JHS Typing

JHS 44, the William J. O’Shea Junior High School was, looking back, an interesting place.  Attending there was filled with fun and fear, learning and “loving”, trying and typing.  That last one was required.

I clearly remember a room full of typewriters, a teacher’s desk and blackboard at the front and nothing else.  I was twelve or thirteen.  There were boys and girls in the class.  The machines were basic manual, maybe Royal or Smith Corona.  When the keys got stuck you had to unstick them yourself.  Handling the ribbon made your fingers blacken with ink.

All of that might be completely unknown or at least alien to many readers.

Having looked through my copy of our yearbook, INKLINGS for 1963, I found neither a photo nor mention of typing class.

We developed a skill which helped all the way through college, “touch typing”.  Today that skill is “keyboarding”.  People of my generation are good keyboarders because the QWERTY keyboard is still the standard.  Through the Commodore 64 and the early Apples I owned I used my touch typing abilities.  I worked for an insurance company as a typist, briefly, and when I worked at NYU’s College of Dentistry I learned keypunching and verifying of computer punch cards (something else many of you will have to look up).  These latter skills were applied to my effort to calculate statistics for my Master’s Thesis in 1976.

My dad’s machine of choice, once electric was available and for as long as I can remember, was the IBM Model A. The first one was gray and the second one was green.  The machines, including the smith corona portable I once had, were all maintained by Mr. Osner in his typewriter repair shop, Osner Business Machines located at 393  Amsterdam Avenue, between 78th and 79th Streets.

When mom had TB, circa 1950, dad cranked out dime novels, one a night on his manual typewriter.  I’ve never seen one of his novels, would love to.  He wrote under the pseudonym Harold Kane.  So far, the Library of Congress and none of the old booksellers I’ve tried have anything in their collections.

Dad typed with four fingers, two index fingers for letters, numbers and shifts and thumbs for the space bar.  How he typed so fast, I don’t know.

When I was later tested, as to typing speed and accuracy, for some job, I tested at 55 words per minute with rarely an error.  At least one of my children types at almost twice that speed.

The study in 9E which later became my bedroom had housed the typewriter and a file cabinet, a desk and a studio couch (perhaps a day bed).  Dad’s workspace was moved into the dining room when I took over the study as my room and the dining room table moved into the living room.  The study always had the aroma of dad’s smoking because it was such a small room.  The smoking eventually helped kill him and no doubt contributed with my own smoking to my lung disease.

Today, almost 60 years later, I still use that skill taught at the William J. O’Shea Junior High School and I am thankful.

Dear Reader 2

When I was in my late teens, walking on Broadway in the 80’s; that would be 50+ years ago, we stopped, foolishly, to watch cops chasing teens in our direction.  One cop caught up with one of these young black men, who was running with a shotgun in his hand, threw him against a store front and said, with gun to the young man’s head, “drop it or I’ll shoot you, black motherf**ker”.  I was not horrified.  The cop, in my mind, was trying to scare the “perp”.  He was successful and the incident ended.  Today I would feel differently about such behavior, the racial epithet was not necessary and I am embarrassed by my acceptance of it as a good control technique.  If the alleged thief were white, what would the officer have said? How about today?

This was the 20th precinct fifty years ago, I am long gone.  But the racism represented here was not isolated.

When I worked at my first job in the Rockefeller program (NYS’ misguided attempts at drug treatment, an early form of mass incarceration) I did not understand my role in the power structure. The job located on 61st and Broadway was part of the management of a statewide program to lock up drug addicts for treatment and then put them into a system to be monitored by armed Narcotic Parole Officers.

When I moved on to the VERA Institute of Justice further downtown, while still living on 83rd Street, I was again touching “the system” but this time in an effort to develop a fair, scientific furlough program for the NYS Department of Corrections.

(Did you know that NYS has 52 prisons in 2020? This is at least 20 less than 1980.)

