Sunday, July 22, 2007

Junior High School

Leaving elementary school in June and going to the Junior High School in September is one of the most abrupt transitions I can remember from my childhood. From the same group of women teachers in a comfortable school near my house, I was sheltered for seven years at Fanny Hillers School. Then one September I was abruptly moved to the topsy turvey world of Junior High School.

On the first day of school I had to wear a tie. The other kids said that if you didn't come to school you would emerge with a black eye and a bloody nose. While not strictly true, one always felt better being on the safe side in these matters.

Then there was the bus ride to school. I could walk before. Now school was too far. We weren't even allowed on a school bus but had to ride on a public bus. My bus stop was the home of most of the juvenile delinquents of the school. The boys would smoke and curse and the girls would snap their gum loudly.

The school itself was the ugliest and oldest school I ever attended. (No I didn't attend Columbia University). I had to learn about boys and girls entrances. I had to change classes too. And there were male teachers. Boys were addressed by last names now. The children in my classes misbehaved badly and the teacher's seemed unable to discipline them. One look from Miss Watson and the kids would quiet down. Now the teachers seemed incapable of bringing order to the classes.

Living close to school I had gone home for lunch. Now I had to eat in the cafeteria. The old school was entirely Caucasian. Now there were Negroes and children who spoke Spanish that they didn't learn in school.

I had to take algebra from a stern man with a beard. There was nothing like that in dear old Fanny Hillers. Then there was band. Band was a huge group of students in a stuffy old room. We had to take auditions to see where we would sit. Oh where was dear Mr. Santarama now. Even the sweat coalescing near his armpits was comforting.

editor's note: we will deal with gym class in a future lecture.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Fat Mike's

After my brother got a driver's license he discovered girls. He probably suspected previously that such sweet things existed, but it was his driver's license and attendance at the local church CYO that introduced him to a group of women who attended one of the local Catholic high schools. To the consternation of my mother, he and his male friend Lou would cram twenty of these future home makers into our father's 1958 Ford Fairlane and go to places like Fat Mike's Italian Ice. This would be illegal under current driving laws. In some ways, things are stricter today.

Why I was invited on these outings I can't fathom. Apparently the twenty girls thought I was cute. "Oh please, let's bring your adorable little brother along!" they would say. In addition to Italian ice places, diners like the Bendix Diner, Harry Tack's and other places would attract us and other damsel filled cars with their young chauffeurs.

Also popular for young people who lived in New Jersey was driving to New York to buy beer. The drinking age was eighteen in that hedonistic state. Being a child with a rather large mouth at the dinner table, I was not invited by my brother on those forays.
editor's note: the photo is of Johnnie's Hot Dogs in Butzville New Jersey. Strictly speaking it was too far away for my family but is representative of the sort of place that has has attracted teenage drivers on their late night drives since the invention of the automobile.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Jack Kerouac

The sixties have many prominent writers. My personal choice for the most influential writer of the decade is Jack Kerouac, specifically because of the book, On the Road. I came upon an audio book of this title recently through my librarian job. After returning the book through inter library loan it came back to me. When the book came into my hand a second time, I figured it was fate and I listened to it. The reader is David Caradine and it is quite enjoyable.

Hippies were the children of the beatnicks and the beatnicks were the children of the Lost Generation. I've been told that Henry Miller is the grandfather of the hippies.

On the Road romanticized the ethos of traveling to different parts of the country with no jobs and no money. You would meet interesting people on the way and take drugs and have lots of sex with beautiful women.

Hitch hiking and being up late in weird lonely diners in the middle of nowhere is part of the great American dream, when you feel most alive. The baby boomers ate this up like pancakes. Everybody wanted to leave their parents homes and experience life. The life of late night satori, wild women and backpacking.

On the Road was the spiritual father of Easy Rider. The road and being an outsider and having adventures. Today as we drive our children to the orthodontist in our SUV's the call of the road still lies like a vestigial memory yet to be fulfilled. Maybe when we retire we'll take Route 66 from end to end.
editor's note: there are two articles on On the Road in the August 19 New York Times book review.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

the Civil Rights Movement

The sixties, in addition to being a time when young people stopped visiting the barber, was the principle decade of the Civil Rights Movement. In New Jersey, forty years ago, the Newark riots took place. A good article on this period in Newark is available at the Star-Ledger website.

I remember the end of living in a segregated world. Going to Dallas with my mother to visit family, we arrived at Love Field and there I had to go to the bathroom. There was a White men's room and a room for the colored. My mother said I should go to the White bathroom.

Even Hackensack had bussing to keep the negro children in Beach Street school and the wealthy kids who lived on Summit Avenue in a white elementary school. Every morning, instead of walking three blocks to Beach Street School the youngsters were bussed to Fanny Hillers.

The civil rights movement was a big topic at the dinner table. Mother liked to remind my father that the North was just as segregated as the South.

Lyndon Johnson promoted the Great Society program with mixed results. The Newark riots came as a surprise to most people in New Jersey. I remember hearing "they had some trouble makers in Hackensack too" (presumably at one of the bars in the Central ward) but, the story went, "they chased them back to New York."

In 1968 my father was asked to serve on the Human Rights Commission in town. The prosecuted cases of housing distinction. After King was assassinated, the City Council led a memorial service in front of the Court House in Hackensack. Everybody sang, "We Shall Overcome".

Livingston College was created partly as a result of the Newark riots. Today, Livingston College is no more. Beach Street School was closed and became part of the high school campus. Today, throughout America White men and Black men stand proudly next to each other at the urinals.