BEFORE STARTING SCHOOL: 1949-1954... Born near East River docks in Brooklyn, NYC. Underclass neighborhood. Brownstone tenements. Cold house. Very sickly. But a real Brain (i.e. studious nerd). Taught to read by parents long before Kindergarten from a book about Microbiologists entitled "Microbe Hunters". (Mother made it to 6th grade and father to 9th grade. Stopped by parents deaths or disappearance during Great Depression). My first memory is of crawling under my parents bed, sitting upright! and pulling off my first pants that my mother put on me while she laughed and tried to reach me. I also recall being in my fathers car as my father tried to drive as a kitten my Uncle Stashu (actally my mothers uncle) gave me for my first birthday crawled around his neck. I then recall watching a DuMont TV and a Beanie and Cecil PUPPET show was on in which the captain always said, "Oh, Isefoof" when he got angry and my mother just stepped in from the hall to the right and said, "What are we going to name this little kittycat your Uncle Stashu gave you?" and my immediately saying "Ishefoof". I could also sware I could understand what my mother was saying when I crawled under that bed but how could I at that age? I vaguely remember the trolley cars on the main street of Greenpoint, Brooklyn but I really remember the Electric Buses that replaced them with the connecting rods on the wires spraying sparks. On a New Years Eve my parents brought me home a Mr PotatoHead while I was in my crib. They used to also bring me home the little sword swizzlers without fear of my hurting myself. I didnt. I remember my first day of Kindergarten. There were a couple of woman shut-ins on our block, one a few doors down and one across the street, and little did I realize that that was how my mother would end her life as well.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, PS 126, BROOKLYN: 1954-1959 (John Ericsson School, He built the Monitor in Greenpoint):... Top classes in each grade. Top Honors Awards on stage. (Mother always worked so noone there to see). Years ahead of my age in Math, Reading and all other subjects. Very sickly. All mind and no body. Small for age. Missed ten weeks of school a year due to illnesses. Homework brought to home. Only "only child" in very Polish neighborhood of big Catholic families. Only "Latch key" kid as all other mothers stayed home. Latch key kid from Kindergarten through High School. The perfect studious nerd. In the highest class of each grade of 12 levels. Started school early due to October birthday. Stayed indoors when not sick, too many nasty kids. Loved doing the best on tests. No grandparents, long dead or disappeared. Physician told parents to send me to relatives house in Jacksonville, Florida for my health and on first day there with my mother a kid made a dog chase us, led me up on top of the doghouse, and then pushed me off onto the dog and breaking my arm. As I yelled, "You broke my arm", he ran off laughing. This was typical of the way other kids treated me until I was 6'2". To this day I hate the sight of boys. Father worked in factories. Mother worked in 5&10 and A&P and other service jobs plus a factory one. Physicians thought it would help my frail health if I had my tonsils out. While waiting in a big room of toys with the other kids I built things with blocks and strings that caused them to call for the psychologist to interview me. I recall the adults all out on the streets when the Brkln Dodgers won the 1955 series and how one could hear them play over the radios in stores and repair shops. When I went to Jax,Fla in 1955 it was 1st time I smelled mowed grass. I saw myself on TV when I was walking at night with my parents around Xmas and right after the Gobel show another show came on and showed shoppers and I was there on TV. Stores in Greenpoint had signs in English and Polish. I knew a kid so poor he lived in a rotting house and went to the dogbone making plant on our street to get them for a dog he didnt have and ate them himself. He would be an inheritor of the Bissell Vacuum Cleaner fortune when he was 21 and would show off the documents in school. My teachers always gave me "outstandings", would write "Its a pleasure to hear him speak" on my report cards and give me things as "my little scientist". I was in the highest class but so far ahead Id get bored waiting for the others to read and Id read ahead. Once I wa sinvited to a kids birthday party and I went into another room and read his big sisters book. She came in and said, "You cant read that". So I did. The next day she came into my class and brought me to her where her teacher used me to shame the kids there which got me old, big enemies. Father was a big FDR Democrat, mother was an extreme Catholic Republican. On TV I loved Disneys TOMORROWLAND most of all. A man in the apt house across the street told me that every generation has a war and