The NYS mental health system was my workplace for many years.  I didn’t run head on into racism until the hospital in Suffolk County that was taking transfers from Brooklyn, who happened to be mostly black, was politically and socially attacked by locals.   

My job and my heart led me to defend against these angry frightened neighbors.

In Brooklyn, my work community changed.  Suddenly I was the minority. Staff throughout the facility were mostly black.  As part of the integrated senior staff I missed the seething dislike “below” until I criticized a black program manager and was immediately attacked as a “Jim Crow racist.”

I was so upset by the words of the worker that I called a former rabbi from Rodeph Sholom,  a man who had fought injustice, like his father, his whole career.  He talked me down off the ledge, it hurt so much, it was so unfair and incorrect.  

Today I can look back and see that although she was defending incompetent behavior she was speaking from a terrible history of oppression.

There is so much wrong.  We must start by listening and we each have to look

and see where we were, and are, part of the problem.

The West Side bred me reasonably well but not to action.  In the 60’s, for me, commuting daily from West 83rd Street into Harlem, it was the war in Vietnam before there was any personal knowledge of racism in NYC.  Maybe because the war was personal, maybe because I had been protected/segregated for so long.

My classes were almost exclusively white at PS9 and JHS44, my synagogues (all three: the SAJ, B’nai Jeshurun and Rodeph Sholom) were all white and the only people of color that I remember at 222 were household help. Helen helped raise me from age three to age sixteen and that may have helped build my current relationships. Today I understand that we never saw anyone but black women in such a job.  

The elevator operators, superintendent , handyman, doormen, and porters in 222 were all white.  The playground in Riverside Park was white children and household help or parents for supervision. Today I would question this but then it was invisible to me.

Unbeknownst, it was our little white enclave in what was billed as the greatest city in the world.

Dear Reader,

LeavingWest83rdStreet is important to me.  I hope that you are enjoying my work.  Our times lead me to say that there are much more important things to be written about and I hope that you will look at this effort as an opportunity to go beyond my story.

Thank you for sticking with me.  It is an honor to have you along.

I have been witness to many historical events and to many efforts directed at change.  I heard the words and laws of the sixties with the hopefulness of an adolescent.  I saw the murders of President Kennedy, Dr. King, and Robert Kennedy, among others, on TV.  I was afraid. Many times I thought change would come.  I watched the anger and fear and resulting riots from afar.

All those things shaped the man I became.  Raised in the relatively liberal community of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, raised in part by an African American housekeeper and having limited experience beyond that in my youth, my parents taught me well.  Other groups except our WWII opponents were never spoken of badly.  (In my late teens I strenuously though ineffectively argued with my father about German cars and Japanese cameras.  Eventually, I owned both.

I was disturbed but distant in the early and mid-sixties but by 1970 my level of action had changed.  Co-chairing a CCNY commission with a black woman was significant as was the takeover of part of the college’s campus by black students.  

I have had many black friends and colleagues over the years.  I hope I have not been part of the problem, although I must have been.  I recognize that in addition to white privilege I have also had Jewish privilege because I lived in NY where there were so many of us.  I see that we were segregated in elementary and junior high school, not because the neighborhood wasn’t home to many people with ancestors from many places, but because the board of education kept us separate or maybe it’s better said, “kept them separate”.

We won the right to vote at 18 in my lifetime.  We helped bring an end to Nixon and to the war in Vietnam.  But so little has staying power.  I can’t help thinking of the teens from Parkland who filled me with hope and then they were gone.

My kids are steadfastly supportive of the rights of others, we did well in raising them.  But, I hear and see so much that’s not working and I know that I didn’t do enough.  Yes, I called out racist and sexist remarks; I walked away from ethnic jokes, but I didn’t do enough.

And that’s where we are today, we have to listen to people and hear the pain they are coming from.  We must not allow ourselves to be diverted by the current administration or by those who are acting inappropriately.  We have to listen.

