This may sound like fake news, or alternative reality, but it is not. I will try not to exaggerate, or be hyperbolic. I will be as straight as I can be with the facts as I remember them. There is no one around to dispute anything that I say, but you must trust that I will do my dandiest to tell the truth.
I was 16 years old when I graduated from Forest Hills High School in New York City. The year was 1955. My mom and her new husband and I and later on a new sister, moved there on December 30, 1949. I had spent August to October in Willard Parker Hospital in lower Manhattan suffering from poliomyelitis. The disease left me with a weakness in my left foot. It did not hamper me throughout my life. I played all kinds of sports. My idol then was Johnny Weissmuller, who had been an Olympic swimmer, played Tarzan in the movies and had polio when he was a child. If you remember, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had polio and was still the most prolific President that we ever had.
My mom and stepdad knew nothing about college. They hardly knew anything about high school. Neither of them got that far in school. Mom left school in the 3rd grade to work in a shirt factory. My stepdad told me that he never finished high school. It was with these two people that I certainly could not discuss going to college.
In August of 1955, having watched my baby sister (born in 1950), and needed a break that I visited my older sister’s home. She had been to college for a year and one half and had then married her husband. She went back many years later and actually got two masters’ degrees.
She asked me how things were going and where I would be going to college. I told her that none of them had called me yet. The look on her face all those years ago still appears before me as I tell this story. She said, “What are you an idiot?” The colleges don’t call you; you have to apply to them. “Now go over to Queens College and ask for an application.
Since my sister lived about two or three miles from the city school by bus, I hopped on the Q14 and made it to Q.C. I had never been on campus and knew nothing about how colleges worked. I asked a passing person where I can find out about applying to the school. I was told that the admissions office was straight ahead on the quadrangle (whatever that was).
At that point in my development, I was somewhat shy about not knowing what I was doing. I entered the rather old building (Queens College used to be a women’s detention center and was converted into a college in 1937). I spied a sign that said admission’s office. I was fortunate that the women behind the counter were very kind. The saw the sign of stupidity on my face and must have taken pity.
I asked to apply to Queens College. They asked me a myriad of questions to which I had only a few answers. They told me that I could apply, but there was little chance that I could get in. To be entered, or enrolled, you had to have a 94% average from your high school if you were a girl and a 90% if you were a boy. Yes, I know that was discrimination, but those were the rules. Guess what, I did not qualify. I was about to leave when one of the helpful ladies said. Sometimes we have people who apply, get in and don’t enroll.
I did not understand that then, but I do know it now. That is a common feature of college enrollment. Lots of students apply for a number of schools and only choose one and do not show up to the other for which they were granted admission. I could fill out an application and leave it with them. They would call me to take an entrance exam, since my grades were not sufficient to get in the regular way. It was there way of testing to see if I could really be a college student.
A week later, I was sitting in a large unairconditioned lecture lab taking an entrance exam. I do not remember anything about the exam. As with times in the future, I always did well on those sorts of things. I probably would have done o.k. on the SAT’s. But no one told me to take them.
Another week passed of me babysitting for my sister, when I got a note in the mail telling me that I was admitted to Queens College and that I should decide on a major and show up to choose my courses. Since my brother-in-law had majored in accounting, that’s what I chose.
I arrived at the gymnasium, pen in hand to register for courses. I had no idea what any of that meant. I selected five three credit courses. I can remember some of them, Accounting 101, Calculus, English 101, Classical Civilization (gave those books to my grandson recently), and art. Hey, I remembered them all.
My schedule was all screwed up. I would show up for my 8:00 am. Accounting class on Monday morning and not have another class till three. That would give me 5 hours to study and do my accounting homework. The trouble was that I understood nothing of my homework. It was a practice set of books from a mythical company. I could not remember any of the terminology.
So, I general spent the next five hours playing basketball or eating lunch. After my three o’clock class, I would go to freshman soccer practice. I would get home at about 7:00 taking a bus to Jewel Avenue and then walking home. I had no intention of doing any of my homework. I might have read a science fiction story, or watch wrestling with my stepfather. When he started working the nightshift, I watched alone. I also had some time to watch my sister.
I flunked calculus. I have never been a great math student, but not someone who flunks. I liked my other courses other than accounting. There was something about accounting that did not have a reality to it. I do not guess I was never near a real accountant, nor was I familiar with taxes and tax returns. I did pass the course, but started to realize that I was heading in the wrong direction.
My second semester was a bit better. I actually passed calculus with a C. However, the most important thing that semester was me catching for the freshman baseball team. I caught a freshman named Lou DeBole, who eventually went pro with the Phillie organization. I think I remember him having an incredible year with the Reading Phillies sometime later at 13-1. I then heard he hurt his arm and could not continue.
The second most important thing that happened is that my second attempt at passing calculus saw me sitting next to Butterfly McQueen of Gone with the Wind Fame. She was beginning college the same time I was. I think that she may have been 45 or so. Yes, she did have kind of a squeaky voice. She was a really nice person and made no fuss about who she was. I looked her up a few years ago and found out that she really got her degree from Queens College.
My grades in my second semester were influenced by my basketball playing and varsity soccer playing. I played center forward and wound up playing more defense than offense. Offense was taken care of by Peter Myer, who had played on the Dutch National Soccer team. I have very little memory of most of the games, but I do know that we beat Hofstra 8-0 and I think Pete scored most of the goals. It was getting the ball and give it to Pete.
The spring of 1956 was significant because I became a pledge for a local fraternity called Phi Lambda Delta. It was a city fraternity and existed in the city schools, Queens, City College and Hunter College. I don’t believe that it existed in Brooklyn College. The group was more interested in helping others, even though it was not a service frat. It also did lots of unusual things, like inviting Sherman Wu, a student at either Wisconsin or Minnesota, who was denied entry into a fraternity there for ethnic reasons. We inducted him by long range. Those were the kind of things we did.
We also loved to go out and have pizza. Some of the older guys had licenses and cars. In New York City, you could not get a license until you were 18. We would pile into a car and travel up Union Turnpike to eat at a pizza place of our choosing.
Courses were getting to be annoying. I took French, a higher level accounting course, Classical Civilization 11, Biology and the next English class. I flunked none of them. I was happy with the c’s that I got.
Fall of 1956 and I was a full-fledged member of Phi Lambda Delta. We had lots of parties and soirees. I don’t remember too much about it, except for the girls. Since I was always two years younger than any of the girls in my class, I resorted to going out with seniors in high school. I did a number of those and had a reasonable good time.
I also worked Saturdays and Sundays at a local Pharmacy. I took care of the lunch counter and was not only the short order cook, but the server and the clean-up man. I am not sure what my hourly rate was, but I did bring home a bunch of tips.
By the spring of 1957, I had this feeling that I was not long for college life. It was not just the classes and the grades. I was more interested in outside things. I had been appointed to be the sports editor of one of the school newspapers. That meant that I had to attend lots of sporting events including my fall jaunt with the soccer team. I reported on basketball and baseball and did not much else.
In February of 1957, I decided that I was going to leave school and go into the Army. The draft was still on and I was able to push up my number and be drafted for a two year term. My mother was pretty upset with me. She thought that it was a rotten idea. For some reason she thought that by getting my father’s side of the family together, they would persuade me not to enter the service.
The funny thing was that we had little communication with my father’s family. To this day, I am not sure why she did not invite her siblings and children to try and convince me. The most disheartened person of all was my baby sister. I had kind of raised her. At seven years old, she could not fathom what was going on. They were all not successful. So, on March 7, 1957. I took a bus to Fort Dix and began my Army career.