Interesting Hospital Stay

Don’t know if this belongs here, but I had fun writing it, and it seemed a shame to waste it.

It is now 2:47 AM, and I’m having a bit of problem sleeping.  I’ve just come back from Englewood Hospital after having had a gall bladder removed.  No matter which side I lie on, there are aches and pains, in addition to which I took a couple of naps during the day, and so here I am, in the middle of the night, typing away on what it was like to be a real patient in a real hospital and emerging with one organ less than when I was admitted, in considerable pain, late Sunday evening.  The last time this had happened to me was in 1941!  But soon after I had undergone “triage” (I think that is what the procedure is called), the medical staff put me on a regimen of morphine, and soon thereafter the pain decreased somewhat, without disappearing altogether.  The most awful part of the process was drinking the two ten-ounce cups of liquid needed for the CAT scan.  My stomach was killing me, and here I had to drink these two cups. . . Vile! Totally unpleasant!  For some reason I can’t recall I wanted to tell a funny CAT scan story to the technician in charge.   I knew several, but I couldn’t remember any of them at the time.  So much for the inveterate story-teller.

When I was finally delivered via gurney to a room I was to share with an elderly man who spoke no English, I was in no mood for company, noise, conversation, or lights.  And so began a small, living nightmare.  The man would ask for something in a foreign language, which was then translated by his daughter for the nurse, who when she replied also had to be translated by the daughter for the benefit of her father.  Every word said, every question asked or answered, came in triplicate, and this lasted until the family left in the morning.  It was incredibly painful.  Of course, lights went on and lights went off haphazardly, while all this was going on.  Morpheus, even helped by morphine, wouldn’t visit me.

After this busy, bilingual family had left, Linda (my wife, if you haven’t met her) arranged for me to get the window half of the room, and things quieted down for a while.  Then an elderly couple moved into the room, I believe they were of Japanese origin, and I have no idea which one of them was the patient, as they both slept in the same bed.  Possibly they hadn’t been told that this sort of thing wasn’t done in American hospitals, or possibly they had been told, but simply didn’t understand.  In any case, they seemed cozy in the one bed.  They also seemed to enjoy playing with the room light switch, but by then I had learned to ask for a sleeping pill, and I was feeling somewhat better, my offending, gangrenous gall bladder having been removed.  The man, however, loved making precise and perfect little origami boats and planes and spent much of the time making them.  I could make those also, had learned to make them in kindergarten, but the ones the Japanese man made were things of beauty.  However, man and wife soon departed, and I was left alone in the room.  The only other patient to arrive in the room somewhat later was an Italian man, a television aficionado with a heart condition, and many stubby, Italian women with incipient mustaches to attend to him.  This, not being a cardiac room, he was soon moved elsewhere, and I didn’t miss him or the TV.

Of course, Linda and my children, and later my grandchildren, and some friends, came to visit and were extremely solicitous, which for the first time in my life I did appreciate because for the first time in my life I really was in no condition to do much for myself.  Sometimes one does need others. And of course, I was kept very busy answering my e-mail and Facebook messages, although I couldn’t find my Scrabble games on FB.  I must admit I was never bored. With all my electronic toys, there was so much to do!

One of the surprising things about this hospital stay was how much I enjoyed peeing in long plastic bottles, and not having to walk to the bathroom during the night.  Why had no one told me about this wonderful implement during my camping days, when long walks through the woods in the rain, were often required in the middle of the night?

One of the fun things that happened was a volunteer who came, I believe, to inquire about my spiritual well-being, and asked me of which faith I was a member, whether Christian or Jew.  I told her I was a Pastafarian.  She entered that on her clipboard, but needed a bit of help with the spelling, with which Jennie (my daughter) helped her.  She wanted to know who and where Pastafarians worshiped, whether in churches, temples, or synagogues, and I told her that we worshiped the Flying Spaghetti Monster, who had created the world, and that we worshiped in almost any kitchen, but that we preferred Italian kitchens for obvious reasons.  I also told her that on special festivals we wore sieves on our heads.  She was surprised by all this, admitted that she had never met a Pastafarian before, and that she would enter it into the hospital’s database of religious affiliations.  I was also going to tell her about the pirates and the global warming thing, but decided against it.  Although it was fun while it lasted, I had second thoughts about it,, as here was this lady who all she was trying to do was to help me, and here was I, making fun.

