Wheatley Class of 1958

Friday, April 21, 2006

Monday I saw both Barbara Newman and Charlie Schmid.
I was at the Bronx courthouse where Barbara is a Supreme Court Justice. Barbara had a trial on before her, but she gave me a wave and a smile as I walked into her courtroom. I sat down and watched. A young man was charged with forcefully resisting arrest. After a while Barbara declared a recess and invited me back to her robing room. She looked great.
We spent about ten minutes trading grandchild news: she is expecting her first in a couple of months; I have four granddaughters and am expecting a grandson in June. [My grandson doesn’t have a name yet but they have given him a working title: "Popcorn."] Barbara loves her work and doesn’t have plans to retire. She is lucky. Her work is significant, interesting and challenging – better than whatever she could do on a beach in Florida. She plans to come to the reunion.
Charlie and I met for dinner. He is the executive secretary of the acoustical engineering society and commutes between Seattle and New York and most other countries of the world at some time or another. We reminisced about those two years at Wheatley– each of us having different vivid memories. We went to a lot of theatre: "Inherit the Wind," "My Fair Lady," "West Side Story." We wondered who it was that sparked that interest. I remembered sitting next to Doug at "My Fair Lady." He had bought a big yellow box of Mason’s Dots and each time he wanted one, he had to invert the box and let the Dots rattle down to his hand. When he was at full-inversion, a woman sitting in front of him turned around and ordered him to stop making that noise. He froze with the open box tipped into his hand. Sweat dotted his brow. He was paralyzed. It had taken months to get tickets. Finally, he couldn’t wait any longer and gently tipped the box up to home position. The Dots clattered back with a deafening sound, drowning out Julie Andrews and almost stopping the show. The woman in front turned around and slugged Doug.
Once Doug and I decided to see an opera. We chose a Saturday afternoon performance of Pelleas and Melisande by Debussy. Little did we suspect that it was one of the most boring operas in the lexicon. We bought tickets at the door and went around to the standing room entrance at the back of the old Met. At about 1:50 the doors opened and the crowd rushed into the old wire cage elevators. As our elevator ascended, a woman behind us mooed. When we were let out in the stratosphere, the mooer and the other experienced opera goers ran to the spots at the back of the theatre. Doug and I ambled to comfortable looking open spaces in the front. Then we learned that the closer to the stage, the less you could see. Most of the time when Pelleas and Melisande were being totally inactive on the stage, we were only able to see about 15% of what they weren’t doing. I guess we started with the premise that opera was painful. We weren’t disappointed. I married a singer and opera has since become a significant part of my life. I still don’t like P&M.
Charlie remembered Miss Bodnar’s production of a play about 5 or 6 sailors trapped in a submarine. She picked Don Kleban, Steve Perlin, Mike Stapleton and others we couldn’t remember to play the sailors. It was a courageous teaching adventure. Then there was Mr. Storm’s hand written play with parts drawn for the types he expected to act it. I played the master of ceremonies. I envied the people in his English classes.
We agreed that Mr. Loring was a wonderful teacher. Charlie said Mr. Loring had turned down a job teaching in a college to work at Wheatley. I had a profound experience in Mr. Loring’s class that I didn’t understand until years later. The class was discussing the House Unamerican Activities Committee hearings. I asked Mr. Loring why people were upset if the committee was getting rid of communists. A look of fear flashed across Mr. Loring’s face. He didn’t answer my question.
Mr. Loring told us that he was descended from a revolutionary war soldier who fought at the battle of Bunker Hill. He came from Massachusetts, it must be so–we third generation children of the melting pot didn’t question it. Then we were studying the Lewis and Clark expedition. Mr. Loring said, "Bruce, you’re descended from Clark, aren’t you?" I replied that he must be kidding, my grandfather didn’t speak English. Mr. Loring said that I might as well claim it. Nobody will be able to prove otherwise.
We of the Class of 1958 played a significant role in setting policies of the Wheatley School that are probably still in effect. Drivers’ ed is an example. Reese Buick had donated a red and white Buick to the school for drivers’ ed. I had applied for a learner’s permit at the first strike of the clock on my 16th birthday and was licensed after only two driving tests–teenager liberation, adulthood, no more having my mother drive me on dates. [I can still feel the humiliation.] I didn’t tell my parents that a junior license could not be used at night, but that’s another story. With driver’s ed you could drive anytime and anywhere at age 17. I enrolled in Mr. Saunders’ class. On the first day, we were driving around the south parking lot when Mr. Saunders had to go to the bathroom. As I had a license, he put me in charge and said to keep going around the little island in front of the school. I don’t remember who was driving, but as soon as he was out of sight, we left the parking lot and drove to the lot by the gym. We were seeing how fast the Buick could corner and were throwing girls’ purses, books, chickens, stray cats out the window when Mr. Saunders returned. He said he would never, ever, ever again leave the students in charge of the driver’s ed car.
Then there was the incident of Mr. Maskin’s car getting wrecked. I wasn’t there and only have hearsay evidence of the incident–something to do with the son of the head of the motor vehicle bureau. Maybe that person could share that incident with us. The statute of limitations has expired.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Wheatley Class of 1958