Monday, June 20, 2011
Back in ‘61, we got to school he old-fashioned way – – – I, for example, walked 1.8 miles from 22nd and Poplar. And, no, it wasn't uphill both ways. That lasted until our senior year when we got wheels, in my case a 1941 Plymouth. Perfect!
When we got to school, we put our coats in our lockers and chatted with some friends before heading to our gender- segregated homerooms. In my all boys homeroom, the first event of the day usually revolved around Norwood “Goody" Goodwin, the best basketball player on our team. You see, Goody had a penchant for being late. And when he was late, which was a couple of times a week, our homeroom teacher, Mr. Scott, would grab the paddle in preparation for giving Goody a whack.
And so, with the ringing of the bell, we're off to another day of learning, never knowing what new adventure might be forever engraved in our minds.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
He used that ruler as a pointer, and that was its primary function until one day when I detonated him. I don't recall what I did, whether it was a wisecrack I made or a paper that I threw or a conversation I was having with someone else. Suddenly, he darted down the aisle, grabbed my right arm, told me to open my hand and commenced beating the hand with the ruler. By the time he finished the 50 whacks he administered, my hand was red and a little swollen. The pain was real, but bearable.
Mr. Ferretti turned and walked up the aisle. By the time he got to the front seat, I said, "Mr. Ferretti!"
He immediately stopped, turned and said, "Now what?" His face was beet red.
Holding out my left hand, I said, "Would you like to try the other hand?"
The poor guy charged down the aisle, grabbed my left hand and began to beat the by jeepers out of it. It took a while before I could fold my fingers again.
Phil Temple was a witness to that incident. In the hallway after class he gave that Phil Temple smile and said, "What was that all about?" I didn't know then, and I don't know now. It was just another day of adventure at old Strong Vincent.
Saturday, June 18, 2011
"Gee, I forgot what I was going to ask," was often the reply, which, unfortunately, only succeeded in pushing her ever closer to the edge.
One member of that class was the unforgettable and lovably crazy Abdel Mokhriby (RIP). Abdel was probably a Muslim from Morocco, although we could have cared less about that. To us he was just crazy Abdul, who was so busy enjoying life that school seemed almost irrelevant to him. Much of his out of school time was spent in a pool hall on State Street, where he could hustle some money.
One time Abdel was in a class taught by Mr.Gervais, referred to by students as Jumping Joe. The class was assigned an essay to write. Being too busy to write essays, Abdel somehow got a hold of an essay written by Franklin Miller (RIP) and copied it in his own sloppy handwriting. Franklin's paper, of course, was well written and probably typed.
Now back to Mrs. Waite's class, where Abdel sat in the seat behind me. This was a split class, meaning we went to class for 20 min. and then had a half-hour lunch break before returning to the classroom. Consequently, many students brought a bagged lunch to class. Nothing upset Mrs. Waite more than a student eating in class prior to the lunch break.
One day I arrived in class about 10 min. late with a written excuse, which I placed on her desk. Seeing me out of the corner of her eye as she furiously wrote on the chalk board, she told me to take a seat. As I was sitting down, Abdel rattled his lunch bag and said, "Geis, you can't eat lunch now!"
Mrs. Waite wheeled around from the chalkboard, pointed an accusatory finger at me and said, "How many times do I have to tell you, you can eat your lunch in class."
"I wasn't eating my lunch," I protested.
"Yes, you were. Don't lie!"
"I have had enough! Go to the office, right now!"
I grabbed my books and lunch bag and started out of the room, glancing back and looking at Abdel, who was grinning ear to ear and giving me a wink. I gave a return smile and nodded my head as if to say, "Good one! You got me good!"
So off I went to see Mr. Lubowiki, the assistant principal. This was the third time Mrs. Waite had kicked me out of class, so Mr. Lubowiki decided it was time to put me in another English class. The only class that fit my schedule was a non-academic English class taught by Mr. Hess, who was in his last year of teaching. He loved Shakespeare, but he was teaching to a class that couldn't care less. And Hess could care less that half the class was sleeping. Since I had an interest in what he was doing and paid attention, it was like having a personal tutor.
So, instead of being in a top English class my senior year, I wound up being in one of the bottom classes. That is ironic, considering where destiny would take me four years later. But that's another post for another day.