I was much better behaved when another well-meaning woman walked into my room and asked if she could pray for me.  She startled me at first, because she resembled Whoopie Goldberg in a blonde Orphan Annie wig.  She also looked a bit like my last principal.  She (not my former principal) too asked me whether I was Jewish or Christian, and I told her I was both.  So she clasped her hands, looked ceilingwards, and sent up a prayer for me in which Jesus featured prominently, but so did the soles of my feet for some odd reason.  It could have been that I didn’t hear her quite correctly as I wasn’t wearing my hearing aids, but nevertheless, having never been prayed for before, it was a new and interesting experience.

Anyhow, now I’m home and sleepless, and I have my computer to play with.  Possibly the prayer worked!

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A Temporary End

This blog, which I began writing last December, has been fun.  I enjoyed writing it, and was made happy by so many people telling me they enjoyed reading it.  Now it is summertime and the livin’ is easy.  I’m going traveling, and so, until about Labor Day, no more blog. I’ll get back to it, after Labor Day.

However, some interesting things have occurred as a result of the blog. They are not world shaking events or catastrophes, but I found them enjoyable and interesting.  First is the fact that the blog gets read in many distant places, places such as Vietnam, China, Russia, Australia, and even Tasmania. So far Latin America is indifferent to it, although yesterday there was someone reading it in Mexico City.  However, some of those “hits” make me wonder.  . .  For example, for the last few days there has been a crowd of people in the Ukraine who have been reading my entry about Vera Lachman, Ph.D.  Who are these people, and why are they so interested in Vera Lachman?  She’s been dead some 30 or 40 years, and as far as I know, had no relationship whatsoever with the Ukraine.   Why are they reading that particular post?

Somewhat earlier, I had also received a comment about the Vera Lachman piece from I don’t know where, and never found out, as I had not checked the person’s IP number.   Vera had stored her books in Berlin with this woman’s father when she fled Germany in 1939.  According to this reader, the building was destroyed by allied bombing, and so were Vera’s books.  I thought the woman who wrote to me about this incident would stay in touch after I replied to her comment because I wanted to learn more, but that didn’t happen.

If you need directions. . .

Saturday, July 25th, 2011, I was invited to join an informal get together with a small group of people most of whom were graduates of Junior High School 52 and George Washington High when I had taught in those places.  The group met informally for a picnic on the lawn of the Cloisters, in Manhattan, on the last Saturday of June, on alternate years.  It was a lovely setting, and a warm and fuzzy group of people, although they were no longer teenagers.  Abby M. was the chief organizer of these gatherings, and it was also from her that I had received my invitation.  It seems that by some curious coincidence her husband had me as an English teacher in high school and was also enthusiastically there.  What is more, he remembered me with pleasure because of a book I had recommended way back then.  One lovely woman who had attended both Inwood Junior High and George Washington, is also the wife of Linda’s podiatrist.  Talk of a small world!  And I had been contacted by Abby and Amy because my blog was being read by a former student in Scotland.  It was great!

The view from the lawn

As a result of the blog and the people reading it, I’ve become the top Alex Levy (the world is crowded with Alex Levy’s) in a Google search for my name.  This in turn led to an e-mail from a woman I had dated more than 50 years ago.  Talk about an ego trip!  Linda and I will probably be visiting her later in the summer to rehash life and love in Greenwich Village in the 60’s.

For now, goodbye!  Have a great summer, but no more blog until September.






