Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Mr. McIntire and Discipline

When I was getting better a few years ago I went with a friend of mine to Wenonah school to work with the children on poetry. When I arrived I was shown to a classroom in one of the two older parts of the building. I was sitting, comfy, and looking around and realized I was in my fourth grade classroom. I looked to my left and there was the supply closet. I asked the young woman who was my escort if this had been a fourth grade classroom and she replied yes it had been and I started to tell her about Ruthie Hammell and she cut me short. Yes, she said, this was the closet where Ruthie Hammell was locked in.
I was shocked and sat quietly for a moment. She said, were you there? My big sister told me all about it.
Yes, I was there. Mr. McIntire, besides being large and stern, was a famous disciplinarian. One afternoon we were all going crazy. Talking and laughing and in general acting like 4th and 5th graders. Mr. McIntire suddenly turned and said that would have to stop and picked one of us, Ruthie Hammell, as the most guilty of us all. He directed her to stand in the supply room. It was a large closet holding our lined notebook paper, our Ticonderoga #2 pencils, our paste, and other materials necessary to our education. It was about 10' by 20'. She went to the closet and sat. Mr. McIntire spent the next two hours lecturing us on this and that.
The bell rang and we all went home.
The next day we returned to find that Mr. McIntire had forgotten poor Ruthie. He went home as well. She was discovered several hours later by our erstwhile janitor Nick.
She became instantly famous. Mr. McIntire never said a word of this to us.
I would imagine he was chastised by his superiors but we heard nothing. We only knew that he was almighty, all powerful, and not a man to be fucked with. No one challenged him again.
We learned fast and we learned well.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Mr. McIntire's 4 & 5 Grade Class 1961-62

Here are the students of my fourth grade along with my fifth grade confreres
Top row from left:Me, Jack Wiler, Jimmy Marchione, Mario Contarino, Dave Porter, Chris DeHart, Rob Lowe, Dave Trost, Barry Stockinger, Ken Fell, our teacher, Mr. McIntire, Bruce McWilliams, Dave Moffit, Doug Kummer, and the ever stylish, Tommy Jenkins (note the cool tie).
Bottom Row from left, Diane Evans, Caroline Stens, Sandy Fay, Terry Howarth, Diane Eberly, Michelle Smith, Janet Shoemaker, Ruth Hammell, Jane Bowker, Madelaine Pillings, Linda Smith.
I'm getting smoother at this thing as we move up in years. Both Ruth Hammell and Madelaine will have crucial roles to play in the coming year. Ruth in particular will live forever in Wenonah history as one of Mr. M's unwitting victims. Jane Bowker's family ran the town grocery store. The fifth graders were impossibly cool and the girls impossibly beautiful. Especially Diane, Terry, and Ruth, with Janet coming in a neat fourth as an Amazon goddess.

Who Looks the Deadest

It's the summer before fourth grade and then it will be the fall of fourth grade and we're in front of Terry Fleming's grandparent's house playing my favorite game. It was my favorite game because I was good at it. The game was "Who Looks the Deadest". I've heard of variations of the game played elsewhere. To my knowledge though it has no real provenance. Kids just invented it. Maybe through some kid network it spread but certainly not via any real world network. Not on tv or radio or in a magazine or newspaper. My parents didn't know about it. But we did. And we played it like it was the last game we'd ever play.
The rules were fairly simple. One person, usually Chris DeHart, was IT. He sat on the steps of Terry's grandparent's house with a play gun of some sort. BB Gun, air rifle, plastic Thompson Sub Machine Gun, pistol, Civil War rifle, didn't matter. You just needed the porch and a gun. Terry's grandparent's front lawn had two large pines flanked by a circular sidewalk leading to the steps. We'd crouch behind one or the other of the pines and wait on Chris or whoever was it. Then he'd call a name. The person whose name was called would run out into the open, charging as though in a battle, and Chris would shoot. Boom. Then you'd drop dead. And stay dead. Chris would call another name. Another dead kid. Till the front yard was littered with four foot corpses in various poses of the dead. Then he'd walk among us. Evaluating our deadness. Looking for faint signs of breathing. For movement. He'd evaluate our fall as we took the fatal bullet. He'd combine the fall with the death pose and come up with the winner. Whoever he picked was IT. He was the one who looked the deadest.
It was a great game.
It was of a piece with our general paranoia and fascination with war. In the fall of 1962 things moved to a head but throughout our childhood we learned the rules of war. We learned to duck and cover. We learned how many blasts of the fire whistle meant an enemy attack. We learned how to prepare for nuclear disaster, how to live on canned goods for months. We learned some of us would probably die. We weren't stupid. We read about the range of an atomic blast. We knew we lived just south of New York City, just east of Philadelphia and it's Naval Yard, and not too far north of DC. We were fucked. Wenonah was just going to be one big sheet of glass.
We read about Hiroshima. We saw Japanese monster movies...Godzilla and Gorgo. We were ready. If we lived we'd fight the Russians in the swamps like the Swamp Fox. If we died we knew how to look cool. We were ready to die young and leave a beautiful corpse.
Then we got up, jumped on our Schwinns and rode off to Clay Hill to blast the dinosaurs that threatened our families.
The world was a dangerous place. Next posting...the little red house and Mickey Killer Islands.

