Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mr. Moore Went to Washington

I have no idea whether Roy Moore had improper relationships with young girls. What I am distressed about is the Salem like frenzy which has accompanied accusations against him, other politicians on both sides of the aisle, and a bevy of entertainment industry characters who have been served to the public as a salacious spectacle. Some of the cornered have admitted, to greater or lesser extents, their follies--often known about for years and years by those who no longer find them useful or concluded their taint might touch them now that it's all in the public square.  Others, like Mr. Moore, have declined to confess, and horror of horrors, have actually dared to say they are innocent. He could well be a narcissistic liar. In my old career, as a prosecutor of ethics violations by attorneys, I certainly saw my share of those. But what, Friends, Americans, Countrymen, if he is innocent? It is of some interest to me, though obviously not dispositive, that one of the very prominent accuser's lawyers, Ms. Allred, has gone deadly quiet after Mr. Moore asked for the Yearbook to have evaluated for its authenticity. In my time as an attorney, when you asked for substantiation of an allegation, if the response did not come, there was reasonable grounds to be concerned it did not exist. But, the main issue remains for me, as I say again, what if it turns out that beyond the timing of the accusations, they were not true?

I was put in mind of a good old movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".  It was in the cornucopia of terrific classic films made in 1939. A bunch of jaded, ugly politicians (wow, nothing changes eh?) want to fill a vacated junior senatorial spot of a certain state with someone who they hope and anticipate won't have enough smarts, experience or gumption, to get in the way of a boondoggle they have conjured up to build a dam rather than a boys camp in a particular location. The senior senator suggests the son of a late, crusading journalist whom he knew, an innocent, a man who believes in the American dream, the objectiveness of governing principles, who thinks that he is joining an institution of honor. He becomes well known and beloved by the people of his town and beyond. He is a paragon of virtue. But his mentor (who appears to be a paragon, but alas, is not) has to intercept his naive protege and cannot do it by words of persuasion. So, he and the political machine that rules and instructs him set about planting stories and manufactured evidence of the young senator's malfeasance. He is told to step down. He is sent letter upon letter (the day's social media) attacking his character. In the senate itself, he is held up to ridicule for acts he has never committed. The young man stages a filibuster in an effort to get his voice heard about his bill, about its worth, and about that thing that is so often swallowed up, the truth. His mentor develops a huge case of guilt and tries to shoot himself and confesses the set up. All ends relatively happily. And, of course, he even gets the girl, a tough reporter who backs her Knight of Truth through the no man's land of evil.

I thought, even as a kid, that this was a lovely tale, but the part where the old Senator confessed in guilt would never happen.  In today's world, and truthfully, I think even back in ye old Twentieth Century, young Jefferson Smith (yes, that was the character's name) would have found himself excoriated to career and emotional oblivion.

But the movie did posit that he was found to be innocent. In old Hollywood, everything goes back to normal. But in the real world, once such accusations are out there (I'm thinking of another movie, "Doubt") no matter whether the person was innocent, the die is cast and the person is forever carrying a humanly imposed Mark of Cain that he or she does not deserve. 

But in the case of Mr. Moore, he proclaims his innocence (and again I have no idea whether he is or not) and all around him, he is told there are consequences. There should be consequences only IF he did indeed commit the act. But he, and others similarly situated, are suffering the consequences before the evidence has been adduced, and before that evidence is assessed. (Jeremy Piven, an actor, just lost his television show over accusations, accusations only, even though he took and passed a lie detector test.)

If Mr. Moore is elected before the evidence is developed, and it turns out he did that of which he was accused, then indeed there should be consequences, and if he is guilty, to be drummed out of the Senate rather than to withdraw now seems an odd bit of masochism even for a lying narcissist.

Americans think they are so much above those foolish men and women who engaged in things like, say, slavery, or, for that matter, burning "witches". But they, we, all human beings are exactly as they always have been. Not only has human nature remained the same, it has eradicated God and Natural Law as its guide. So, now there is an inclination toward evil without any kind of objective regulation.

Sometimes I think that if Jesus Himself was standing before the harlot in today's society, and said, "Let He who is without sin cast the first stone," there would be stones hurled with a gleeful lack of introspection.