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Chess in Manhattan

“Chess, like love, has the power to make men happy,” wrote the great Siegbert Tarrasch. To most people, his name means nothing today, but among chess players he is recognized as one of the great ones who, however, was never world champion.   Chess has made me happy for most of my life, although I must also confess that it is an obsession, even an addiction that I’ve tried to give up several times.  Chess can suck up life like no other human activity.  To most people, it is just a game played by old men in extreme slow motion, about as interesting  as watching paint dry.  For the players, however, there is furious activity going on in the mind, as they race the clock (yes, there is nearly always a clock present) and try to calculate possibilities, and the ramifications resulting from any sequence of moves.  For serious players, chess is a struggle combining  elements of various sports and art, and difficult to explain to non-players.

I learned to play chess by watching my cousin Jack, a returnee from Auschwitz, playing with his business partner during lunch hours, in Brussels, when I was about ten years old.  Both of them were rather surprised when I began suggesting moves, doing what is called “kibitzing” their games, which they didn’t really appreciate.  Chess didn’t become an obsession for me until high school, when I began to move into the world, the culture of chess players, a world in which all shared my addiction.  I had given up chess while doing my military service, but it didn’t take me long to resume my bad old habits once I returned to civilian life.  It was a small world inhabited by some famous players who were all known to each other at least by reputation.    In Manhattan they played in one of three or four venues, the most important being the Manhattan Chess Club, which being financially strapped had to move from time to time.

Bernard, a few years later

On Sunday mornings, I played at the Manhattan Chess Club.  I couldn’t afford the membership fee, but that was not unusual for a chess player.  The club was rather lax about enforcing membership rules, which might have been the reason it was always in financial trouble.  As I watched another game, a young man came into the room and asked me if I wanted to play, and we began a game which I won, and then we played another nine games, always from the same opening moves, and I won all of them.  At the end of the session, the young man, who was just a teenager in those days, introduced himself as Bernard Zuckerman, and I introduced myself as Raskolnikov.  After that he left, but he reappeared for several Sundays to play with me, each time making my win margin smaller.  After the fourth week, I could no longer win a single game against him.   He was slated to become one of the strongest players in the country.  As a matter of fact, several years later, I saw him when he was playing for the US Chess Championship in a hotel on Lincoln Square in  which both Bernard and Bobby Fisher were competing, and which Fisher won without the loss of a single game.  Between moves, as Bernard noticed me sitting in the crowd, he walked off the stage, came over to me and asked, “Your name isn’t really Raskolnikov, is it?”  I guess he had read Dostoyevsky by that time.

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Becoming an American Citizen

When I volunteered for the draft in the United States, in April 1954, I was still a “stateless person”, a non-citizen of the world, made so by the laws of the Third Reich.  I was not yet a citizen of the United States because I had been in the country somewhat less than five years, and five years in the United States was the absolute minimum required for citizenship.  I went into the Army as a stateless person, a situation I intended to correct while in the Service.  I had passed the OCS (Officer Candidate School) test, but  I was too young to be an officer, being only eighteen at the time, and I was not  a citizen, something no one had mentioned as a requirement for OCS.  So, I decided to become a US citizen as soon as possible, as the age problem would resolve itself.  However, “’tween the cup and the lip, there’s often a slip,” and I forgot about citizenship   in the excitement of my new  infantry training environment in Fort Dix and later, in Fort Davis, Canal Zone, where slipping around in the mud of the Panamanian jungle gave me enough to think about.   And then came the Fort Clayton Stockade, and that was where the thought of citizenship hit me again.

I won’t go into all the details of life in the stockade or how I came to be there, having posted that earlier (you can read the entry on the Fort Clayton Stockade and the ones which follow it), but one of the things I may not have mentioned was that whenever prisoners went on a work detail outside the stockade, they were accompanied by one or two guards with shotguns.  However, while in the stockade, I decided to become an American citizen, and notified the commanding officer of my wish.  He, in turn, informed me that he did not think it such a good idea, as I would have to pledge allegiance to the United States for the first time between two guards with shotguns, and that would probably not look too good.  He suggested that I wait until I got out of the stockade and try again after that.  I saw his point and desisted.

