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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Going to Stuyvesant High School was an honor I didn’t know I had achieved in 1963.  I knew it was a top school along with Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech and Hunter but I was not sophisticated enough to understand what it meant to be accepted and attend.

I chose Stuyvesant because even at thirteen going on fourteen I knew that girls would be a serious distraction in classes as they already were so in junior high.

I was not alone in going from JHS 44 to Stuyvesant.  I’m still good friends, almost sixty years later, with one of the guys.  

Stuyvesant did not bring out the best in me in many respects.  While I excelled in chemistry and biology, one of my english teachers had the chutzpah to tell my father, a writer, that his son could not write.  I did okay in math and physics.  I loved photography where I learned darkroom techniques.  

I did not hang out after school.  Hang time was at Danny’s, right next door on 15th Street, for breakfast in the morning and then outside Danny’s luncheonette until it was time to go in. 

I loved chemistry; I took as much as I could.  The lab was great place.  I even went on to start college as a chemistry major.

I became a sort of mascot for the football team.  I was small so I felt safe with the big guys and quickly became a bully.  It brought out the worst in me to hang with them.  I almost injured a lower classman on the stairs.  Lucky for us both he landed on his feet.

We had a pretty poor performing football team but a great cheer, “Retain it, retain it, retain the elliptical spheroid”.  Our cheerleaders came from Hunter College High School, our sister school on the East Side in the 60s..  As I recall we would have preferred Julia Richmond, an all girls high school not far from Hunter but not for the intellectually gifted.  The football rival was DeWitt Clinton, a team we never beat, but we tried. Clinton was a ruff and tumble typical NYC High School.

The Clinton game was scheduled for November 23rd, 1963.  We marched up Second Avenue (that would  be against traffic), the morning before, a rally turned “riot”.  We were showered with coffee cups from construction sites, and were photographed for the Daily News.  The game never happened, as events of that fateful November 22nd, 1963 in Dallas certainly took precedence.  Of course, that photo, which I was in (it was staged) also did not happen that Saturday.

The NYC Transit strike of January 1966 made getting to school on East 15th Street close to impossible.  The three train trek was unavailable for two weeks.  My friend Billy, a football player, drove a mustang, so I walked across central park from West 83rd Street and he picked me up on Fifth Avenue.  He was a chick magnet in that car.  Didn’t do me any good but the ride to school was important.

My social life was never better than when I was Stuyvesant.  I have always believed that  because I was going to an all boys school I had to work at it.  I only remember that there were gatherings with girls from Franklin (a West Side private school) but I’m sure there were other sources.

My academic success was nothing to write home about.  I graduated 507th in a class of 715 with an 87 average (or was it 83).  Almost anywhere else either average would have ranked much higher than the bottom third.  I was given a passing grade in calculus because I was senior.  I took it again in college and dropped it there too.

I loved Stuyvesant; I have been a member of the Stuyvesant Alumni Association for as long as I can remember; and that’s the only such association I have joined.  I went back to the building on numerous occasions and have visited the new building as an alum. (The escalators were such an improvement over those narrow stairwells.)

Although I have few fond memories, I cherish this “credential” more than any other.

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