Image result for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Lifetime Ago that Feels Like Yesterday

Even in California, November brings a change of season. At least right now, it is a little cooler at night. I still try to sit outside as the hummingbirds get their last fill of nectar before the early darkness requires them to go into a tree stasis, but often I need a sweatshirt to be comfortable. Early darkness indeed for November by virtue of the turning back of the clock to shorten the day. Thanksgiving is only two weeks away. The Christmas Tree is already up in the Grove and advertising is geared to the yearly merchandising that has marginal, if any, relation to the event that gives it impetus, the birth of Christ.

While I am faithful to, even at times passionate, about the religious dimensions of this time of year, the period from now until very close to the Spring, has always been a bit difficult for me. I am, by nature, as are so many people, in need of extended sunlight. My moods simply are better from Spring through to the descending of the Fall. Then there is the fact, which I say truly without rancor, that my experience of the holiday season, as a child, was not particularly joy filled. No one's fault, really. It was the stuff of the normal dysfunction of any family, to which I was probably unduly sensitive. Alcohol filled Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with my parents and their in laws, my aunts and uncles, evoked usually buried hurts, causing untoward, sometimes angry repartee and sarcasm. To the degree my father contributed to these dialogues, while my mother watched quietly and icily at the gathering, was the degree of tension and concomitant retribution later when we clambered back over the roof to our third of the tripartite building where most of my mother's family lived. My mother managed to make her silence toward my father a shout which he could not tolerate. My father's effort to discuss whatever verbal, as he called it, "lese majeste" he had committed via a comment directed towards one of her sisters came to naught until he blew, threw a few things and left for the night with the yearly mention of a divorce that he opined should have occurred long ago. My mother did not seem particularly moved by his emotion. As to reassuring me, who could not miss the proceedings in a one bedroom apartment, I don't recall that was part of her repertoire. But the next day, sometime, he'd be back and somehow we would return to the state of peaceful co-existence. So the holiday season had a second strike against it. And then the third.

When I was 18 at the same time of the year, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  She died of it 14 months later. It was a cold dark early evening on the ides of November, when I got the call from my Dad while I was at school that I needed to get to the hospital to which he had taken her. She remained in a coma for the next ten days and never regained consciousness. She died just before Thanksgiving Day. I am grateful that in the preceding months, in some paradoxical way that will never be explainable to me in this life, she went from difficult and cold to soft and warm toward not only me, but everyone in her life. But still, November and the approaching holidays cast a pall even when I am not deliberately thinking of the past or of its losses. And as the things of those days replay in my mind, unbidden, that they were some 40 and 50 years ago seems impossible. The memories and the feelings are as fresh as yesterday's.

You know how people say they dream of their dead relatives, mothers, fathers, all the time? Well, I have only had one dream about my mother, and it was maybe 20 years ago. I am at a large party. It is hard to see anything much beyond the standing figures, talking, and drinking and laughing.  I am walking between the figures, on my way to another room. As the crowd breaks around me, almost in the exact middle of the scene, in that room to which I am directing myself is a woman sitting on a chair or a couch, dressed perfectly, though it is too hazy for me to say what exactly she is wearing. Her legs are crossed in perfect Barbizon model style. I know this woman, but how can I? She is older perhaps 70. Her hair is gray, in a longer short cut, brushed back. She smiles at me. It is my mother, but not the woman who died at 48, but the one she might have been had she lived.  That dream has held me all these years. Perhaps she did approve of me. Perhaps, freed of purgatory (for I feel she had purgatory on earth with whatever emotional thing weighed her down), she is finally happy, which to me means she is with God. Perhaps she and my father--he gone now nearly ten years-- realize how foolish were their human grudges and demands of the universe that could never be molded into a perfection reserved only for God's Heaven. And now, perhaps, as I realize they are safe in God's Hands, I am less discomfited by the time of year and willing to engage in all of the celebrations of the season with a soupcon of joy.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Considering Time

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/12/19/the-secret-life-of-time


Two things bring on this entry. Well, not things, thoughts about things bring on this entry. The second I mention first because it popped into my mind only about an hour ago. I live in a condo building that has a laundry facility in the basement. Several people living here have their own, in the apartments, but mine is smaller than some of the others and there simply is no room for a side by side or even a stack. Besides, I don't mind going downstairs. When I was growing up near 175th Street, in the Bronx, there was no basement laundry. You either went to the laundromat, which my mother sometimes did, or you washed things by hand and brought it all up to the roof to hang on the lines to be dried by the sun. When we moved to another building near the Fort Independence part of the Bronx, we had a basement laundry. I considered that the height of luxury as a sixteen year old. So, in my dotage finding myself back to a basement laundry is not a burden.