Id have one in the far future of 1967. I spent my Summers at my mothers A&P pushing the carts around the aisles. It was a weird two-level A&P. Washingtons Birthday was a big day in Polish Greenpoint and people would line up at Carvel to get ice cream logs. My mothers siblings drank way too much yet were very Catholic other than that. For my First Communion I got $27 and my own real watch! A real prize in such a neighborhood. Into Davy Crockett at age 5, 1955 Elvis at age 6, 1956, and Zorro in 1957, age 7. But did not get involved in Hula Hoops in 1958 even though I helped bring the very first ones into the 5&10. From age 8 on I had contempt for what I called "conformists", refused to join any more brainwashed fads and called myself a 'non-conformist'. To get the Zorro cards, though, I used to go to the factories that surrounded my block of tenements on three sides and ask the workers for bottles for the deposits. Had a bath every Saturday night and I always got out in time to watch "Oh,Susannah" on TV (I mention this as Gale Storm met her husband in Bloomington, Indiana). Mother extremely Catholic, brought me up from birth the same way. Church 3x a week. Constant fear of divine punishment "for any thought, word, or action". Came straight home from school and did homework immediately at a specific desk in an empty house. Waited for parents. If they couldnt get home by Supper someone would bring food in and leave or Id find something in the refrigerator. Liked school. Teachers liked me. I had a fantastic attention span. Loved Astronomy. Constantly took out Astro books from library but they never taught it in school.
ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, PS 122, Queens: 1959-1961 ... In February 1959 moved up the East River to the Hell Gate area of Queens while half way through 4th grade. Still the same small, smart, sickly, studious only child and latch key kid. Worst thing that ever happened to me. New teacher in a new school and I enter half way through the term. Teacher was mentally ill. Terrorized me. Actually led her class in attacking me.(I later heard that it had something to do with her child getting killed by a car in front of her eyes.). Now terrified of school. I then feared school from 4th grade to 9th grade. Hated it. Just sat and watched clock and worried about being attacked at any moment. With same class of bullies in 4th, 5th and 6th grade. Then 7th, 8th, and 9th. Terrorized every day. Grades went down and later-teachers always lectured me about no longer living up to my potential yet none of them protected me from the daily attacks. Always sickly. I'd often miss 50 school days a year. Both homes in Brooklyn and Queens had little heat. My parents would pile clothes on me. Always small for age. Not tough enough for my neighborhood either but kids near house not nearly as bad as ones at school. Still, I stayed in almost all the time or I rode the subway trains alone whenever I could. My love of learning went down and my attention span collapsed. Yet they kept me in the highest class of every grade every year. So I had to deal with the same attackers every year. I kept scoring high on IQ tests so they kept me in the Top Class no matter what my grades hoping Id return to being the Whiz Kid I was in Brooklyn before the daily nightmare. "There is no heavier burden than a Great Potential". I thought things would finally change when I left Elementary School for Junior High School but they wouldnt let me out of those classes! They invented something a level above what I had been in from First through Sixth Grades called a "Special Progress" program that had to be applied to. I deliberately tried to avoid it so I'd be away from the bullies but they dragged my parents in and talked them into overriding me. I recall all the nightmares I had in the Summer between PS 122 and JHS 141. I had planned on finally getting away from them simply by staying at the same level and not rising. Now they would still be there for three more years AND in Junior High Schools they also had GYM class which would be an additional nightmare for me as the smallest, sickliest guy surrounded by enemies. Afraid every second for those years. Lost interest in schoolwork. Lost the fantastic attention span I had in Brooklyn school. Still loved Astronomy and wanted to be an Astronomer. Went to library for Astro books. Still a Latch key kid. Still an Only Child. Still an extreme Catholic with extremely strict morality. Rarely went out even in Summer. Nothing along the East River for kids but danger and corruption. Still alway sick, small, and puny. Always out sick. Sometimes I'd worry myself sick going to school knowing how they'd all be out to get me. Only kid in the neighborhood to have his own toys as I was the only Only-Child and the only one whose mother also worked. Had to have something to do while all alone in the house so often. Had a dog