Stuyvesant #2

I said last year that there were many more Stuyvesant stories to tell.  Growing up in that old building over the course of three years would of course provide much fodder for a writer, and it did.  The Stuyvesant experience left me proud to have been there, but not always proud of my younger self.

The trip from the upper West Side, as you may recall, required three trains; the IRT #1, the BMT and the Canarsie line.  The latter two have different designations now.  The change at Times Square was always daunting and rushed and the steps for the last change at Union Square were steep but the most fun.  On pretty days we walked the last lap.  This trip could take 30 minutes or an hour.  Some things don’t change much.

Cutting classes was not a regular thing for me in high school but when I did in my junior and senior years I went to Julian’s, the pool hall upstairs on fourteenth street.  I saw it as dingier than Guys and Dolls on 79th Street and Broadway (also upstairs) and a bit more seedy.  Perhaps the weekday daytime crowd downtown was different from the late afternoon evening crowd I knew so well. 

I never got caught cutting class (I could not pass up the opportunity to be alliterative).  Teachers probably didn’t regret my absence.

The other times I could be found outside the building during class hours were in the last semester of my senior  year when I was gym class secretary.  Dismissal for me would have been 12:40 but given my attendance taking duties it was actually 12:10.  And off I went.  It was too early to go back to 222 so I hung at Danny’s luncheonette or out front or went to Julian’s.

These were little things.  So was the time I decided one semester to be the first to wear shorts.  My homeroom teacher Miss R. was petite and pretty and busty and eyed by most of the boys.  She taught English, although Russian by birth.  I zinged her only this one time that I recall when I stood up in homeroom and started to take off my pants.  Her eyes got very large and her face very red until she realized that I was wearing cutoffs to announce the arrival of spring.

She took it much better than the shop teacher.  Early in the spring several of us showed up for woodworking wearing shorts.  We loved the lack of a dress code.  But this was not welcomed in shop.  “If you show up in my shop wearing shorts again, I will shave yours legs with a dull plane blade” he shouted.  Needless to say, shorts never reappeared there.

Stuyvesant also gave me photography skills.  Our amazing teacher, with one hand, taught us darkroom technique after classes on such things as composition.  He showed us things about cameras using his 4”x5” Graflex.  You know what that is if you’ve ever watched an older film with any kind of photojournalist; the big camera with the big flash.

Stuyvesant followed me far beyond 83rd Street.  I’ve stayed a member of the Almuni Association and my oldest friend and I went there together and remain friends almost sixty years later.  Believe it or not, my physics teacher appeared in my Temple life almost fifty years after I sat in his class.  He was very young when he came to Stuyvesant and I don’t think any of us realized that a new teacher, young at that, must have somehow been special to have landed at our school.

Everybody, even the youngest teachers used Delaney Cards.  If you don’t know what those are, look it up.  Invented by Edward C. Delaney, they were the way seating charts and class attendance were supposed to be managed.

The building was old when we went there.  It was built with entrances on both 15th and 16th Streets between Second and First Avenues.  It was shaped like the letter “H”.  One of the interesting facets of the building was the track which was above the gymnasium.  

Located where it was, there was no field for sports.  Football was played at Randall’s Island Stadium.  I would later learn that the very old records of the NY Asylum had been placed in storage in the lower level of the stadium.  

Randall’s Island was connected to Ward’s Island by a small bridge, Ward’s held the institutions for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled.  Although the latter is gone, the psychiatric hospital where I later worked still stands.

(The bridge and one of the institutions was seen in the 1950’s policewoman show “DECOY”.  The islands also featured the FDNY fire academy and a NYC Sanitation facility.)

Stuyvesant boys have gone on to things: lots of PhDs, a few Nobel laureates, cabinet positions and so much more.  Me, I did my part, serving in State service for almost 25 years and in human services work for over 15 more.

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Writing LeavingWest83rd has been a journey of its own.  This being the 83rd post, I thought that I should make note of that fact and the number itself.  I have asked around among my readers for suggestions for this post and have had several: photo essay on the block; comparison of yesterday with today, structurally;  stories about some of the more colorful characters of the block; a reprise of one or more earlier posts; and what it all means to me.  It has been difficult to choose but before that I want to again acknowledge my editor Alyse Marion Black.  Alyse has helped immeasurably to bring LeavingWest83rdStreet to life.  Her grammatical corrections and reorganizational suggestions have contributed to every post, making what I hope has been an enjoyable journey for you as she has made it for me.

LeavingWest83rdStreet has been quite a trip down memory lane and more than that it has been a joy to receive comments, make and remake connections, stick with something for almost five years, and just to write.

What is it about West 83rd Street that won’t let go of me?  The fact that I grew up there?  The buildings?  The people?  The stores?  That part of the West Side?

Or, is this an opportunity to tell parts of my family story, father, mother, sister and maybe my friends too?

The boys of 222 were spread throughout the building, east side and west side, high floors like twelve and low floors like two.  Their names included another Kenny, David, Danny, Joel, Larry, Leonard.  Have I forgotten anyone?  Both Kennys and Danny had older sisters and there were a few younger brothers in the building mix as well.

Few moms worked like mine.  Dads had all types of jobs.  There was a dentist for sure and at least one lawyer and my dad the writer.

These things certainly had impact on who we were to become.  Events, past and present, clearly did too.

We lived in a building alongside of survivors of the horrors of World War II.  This was more significant to some than it was to others but we all knew about the atrocities because our parents had lived through the war in one way or another.  Some served, some volunteered state side, some served in the civil defense (like my dad.)

I don’t remember the war in Korea, we boys were all too young, but I’m sure it had it’s impact on our parents as did the “red menace”.  I know that my father was effected as president of the Radio Writers’ Guild.

And then came the decade of the assassinations.  Each of these molded the boys of 222.  First the President and then his brother, Malcolm X and Dr. King.  While I was already in my middle to late teens during the last three, the murder of JFK was the most profound as we had been taught about the presidency and about this president in school and at home.  So young, Catholic and with great ideas and oratory.

The riots of the sixties and the anti-war movement came when several of the guys had left 222 for colleges across the country.  I was home for all of it.

What we were taught about communism and the soviet union during those years for upheaval was biased and incomplete and sometimes deliberate misinformation I am sure.  American history left out the racism of our government regarding Japanese internment and particularly absent was anything about administration after administration and court after court institutionalizing racism in housing across the country.

In these turbulent times I hope that the boys of 222 and their children and their children’s children have learned a lot and will do their best to clean up the mess.

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