Final Photo Third Grade; Everyone Id'd

Thanks to Barb Conway for the last piece of the puzzle and to Bob Thomas for the update. Here's the photo with everyone's name:

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mary Louise Wiler and May of 1961

In our rush to move to the present what are the things we overlook? To begin with the birth of my sister, Mary Louise. She was born on May 19th 1961. My brothers and I had been eagerly anticipating our newest family member for months. When she was born we were stunned. A girl. A tiny, little, beautiful girl. What do you do with this?
Our boy brains were incapable of coping with this new development. We had no way of dealing with girls. They were alien creatures. Now there was one in our midst. So we just stared at her in her crib. My mother and grandmother held her up to Mick and I to hold. We were scared to death. She was so small. So tiny. So easy to break and we were so prone to breaking things. Her crib was in the dining room, a room filled with light.
Her birth was a great day but for our mother a difficult day. Like many women my mother suffered from post partum depression following Mary's birth. She required care and my father enlisted first my mother's mother and then a neighbor, Mrs. Paolo, to take care of this while he cared for my mother.
My sister was born ten years after me. After her birth there were no other brothers or sisters. Who cared? We had each other. Mick and I tormented each other and in turn tormented Ted. Ted in his turn tormented Mary Lou. Each of us envied the others relative freedom as our parents grew older and more relaxed in their parenting.
But for now, on a warm day in May, my sister lay in her crib. My uncles and grandparents and brothers and parents pressed in around her. What a gift. What a day.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Fourth Grade

I'm tired of Third Grade. Who knows what we learned or didn't learn. It was in Fourth Grade that life began in earnest. It began when we rode our bikes up to the school at the end of the summer to see who would be our teacher. Mr. McIntyre. The toughest teacher in Wenonah. I was to be in a split 4th and 5th grade class with the toughest teacher in school. Life was about to get very weird.
Mr. McIntyre was tall and gawky and rough edged and rude. He had no niceties. He was intellectually superior to us which wasn't hard because we were in 4th and 5th grades. He was sarcastic. He was tough. He brooked no excuses. From day one it was very clear things were going to be very difficult.
At the same time this class was a bonding year for my friends Chris, Terry, and myself. All of us were smarter and more aware and starting to be more in the world for good or ill. To have a teacher like Mr. McIntyre was not a bad thing but not a good thing either.
His tests were not like anything else we'd ever seen. Before this it was True or False. It was A, B, C, or D. It was the answer to 2 and 2 is four. Not in his class. His history classes had tests with essay questions. Write everything you know about the battle of Gettysburg. What? Huh? Everything I know? We were fucked.
Then there was recess. He loved football and he played it with abandon. The problem was we were four feet tall and he was six four or more. He'd do end runs with his sport coat and tie flapping in the breeze and a dozen little chowderheads chasing him down field. He knew he had us beat and reveled in it. And we hated him for it and tried to beat him whenever we could.
He assigned us spelling words. Only we had to write stories with the words in them. We fixed him. We wrote brilliant stories! Variations of Twilight Zone episodes or horror movies or westerns all chock full of his words. We walked to school and compared stories. Whose was best? Whose was coolest?
We had to memorize poems and recite them out loud. We were give little yellow booklets with crap like the Frost is O'er the Pumpkin. We plumbed our parents meager poetry reserves and memorized The Highwayman or Gunga Din or the Charge of the Light Brigade. He couldn't break us. He wouldn't break us. We were smarter than him.
My grades sucked.
I'll post them tomorrow.
But he roused us all to levels we didn't understand.
Wild man running down the gravel holding out the ball for anyone to take. Laughing at our puny attempts.