Anyway. I was trudging back upstairs with my freshly cleaned laundry and I had a sudden and intense feeling of being back in that second building, and a strong sense of my mother, circa 1970, down in THAT basement, folding the dried clothes and towels and sundries. In fact, for a moment it was as if where I was, here in Los Angeles, and where I once was, more than forty years ago, and 3,000 miles geographical miles away, were identical.

It was a flash. And I was suddenly very sad as I boomeranged to the "present" and was very much aware that my mother had been gone from this earth for decades, and I had lived a whole life of my own with her absent from it.

The first thought has been meandering in and out of my consciousness for about a week, since I got back the urn containing Bleu's (perhaps, I realize, my favorite cat of the many I have had over the years about whom you can read in a previous entry should you be a cat lover, an animal lover as I am) at the beginning of this week. There is room for a 4 by 6 picture. I picked on that represented his essence, and our relationship. It was one taken in about December of last year--Bleu sitting on the kitchen counter, just behind some flowers that had been sent to me, with the faucet running for him to take a drink. It was a favorite activity. Going up there, sometimes just sitting waiting for me to notice; other times, meowing in a demand for immediate service. I even tried once to show him how to turn it on and off himself. Silly girl. He preferred to be served. I look at the picture that adorns a pretty wood box of my Bleu. I look at my counter, exactly as it was when that picture was taken, except for the flowers, and time compresses. Then. Things were nice. Now. Not the same. Not as nice.


Everything around me has changed. There was a time when. . .

I can think of a million things, places, people, animals, things. Once here in time. Now gone, in time?
Or are they just out of time?

I look in the mirror. The same face. But not. Time has taken a toll. But it's not too bad--if I put my make up on with deliberation not in the usual slip shod, "I've gotta get out of here or I'll be late" way.
The things I did in the past, the education, the people who crossed my path, the "career"--all of that which went before today, another time? And, somehow when I look upon it all, it is as if, in light of where I am today, it might well never have happened at all, for all the impact it appears to have made since it all came, and went, as in the blowing of a dandelion by a child. For that child, time is an endless commodity. I was once that child.

How inconsistent I am!  Here I claim to be a woman of faith, steeped in the theology of Death and Resurrection, and I find myself looking at time, going forward (past, present and future may all be an illusion say the scientists) as a closed door that I cannot figure out how to open. Actually I always have done so if it comes to that. When I had just gotten out of law school and was looking at the want-ads, and dreaming of moving to California, with an amalgam idea of becoming both a lawyer and a writer, I remember the exact feeling I have now. The future seemed--impossible. I would always be in the Bronx, and not in a place of my own. I had no reason for this thought. It just felt that way. I couldn't see past the probably self-imposed obstacles. For a while, for a very long "time", once I moved, once I settled in, enjoyed the newness of a place so different from that of my formative years, immersed in a field of endeavor, the door seemed to open wide, to a new time, and a concomitant energy that travels with possibility.

Life shifted as it does. I am in a new phase of time? There is much to recommend it, and there have been various tasks and adventures to engage me. But it also seems that God, yes, God, has asked, in His usually Mysterious way, to sacrifice here and there, probably far less than He asks of others with more courage and persistence than I have, but more than I would like, to do His Will. It's hard to discern what He has in Mind. And I have mentioned to Him my feeling of a "closed door" to the future where, for once in my life, I am not worried about something or another, in the "what-ifs" of my mind.