Friday, June 17, 2011
We had some real good athletes in that class of ‘61. Our swim team, with students like Pat Flanigan, Pat Cahill, Roger Ellenberger and Jack McAllister, went undefeated that year, making it about 12 years in a row that the team had been undefeated.
Similarly, the cross-country team, led by Abdel Mokhriby and Bill Nottelmann, went undefeated to extend their winning streak to around eight years. You name it, wrestling, track, baseball, basketball, we fielded some excellent teams. Only one sport was a disaster, and that was football. I think we had a losing football team every year, year after year. Despite that, we won the Trophy of Trophies, given to the high school with the best athletic performance that year in the city of Erie.
I would be remiss here if I didn't mention girls’ sports, of which there were hardly any. These were the days before Title IX, when girls were judged to be too weak to participate in something so strenuous as sports. Remember girls’ basketball, when players were only allowed to take three steps before passing the ball? It was the height of the Cold War, and we saw pictures of Russian women driving trucks, working on construction sites, and even working as doctors. Such mistreatment of women could never happen in the USA. Everyone knew that a woman and a stove belonged in the kitchen, and if she were to have a profession it must be restricted to nursing or teaching. In 1961 we had no idea that drastic change in the form of a feminine revolution was about to occur. Or that classmate Joyce Savacchio would become the first woman mayor of Erie. Anyone with daughters is glad that they weren't born in the "good old days."
I want to mention some personal vignettes from my participation in cross-country and track. Our cross country coach, Stan Wilkinson, was a great guy. He maintained our team’s long undefeated streak by making us run our derrières off during practice (which in my case was not a good thing because I needed the padding as protection from the paddle). For example, we would go to the T-intersection of West 26 Street and Zuck Road, where we would start our 3.1 mile practice run up that ever ascending road to the Erie Golf Club’s course, while Wilk drove up and down in his car, urging us on.
Wilk had one bad arm which he could not move. Whether this was due to a wound or an accident or was congenital, I do not know. But I can see him standing in front of a chalkboard prior to a meet going over the strategy, banging on the board with his good arm and, in one instance, telling us he wanted us to place the first seven runners across the finish line. At that meet we put six of the first seven runners across the finish line, while winning the meet handily. But, because we failed to put the first seven runners across, Wilk made us run the hills of Frontier Park when we got back to school. That's how we learned that hard work and determination brought victory.
Most country runners, including crazy Abdel Mokhriby, were on the track team, coached by Vince Bell. The top three milers in the city that year were Abdel and two runners from Academy High School, Keyes and McBride. Their first head to head competition was on our track behind the high school.
Determined to win, Abdel came up with a plan to psych Keyes and McBride out. Just prior to the start of the race, Abdel lit up a cigarette and took a couple of puffs. The coaches didn't see him, but Keyes and McBride did. When the starter yelled, "Take your mark!” Abdel, as per plan, handed me the cigarette as the starter's gun went off.
I have another sport’s memory that I got as a spectator when our football team played Tech in the Erie Stadium. That Tech football team had the best football player Erie ever produced, future NFL star Fred Biletnikoff. Freddy B. had the ball and was running for a sure touchdown at the north end of the stadium. Seemingly out of nowhere came our own Bobby Loeb, closing the gap and eventually tackling Biletnikoff to prevent the touchdown. That outstanding effort is etched in my mind as if it happened only yesterday. I can't remember who won the game, but I'll never forget that tackle made by Bob Loeb.
Academics and athletics blended well at Strong Vincent in 1961. Winning the Trophy of Trophies was a proud achievement.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
What I'm about to tell you is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I say that because friends and family to whom I have told these tales have stated more than once that they couldn't possibly be true. But true they are, for public education was very different in 1961 than it is today.
We had Gym Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we had Pool. Like homeroom, these were gender segregated classes. And, as unbelievable as it sounds, we wore no swim suits. That's right, we swam butt naked. As with gym class, we just accepted it as the way things were and the way things had always been.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
SPECIAL NOTE: A definitive list of those classsmates who lost their virginity prior to graduation will be posted soon. You will undoubtedly be shocked at some of the names appearing on that list. Stay tuned!
Not that the opposite sex wasn't on our minds. There were plenty of couples who stayed together throughout high school, some eventually getting married. Dating involved words like "necking" and "petting," words that have all but disappeared from the language as today's Coca-Cola kids insist on "The Real Thing."