So I waited until I was out of the Army and tried again.  I was mildly worried about having to take a test about American history, but the test I took was not what I expected.  It consisted of one sentence.  I was asked to write, “I want to become an American citizen”; I did so, and that was it.  I was given a time and place for the oath taking ceremony which was to take place later.

If you enlarge this photo, you will notice that becoming a US citizen has shrunk me by a foot.

When I reported to the court house to be made an American citizen, I joined a group of about 35 others there for the same purpose.  As we stood in front of him, the judge made a little speech about the responsibilities of being an American citizen, and then asked us to raise our right hands.  He led us in the Pledge of Allegiance, after which he congratulated us, and asked us if any of us would like to change our names, as this was a good time to do it.  Only one small man raised his hand, and the judge asked him what he wanted his name changed to.  The man answered that he wanted to change his given name to “Izzy.”  The judge then asked him what his name was now, and he answered, “Israel.”  “Motion denied,” said the judge firmly, and I walked out of the building an American citizen.



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Computers and Me

In 1974 one of the requirements at Pace University, where I was working on my MS in educational administration, was that we take an introductory course in computer science, and so I did.  The computer at the time was an entire room with all sorts of impressive-looking reels, bins, dials, and flashing lights.  You punched in data, and the machine spewed out so-called IBM cards with small, rectangular holes.  It was an interesting course, requiring the acquisition of binary arithmetic and some basic programming skill.  The final in the course consisted of writing a small program.  I opted to write a program for the match game in Last Year in Marienbad, a movie that had been popular a few years before.  In the movie, one of the characters cadges drinks in a bar by defeating all comers at the game, which involved fifteen matches.  I had figured out the game, which required only a bit of memory, and could have played the match game in Marienbad with considerable success, should I ever have the need to go there.  Actually, I did wind up in Marienbad years later, after it had been renamed Marianske Lazne, but that is another story.   My computer version of the game actually worked, and I passed the course, got my degree, but wasn’t yet fascinated by computers.  That came later, about ten years later, when I was at Columbia’s Teachers College working on my doctorate.

One of the last courses I had to take at Teachers College was Research Development.  I don’t think that the course would have been all that interesting if it hadn’t been for the young man who taught the course.  Regretfully, I don’t remember his name, but he had been involved at RCA with the development of the first data disks and was all excited about the coming computer revolution.  In passing, he mentioned that personal computers were now on the market with 64 Kilobytes of memory, a fantastic number at the time.  Naturally, I had to have one of these miraculous machines.  My plan was to write my own word processing program, and to do my dissertation on it.

Atari 800, minus monitor and disk drive. Modem and mouse were to come later.

My first computer was a wonderful Atari 800.  It took me a day and a half to figure out what the detached disk drive had to do with the rest of the machine, but I did eventually get it to work.  Soon after I got the Atari, the first of the word processing programs appeared. and there was no longer a need for me to write my own program, which in retrospect I doubt I could have done anyway.

Not much later there appeared a “portable” computer with a fabulous keyboard, a built in floppy disk drive, and a built-in 300 BAUD modem.  Naturally, the Kaypro 3 was still a 64 K machine, but it was portable!  It only weighted 28 lbs. and was only the size of a sewing machine case.  I carried it to my office at Teachers College every morning.  I was excited about the modem because it now enabled me to do e-mail with friends.  However, the problem in those days was that no one else had e-mail, except for a few people in academia.  As to browsing the Internet, there was no Internet.  Nevertheless it enabled me to get data from the Columbia Library easily, and it enabled me to write my dissertation much more pleasantly than it would otherwise have been typing on my portable Hermes 3000 typewriter, and doing manual cutting and pasting.  Today, this is being written on a computer weighing all of 3.3 lbs.

The fabulous Kaypro 3.




