Avenue. Separation of schools was considered a good idea and kids from each of the high schools generally kept to their own turf – with one exception.

The amorphous and shape-shifting social group that I hung with, that formed the core of East Green Stalwarts, that I had partied with for three years now, had an ornery, cantankerous streak and sometimes if we heard of a dance at another high school, we’d get tanked up, head over to the foreign venue and crash the event.

Sometimes we were tolerated, sometimes not.

One Friday night, late winter of 1967, four or five cars full of Island Trees stalwarts and other students, headed south to Levittown Memorial High School, which was holding a school dance. We had a mixed crowd, girls and boys, seniors and underclassman. We paid our dues and entered the gymnasium, already darkened for the dance.

This is all I know and all I ever recalled. I was dancing with Lorraine C., a junior from my high school, who grew up literally within eyesight of my house. The next fleeting bit of memory is me being rushed out of school at a near run.

Afterward we all gathered at Jolly Rogers, a restaurant near Island Trees High that was frequented by students from the school. Friends upon encountering me there kept saying I looked awful and probably needed to go to the hospital. I wasn’t feeling any pain at the moment and decided just to go home. The pain finally kicked in about 4 a.m. in the morning, and I awoke with a start. Sitting up, I saw blood all over my pillow, which scared me so I walked into the bathroom and looked into the mirror, barely recognizing myself. I shook my cousin awake, who took one look at me and went down stairs to get his mother, my Aunt Tootsie.

I arrived at Mid-Island hospital about 30 minutes later, where the doctors quickly diagnosed I had a broken jaw. It was Saturday morning.

As I was laying on a gurney in the hallway, waiting to be wheeled into the operating room, one the candy-stripers working that morning was a classmate of my mine. She was shocked to see me, maybe a little frightened, because I looked atrocious. Anyway, she was the first person from Island Trees to know I was in the hospital.

I’m not sure who my classmate knew from my crowd, or who or if she told anyone I was at Mid-Island Hospital, but somehow and somewhere, the non-technical, completely random communication lines linking students from a high school circa 1967, went into overdrive and at the hospital friends and classmates started arriving and arriving and arriving and arriving.

I was in a ward with maybe nine others male patients all trying quietly to recover from whatever surgeries they had to endure and when crowds of young men and women began flowing into the big room. There were so many people my mother had trouble getting into see me.

Of course, since they were my friends, their behavior was always suspect. When security stopped the flow of people to the ward, some simply walked to the back of hospital and came in through auxiliary exits. Eventually, the hospital clamped down and began sending visitors to my bedside, two at a time at five-minute intervals.

I was in the hospital for a week and even during the school days bunches of friends still came around. One of my oldest buddies who I knew since grade school cut class to visit me only to run into his mother, who had also come to visit.

My mother and aunt were dumfounded by the emotional support showed by my friends and classmates, plus simply stunned by the sheer number. I didn’t get a swelled head about the crowds (physically, in a sense, my head was already swelled by the busted jaw and subsequent operation) because I knew that coming to visit me in the hospital was like going off to a school dance. It may have started off as something personal but ended up as just something else to do.

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