A long time ago a young man of my acquaintance told me about an incident when he was in elementary school. He was sitting at his desk in art class, working on a project. He was deeply involved in the activity, when the art teacher came over and smacked his hand and told him that he was not doing it correctly. It was such a traumatic experience, and so unexpected, that remembers it all of these years later. It kind of led him away from something that he enjoyed and he has not been comfortable doing anything artistic since then.
Reading Michael Moore’s autobiography, produced another random event that has affected all of us, no matter whether you love or hate Michael Moore. When he was a senior in high school, he was stopped in the hallway by the assistant principal for discipline, a Mr. Ryan. Mr. Ryan told Moore to tuck his shirt in, which Moore did, and then proceeded to give him 2 or 3 whacks on the behind for being out of step with the dress code. Moore never forgot that event and, at age 18, ran for school board and had Mr. Ryan and the principal of the school fired. That began Michael Moore’s political activism.
I have a similar story to tell about my short, but basketball laden year and a half at Queens College in the middle 1950’s. To say that I was interested in my classes, would be a joke. I was only interested in basketball and the other sex. I spent most of my time playing ball- soccer, basketball and later, baseball. I will not bother you with my social life. I had entered Queens College in September of 1955 and limped my way through 3 semesters, betting mostly C’s and D’s and an occasional B and at least one F. By March of 1957, I was not at all sure that I would be able to finish college. I liked my French course, my art course and hated all the rest, including my major- accounting. The grind was too much for me. I did not discuss any of these things with my family.
I was having a good time socially, but knew that I would soon be asked to leave, or to go on some sort of probation. One Saturday evening, I was socializing in front of the Midway Theater on Queens Boulevard, near Continental Avenue when I saw an Army recruiting storefront down the block. It was as if god was telling me that was the next thing that I should do.
I crooked out of school on Monday and went down to the recruiting station and kind of signed up for the Army. Actually, the recruiting sergeant wanted me to sign up for three years. I dismissed this idea as being too much in the future and had him move my draft number up and I was in the military for two years.
When I went to the bursar’s office to sign out of school and get of my dough back, they insisted that I go see a counselor and talk to him/her about quitting. The counselor was a nice and placid woman who told me that over 90% of the students who left college never came back to finish. I told her that I thought that I would be one of the 10% who did. She looked at me in a kindly way and smiled. “I sure hope so,” she said.
When I finally told my mother that I was leaving for the service, she threw a seven ( a Philly expression) and told me that it was a really dumb thing for me to do and only Sheguztim ( gentiles) went into the service and what would I do there anyway. She was sure that I could not drive a tank or shoot a gun, or certainly not kill anyone. I told her that there was no war going on and if they wanted to teach me to drive a tank, that would be fine.
She would have none of my palaver and called for a meeting of my family to convince me not to go into the service. Strangely enough, she called on my father’s side of the family to convince me. My Uncle Irving and my cousin Arthur and my mother’s cousin Lester had all been in the service during World War II and survived. The get together turned into a going away party for me- lots of tears from my aunts and well wishes from the male side of my family.
I often wonder what I would have done, had I not seen the recruiting station on that fateful Friday evening. As I stood there with a Kool cigarette hanging from my lip, what would I have done after quitting school? I guess I would have gotten a job and become a member of the working class. As it was, I came back and finished Queens College. My trouble making days were still ahead of me.