To my friend who woke up last week at 2am to CNN reporting from the Barclay Center, whose heart stopped as she ran to check on her boys, I am sorry, I did not do enough.

PARTIES

There were a lot of parties in my adolescence.  There were a lot of temple dances in those years too.  I could do most of the dances that did not require touching: twist, mashed potatoes, monster mash.  I could “slow dance”, so as long as my partner just wanted to stand and slowly move, no box step or anything.  I could barely cha cha; I would lose count. I was never, however, successful at the lindy, formally known as the Lindy Hop.  You see, I was and am uncoordinated.

Dances were on the East Side and the West Side.  Synagogues were home to the dances I attended: Rodeph Sholom, Park Avenue, B’nai Jeshurun were the biggest gatherings.  I really only remember the Rodeph Sholom layout, probably because I later spent several years active in that community.  We entered through the main entrance, under the awning up the steps into the lobby, down the grand staircase to the basement (never called that).  On this lower level there were multiple doors to the ballroom where the dances were held.  There was no theme, no decorations of note.  The band was on the stage.  That was it. Just hang out and dance, and perhaps find those quiet spots.

RodephSholom

I guess there were groups at PS9 before we were old enough for the temple dances.  The elementary school groups that were joined together at JHS 44 created new groups.  The system was intended to do this I am sure, but we were still mostly white and Jewish.

I had my girlfriend in fifth and sixth grade but branched out upon entering 7-8SP2.  There was even what might be called cross fertilization with 7-8SP1.  These two accelerated classes had the best and brightest, we were told.  The system wanted us out of junior high school as fast as possible.

The West Side parties, held almost weekly starting around sixth grade and picking up speed in 7th grade, featured music and dancing, low lights and small groups.  They also often featured “spin the bottle” and “post office”, the kissing games of the late 50s and early 60s.

I remember one party in my parents’ apartment at 222.  They were in their bedroom with the door closed.  Girls were in my room, boys in the living room.  The meet up was in dad’s study.  I think it was 1963.  The study was kept dark, as was the hallway. I don’t remember the rules. When you look it up in wikipedia it doesn’t sound familiar at all.

I remember the kissing and the frequently hurt feelings of the less popular kids.  There was always lots to talk after the mail was delivered.

We made out a lot through junior high and high school. Encouraged by the kissing games, we moved to school afternoons and weekend days.  We learned whatever we knew from each other.  This did not always lead to successful encounters.

 

*Credit to NYCAGO.ORG for the photo

Differences

When I was growing up the West Side seemed to have a bit of everything.  There were at least Jews, Italians, Irish, African Americans and Puerto Ricans.  My name, Marion was, I would learn, a disguise of sorts.  Two groups, Italians and Puerto Ricans, dropped the ’N’ and depending on accents came up with the Mario that fit into their group.  Because I was always a little dark no one knew for sure.

I foolishly took french at the William J. O’Shea junior high school.  Spanish would be useful even today, well over 50 years later; so linguistically I could only be a white kid from the neighborhood.

The West Side was filled with characters, many had no name.  There was one who often walked right through the middle of our handball and stoop ball games, he was older, white, but I wouldn’t venture a guess as to how much beyond 40.

One day, he stopped to tell us the story of his almost mugging.  All these years later I’m paraphrasing:

I was walking up the block when out of nowhere this group of half a dozen PR teens surrounded me.  They wanted my wallet.  I wasn’t about to give it up so I started yelling and stomping my feet.  You lousy Puerto Ricans, I can’t stand the lot of you, I’m gonna get away, I’m going to San Juan.  They started laughing, must have figured me for crazy, and walked off.  I got to keep my wallet.

As a child, I was pretty much friendly with everyone.  It was the way I was raised.  Although, there were few African Americans in the circle around me except for Albert and “Elizabeth” (September 9, 2016) in my class and Helen, the housekeeper. There was also Danny who often accompanied Harold (family friend and my mother’s boss) who was African American.  Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics entered my life in abundance in junior high school and continued in my life in the pool hall.