And then there was Bridget Bardot, the French sex kitten who came to America in the form of a movie titled "And God Created Woman." It was playing at the Strand Theater, right next to the YMCA. Ray Morin and I were regulars at the Y, except for one day when we bagged the Y in order to "sneak" into the Strand to spend an hour and a half with Bridget. We watched the curvaceous Bardot cavorting around in a bikini, a garment that would soon explode on the American scene, but which in 1961 was associated with those decadent Europeans. If the movie had been rated by the Wood Foundation, I'm sure Ray and I would have given it five logs.
Now, none of that ever translated into a girlfriend. Having grown up in an all-male household (mothers don't count), I couldn't begin to interact with girls. I just got all goofy around them. They made me do strange things, like take Spanish. My father came from Germany, and I had aunts, uncles and cousins in Germany whom I wished to visit one day. Yet, instead of taking German, I took Spanish.
And that was Joan Blila’s fault. I took Spanish because Joan took Spanish. I sat in the back of the room because Joan sat in the back of the room. Joan was there to learn Spanish, but I was there to entertain Joan and make her smile, which I frequently succeeded in doing. Mrs. Blila was the teacher and was very indulgent of my fascination with her daughter. Of course, I never asked Joanie out on a date, for that would've taken a word that was not in my limited Spanish vocabulary – – – cohones.
Oh well, such is life. I, like most of my classmates, graduated with my virginity firmly in hand. Little did we know that two years following our graduation, the birth control pill would be invented and the sexual revolution would begin. For the first time in history, women did not have to worry about an unwanted pregnancy. That opened many doors, giving us the opportunity to make up for lost time.
In fact, we lived in the best of times. Science gave us the birth control pill that set off the sexual revolution in our youth, and in our "old age", science gave us the little blue pill to assist the leaning Tower of Pisa.
And now for that list of those classmates who lost their virginity prior to graduation. It ain't happening. I lied. Hey, this post is about sex. Everybody lies about sex. If you don't believe me, ask Bill Clinton.
Oh yes, one final thought. I have been referring to heterosexual behavior, but I would be remiss if I didn't mention the homosexual lifestyle which was severely repressed in 1961. We must have had some sort of awareness of homosexuality, because I recall a day in Mr. LeBlanc's Latin class when he introduced the Latin word "homo" as part of our vocabulary, and I alone laughed out loud.
"You find that word funny?" asked Mr. LeBlanc.
"Yeh," I said.
"Well, maybe you would like to tell us why you find that word so funny," said LeBlanc.
"It made me think of an English word," I replied.
"And what was that word?" LeBlanc asked.
"I forget," I said.
"Well," said Mr. LeBlanc, "why don't you go stand in the hall until you remember what that word was."
So I went out and stood in the hall, and, about twenty minutes later, Mr. LeBlanc came out to talk to me. "So," he said, "have you had enough time to remember that word?"
"Yes, I have," I replied.
A brief silence followed. "Well, and what was that word?"
"Homogenized," I responded.
Exasperated, he told me he knew what I was thinking even if I didn't want to tell him. He told me to return to the classroom and think before I reacted. That was the end of the incident.
Suffice it to say that most, if not all of us were blissfully unaware of any gay classmates. Hell, they themselves might of been unaware that they were gay. Coming-of-age was difficult enough if you were straight. It must've been impossibly painful if you were gay. I'm sure that fifty years later, this subject is still, according to surveys, difficult for many in our generation to deal with. My personal attitude is, when you're happy, I'm happy. This country has more important issues to worry about than a person's orientation.
Well, enough of this post, although there are additional stories to tell: letters from camp, girl-ask-boy date, the basement rec room double-date, the secret admirer, etc. I will spare everyone from reliving those awkward teenage moments we all experienced.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Return of the Native: Part I
How unbelievable is that! The kid who couldn't qualify for an advanced English class, the kid who was kicked out of his senior academic English class three different times (see “English” post) until being assigned to a non-academic class, was now going to return to his alma mater as an English teacher. No wonder our schools are failing. Life is indeed stranger than fiction.
That Monday morning I walked into the hallowed halls and proceeded directly to the office, where Mr. Lubowiki, the former disciplinarian who was now the principal, stood behind the counter.
With a big smile, I said, "Gordon Geissler, reporting for duty."
