A friend used to say it was reduced from one dollar.
My view is that I was probably reduced by virtue of being there for nine years, kindergarten plus 1st through 8th, housed in the same building at age 13 as those age 5. This might account for my social retardation. I’m not sure if I had a long adolescence or no adolescence at all. At age 29 with three daughters I was ready to be a teenager. Chronology doesn’t always follow the book.
I shouldn’t blame P.S 99. It was my cradle and my crucible. The testing ground. My first act played unrehearsed. It never occurred to me how everyone else was also improvising. Being smart was far easier than being confident or popular, athletic, artistic, mechanical or musical. I wasn’t even particularly smart but I paid attention. God, did I pay attention! I did well on tests which is altogether different. But I was not a reader of books. We had none in my house. I memorized my way through majoring in rote.
I can still smell the place, hear and see it. The wooden chairs, metal stairs, chalked erasers, wood shavings from pencil sharpeners, the pitted desks with ink wells, saw dust sprinkled on the floor where some kid threw up. I can hear the thud of the basketball on the dead backboard in the schoolyard with a handball court behind the shortstop. Somewhere along the way I was transformed from klutz to sure-footed, running down a fly ball or driving in for a lay-up.
My elementary school is remembered for its elementary rules like bricks upon bricks. The wardrobe rule, no-talking rule, sitting-up-straight rule and penmanship commandments. I learned to obey. Walk in a single file. The war was going on. We were well-behaved; that’s the least we could do. We had air-raid drills. Bond drives. Two close friends were refugees. My tin foil collection might win a battle. I even knitted squares for quilts.
In Art class I barely mastered stick figures, triangles for Christmas trees and snowmen composed of dimes, nickels and quarters. If justice was to be served I’d still be in 7th grade repeating Shop class for the 71st year. Nor could I carry a tune from here to there. They labeled me a listener and consigned me to the back row where I excelled in lip-syncing. But I also became a world-class listener.
Every teacher’s name has been retained and I can recite each person in my graduating class. To the grand processional from Aida we marched into assembly. I was done with the place just 4 months after Hiroshima. The synchronicity was not lost on me. My penal servitude, that war with myself was done. I was to enter high school as the post war period began. It felt as if my life was being orchestrated.
Aside from Shop, Music and Art my toughest class was Composition. I couldn’t prepare. I had to call on my imagination, that room in my brain still shuttered and inaccessible at the time. These 635 blogs written over the past 7 years are my make-up exam.