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I’ve written about “Tony” (July 18, 2016), the teenager with one arm and “Richie” (February 19, 2017), the alleged perpetrator of a school yard stabbing, both of whom I remember as Hispanic.  Both those experiences included violence from which I escaped.

I really led a racially and ethnically sheltered life.  I write it this way because then, as now, Hispanics came in all colors.  Unlike the black people in my life they spoke a different language, or english with an accent; their difference was different.

In my young mind the differences amongst us did not translate into socioeconomic class distinctions; that was too complex. I don’t think we saw the racial separations clearly either.

Racism is after all a learned behavior and in my home it was never taught or modeled.

Thankfully, what I was taught was carried forward to my children.

 

Silhouette by kjpargeter

 

A Little Bit About Class and Religion

 

As I celebrate the arrival of the fifth year of this blog, LEAVINGWEST83RDSTREET, I thought to start with what continue to be sensitive subjects in the USA.

 

My religion, Judaism, was alway important in my West Side life.  When I was five, I was so enamored of  Rabbi Jack Cohen of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism  on West 86th Street that I begged to attend religious school.  I did, right through my bar mitzvah, about which I have already written.  My sister and I traveled different paths and I traveled more than one myself, but we both kept religion close.

 

Religion was noticeable in public school pretty much only on the day of “released time” when the Catholic kids got to go to religious education.  We Jews went after school.  I doubt that they loved their religion time any more than we did, except we had to give up play time for ours, they had to give up school.

Free Jewish Star Of David image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org

Except for those clashes with the parochial school kids coming out of the Holy Trinity school up the block , and looking out our back windows at those same kids having their knuckles thrashed by their nuns, there was no issue of religious friction in my life.  Everybody kept to themselves or just kept quiet.

We didn’t know the difference between Catholics and other Christians, we thought they were all the same.  I don’t recall any storefront churches in those days, but I didn’t wander much east of Amsterdam Avenue or along its length.

As an adult I see religion as something over which humans have fought for centuries and continue to do so.  

Right up there with religion is class as a problem among people.  

I believe that class was an unknown differentiator to we kids in public school nine.  It was, like religion, rarely if ever discussed.  Religion popped into conversations around Bar Mitzvah and Confirmation.

Rich kids went to private schools like Franklin and McBurney and we didn’t mix with them until high school.  

There were kids with bigger apartments with Riverside Drive addresses and the West End Avenue kids did seem to have more space too, but this didn’t translate, for us, into wealth and I don’t recall ever being excluded because I lived on the other side of Broadway.

Those bigger apartments had room for a grand piano and everybody had their own bedroom.  Our dining table was moved into the living room when I had to move into dad’s study (which had been carved out of the dining room) and at that time the dining room became his work space.

I always had enough, went to a Jewish summer camp for many years and then a non-denominational day camp, and I got an allowance that grew with me.  It was, of course, never enough.  So, on my West Side there was never an issue of class.  

I’ll leave race and ethnicity for another essay.  Much has already been written but there is always more.  Here, I’ll say that unlike religion and economic class, race and ethnicity were open dividers even in elementary school as kids of color (as we would call them today) were almost completely separated from the white kids right through the public school system of the 1950s and 60s.

GOLDEN BOY

As I have written previously, my adolescence was a social one.  I learned early that theatre was an excellent vehicle for many things, not the least of which was dating.  Dad knew lots about theatre and we all enjoyed going.  I loved the ride in the jump seat of a checker cab from 83rd Street and Broadway to the theatre district.  We would pass up regular cabs for the checker ride that was so much fun.  In the fifties and sixties we understood that the West Side was filled with writers and other creatives.  It was also the home of stars.