That would prove to be true. After all, who had the authority to send me, now a teacher, to the office? As things would turn out, the operative word would no longer be "send," but rather another s-word --- " summon." But, I'm getting ahead of myself. For now, I was issued the tools of the trade – – – a grade book, a plan book, and a paddle. I, who had so often been the recipient of pain from that instrument, was now officially authorized to administer justice. I was about to realize the sheer power that a college degree granted.
It is imperative for any new teacher walking into a classroom to establish himself as an authority figure. Students will always test any behavioral boundaries that a new teacher draws. And in a school where the culture of corporal punishment reigns, the instrument of such punishment must be wielded or students will view you as a wimp and you can kiss class control goodbye.
And so it was with me. Early on I had a rambunctious class that was determined to test my limits. One day, as this talkative group was doing an assignment, I had to quiet them down several times. Finally, I issued a warning: "The next one who talks gets the paddle."
This warning was greeted not with fear, but with whispered chuckling. Soon a boy started talking with the student next him. This was my test and I had no choice.
"Tom, I warned you. Come up here, take the wallet out of your back pocket, bend over and grab the desk," I ordered. I don't know what I would have done had he refused to comply. But compliance was part of the culture. It would have been unmanly for Tom to shrink from his destiny.
As he got ready, I grabbed the paddle. "Now Tom," I said sternly, "there are three different whacks that I give – – – the quarter whack, the half whack and the full whack. This is your lucky day, Tom. Since this is your first offense, you're only getting the quarter whack. All I can say is, you never ever want to experience a full whack."
You could have heard a pin drop in that class as I administered justice. Tom passed his test, taking it like a man. I passed my test by willingly using that paddle. And the class worked quietly until the end of the period. All was well.
In the classroom every teacher soon learns to expect the unexpected, some occurrence that was not anticipated in textbooks or education classes. One such event occurred early on that year when, after I had used the paddle on a boy, another student said, "Mr. G, how come you never paddle a girl?"
"Well," I responded, "I guess it's because the girls don't get into trouble the way boys do."
"But that's not true, Mr. G. Julie is always talking, but never gets the paddle. That's unfair."
"You're right! From now on girls, you're on notice. We will have equal justice. From now on Julie and all girls are on notice that the paddle will be equally applied to anyone and everyone who cannot behave."
As the boy who had brought up the topic of my injustice looked around at his classmates with a smile and a glint in his eye, a girl piped up with the question, "You wouldn't really hit a girl, would you Mr. G?"
"From now on, it's equal justice for all," I said with a smile and a nod of the head. "Don't test me!"
I then gave an assignment that the students were to work on individually, no talking allowed. A few minutes into the assignment and Julie was already talking.
"Julie, I said no talking. This is your only warning. The next time you talk, you will get the paddle. Is that clear?"
The class snickered as Julie nodded her head in acknowledgment of the warning. Neither I nor anyone else in that room had the least bit of doubt that Julie would be talking again, and we were not disappointed. A few minutes passed, and Julie was talking again.
"Okay Julie, you were warned," I said, interrupting her latest conversation. "Come up to the front of the room and lean over the desk," I ordered while taking the paddle in hand.
Now, this was being done in a lighthearted, almost in a theatrical way. The class was the audience, and Julie and I were the actors on the stage. Fortunately, she sensed this atmosphere, and was willing to play along. Again, I don't know what I would've done had she refused the order.
So, up she came and leaned over the desk. As I gave her a gentle whack, the audience cheered and Julie returned to her seat with a faint smile on her beet-red face. It provided a lifetime memory for every member of that class. Luckily for me there were no parental phone calls or other repercussions from that incident. Julie was the only girl I ever paddled (please don't say "spanked"), and may have been the only girl given the paddle at Strong Vincent.
Monday, June 13, 2011
As a student at Strong Vincent, I had been sent to the office for disciplinary action on more than one occasion. Would things be different now that I was a teacher? Hardly!
I was assigned a girl's homeroom in the girl's gym. Those were the days of gender segregated homerooms and gym classes, and also a time when girls wore dresses and skirts to school. The girls sat in the bleachers and I was down on the floor looking up and taking attendance. You can imagine what kind of a view I faced every morning.
One morning all home room teachers were given a district form to fill out and turn in to the office. On that form we were to classify our students as being either white, black, red, brown or yellow. As far as I was concerned, it was an utterly ridiculous survey, serving no discernable purpose whatsoever. Consequently, I didn't complete it or turn it in. And that resulted in my first summons to the office as a teacher.