One's psyche is a hard nut to crack. Mine has always been a glass half full with an abundance of catastrophizing added. I would like to be more like a friend of mine, who reads this blog, born, as it happens on the same day as I was, who has already opened the door to her future with joy and has often encouraged me to do the same thing. I did it once; I can do it again. God Willing and the Creek  don't rise. Surely, there's enough time. 🕐


Friday, October 20, 2017

Driving Los Angeles Crazy

139173 full

California wants its residents out of its cars. If you think that is a good thing, read no further.  Bike away until you're 95. Walk everywhere. Be a sardine in public transportation. I did that part, when I was a New Yorker, for 20 plus of my 27 years of life there. So, I do know whereof I speak when it comes to the wonders of government run transit in a big city. Yes, if you have the infrastructure connections, you can get anywhere. But it won't be pleasant.

But it is a mandate, like it or not, of our glorious California politicians, to create a New York type system in a place like Los Angeles, which was built, for the car culture. How to get us there? Make driving as unpleasant as possible. We thus can go from one orchestrated unpleasant experience to another unpleasant orchestrated experience in the name of progress.

While the public transit is being built, the car roads are being neglected.  And where they are being built, by the by, are obstacle courses day and night on the major drags that will become stations in years to come. Here in Los Angeles it is La Cienega, Wilshire, Fairfax--serious main streets. And then, there is the building, often near where the stations are scheduled to be, large boxes in the noisiest areas, replacing the once beautiful traditional homes.

The other day I had an appointment in North Hollywood. There was not a street, great or small, where some public worker was not digging while five or six others watched him. Cones, slow down signs, detours. I tried to take off streets and even on those, I was blocked and waited.

I have been hit, twice, in 2017, spun around by a driver with an Uber tag (she said she wasn't on an Uber run at the time; ironic as Uber is one of the golden solutions to the too many cars problem) from the West Bound to the East Bound Santa Monica Boulevard, and lucky not to be pounded once I landed. That was February. Then just a couple of weeks ago, I am waiting for traffic to move on Fairfax Avenue and someone runs into me--a startling shot, with damage that adds up to over $1,000.00, but wasn't quite as dramatic. It has occurred to me to give in, get out of my car, and begin to rely on others, Lyft, Uber, Cabs, friends, to get me from A to B, only because it is nerve racking.  It doesn't have to be.  Driving was once pleasant in Los Angeles and not that long ago. And while it might be more tolerable to be waiting for buses and trains in the warmer clime of California, I will be waiting, along with the multitude, while a government employee slows so as to maintain some arbitrary schedule, or passes me by because the bus is too crowded to accommodate. I will become a dependent in yet another aspect of my life.

The solution is not to force me to rely on others to go from A to B. The solution is to fix the roads, to widen them, to enforce license requirements, to be sure that people who get licenses can understand the traffic signs, to make better, more environmentally friendly cars (which is being done), to end bike lanes where people swerve, listen to music and hold everyone up--to stop the social engineering. No one signals anymore. There is tailgating. And speeding. And plain old discourtesy. Puts me in mind of the moment on Fairfax the other day when I let a car ahead of me on a narrowing construction zone, when a blonde millennial in a large SUV pushed me out of the way so she could also go ahead of me. If I hadn't moved, she would simply have hit me.  She waved her slender hand out of the window to "thank me" for succumbing to her youthful aggression. These true microaggressions are considered small fry in the area of law enforcement so the rules aren't enforced.  Enforce them!

My love for Los Angeles has been eroded in the last 34 years. I stay here now purely because of the weather and because at this stage in life, relocating to a place where I know no one seems imprudent. My opinion doesn't count. Slowly I am becoming accepting of that fact. At least, when I am fully relieved of the right to drive, I live in a neighborhood that allows me to walk to various stores that I will need to survive in my dotage. I won't be able to go far, as I won't have a car, but I probably won't need to, since I will be old and thus, completely insignificant. The further destruction of Los Angeles will be safely in the hands of those with the keys to power and brainwashing.








Monday, October 16, 2017

Tango Anyone? by Constantine Gochis



One of the passions of my youth is the Argentine Tango.  I become an aficionado, particularly of the strict, precisely rhythmic stylings of Edmundo Ros and his "compadres" from that mythical "Cafetin de Buenos Aires" where Tango is a religion rather than a dance.