since age 9 for companionship. Watched a lot of morning TV shows as was home from school sick so much. (The very first one in succession was, "My Little Margie" also staring the woman of Bloomington, Indiana fame). Had a couple of thousand comic books. My reading had actually gone backwards in terms if what I chose to read. Still went to church three times a week and was #1 in my Catechism Class as always. Played a lot of board games by myself and liked to redesign them. Always expected by everyone to go to college but noone ever told me where the money would come from as no one in that neighborhood had any. The difference between Greenpoint, Brooklyn and Astoria, Queens was that people who started making slightly better incomes could move to Astoria and live in a less cramped neighborhood of "Two-Family Houses" made of plywood but once the rent was paid it ate up all the extra income and one still lived the same way as in Greenpoint, just less squeezed together. The Astoria rowhouses I lived in were 'temporary' houses made for the workers who built the Triboro Bridge in the late 1930s. At night we'd sometimes get into my fathers rattletrap car and drive around Queens and Brooklyn but we couldnt afford to actually go anywhere but sometimes we'd stop to get 12c White Castle burgers. My parents had the only car until a kid's father around the corner got one. I was so worried about the bullies around th ecorner from my home that in order to get comic books I had to go out to the tiny backyard by a big restaurant parking lot and check to see if noone was around. Than I'd squeeze between the fence and the house and run there quickly and back before being seen by the thugs. Did that for five years. Had same problem when I wanted to go on the subway. Went out front and peeked out door to make sure noone was there and then I'd run until I was out of sight. I started shoveling coal in the unlit, unheated coal cellar when I was still in PS 122 but I dont recall how old I was when I started. 9?,10? The old lady I'd shovel coal for had a little wooden house in Selden, Long Island. Sometimes we'd drive out there in those days before the highway and when it was really country. It was in the middle of Long Island. At night I'd lie in bed listening to the cars overhead on the Triboro Bridge, the tugs going through the Hellgate Strait between the East River and Long Island Sound (The General Slocum sank in those whirlpools around 1914 and its in the Almanac), the cars, truck, buses on 21st Street which was a big avenue, the planes landing at LaGuardia Airport, the trains over the Hellgate Bridge, the strongest RR bridge in the world, and the elevated trains. And I slept easy as it was a continuous hum. I never heard quiet at night until I was 14 in Pa. Sometimes my parents would take me fishing out on Long Island or to Coney Island. Coney Island was then dying and things were moving out to Rockaway and then Far Rockaway. My mother and I were there in 1963 and the Steeplechase closed in 1964. I was also sometimes taken to Freedomland, NYCs answer to Disneyland and a lot bigger and way up in the Bronx. It also died in 1964. It existed 1960-1963. I'd invite the kids of my fathers friends to my birthday parties and they'd always steal from me, break my gifts, and even badly injure me. One of my fingers is still a mess from being crushed. I hated other kids as all evil degenerates but it was either put up with their rotteness or be alone all the time. I was terrorized every school day in 4th grade in 1959 when I wasnt home sick. I was terrorized every school day in 5th grade 1959-1960 when I wasnt home sick. I was terrorized every school day in 6th grade 1960-1961 when I wasnt home sick. I almost died of illness a couple of times in Elementary School.
JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, JHS 141, Queens 1961-1964 (Steinway JHS, as in the piano manufacturer):... The same small, smart, sickly, latch key kid, only child in the very top class of each grade. But now they invented something higher than the numbered classes called a "Special Progress" program for the 'best' students in the Borough/County of two million. There were 40 of us in the beginning and 23 in the end (only 7 were boys and most of the 23 were Jews. They were studious and didnt stop studying when school was closed for Christian holidays.) I got a perfect score on the National Reading Test, the only one in the school to do so. I'd still have to sneak a peek to see if it was safe for me to leave the house and get to the candy store or elevated train and get past the bullies. I spent a lot of time in our little back yard which was the smallest one on the block as it was at the end where it was diagonal. I was into planting things and burying 'Time Capsules' like at the 1939 Fair. In 1962 I recall the Mars Invades cards came out and they coincided with my love of science, sci-fi, and