First grade

My first grade teacher was the only teacher who displayed a real dislike of me. She didn't seem to know what to do with me, and she usually wore a frown that was wider than her face. It didn't help that I openly mocked her in class once.

At the time, I was sitting in the first desk in this row. It was the middle of the school year and we were accustomed to a routine on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays of drawing 16 pictures to illustrate 16 vocabulary words (the "sixteen square paper"). It was tedious and a few of us weren't challenged by the assignment. I was ready on a Wednesday morning when Mrs. Condon said, "Class, get ready to make a sixteen square paper," and I said, "Oh, that'll be fun for a change!" Tod in the back row busted out with a laugh, and that's how I made a new friend. Mrs. Condon, to her credit, didn't hit me.

Later in the year, when I was forced to sit in this desk here because it was next to the teacher's, I got in trouble for doodling on my worksheets while waiting for others to finish the assignment (I wasn't the only kid waiting). I got in trouble for the totally original invention of the kind of spelling where you substitute numbers for words just to be clever. ("I had 2 go 2 the store 4 milk.")

The first day of class was the depressing start of a disappointing year: Mrs. Condon said, about midway through our first morning, that we were all going to the Laboratory! I pictured glassware bent into shapes seen only in Dr. Seuss books, filled with colorful liquids. I didn't know if I was ready for it, but I was willing if everyone else was going. We lined up and walked together down the hall behind our teacher, obeying the Primary Law of Walking in the Hall (Be Silent), when Mrs. Condon stopped next to one door labeled Boys and another door labeled Girls. These looked familiar. We learned that the teacher's name for the bathroom was Lavatory. No one else in my life has ever used that word.

This was the year I became conscious of the ongoing Vietnam War, and the boys understood that when we grew up, we would have to put on a green uniform and run around shooting guns in a foreign country. Again, I didn't know if I would ever be ready for it, but if all the other boys were going, I guessed I would go too.

Jennifer and Polly both had good senses of humor, but Jennifer was goofy while Polly had a more sardonic take on daily life. She had an older sister who must've been influential. Polly said, "Boys get all the cool toys, like Johnny Lightning cars, and guns, and neat stuff. Girls just get dolls and frilly dresses. (high-pitched voice) 'Ooh, look at me! So pretty!' All boring stuff." Jennifer, on the other hand, could do funny voices and characters, and laughed at her own silliness, which made everyone else laugh too.

One cool thing we kids got to do was give ourselves electric shocks with the Electricity Kit in the Learning Center at the end of the hall. One of the boys knew how to connect the wires with alligator clips to a large battery and a switch, and when you pressed the switch a jolt ran all the way from your finger to your shoulder. We'd pass that contraption around the table taking turns until it was time to follow the teacher back to the classroom. Simple pleasures are the best.

The other highlight was watching the grownups try to figure out the presidential election, but I covered that elsewhere. (Link)

Kitty Carlisle Hart

Here's my favorite part of NPR's remembrance of the recently deceased Kitty Carlisle Hart:
The Harts hosted parties and weekends for New York writers and celebrities, from Lerner and Loewe to Noel Coward to Cole Porter to Harpo Marx. After her husband died in 1961, Hart became increasingly involved in charity work and arts advocacy. She was named vice-chairman of the New York State Council on the Arts and took over as chair in 1976, serving in that capacity — with no pay — for 21 years. She saw the council through cutbacks and culture wars, defending controversial artists including Robert Mapplethorpe before the state legislature in Albany.

"I was called on the carpet," she told NPR. "After being raked over the coals, I finally said 'I know you all go to the opera.' Well, there was a lot digging in the ribs with that, 'cause they didn't all go to the opera. I said, 'And there's an opera that is played everywhere, and it's called Rigoletto. And it's filled with rape and murder,' I said. And I threw in incest, for good measure, and they didn't know the difference. And I won the day."

Cheer up!

Cheer up, Mr. President! If the job is getting you down, you can always finish your term in the same way you finished your service in the Texas Air National Guard.


On the first day of kindergarten, our moms brought us to this classroom and stopped at the door as we kids walked on in. I walked straight over to that bookshelf on the right and picked a Disney-related book to start reading, looking for something entertaining. The teacher, Mrs. Ralston, corrected me by guiding me over to the center of the room where the kids had to sit cross-legged on the rug and listen to her. She looked even older than my grandma.

A few of us already knew how to read but we were all forced to learn (or relearn) how to count to ten and say the alphabet; it was No Child Left Behind, before its time. One kid did the best he could; when we were all supposed to answer the teacher's question out loud at the same time, he would say the answer (quickly) two seconds after everyone else.

There's the corner where Sandy threw up one morning. Spectacular! Her parents let her have Lucky Charms for breakfast, we saw.

Here's the circle of little tables where we sat for juice and cookie time. It was a good time to socialize and catch up with friends in the middle of the busy day, but one time I had to sit next to the "dumb" girl. She couldn't talk; maybe she was deaf. I tried an experiment: I smiled at her and she smiled back. I frowned as meanly as I could and she frowned back. Huh. Well, I was mostly a verbal guy and I had run out of ideas. I didn't look at her anymore.

Never fell asleep during the ten-minute nap time. My mat was too thin.

I remember having an eye for the girls in my class who had mini-skirts, but then, in 1967, most dresses for five-year-old girls were essentially that. The boldest outfit was a geometric mod look, inspired (years later I would realize) by a Mondrian painting. The girls had a weird ritual at recess: Their leader, the tallest one, would pick out a boy and all the girls would chase him around the playground. No boy ever got caught.

I would know some of these kids for the next 13 years, but we never reminisced about kindergarten; too recent, apparently.

Commercial slogans, 2007

Pepsi: More Happy

U.S. Army: Army Strong

Pepsi Army: More Army Happy Strong