I never do get to learn the dance itself. Life has a way of interposing so much of inconsequence, interrupting some of the really valuable things in our brief journey. Now, in the autumnal days of my life there is a resurgence of the rhythm and the dance.  Night clubs of flourishing that provide "Tango Nights".  Several movies have the Tango as a theme and more are in process.  For me, the interest is still there, but in retrospect, in old memories.

I hear that a senior center is offering classes of instruction--though here let me protest as an aside. There is an anomaly about ancient bodies with creaking joints attempting what might be termed a viable alternative to sex, metaphorically speaking.

Tango is a required dance in annual competitions.  It is part of the Latin phase of trials.  Sadly, the dancers today have none of the flavor of the originals.  The couples have adopted soe jerky staccato head movements, which to me seem like robotic gyrations, overly stylized and inanimate as opposed to pulsing humanity.

In my teen years I frequent a night club in the New York area that is heavily Germanic in population.  It is called the "Corso". It has a Continental ambience, with two orchestras, one given exclusively to the Latin, the Rhumba, Conga and most importantly, the Tango, with one exception, the Viennese Waltz, which could not be trusted to an American orchestra.  One thing about the Germans. They have precise rhythm.

In those pre-war days, both sides of the street, on Eighty-Sixth Street between Second and First Avenues, are occupied by Teutonic bistros similar to the "Corso".  One, in particular, hosts the weekly meetings of uniformed Nazi Bundists.  We are not angry at this time at Hitler, and war is still far away from New York City.  The clubs are where boy meets girl.  They are universally successful.  The ladies come in pairs or groups and occupy the tables.  The guys cluster at the bar hovering over their beer Steins until the music starts at which point they able in full masculine plumage, towards a target of opportunity to solicit a dance.  The boys and girls become very friendly indeed, through this very popular rite of Spring.

But I digress.  I started this discourse on the subject of the Tango.

I do not learn to do the dace well enough to meet the epicurean standards of the elites who frequent the "Corso", so I decide to get some instruction on the subject.  I am usually slow to follow my resolutions.  In this case, a war interposes itself, I marry, making the acquisition of this skill of less urgency.  It is some ten years later that I catch a television interview with Arthur Murray and his wife, Catherine, in which they extol the virtues of their national dance studios.  I decide to take a few lessons.  My wife looks at me quizzically but I assure her that I will share my newly acquired expertise with her alone.

I find an Arthur Murray studio on 43rd Street, on the East side of Manhattan.  The hostess interviews me in a large, mirrored room.

"Do you dance?" she queries me. I answer with modesty.

"Some," I reply.

She arises, places a record on a phonograph, and invites me to the dance.  The record is of special construct, taking us through a variety of rhythms--waltz, rumba, fox trot, even a paso doble, then a popular Latin dance.

We return to our interview locale.  She reaches into the desk and withdraws a form.  In size, it appears to be 8 and 1/2 by 11 in size, but it unfolds downward until it is almost as tall as I am.  I only see such a form when I am still in the Military and have to fill out the traditional Army application for security clearance.

She begins to check boxes, mouthing, as if to herself phrases like, "Needs instruction in leadership, balance, has sense of rhythm. . . "

I wait patiently as she makes other check marks without comment.  Finally, she addresses me.

"We have just the course for you," she says.  "It is a lifetime course, which allows you twelve social events in our ballroom.  On sale now, just eight thousand. . . ."

I interrupt.

"I would like just five lessons in the Tango."

She ignores me.

"Well, perhaps that's a little steep," she agrees.  She then makes a precipitous descent from eight to four, to three, all in the thousands.

I stop the free fall.

"I would like just five lessons in the Argentine Tango."

She does manage a few more offers, the last one in the area of eight hundred, and then retreats to a mo re defensible position.

"Ok," she says.  "If you change your mind you can apply the payments for your lessons to the new contract."

I am led to a private room, also mirrored, and introduced to a very short sturdy looking girl.  I was sure that if one too her waist as to the point of demarcation, she was divided into two equidistant parts by the Maker of all things.