Astro. But they were banned quickly enough. They also came out with equally gory Civil War cards that year. I was always expected to go to college no matter how much I was abused and no one ever told me where the money would come from. "There is no heavier burden than a Great Potential", it hung over my head since before Kindergarten. Still had occasional trips to Selden, Long Island which is more than the other kids had. A few times we'd bring another kid along of the very few who didnt bother me. They had siblings so the parents couldnt afford cars. Freedomland opened up in 1960 and it was amazing! It was bigger than Disneyland and in the North bronx which took hours to get to via trains and buses. It lasted until Fall 1963 when the Worlds Fair finished it off. Once some kids caught me across 21st street when i didnt see them coming and tried to hold me down to stick hot metal in my eyes but I got away. Another time it happened a block in the other direction but I also slipped away. I was smart enough to wait until peoples guards were down to suddenly jump and run all at once. I learned to spend long, long periods of time hiding in very small area without moving or making a sound to survive the boy-monsters. To this day whenever I hear of a boy getting killed my very first thought is that he would have been attacking me if he had known of me as a kid. I loathe boys. I know what 99% of them are when their parents arent around. I became an avid stamp collector about 1962 or 1963. I'd go to lower Manhattan above Wall Street or to Gimbels, 34th St (usually Gimbels) and buy them one at a time as they had each one under glass. I sometimes had problems with perverts going after a young boy travelling alone on the subways. I think I was first allowed to ride the subways alone at age ten in October 1959. I started going out of the house more in Summer 1963 when I was 13. Before that I almost never came out. Then I started going out more regularly. That Summer I also went to Coney Island for the last time before it died. And I'd ride my bike all over Queens and also go watch them build the Worlds Fair, Shea Stadium, and the new Grand Central Parkway access roads. In Summer 1963 my mother also went to accounting school and she was such a whiz with numbers she rose rapidly to being an executive at Macys Central which had a tie-in with the Fair. My mother was making a lot more money now due to the Worlds Fair and I had saved money and with her connections with Macy's I got a large telescope. Both my parents finally reached the middle-class in either late 1963 or early 1964 by BOTH of them working so long AND the wages paid to get the Fair done in time. Now they were REALLY gone for long periods but I was old enough to fend for myself. My father since 1961 also carried another job as a ballpark usher. Unlike other kids I never had any interest in sports and music, only scientists and very moral people. (On those rare times I went out to play stickball I'd also be the umpire and would call myself out when others thought me safe. Catholic boys fear Purgatory.) But my ballpark usher father eventually wore me down and got me interested in the teams he worked for although I never had the hero worship the other guys did. However, my interest in sports stats started and began to grow. Since age ten I started to ride the subways alone and check out NYC, especially Manhattan. Now every Sunday I'd go to the American Museum- Haydn Planetarium alone. I went to the Astoria libraries and took out every book on Astro as they still did not teach anything about it in school. Got soft-covers from the Planetarium. From 1961-1962 in 8th Grade I was terrorized every day I was in school and wasn't home sick. From 1962-1963 I was terrorized every day in school in 8th grade whenever I wasn't home sick. From 1963-1964 I was terrorized all of 1963 whenever I wasnt home sick but it slowed down as I grew and dropped off to almost nothing by when the Fair opened in April 1964. I almost died a couple of times of illness in Junior High School as I was so sickly. I especially recall when I almost died of pneumonia in early 1963 as I feared the other kids and waited until the night to sled alone at the park in the dark. I got overheated and the temperature dropped. When I first got to Junior High School I wa shorrified to find that we would not even be allowed to go out during lunchtime. In elementary school I was at least safe from the little monsters for an hour. I lived farther from school than anyone but Id either get the bus with my buspass or walk over a mile home, have a few minutes to eat out of the refrig and watch the TV quiz shows (I recall Concentration was one of them) and then go back. Now I was stuck non-stop with the monsters. So I went by myself in a corner where the chairs were on the tables and eat alone to protect myself. My next door neighbor kid who also got