I was not often left out of things but I felt left out being the only member of my social circle who had neither braces nor glasses.  Both PS9 and JHS 44 were filled with kids with teeth straighteners and kids with four eyes.  I met the beautiful Iris during the summer before my sixteenth birthday (1965).  Golden Boy starring Sammy Davis, Jr. was a broadway hit with a hero* of Jewish boys in the most important role.  So I took Iris for my birthday and got to wear my brand new glasses for the first time in public. Of course these had been secured at the optician’s in the Hotel Bretton Hall on the east side of Broadway between 85th and 86th Streets.  One of many such establishments in the neighborhood.

GoldenBoy1

When my sister’s birthday and fathers’ day fell on the same Sunday, it too was a time of celebration by going to the theatre.  That night we went to see Pal Joey.  Dad tripped on the way up the stairs and limped to our seats.  Before intermission he was so uncomfortable that he left and took a cab home.  It was the next day that I learned that he had actually fractured his leg when he fell.

PS9 was the elementary school of many future theatre persona of note; TV stars, too, graduated from ‘9’. It is said that among them were Hamlisch and Winkler, could be true.

We were well versed in the stage as it was common for numerous elementary school classes to perform for assemblies.  My sixth grade class did The Mikado and my sister’s sixth grade class had put on Pinafore.  Both Mrs. Miller and my father, the volunteer director, thought that Gilbert & Sullivan operettas were shows to which all west side kids should be exposed.  I do believe that my love of G&S works and other theater can be traced directly back to those assemblies as well as the love of theater in apartment 9E.

While the Beacon Theatre had given up it’s live stage vaudeville to become a movie theatre, the Promenade Theatre up the block and downstairs became home to great shows like Godspell which I fell in love with in that little West Side theatre.  Godspell played there from 1971-1976.  The show moved to Broadway and through many tours and revivals.  In 2011 it was brought back to Broadway as a first of its kind crowdfunded production in which I invested.

That revival was not a success but my friend Ira has said “Ken, you may not have gotten your money back but you certainly got your money’s worth”.  I met people I never would have met, went to places (like 54Below) I would never have gone to, and met at least one friend I expect to keep forever.

The theatre, from PS9 until today, has been a part of my life.

*Sammy Davis was our hero because this great entertainer had converted to Judaism in the late 1950’s.

RADIO

Although there was television in the 50s and the growing phenomenon it was, radio was still significant.  The advent of rock ’n roll and the transistor radio made this  communication instrument ubiquitous.  However, radio had once been the staple of my father’s professional life.  In my infancy he had been president of the Radio Writer’s Guild and through my adolescence he wrote both radio and television shows about higher education.

At William J. O’Shea Junior High School the absolutely funniest joke during my tenure was the one about the elephant and the monkey in the bathtub, the elephant says “please pass the soap” and the monkey responds “no soap radio”.  We thought that this was extremely humorous.  Adults didn’t get it, which made it funnier.  You see, there was nothing funny except that it wasn’t.

I suppose the monkey could have responded with no soap, toilet paper but he didn’t.  It would not have made a difference but my point here is that in the early 60’s radio was still important. 

We West Side kids grew up with radio which was joined by TV to be our entertainment along with our street games and board games.  

To my life, radio was much more.

In our west side apartment one could always hear the fire department radio.  The receiver was in dad’s study and the extra speaker hung in the corner of the dining room.  Dad and I were always alert to hear our corner’s fire alarm box, one-one-three-eight and any radio calls for multiple alarm fires that would inevitably send him running off to the Red Cross building to get the canteen out to go to Bickford’s and then the fire scene to serve soup and sandwiches with other members of the Third Alarm Association.  The radio stayed on until dad’s death in 1970.

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The other radio in my life was of course rock & roll stations that brought dancing into our lives at PS9 and JHS44.  There were other stations and disc jockeys but ABC was dad’s employer, and therefore a favorite, even if he didn’t appreciate our music.