The first lesson is a disaster.  My instructor is an addict of the new dance craze, the Mambo.  I end up holding he hand as she gyrates around the room to the drums of the currently ubiquitous Mambo Number Five by Perez Prado.

I receive five lessons, some of which deal with the Tango.  I learn several patterns.  During each session the hostess appears and they hold whispering conferences.  The hostess is checking on the progress in selling me a more advanced course.

The last remark reaches my ears.  "Ya wanna sell him? You try.  Good luck."  She stomps one of her sturdy short legs for emphasis. 

I use the three patterns I learn to good advantage.  No one really knows what a real Tango looks like, so I fake it on the occasions where the need arises.

About Arthur Murray and his studios?

A New York Post reporter enrolls in a "Lifetime Course" with Arthur.  She discovers that you can use up a lifetime very quickly.  She talks to many elderly ladies some of whom are on their second and third "Lifetime Courses."  You see, the young and charming dance instructors also lend their skills at the social get togethers.  They become as necessary to the clients as psychotherapists are to modern needs.  Extras received diminish the longevity of the "Lifetime" courses.  The reporter writes about this higher education of the dance. 

I wonder if Arthur returns the money laid out for her "Lifetime Course", when she goes undercover.

It is my guess she does not get her money back.  The newspaper gets its expose but I meet a charming senior lady who reads all the articles and signs up for her third "Lifetime Course."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Prophecy by Constantine Gochis



It was a dark and stormy night. Uzama trembled as the slanting rain vented its wrath against his fragile enclosure.  He shuddered at the resounding claps of thunder that were followed by blinding flashes of lightning. It seemed to him that the gods were especially angry.  He clasped his palms before the idol in the sacred apse of his rustic room and prayed.

But it was not the elemental storm that created his fear.  It was the prophecy.  And thruly there had been the predicted signs.  Three, there would be, the Holy Man had said.  He could hear his strident voice, though when he heard them first, he was only a boy.

Last night, when a dark cloud slowly withdrew its obscuring shadow from the sky for a brief respite, there was an orange ring around the moon.  This was the first predicted sign.  He watched from his window as another relentless darkness overspread the pendant sky-lantern.

As if in response to the luminosity of the orb, the wolves began to howl.  True, they did this every night, but it was many hours too early before their prey, the caribou, were wont to thunder across their ambush for the hunt and their nightly feast.

Worst of all, he braced himself for the third sign.  It did not come.  He held his hands against his ears, to no avail.  The voice of his memory persisted; he could hear it though it had not come. The old seer had long ago implanted the unheard sound of doom into his brain.

"You will hear the shrill cry of a child through the maelstrom, and though you hide your head beneath the pillows of your bed, the sound will assail your soul."  Thus, the Holy Man foretold the coming though he did not say what was it that was coming--or who.

Uzama felt the rushing of blood to his face.  He was suddenly ashamed.  The villagers all knew of his obsessive concern about the coming apocalypse. They mocked him playfully though carefully.  It is not that they thought him a coward.  He was known for his courage.  He was, in fact, sitting on the enormous white fur that had once enclosed a polar bear he had vanquished single handed.  The bards of the village celebrated the epic struggle in song.

Over the years he had witnessed the first two signs many times but the third, the compelling cry of the child had not manifested itself; thus, the obsession which always began at the first sign of a dark and stormy night.

But he could not still his fear.  This storm seemed the worst he had ever witnessed.  There was a violence of the sheet like waves of rain as if it was competing with the lightning and thunder for preeminence in the conflict of nature.

Then it came. It pierced his brain.  He could not define it. It was at once animal and human--perhaps a newly born child.  Uzama braced himself for the "Coming". 

What evil was about to take him into darkness. Where? There came the rushing of the wind that seemed to threaten the foundation of his sturdy hut, the earth below trembled and the sacred idol fell to the floor and shattered.  Uzama's consciousness left him. Then suddenly. . . .

He awoke.  He looked about him in terror.  There was no rain, no lightning, no thunder.  He gazed out of the window at a cloudless sky and the huge round moon that hung like a friendly lantern illuminating the emptiness, the soundlessness, of the limitless whiteness outside.

