September of 1960 I turned eight, ready for third grade. The previous autumn I made a fool out of myself the earliest that I could remember when I rushed home to our new apartment in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood a half block from school to proudly tell my mother that I saw a 1964 car. Ma told me that there was no way as it would be four more years before that year’s models would be introduced in the fall. â€œButâ€, I insisted, â€œPerry told me that we both saw a 1964 car pass byâ€. She then explained to stupid me that my buddy probably meant that the two of us had seen a 1960 Ford car.
Another dumb thing I did that second grade school year was beat up a kid a year older than me during lunch recess. When we returned to class, a student representative from the third grade class was sent to my room to come take me for a dressing down by the ex-nun who taught the eight years old kids. She told me that it was wrong to hit other kids. I tried to reason with her that he started it and that he was a year older than me and should have been able to do a better job defending himself. She didn’t like my answer and had a look on her face that indicated that she couldn’t wait to get a hold of me the following year.
In first grade I had already developed a reputation with the teachers for being a troublemaker when I traded a bag of potato chips for a classmate’s fountain pen. It was a big thing in those days to have a good pen with an easy to install ink cartridge; otherwise, being left-handed, I was sure to end up with smudgy fists and notepaper every time I wrote. I had to give back the pen the next day and the stinker did not give me a bag of chips in return.
I liked our second grade teacher because she used to tell us stories of the very wealthy John D. Rockefeller who would give a shiny dime to just about every child he shook hands with. I could buy two packs of baseball cards with a dime. She also told us that despite his extreme wealth, John D suffered from stomach aches for which there was no cure. The lesson was that wealth could not necessarily buy one happiness. I suffered from stomach aches, too, and was wondering when I was going to get wealthy enough to buy a whole box of baseball cards and maybe get a complete set for that year.
Luckily, the third grade warden who had promised to teach me a lesson when the opportunity arose had been replaced by a cool dude of a fellow named Mr. Shaft. He used to wear fancy ties that supposedly had hidden designs of young ladies in suggestive poses. During recess, he would sometimes let the students who got good grades or whom he thought would not rat on him see the painted ties. I never did get to see a tie and not because I was a bad student but because he was aware that I knew his wife and in-laws and figured I would be King Rat.
During the morning session, Mrs. Gavelston taught us and she must have like me a lot because it seemed as if I was regularly being invited to stay in during lunch recess to keep her company. Again, I’m sure it had nothing to do with my grades. It was more likely because I could not keep my mouth shut during class and had to offer play-by-play commentary on everything going on in the room. Twenty years later I would see her in our new neighborhood miles and miles from the scene of past crimes. I told her that she was my third grade teacher and she replied, â€œthat’s nice.â€ No clue- had no recall of teaching me so many years earlier. And for this I gave up many a recess time.
In high school I polished the act by the time I reached junior year in 1969. Our English teacher threw me out of class one day when for no good reason other than I felt like it, I yelled, â€œshut up!â€ in the middle of her lecture. Time froze and my classmates just stared back and forth between me and teacher. Finally, she broke her silence and said in a very loud voice reminiscent of Ralph Kramden to his upstairs neighbor Ed Norton, â€œget out!â€. She sent me to the disciplinarian who was also doubling as a math teacher. He didn’t want to bother with my indiscretion as he had a class to teach nor did I think he really cared for that teacher. At least, he knew me longer. He asked me if I would apologize and I indicated that I would if it would make him happy. The next day I was back in class. All wasn’t forgiven but I really didn’t care. It was spring, the beginning of the baseball season and I was ready for the Cubs to start on the path to another disappointing trek towards a World Series.