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Teaching English as a Career Choice

The way it used to be

Teaching English in a New York City high school is not a happy lot.  Each day you see about 150+ students, and from that number alone you can derive the fact that doing the job cannot be done, or if you are stubborn, if will eventually drive you nuts or kill you.  Consider the following:  each day you have to check and correct at least 150 homework assignments.  If you don’t do it, your students will stop doing homework, and as your lessons are often based on that. .  .  Assuming that it takes you only one minute to go over each paper (you learn to do things rapidly), that is two and a half-hours to do nothing but checking papers.  Add to that the recording of the completion of those assignments, and you get over three hours of paper work when you get home.  Of course, homework assignments are not the only thing that happens in an English class.  There is written class work, there are tests (to be made up and scored), there are essays, and book reports, and a slew of other productions to be checked, corrected, and entered in your slim grade book.  And there is the preparation of all those lesson plans.  Yes, there is some time provided during the school day, about 40 minutes, but if you’re not careful before you know it you are wallowing in paper work.  If you “lose” or discard it, your students become unhappy.  No, an English teacher’s job is not a “‘appy one”.

Much of the unhappiness with teachers derives from the fact that almost all are “experts” on the subject of teachers.  They have all sat in those little desks, being either inspired or bored or amused by the individual in front of the class, and everyone therefore knows  good teaching from bad. However, what most people know of teaching is essentially the classroom performance of teachers.  They know nothing of the time which goes into those classroom performances, the hours of unpaid preparation that is an essential part of the profession.  If you are planning to become a teacher, the field to pick is physical education.  There are no papers to grade, and you get paid for overtime spent on team activities after school and on weekends.  And throwing a basketball around and yelling, “Shoot! Shoot!” is a lot of fun.  In addition to which, 50% of all American school principals are former gym teachers.

Whiy everyone is expert on education

I also wanted to be a principal, and was certified in both New York and New Jersey to be one.  However, what I really wanted was an urban high school, a school with four to five thousand students with every problem caused by poverty and immigration.  I wanted a school like George Washington.  It was not to be.

Each weekend I sent out resumes, and sometimes I went for interviews for jobs as assistant principal, but for some mysterious reason (at least to me) I was unacceptable.  Sometime, I will have to have a serious “think” about that, but I was really disappointed and thought about leaving education for greener pastures.

I didn’t know what else I wanted to do, so I decided to visit a professional, a career counselor, who specialized in identifying other areas of interest and abilities.  The one I went to had an office in Rockefeller Center, and I paid him an outrageous amount of money.  He interviewed me, and he tested me, and at the end of several weeks he concluded that what I was best suited for was being an English teacher.




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About Teaching and Learning

Part of the problem with teaching is that you almost never see results.  Yes, there are tests and all that sort of thing, but you do not “see” things as you do when you shovel snow or mow the lawn, which is what made those activities so appealing for me.  And yes, you do run into former students who let you know that they liked you and your course, and that they had learned from you.  In one case, I met a young man who had been one of my students at Junior High School 52, a student whose mother had questioned the “B” I had given him, and he thanked me for teaching him English grammar, which, it seems, was highly useful in college, where none of his classmates knew it, although they were language students.  He also thanked me for teaching him never to go anywhere without a book, a Levy practical suggestion for better living that he had completely adopted.  It is difficult to tell what students actually learn, but they do seem to remember you long after you have forgotten them.

A congested Holland Tunnel

Sometimes the spark of recognition goes on in strange places.  In one case, as I was about to pay my tunnel toll at the Holland Tunnel, the red lights went on in all the lanes and a policeman walked towards me quite ominously.  I wondered what I had done this time to cause this traffic jam, and rolled down my window, as the cop approached.  He leaned down towards me to bring his face level to mine and said, “Hi, Mr. Levy!  Do you remember me from class . . .”   I must confess, I didn’t recognize him, although at the time I made some mumbling noise signifying assent, without outright lying, to hide the inadequacy of my lazy memory.

On another occasion I was hiking in the Maine woods with my family, when a cheery voice rang out behind me, “Mr. Levy! Mr. Levy!” and as the young man pulled up to me, we had a conversation  similar to the one I’d had at the Holland Tunnel.  Did I remember him?