He turned and made obeisance to the Idol in its sacred repository.  Was it his imagination? Was that a smile on the inert face of the figure of the Maker of all things?


Friday, October 13, 2017

Public School 55

Image result for ps 55 the Bronx

Rummaging through some of my dad's writings once again, and found the one that follows about his time at PS 55. I wondered if the school still exists all these years later--if dad were alive, he'd be 99. So it is, perhaps a little worse for wear looking at the picture, but definitely the same building in which my father, when he was in elementary school, wandered the halls in his prepubescent days. I offer his memories of a time gone by.

🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻🔻

I cannot claim some epiphany to account for my change of demeanor from the incorrigible delinquent of my Greek parochial school days to a model of decorum in my new Public School environment.

Perhaps it was the shock of entry into what seemed to me an institution of such profligate opulence when contrasted to the poverty stricken Greek American Institute, a school that could not even provide paper for our examination, where we purchased this necessity, a sheet of lined yellow pad paper for two cents, from the nearby candy store on Eagle Avenue of the Bronx.

I marveled at the orderly desks whose tops one could lift in order to deposit personal property; the Gymnasium with mats to guard against injury in physical activity; ropes that hung from the ceiling where one was encouraged rather than forbidden to clamber up; different classrooms and different teachers for different subjects and, a very undemanding curriculum. It was a veritable paradise. 

I wore my glasses and brought all my books to class.  I sat at attention, my arms held folded below my desk in the manner prescribed by my previous indoctrination. It was an attitude so uncharacteristic of the students that Miss Mantell, my first teacher, came to my seat, ostensibly to welcome me but paying curious attention to what my hands might have been doing under the desk.  She was young and beautiful. I was immediately stricken with love.

The class was unruly. I marveled again that authority was so easily confronted.  My sympathy was for this trim, soft-spoken teacher and I longed to destroy Benny Kendler, the class comedian and ringleader in her defense, but she quickly aborted the insurrection by announcing that the class would be kept after school. Then she made the cardinal error of releasing me from opprobrium and allowing me to go home.

I remember three faces turning around, with aspects of disdain, even contempt for this new teacher's pet.  They were, of course, Benny Kendler, as well as Oscar Schaeffer and Alex Kuntsevich, the seventh brother of the gigantic "Seven Brothers" furniture movers whose ubiquitous trucks traversed the Bronx streets. Alex was included in the logo of the family business though as a pre-high school student his working days were yet to come.  He was still a truncated version of his massive elder brothers, no one less than six and a half feet tall.

Oscar Schaeffer was the organizer of athletic activities during class recesses.  He was slim, balding prematurely from a condition he announced to be "Alopecia Areata".  He spat out of the side of his mouth, possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball statistics and was a Yankee fan who would brook no criticism of his team.

Whatever competition was in contemplation I was never chosen as a team member.

My sudden devotion to learning did nothing to enhance my image. My notebooks were orderly, printed with meticulous effort, the subject titles underlined in red ink, illustrations added from newspapers and magazines.  I passed all the examinations of the grade to which I was assigned, including the French class, with no previous knowledge of the language.  I asked several classmates if it were possible to skip a class. Oscar took advantage of my innocence of public school matters.  He advised me "sotto voce", out of the side of his mouth, "Just go up to Mr. Leng, the home room teacher, and ask him."

"Is that all there is to it?" I asked.

"Sure," said Oscar. "Lots of guys do it." A blatant lie.

Mr. Leng, my home room instructor skipped me two grades to begin at the end of the current semester, sealing forever my fate as a social leper among the other boys, and further antagonizing Oscar, who suggestion was intended to embarrass me.

Estelle Abrams asked me if I would help her with her Biology notebook.  Harriet Strauss, who lived a short block from me, invited me to study French with her at her home.  Mr. Leng assigned me to stair monitor duty thus introducing me to my first contact with the black student of the thirties.