I walked into the school office where the secretaries were at their desks working and Mr. Lubowiki was standing behind the counter. No one else was in the office at the time.
"I hope you brought your completed form with you," he said.
"No I didn't because I find it doesn't really make any sense. You see…"
"I don't want to hear it. It's not my form. It's from district. If you have a problem, call the superintendent. The phone is right there on the counter. The phone number is on the sheet next to the phone."
"Okay," I said as I walked over, picked up the phone and dialed the downtown office. The secretary answered the phone. I identified myself and asked to speak to Superintendent Joseph Zipper. Amazingly, he took the call.
"This is Dr. Zipper. What seems to be the problem?"
"I'm not sure how to fill out the district form asking us to categorize our students in terms of color."
A long pause followed. I glanced up to see that the office had stopped, as everyone stared at me in disbelief. I heard Zipper's voice asking, "Are you serious? Is this some kind of a joke?"
"No sir, I'm dead serious. I have what appear to be white students who have either a ruddy or swarthy complexion that confuses me. I have brown students who perhaps would be classified as black. And it is even affected by the weather. On sunny days, some students look different in color than on cloudy days. I honestly don't know…"
"All right I've heard enough!" he said in an angry voice. "Where the hell did you go to college?" he asked.
"Grove City College, sir," I responded.
"Well, they didn't do a very good job of educating you. Did you ever have a course in anthropology?"
“No, Sir, I haven’t.
"Well, that's pretty obvious. If you had had such a course, you would have learned that white people come from Europe, black people come from Africa, brown people come from the Philippines, yellow people come from China and red people are Indians. Now just do what you're told and fill out the damn form."
With that he hung up. Probably a good thing that he did, too, because I was about to tell him that I thought they were all born in the USA. Those were the days when I was truly free: no kids, no house, no responsibilities and jobs were a dime a dozen.
I looked over to Mr. Lubowiki. Even he had a smile and mentioned something about a brass monkey. I completed the form in the morning. I had made my point.
There is one other incident that occurred that year that I should mention. It was a warm spring day in May and the classroom windows facing Eighth Street were open. The students were working quietly at their desks. Suddenly, a loud voice pierced the warm air and intruded upon the quiet classroom: "I hate this f**in' school!" It probably came from a student who had just been suspended and was leaving the building.
No matter, the entire classroom paused as students looked up to see my reaction to this word that was seldom used when we were in high school, but whose usage exploded during the 60’s. I said nothing.
"Did you hear that, Mr. G?" asked a student.
"I think everyone heard it," I answered.
"Well, what do you think?" asked another student.
"I think that kid hates this f**in' school," I said with absolutely no aforethought.
The kids laughed and tension was broken. One kid said, "You are really cool, Mr. G.” Incident over, all went back to work.
Later, as I thought about that incident, it suddenly occurred to me that this was the first time since I'd arrived at Strong Vincent in 1958 that I was regarded as cool. Wow! I was finally cool! I began to ask myself, how cool was I? Was I Ed Tansey cool? Or maybe Terry Jones cool? Unfortunately, the class of ‘61 would never know that I had achieved coolness. And I could never tell anybody because that wouldn't be cool. Besides, I'm only high school cool. Adult cool remains beyond my reach.
Anyway, that school year ended with a picnic kegger at Bobby Brabender's farm. There is nothing like pounding brewskis with colleagues who are your former teachers. One indelible memory remains from that event. Football coach John Krkoska had been the target of various wisecracks all afternoon until the combination of brew and needling brought him to the breaking point. As John was carrying a roaster full of hot sauerkraut from the grill to a picnic table, somebody made a wisecrack that sent him over the edge. Yelling, "You guys don't like me," he heaved a pan of hot sauerkraut high into the air. Everybody scattered as it rained sauerkraut. It was as funny as it was pathetic. While people were appeasing John, I said my goodbyes and left, holding onto a final Strong Vincent memory.
In the spring of ’66 my wife got a position with the National Teacher Corps at Temple University in Philadelphia. (That was my first wife, but hey, who's counting?). I resigned from the Erie School District (no, I wasn't fired), and got a job in southeastern Pennsylvania, where I taught high school for the next forty years. Consequently, my emotional development remains at the high school level. That’s why I never achieved adult "coolness" (so relax, Ed and Terry).