Besides simple recognition years later, there are also secret pleasures available to teachers not available in any other profession, moments of clarity when you are impressed by what you have wrought.  One such event occurred in the basement of Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities (quite a mouthful that!)  The basement was being used for classes, and as I made my way to my own classroom I came across a loud argument between a boy and a girl.  They were completely indifferent to the people around them, busy as they were shouting at each other.  I was trying to decide whether or not I should intervene, when a girl in one of my classes passed by and said with a little shake of her head, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”  She had just made my day.  It was a quote from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” which we had been studying, and she had found exactly the right spot to use it.  So, sometimes teachers do see the results of their work, and those moments make all the doubts, control problems, and bureaucratic nonsense worthwhile.

The James Cagney version of A Midsummer Night's Dream




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All Politics Are Local, Especially Departmental Politics

The negative reaction of the faculty to the renaming of the school after Bayard Rustin, a black the civil rights leader and union activist, might have been a reaction to other things going on in the city.  The Board of Ed was involved in a crash program to reorganize the administrative staff of the schools, which up to then had been mostly white and Jewish, and no longer reflective of the population of New York City.  This couldn’t be done without changing the promotion process, but that was also taken care of.  Up until this period the process had been a strictly lock step, civil service  sort of thing.  Aspiring administrators took a civil service examination, and the highest scores went to the top of a list of future hires.  In order to change that, the Board required only that a watered down test be passed, and neighborhood boards then decided who was to be hired.  Most of the boards in New York City being composed of minority group leaders, it was not difficult to figure out who was to be hired.  The professional staff of New York City being predominantly white, a certain resentment did build up.  On the other hand, as there were also many downtrodden middle class women in the system, particularly in the elementary schools, they also became beneficiaries of the new system.

Milton Silver, the school principal, had retired, and the Board decided to send us Mrs. Joan Jarvis, the double blessing of a Black woman.  Actually, she was quite good, very good indeed.  When Abe Chiavetti, the chairman of the English Department retired, the Board sent us another double blessing, a black woman who was firmly resisted by the members of the department, myself excepted.

Now-a-days, Lois is a professor of education in New Jersey

After Chiavetti retired, I expected to be named chairman of the department because I was the senior member and the only one with the necessary civil service qualifications.  To my surprise, however, a young woman, Lois Weiner (she insisted we pronounced it “Whiner”) who had taught about three years, decided the she wanted to be department chair and campaigned vigorously for the position.  I didn’t campaign at all, feeling that it was unnecessary and unseemly to do so.  I lost by one vote.  But that was not the end of the story.

Lois now felt she was entitled to the position (although she lacked accreditation), when the Board sent us Gertrude Karabas, a black woman with a Greek name, which trumped being an oppressed white woman.  Lois was outraged and organized a meeting of the department with the principal to register their complaint and reverse the appointment of Gertrude, whom they really didn’t know except by reputation.  I was the only department member who skipped that meeting.  The meeting achieved nothing.  Joan Jarvis asked me to help Gertrude get started in her new position, and of course I did.  Gertrude became an excellent department chair, which she would have been even without my help, but she also became a good friend.

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The Move to the High School for the Humanities

Entrance to Bayard Rustin High School for the Humanities

My move to the High School for the Humanities (as it was called before the name of Bayard Rustin was attached to it) was a somewhat anxious one after so many years at GW.  I’d be leaving behind colleagues I liked and admired with whom I’d worked for seventeen years.  How would I fit into the new school?  And more interesting still, how would I teach music without being able to read music or play an instrument?

The High School for the Humanities turned out to be a school on steroids.  The principal had been selected for this school (after it had gone through a “reorganization” process) because he had developed the idea that one of the problems of the city’s high schools was that no one knew anyone else.  Teachers didn’t really know their students, and so the kids were anonymous and free to “act out” without fear of being recognized.  Milton Silver’s idea was that if instead of having normal half-yearly semester, we had ten-week cycles, we’d all get to know each other a lot better.  For the teachers, it was like being on an assembly line that had suddenly been speeded up.  No adjustment was made in the curriculum.  Just what had been taught before in 90 days, would now have to be taught in approximately 45 days.  Teachers could be found at their desks at 6 AM and 6 PM, grading the flood of completed assignments and drawing up lesson plans.  I would find myself speaking faster in my classes just to speed things up, and of course it couldn’t work and it didn’t last.