I knew no black people.  Georgia, my sister now at Morris High School, brought a black girl to our house, a teenager named Rowena.  She was very uncomfortable.  Our early efforts at social integration were clumsy, the ethnic gaffes legion.  She did not come again.  My only other encounter was when I was captured, while crossing Third Avenue, taken behind a billboard, tied hand and foot and thrown to the ground.  It was a pre-teen gang, invading the area on the occasion of Halloween, armed with stockings, some filled with colored chalk, others with the more convincing sand or rocks.  I was covered with the multi-colored chalk.

They stood in a ring around me silent for a while, pondering the next step in this early melodrama of the streets. "Let's we piss on his face," offered one of the more venturesome captors.  There was universal assent.

"Not a good idea," said a policeman who entered the secluded domain, alerted by I know not who.

The job of stair monitor required that students adhere to a single file during class changes, using the banister on the left side, for order and safety.

On my first day, three or four black students came thundering down on the right side of the stair.  When I interposed my fragile body against this manifest flaunting of school decorum, they stopped long enough to advise me that they would see me after school.  The power vested in me by school authority seemed very fragile.  I quit my job.

Back in Miss Mantel's class, where in a few weeks I would be released into the eighth grade, Alex Kuntsevich was becoming restive and hostile.  He would step into line in front of me, bump into me in the hallways, knock  books off the desk.  I ignored every provocation.  Finally, he confronted me in the schoolyard, after class.

"Take off your glasses," he ordered.

I ignored him and he swung a right hand at me anyway

I blocked the blow and hit him a good right hand, flush in his left eye.  It was the only blow struck.  Alex was in full retreat.  Oscar and his athletes were following, offering pugilistic advice.  Alex was saved from further humiliation by Miss Mantel, who ended the fight.

I must interpose, here, a little aside.  Many years later, I passed a huge truck bearing "The Seven Brothers" legend.  A huge young man who had just descended from the driver's seat called to me.

"Connie," came the unfamiliar baritone, "don't you remember me? P.S. 55 where you kicked the shit out of me?"  A huge ham-like hand grasped mine.  "Alex, Alex Kuntsevich, remember? We sat together in Mantell's class.  Think you could do it again?" he smiled.

Indeed we did sit together. There were twin seats in the center of the room.  She vacated one pair and arranged that we sit together as a gesture of class harmony and love of the fellow man.

Oscar was now my friend.  Though he seemed an anomaly to me, slight and unathletic, he was generally accepted on matters of sports.  I accorded to the overtures in that they repaired, somewhat, the damage Miss Mantell had instigated.  I was installed as the catcher on the softball team.  Benny Kendler and I became challengers for the handball championship.

I do not remember how Benny and I fared, that I did not know until one afternoon, as I sat, many years later, in my office in a City New York agency.  An elderly messenger entered, handed me some mail, stared and exclaimed, "Connie, don't you remember me?  Benny, Benny Kendler. We won the handball championship in PS 55."

There were some memorable teachers that deserve recording in this little reminiscence. There was, for example, the perpetually hysterical, Miss Hurley.  Her class was always in a state of disruption.

I have a theory that every class has several students, who, while not identical in appearance, perform identical roles.  I was now two semesters beyond Benny Kendler, but there was always a Benny Kendler clone in the class.  That student would usually begin the insurrections and the rest followed enthusiastically.

One day I was astounded to hear Miss Hurley say, "Go on, go on, show your bad manners to Mr. Gochis.  At the time I pondered her raising me to a "Mister" status.  

On another occasion I relapsed into my "delinquent" status of yesteryear. I rolled bits of paper into tight little arrows, and with the use of a rubberband, pelted several students in the forward rows.s  Harold Steckel, who received one of the missiles on the back of his neck, turned round, pointed at me, and shouted, "He did it, Miss Hurley. He did it."

"Nonsense," she replied, "Mr. Gochis would never do a thing like that."

Harold Steckel was short and oval shaped.  He was also smart and aggressive in promoting his talent.  He would volunteer for any proposed extra assignment, erased the board, and was well behaved.  I saw him as an enemy and volunteered every time he did.

As a consequence, we entered into an oratory contest before a full auditorium.  I gave an insipid talk on the evils of alcohol; he chose a soliloquy fro Macbeth, to wit:

                "Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle towards my hand. . ." 

What better instrument could he have chosen?  

I was totally demolished.