picked on sometimes but was still much heathier and more athletic than I would sometimes sit with me. That was 1961, maybe into 1962. But then the damn teachers said we HAD to sit with our class. Now Lunch, which was my one hour of relief from constant fear, became my WORST hour of torment as I was now forced to be shoulder to shoulder with my enemies who attacked me constantly while trying to eat. With no room between desks or a teacher in front. I really learned to loathe teachers between 1959 and on because of how evil they always were to me. Lunch was an even worse nightmare until I finally gave up on being the good obedient boy and would get up to "go to the bathroom" each day and never come back until lunch was over. I had found a loose piece of fence in the outside concrete schoolyard that was six? feet above the sidewalk and Id drop down to the sidewalk and eat outside alone and even walk the neighborhood. The neighbor kid later came, too, and we'd both walk into Ditmars Blvd to get Flying Saucer ice cream at Carvel. We both did that every day for years whenever we could sneak out. If school rules would always be on the side of the evil ones and the teachers didnt care about feeding good kids to the wolves than to hell with rules. He and I used to also stand together across from the school waiting for it to open in the morning as we wouldnt go near the other kids. It seemed really cold those winters but it was better to freeze than be terrorized. Between 4th grade and 9th grade I would sometimes make spending money by shovelling coal in the building's coal cellar. The coal truck would pull up, dump it down the chute into an unlit, unheated coal cellar and Id go down there in the coal dust cloud and shovel the pile into the coal bin. Some apartments in NYC still ran on coal. The trick in the winter was to get it in fast enough before the sun went down as the only light was through the little wired coal chute window. MY LAST YEAR IN JUNIOR HIGH: I must have hit physical puberty as I grew 14 inches in a year between 1963 and 1964. The bullies started to back off and even invite me to their homes. I went from the shortest to the tallest. I stopped being sickly all the time and havent even had the flu since. My parents feared that I was becoming a freak as I was growing so fast. They took me to a Jewish doctor with a Concentration Camp number on his arm. He told me father I looked like the kids in the Camps and put me on a weight gaining diet. I had waited for the Worlds Fair for as long as I could remember as my father always spoke of all the science at the 1939 Fair and he was also working on this one. My father put up numerous pavilions and my mothers job at Macy's was tied in with the Fair. So I was allowed to go alone to opening day of the Fair. That same Senior year in JHS at age 14 Columbia University invited me and gave me a tour of the campus due to something I did in some sort of IQ tests. My parents, having been impoverished orphans of some kind, were into that Ivy League stuff for the prestige but I didnt care. I was impressed by scientists and they werent created bt Ivy League schools. Those schools later hired them after they were trained by larger universities. Ivy league schools didnt even have Bachelor Degrees in Astronomy/Astrophysics back the. They were mostly for Law, Medicine, and Business. But I took the tour. I remember how happy I was on the day I graduated from Junior High as I'd now be away from those kids who were there from early 1959 until mid 1964. In late 1963 or early 1964 my parents started trying to move out of NYC. Theyd drive out of town and check small homes for sale in the suburbs. My mother hated NYC even though she made good money there now at last. My father never liked moving at anytime. We almost moved to a place called Kunkletown in Eastern Pennsylvania within commuting distance of NYC. I think my parents went there, and perhaps other places, the day after the Worlds Fair opened. Because it opened on a Thursday and I was there from opening to closing without eating. Then I ate a slice of cherry pie at night and wrote on the plate for the first time. I still have that plate next to me bed 36+ years later. Then they were gone all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday looking at homes. I wasnt hungry so I didnt eat during those days. Later when I became allergic to Penicillin the thing started about my "looking like a Concentration Camp Victim".