The school population was more “normal” than it had been at GW, although no test was administered for admission.  All students had to do to gain admission was indicate that after graduation they wanted to go to college.  We wound up with a population of white students, Asian students, and Afro-Latinos, in equal proportion, and the mix worked.  We had a passing rate of 99% on the English Regents test.  Of course, the Board of Education, in its relentless search for what worked in education just so they could kill it, did find out about our school, and they immediately set about destroying it by changing the entrance requirements.  But that came later, and I left just before the great ship went down.

Teaching music that first semester was somewhat of a “challenge.”  The first thing I did was to get one of those truly fantastic curriculum guides published by the Board of Educaiton in the ‘50’s (when there was still some interest in education downtown) and still in circulation.  It was a step-by-step vade mecum on the history of American music for a music history and appreciation class.  I checked with my class, and yes, there was a student who played the piano, and he was cheerful about helping me.  And so, I began my course in a truly patriotic manner with the Star Spangled Banner.  Who  could object to kids being taught the Star Spangled Banner?  The course was notable mostly for what I learned about music that year.  I had a good time.  The kids enjoyed it.  We listened to a lot of hot jazz, and at the end of the course, one of the students confided in me that it was the best music course he’d ever had.  I was surprised, somewhat doubtful, but enjoyed the compliment.


Looks kind of urban, doesn't it?


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Goodbye, George Washington High

George Washington High got a new principal when Sam Kostman was promoted to superintendent of Queens high schools.  Actually, there were several new principals in succession.  Because they weren’t around all that long, my recollection of them is somewhat blurred.  Suffice it to say they varied in ability.  One of them, a very charming young man, left the school each day promptly at two o’clock.  He had to be at the racetrack on time, where he followed the horses assiduously.  Needless to say, the school functioned rather well in his absence.

I was hoping that an appointment as an assistant principal would materialize for me, but none came my way, although I sent out many resumes.  I had all the proper credentials and felt myself well qualified to run any school in the city, but that never happened.  The closest I came was an appointment as an assistant principal to oversee the closing of Benjamin Franklin High School in Harlem, which was being “reorganized,” a process involving closing the school temporarily, and then reopening it either subdivided into a series of smaller schools (each with it own principal) or with a different curriculum.  In any case, it didn’t happen.  I was insufficiently discriminated against to be assigned to such a job in Harlem, and for once, the Board of Ed was probably right.

Among my other duties (I also wrote grant proposals and taught a couple of classes) was writing a PR piece for the school each week in the local newspaper, The Inwood News.  Writing a puff piece once a week about the academic disaster George Washington High School had become was somewhat of a challenge, especially if you were at all interested in writing the truth.  But each week I found some program I could honestly praise and write about.  Principal Eunice Laird felt I was writing with insufficient enthusiasm about the school she headed, and it is possible she was right.  I was no longer a happy camper, and decided that after seventeen years at George Washington, it was time to move on, and move on I did, this time to the High School for the Humanities, on West 18th street in Manhattan, where I was supposed to teach writing, but would spend my first semester teaching music (about which I knew next to nothing), reading and writing.

While living in Ridgewood, I had developed a routine which involved getting up at 5:30 AM, to give me time for my morning run and walking the dog (the dog was not a runner), before leaving for work.  Somehow I had trouble sleeping because I was worried about not waking up on time, and so obtained a prescription for Ambien, which worked just fine.  However, when I switched jobs to my new school and drove there in the morning, I would suddenly find myself instead in front of GW.  I don’t know how this happened, but I’m sure that it is possible to sleep and drive at the same time.



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