At Seward Park I also developed the first hint of the addiction that was to change my life forever. At this point you may be thinking, the poor lad! He became a junkie, a drug addict who was saved by a Good Samaritan! No, nothing like that. It was all because I joined one of the school clubs.
I had now been in America and a student at Seward Park for a couple of years, and as far as I was concerned, I was now an American, albeit one named Frenchy. For all those who believe American education doesn’t work, I might suggest that in some ways it does, and it does a fantastic job.
We had a student government at Seward which encompassed in its membership the entire student body, although I do think twenty-five cents had to be paid for the privilege of this membership, but I’m not sure of that. There was also a great deal of uncertainty in my mind as to what that student government did, as everything seemed to be taken care of by the teachers and the school administration. Nevertheless, each year there were elections held, and the walls and bulletin boards sprouted campaign materials produced by the candidates. The campaigns included making presentations to the student assemblies and making campaign speeches in classrooms (during home room periods, of course) and the production of posters and buttons to be distributed. I think the aim of all this activity was to prepare us for democracy red in tooth and claw in the wider world, and it’s just possible it succeeded in that aim.
In those days I had become a joiner, and for no reason that I can recall now, I decided that I wanted to run for office, that I wanted to become vice-president of the Student General (or Government) Organization. Possibly I just wanted to see if I could do it, if I was sufficiently popular in the school to bring it off. The campaigning was a lot of fun. To my surprise, just a couple of years after I had entered the school without knowing how to speak English, here I was, elected vice-president! After my election I told the president that I would be ready to take over whenever he died, but in the meantime, I had no idea of what I was supposed to do. Fortunately, I had to do absolutely nothing but sit quietly at meetings, and keep myself occupied with chatting with friends when there where no meetings.
Seward also had several extra-curricular clubs, and during my last year at Seward I discovered the chess club, which at that time was being run or “advised” by a chess lover named Henry Zolan, an English teacher. Unlike most clubs (I think they all ran with G.O. funding) which met once a week, the chess club met five days a week, mostly because Mr. Zolan liked to play chess, and it didn’t much matter to him with whom he played or when. The chess club simply provided him with an endless string of opponents. Now I had chess nearly every day before going to work. And one day, one of my fellow chess club members said to me after I had made a move, “Oh, that’s a book move!” There were books on chess? Suddenly I discovered there were indeed books on chess, more books on chess than on any other game or sport! If I studied them carefully enough and memorized them I could become a champion! I became a chess addict. Chess and one of those books changed my life in surprising ways, but that came later.