Sixth grade was filled with many significant things: library squad, the Mikado, AAA, Mrs. Miller and THE NY Times. PS9 was a busy place that year, 1960-1961. The kids in the class were pretty much the same ones that had been part of my life since first grade. We did start having parties at the end of fifth grade and by sixth grade spin the bottle and post office were the foundation of these gatherings.
That was outside school. In Mrs. Miller’s sixth grade there was plenty to do. I was co-captain of the library squad. For balance of course my co-captain was one of the girls. We shuffled a lot of cards and shelved a lot of books in the closet that served as our library. At year-end, if I recall correctly, she got the medal and I got the dictionary.
There wasn’t a lot of glory with the library squad job but being a lieutenant on the safety squad was a pretty big deal. The white belt and shield (green or red in the center, I don’t remember) was really cool. We helped younger kids cross the street. I have been consistently in touch with only one PS9’er. She was one of those younger kids. She still tells people when she introduces me that “Kenny was my crossing guard” or something close to that.
My father, yup he appears here too, had directed my sister’s sixth grade class in HMS Pinafore about 5 years before I got to Mrs. Miller’s sixth grade. No surprise, he was asked or offered to do a reprise, only this time it was to be The Mikado. For those of you who don’t know these are Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In spite of the torturous beginning to this chapter my love for G&S is still strong.
I was given the role of Nanki-Poo, the lead. I remember crying and carrying on that the part was too big and I wanted something else. This took place in our living room at 222. My father relented and recast me as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, the “evil” character in the show. I soon learned that this part was even bigger. In the end it was great fun. Ko-Ko sings a song, “I’ve got a little list” which contains the names of his intended victims. I walked around with a sizable plywood sword borrowed from the ABC prop room (Dad worked for 25 years as a staff writer at ABC). My list was a roll of toilet paper inscribed with fake Japanese characters which I rolled up the center aisle of the “auditorium” as I sang my song.
Also memorable from the show preparation was the make up for Katisha. One of the prettiest girls in class played the role and kicked and screamed, figuratively, when she had to have one of her front teeth blacked out to make her look undesirable.
As wonderful as all that was, the skill I still use that I attribute to Mrs. Miller was folding the NY Times for reading on the subway, folding back the front and rear and bringing up the bottom half to reveal a three column spread in a manageable size. The NY Times was part of our day. We got the paper in the morning and discussed “current events” and learned about the world at the beginning of the 1960’s. We took, too, a remarkable trip down to the NY Times building where, in that decade, everything still happened in that location. I was fascinated by the huge presses and the writers and typesetters and everything going on; a wonder that I did not go into the newspaper business.
Only one question that was asked that day remains with me. Someone asked “how much does a full page advertisement cost?” The answer, five thousand dollars. Shocking.
Mrs. Miller and her sixth grade class gave me much. She was “blond” and she lived on 86th Street between West End and Riverside in my recollection. An influencer I will never forget. A teacher, obviously, of remarkable talent.
And we were finally on the top classroom floor of that old school building.