Later there was the Citizens Band radio I used as a commuter.  My handle was “gingerale”.  I was driving a green rabbit.  I joined the “six-nine convoy” and always had friends on the road.  When I began to commute with a colleague she got the handle “rider”.  The convoy met Thursday mornings at a fast food place on Astoria Blvd., it was already the 1980’s.

The comings and goings of radio in apartment 9E went beyond the constant squawking of the fire department dispatchers to shows dad had a part in.  He was known to have programmed much of the network’s music for the weekend immediately following the murder of President Kennedy.  He tried to market “Your Fire Reporter”.  He produced and wrote “Disaster” for the American Red Cross and a public service program called “Meet the Small College”.  Before my birth there had only been radio and filmmaking in his career.

As a teen walking home from “44” across 77th Street to get to Broadway and then uptown to 83rd Street you would find me with my pocket size transistor radio, like most of my friends.

At home we played records but on the street it was radio.  Sometimes strolling and sometimes while playing stoop ball or handball, the radio would provide background noise.  It was a tool of presidents and mayors and a source of support for my family.

 

Photo By Joe Haupt

Girls2

Dating was something that did not mean going out much.  It meant being a couple, going to parties, walking her home, an occasional movie date and sometimes making out.  The old West Side provided many opportunities from Rudley’s diner like atmosphere on the way home from JHS 44, to the Woolworth’s counter and movie theaters all over the place: Loew’s, Beacon, New Yorker, Thalia and many more. This post briefly explores some of my adolescent failures.  They were once embarrassing; now they’re amusing.

We moved through our classmates in elementary school, well I didn’t during fifth grade and sixth grade going steadily with one girl as explained in an earlier post.  We certainly moved through junior high too.  At William J. O’Shea Junior High School 44 we were afforded new opportunities as that school was fed by several elementary schools bringing news girls and boys together.  As far as I knew there were few if any “fast” girls in my classes.  And if truth be told, I would not have known what to do.

There was no such thing as sex education in those days.  As progressive as the West Side was, we  were left to grope our way through relationships.  

It wasn’t like we didn’t know the difference between boys and girls.  Those of us with older sisters knew a little more than those with male siblings.  I can still tell you the name of the first girl to wear a bra in elementary school.  And bra strap snapping was all the rage at some point in junior high school.

I know there was some sexual exploration between boys.  This was relatively innocent and very secretive exploration of our bodily capabilities. 

I engaged in a lot of post office and spin the bottle, kissing was the thing, but I failed to engage in anything more because of rejection as noted in the previous post or my naiveté.

I recall a couple of “fast” girls I did not know what to do with.  They will remain un-named but it was my innocence that left my virginity in tact beyond many of my friends.

I think it was my senior year at Stuyvesant when a young woman  took me to her east side apartment with no one else home and offered me everything.  I was a total failure, having no clue.

And there was another girl at another time, home alone and not knowing how to get my hands where I wanted them.

Summers were interesting as my friend Jon has pointed out.  There was no paucity of girls who wanted to be girlfriends.  I must have been something because the younger girls with crushes were numerous.  With them, of course, nothing happened.  In fact nothing serious happened with my peers either.  I was what I was, at the least unknowing innocent.

The trip from the West Side to Yonkers was made for numerous summers.  The day camp, now a housing development, was an escape from the school year routine of park play in Riverside Park and the parties in typically large West Side apartments.

 

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Every girl I can recall was amongst the prettiest, summer or school.  By late in high school I regretted not having responded to a less attractive junior high girl who was mad about me. Regretted because by then I had  better understanding of relationship potential with someone who cared.

I had a college friend in those hippy, free love days, who would say, when introduced to a girl “Hi, I want to ball you”.  It didn’t work often but it did work.  This was not my approach or my ultimate way to success.

I think that teenagers these days are very different from the way I was but I suspect that there are plenty of Kennys still around.  Some wondering what they are missing and some not.

 

Image by b0red from Pixabay