Altar Boys, Baseball, and more

Well, I spent the 4th in Wenonah. Chris DeHart and Dot Chattin and Suzy Parker have filled me with memories that will be addressed. But for now I thought it would be good to talk about vocations and recreation. My parents volunteered me to be an altar boy at the Church of the Incarnation when I was in 3rd Grade. it was winter and I went several times a week to learn the rituals of the mass. When to ring the bells, when to fetch the wine and host. We learned our pieces of the mass. It was Latin then. Ad deum qui latificat juventutem meum. The first words of the mass.
We learned our places before the altar. We were issued our robes and prepared to serve mass.
As I completed my training it was time to try out for minor league hardball in Wenonah. We played for American Legion Post 109 and all or most of the boys in town that were 8 years old turned out for tryouts. We ran down flies, caught line drives, ran bases, and in general embarrassed ourselves. I sucked.
After two weeks they announced those boys who would join the team. My name was not included. My brother's was. I was devastated. I rode my bike home in tears. Hours later my father came to me to say there was a mistake. It was me that should have been named. I was so happy. In retrospect I think this was all bullshit. I think, because I know I sucked and my brother didn't, that they really picked my younger brother. I think my father prevailed upon them to put me on the team and they did.
Because baseball conflicted with some elements of serving mass I had to resign my post as an altar boy. I was not sad. It seemed weird and stupid and strange and I much preferred right field to standing in front of the throne of God.
And right field was where I went.
When you stink in baseball and you're young you get right field. That's because young batters have trouble hitting to the opposite field and there aren't many left handers. This means you spend your time standing in the outfield in terror that someone will hit the ball to you.
The good part was no one ever put me in the game. This was before the time when kids were played routinely regardless of skill levels. In the early sixties if you stunk you didn't play unless your team was either killing the other team or so far behind it couldn't hurt. There was no eleven run rule.
I got two at bats that year. I had a baggy thick woolen uniform that I loved. I had a Ted Kluszewski autographed model glove and I cherished it with all my heart. It had been my father's.
I was horrible but I loved sitting in the dugout and I loved chatter in the outfield. Come batter, come batter, batter. He can't hit, he can't hit, he can't hit.
I love practicing sliding, I loved catching ground balls and I eventually could catch flies. What I couldn't do was throw for distance. Thank God for cut off men.
So my brother Mick had to wait a year to be a better player than me. And God had to wait a bit more for me to serve Him.
But I learned the crack of the bat, the smell of neatsfoot oil, the cold sodas we got at Margies after a game. Digging deep in the cooler for a grape or pineapple soda. Hanging around with boys who played baseball better than you but still there. Still in the game.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Bonsal Blues Hobo Band Throw Down

Here's an out of focus shot of the infamous battle of the bands, mid parade. Note the contrast between the militaristic Bonsal Blues and the Hobos. My brother Ted was weeping.

The Glorious Fourth

Well, I spent most of the day in Wenonah. It was, as always, a treat. I saw many old friends and passed the word about the blog. Dottie Chattin, Barb Conway, Chris DeHart, Suzy Parker, Doug, Jack, and Dick Wesh, the giant Seville clan, Margie Loving, my brother's friends, my step brother's friends, Richie "ratkid" Young, Paul and Dave Earnhart, Carey DeGeer, my sister's friends, my parent's friends, Ralph and Rachel, Dave, Steve, Helen, and Mr. O'Connor, Mrs. McQuaide, Victor Anderson, so many, many good friends and so many memories.
Too much to deal with today but next week should spawn a host of posts. Dottie and Barb have said they'll help id the girls in the photos, Chris and Dottie both provided me with mucho grist for the mill, from the Wildcats to the Bike Game to Who Looks the Deadest. It was a long, long day.
Suzy and I drove down at six am from Jersey City and arrived at my brother Mick's at 8am. We jetted over to Wenonah with a brief stop at the Hollywood Diner for sustenance and arrived just as the flag and Uncle Sam and his nephew arrived at Jefferson Ave. As we were parking we ran into Debbie Mix, ne Lake, and her husband Mike.
I grabbed a small beer at the O'Connor's blast and the hunt was on.
I know for now I've neglected many, many potential memories but they will have to wait.
Tomorrow I leave for work at 7am and at noon leave for scenic Portland, ME and the Stonecoast MFA. For some reason they have hired me to sound my barbaric yawp from their stage. I'm psyched, tired, and anxious. It's all a wild ride Mr Toad...hold on to your hats!

Monday, July 02, 2007

An apology

Dear readers,
I guess there are ten or twelve of you. I apologize for my lack of posts over the past several days. The death of Divina was devastating to us both and we've been struggling to rejoin the real world.
Now the real world drags me in whether I want to go or not. I'm off to Wenonah on Wednesday early in the morning with my friend Suzy Parker. We'll watch the parade and drink some beers at the firehouse and visit my friends and family. No doubt I'll say hello to my old landlords Ralph and Rachel and stop by the O'Conner's for a beer during the parade.
I'll say hello to many old friends and fail to recognize far more.
From there it's down to Suzy's parent's house in Townsend's Inlet and then for me...back to NYC on Thursday. Friday I go to the Stonecoast MFA program in scenic Maine to read my poems and talk about poetry. I'll see my dear friend Baron and some newer friends and perhaps drink a bit too much. I'll yell and scream and raise the roof.
Then back to home Sunday and off to work again
I'm going to read some poems I've written about Divina in Stonecoast and hope I make it through them without embarrassing myself. We shall see.
Have a wonderful 4th of July! It's my second favorite holiday and I'll be in the town where it's done right. The Pitman Hobo Band and the Bonsal Blues will play their tunes, the children will amble down Mantua Ave and for a few moments it might almost be 1959. It's been like this for so many years. What a rare joy! What a deep pleasure!
God Bless America and for what it's worth screw Dick Cheney!