Thursday, June 17, 2004
A Rant And A Skewer (part 1)
A while back, I found a delicious skewering of the culture in my old elementary school on the web, written by a fellow a year older than me (who I well remember as a notorious prankster and intellectual troublemaker akin to myself). I had saved the text on my previous desktop machine, but through various rebuilds and upgrades (not to mention a flaky Travan tape drive) the file got lost. Although the school was noted for its academic reputation, the staff were quite a bunch of characters (I've already mentioned "Rosa Luxemburg") and there was an almost surreal air about the place. On an unrelated quest to look for some distant cousins, I was poking around the Social Security Death Index and on a lark decided to enter the names of the teachers at the school (I knew the principal was deceased, as I was friendly with his son, and was invited to the funeral; I couldn't make it because of a bad flu), and since the teachers have passed, it might be time to retell that skewering with my own slant.
The school was an interesting statistical anomaly, absolutely huge numbers of gifted kids in comparison to other schools in the area (a conservative estimate was something along the lines of 20:1). It all changed in the early 70's, and the school is now just a faceless clone of the other schools in Brooklyn with a decidedly average population.
The principal was a short man, but had the loudest damn voice you ever heard. This guy would have made a great Roman orator. Despite being from Brownsville, Brooklyn, he affected a phony English accent to maintain an air of culture. Forty years later, I can still hear him booming "THAT BOY! GO WHERE YOU BELONG!". If that was directed at you, odds are you would have the Royal Order Of The Underwear Skid Mark, as this little shrimpy guy could scare the living crap out of you with just that and a stare that rivaled Svengali's. The affectations of speech could get quite annoying ("Up-hollo" was his vainglorious pronunciation whenever the conversation demanded mention of the space program).
One of the more interesting methods he developed was the Stop sign. Nothing more than a wood facsimile of a regulation traffic sign, it was held up by the Guide force (the school was progressive, you see, so we had "Guides" instead of hall monitors or guards; needless to say the female component of the Guides were deputized into babysitting the lower grades at lunch while the teacher snuck ciggies, and the male component was a bunch of mostly shrimpy white kids drunk on the power that that stupid yellow button conferred on them as if it read "Geheime Staatspolizei" instead of "Guide"). The Stop sign would be hoisted and everyone would have to freeze and keep utterly silent. If for some reason the schrecklichkeit didn't take hold and you talked or moved, a Guide would come over to you and utter the dread words "You're reported!", which was the equivalent of being denounced directly to Comrade Koba in our impressionable minds (with similar feared consequences). Of course if you were "reported" to your teacher, the odds were that the teacher would courteously brush off the Guide unless of course the teacher was in a mood (there was one teacher who was perpetually in a mood, more on her later) at which point you'd be practicing your Palmer method or some other irrelevant nonsense for several hours. The implicit threat of a call to your parents was of course enough to ensure compliance.
The teachers were mostly middle-aged ladies bearing down on that glorious UFT pension. Physically they were mostly the same, varicose veins and a physique that, were they inclined to exercise, would have their breasts hitting the floor before their fingertips when they attemped to touch their toes. They had a couple of things in common, police whistles and the astonishing ability to intimidate the hell out of you if you displayed a modicum of individuality or other form of non-conformity. That wouldn't stop them from fawning all over a kid if they felt it was to their advantage - there was the daughter of a minor official in the Lindsay administration who "Rosa Luxemburg" turned into a teacher's pet to the kid's obvious discomfiture.
To be continued....