I Start a New Career

I just had to change careers.  Working for the Welfare Department, doing what I was doing, was simply too awful, too depressing.  To get an idea of what it was like, consider having a conversation with a man in a tiny, smelly bedroom.  He is sick, suffering from cancer of the penis.  I urge him to go to the hospital, the one serving his community, Harlem Hospital.  He absolutely refuses my suggestion, arguing that the hospital is so awful that it would probably hasten his death.  From what I’ve heard of Harlem Hospital, he’s most likely right.  He is going to die in this small, smelly bedroom.  Almost every day, I stumble into one horror story after another.

At home, Linda had urged me to take the teaching test again.  The political situation has changed.  Civil Rights groups have been demanding more Black teachers in the classrooms of the city, and this loosens up the speech requirement somewhat.  I take the test again, and this time I get a pass on the verbal part of the exam.  The written part was never a problem. Now I had a license to teach English in the junior high schools, grades 7, 8 and 9.  With that taken care of, I begin looking for a teaching position not too distant from where I live.

The infamous Board of Education (it really wasn’t as terrible as the NY Times wanted its readers to believe), at 110 Livingston Street, in Brooklyn did have a central registry for new teachers, but I decided to pay personal visits to the local junior high schools, with the idea that my sheer size would recommend me as a capable teacher.  As I fill out a job application in the general office of Inwood Junior High School on Academy Street, in Inwood, I notice a busy, bald man in the office with a FIDE pin in his lapel.  FIDE (which stands for Federation International Des Echecs), is the controlling body of international chess.  I call out to the man, and I ask him if he’s a chess player.  It turns out that he’s Milton Hanauer, one of the top American chess masters, a former New York State Champion and Olympic Team competitor.  Naturally enough, we immediately hit it off.  Besides being a chess champion, Milton Hanauer is also the principal of this school.  However, he has no position available at this time, but he promises to remember me and call me should something become available.

Chess Master and Principal Milton Loeb Hanauer

A few days later I get a phone call from the Board of Education’s employment registry, asking me whether I was available to take a position as a “regular” substitute English teacher at Frederick Douglas Junior High School, on West 139 Street, between Lennox and 7th Avenues, (both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were still alive, and therefore did not have any avenues or boulevards named after them) in the heart of Harlem.  I knew nothing about the school, and I did need a job.  So, I wound up teaching at Frederick Douglas Junior High School, the last all-boys junior high school in the city, and as the expression goes, one of the most “troubled.”  The only school that had a worse reputation was the all-girls version on West 145th Street, a few blocks away.  But Frederick Douglas was my introduction to teaching, and what an introduction it was!


About AlexLevy

Dr. Alex Levy is a retired English teacher who survived World War II and the "Final Solution" by hiding in a Catholic orphanage for girls in Belgium for several years.
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12 Responses to I Start a New Career

  1. Amy Polenberg says:

    Yesterday was not the same without your post:)
    Where were you and Linda living at this time? Also, where and how did you two meet? Of all things, I never heard this story…thanks.

  2. AlexLevy says:

    Had to baby-sit for Melissa the night before. Didn’t get home ’til about 1:30 AM and too knocked out in the morning to write. Sorry about that 🙂
    At the time, Linda and I lived on Riverside Drive and W. 144th St. However, we had to move out of there after Josh was born. Not quite enough space, and seven muggings in the hallway in one month! We moved to Inwood after that.
    Paula and I had gone to school together and had become friends. She had also gotten married to Billy Gerson, a chess buddy of mine from Figaro’s. Knowing that I usually got depressed on New Year’s Eve, she invited me to a party at your parents’ house, I believe. When I arrived at the apartment on Seeley Street, there was Linda, who had just returned from a year in Vienna. About eight of us piled into a VW Bug, and with Linda in my lap, Billy drove us to the party. The rest is history. I think this was 1960 or 1961, a long time ago!

  3. amy smith says:

    I was just coming to ask the same thing that Amy Pohlenberg asked. I was hoping for a post devoted to the story of how you & Linda met. I’m glad you answered, but maybe a longer version in a post? It sounds like a fun night.

    Also, I’d love to hear about the neighborhoods you lived in and what they were like in the 60’s. Though, I also look forward to hearing about your early days as a new teacher.

    Thanks for writing this blog. Love, Amy

  4. Karell says:

    Yes, I too vote for a How I Met Linda blog post! We’re all suckers for romance. (Would Linda be willing to write a guest post about her thoughts from that night? I think it’d be nice to read both sides.)

  5. Amy Polenberg says:

    So, at what point did you find out that Linda was Paula’s sister? Yes, that would be fun if Linda added a piece about the night you two met! This could be a fun post to write, as well as to read..sorry if you think your “readership” is directing you too much…

  6. AlexLevy says:

    Both my Amy’s and “Karell” want me to introduce some romance in this blog, but my involvement with Linda didn’t feel all that “romantic,” and a post on the subject would probably be a boring read.
    Just after we had met that first night, I invited Linda to a New Year’s party at Figaro’s the following night, and after that we talked, and we talked, and I made daily phone calls and weekend trips to Brooklyn, where she lived. I lived in Washington Heights at the time. We just had a lot to say to each other. I think she felt sorry for me because I was so skinny, being 6’3″ and weighing only 149 lbs. I thought she was pretty, fun and smart, but I had no idea it would lead to marriage, as I had a theory that men were “safe” from marriage between the ages of 21 and 26. So, I wasn’t looking when I got caught at 25!
    Of course, I knew immediately that Linda was Paula’s sister, as I met her in their parents’ apartment, and Paula introduced Linda to me as her sister. We got into a long conversation which lasted through the two New Year parties, and that some 50 years later still hasn’t ended.
    As to whether Linda would write about her impression of that initial meeting, that is unlikely, although I will certainly ask her. Unlike myself, she’s a very private person.
    Thanks all for reading the blog my loyal readers! Love you all. Alex

    • Karell says:

      It can’t hurt to ask, right? 🙂 I’m glad to see that a lifelong marriage can bloom out of something as simple as beginning a conversation. It gives hope to us all.

  7. Rick Jones says:

    I am on pins and needles waiting for the next installment.

  8. AlexLevy says:

    Hope the next post doesn’t disappoint! The one I’m planning for after that should also be interesting.

  9. Elisabeth Dahl says:

    What fun, reading this…

  10. amy smith says:

    I have no doubt that you’re right that Linda won’t want to post. But, I will guess that she might have a different view of your meeting, dating & marriage. Perhaps one might marry out of pity for your skinny self, but I highly doubt that pity is the glue behind 50 years of marriage…..

    As for your question about my disability, I’m sending you a private email. I actually have two blogs, one private where I write under a pseudonym and the other a bit of silliness that I’ve created to amuse Ali Mullowney. I’ve suggested Melissa guest post and she’s considering a post on “how to keep your apartment messy”. If you want, here it is http://www.orchardatwillard.typepad.com. Remember you were forewarned of the silliness.

  11. AlexLevy says:

    Thanks for sending me the URL for your cheerful blog. I read some of the entries, and enjoyed them. On the other hand, I’m not all that interested in stitching and buttons, etc. Don’t know why . . . You might want to get Melissa to post about her mother’s recipe for burnt rice. I think Jennie used it once for the RHS newspaper.
    Linda seems to be relenting about posting her initial impression of me. Could be interesting! 🙂

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