SUMMER 1964:.... At last the weirdo bullies were gone. This was my first Summer where I did not have to fear seeing them again in the Fall. And I was a lot bigger now. I had reached 5'9" by Junior High graduation day. So I just relaxed and rode the subways. On July 4, 1964 I watched the adults a block over on Crescent St explode fireworks. On July 5, a Sunday, I went over to Astoria Park really early and it was deserted. I found a cracker that hadnt gone off. I lit it and it still didnt. I stepped on it over and over and then picked it up. It was just a small one. As I'm walking up a steep rill I hear an explosion and I look around and see nothing. Then I look at my hand. The cracker is gone. Oh, oh. This is going to sting in a couple of seconds. And it sure did. Then I wa soutside on the sidewalk a week or so later when the 1964 All Star game was on and a guy had it going in his window. It was at the newly opened Shea Stadium. I continued to go to Catholic Church every Sunday even though my parents no longer did as I was a True Believer. A week after the All Star Game, on a monday, the Republican National Convention was on TV. I even used to go to the UN while ten years old and I had my own Herald Tribune subscription so I liked intellectual things. Im watching them moving towards nominating Goldwater and I here a bunch of people come into the entrance hall that leads to the apartments. They come into ours at the other end of the house. I ignore them as people are nothing but trouble. I eventually go across the house and there are some kids there who are about my age. They are there to see the Worlds Fair while staying at my house. So they are there for a week and I show them around the Fair and Lower Manhattan. On the day before they are to leave (which would be my mothers birthday) my Aunt asks if id like to go back to their place in York, Pa a place I had never heard of. I dont know why I did it but I said Yes. That was the first time I EVER left my parents protection. Guess I was getting big enough to have confidence. So the next day we went to the Port Authority Bldg to take the bus. It was July 17, 1964. So we went 200 miles and I got to live for two weeks in a REAL middle-class house with air conditioning and color TV in a town where people didnt prey on each other like in NYC. Now I really wanted to move there. My mother surprised me by coming up to bring me home. She also wanted to move there. We returned home the day before the Tonkin Bay incident that started the full-blown Vietnam War. My father didnt want to move that far away as he would have to give up his now-good paying job in NYC as would my mother. They couldnt commute 200 miles. But my mother pushed and soon we/they were driving back and forth every couple of weeks looking for a house in York,Pa. My mother assured me I'd be getting out of NYC at last. Ironically, it happened after the bullies at school were gone and I was now getting too big to be picked on anyway.
HIGH SCHOOL, LONG ISLAND CITY HIGH SCHOOL, QUEENS,NY:.... I was required to go to LICHS which was then the most dangerous school in America's largest city. The TV show "60 Minutes" later did a segment on it. In the early 60s they had already taken all the doors off the lockers due to drugs and guns. I had to get out of there and into a better ranked school if I wanted to go to college in those pre-loan days. It was so overcrowded that school was in shifts. I had to wait until 10:30 to start and I was in until 4:30. And it was about five or six or whatever miles away to the south a block from the Queensborough Bridge (Ironically, Simon and Garfunkle would then come out with The 59th Stret Bridge Song about that brideg and I had no idea it was what the Manhattanites called that bridge. When I got to York High some kids asked me about the 59th St brdge and I said I never heard of it.) Usually dark when I got home and in the morning Id listen to the radio to learn about the 'Rock' music that other teens were into. I was waiting to go to York and didnt want to be an outsider even though I actually had NO interest in Rock music. I got jumped and robbed of a pocket radio my first day. And in gym class we did nothing at all as it wa sjust a holding place for thugs. But other than the first day noone ever bothered me as I was still growing an inch a month and would be 6'2 soon. Suddenly all these good-looking girls were getting crushes on me and doing things for me. It was a huge change from 1959-1964 at the other two Queens school where they hated me. But I was just marking time until I returned to York. Now I wonder what happened to those girls whose names I dont recall. I either took the bus down or the elevated train. And day after day hundreds of times I either went over the huge entrance to the huge bridge by going up over the Queens Plaza elevated train platform which was all metal and over a block wide or Id go under the whole are through the huge underground open area where the subways were. I'd often walk all the way underground without seeing one other person, just hearing my own footfalls in the huge tomblike place. I'd also listen to another pocket radio to the British Invasion music of late 64/early 65. Which really sounded weird in a place like NYC and in LICHS as it was so gentle and these teens were so nasty. Mods vs Rockers, I guess.