Saturday, March 14, 2009

Cliff's KV Notes, Part 9: School Daze

below, PS 177 in 1934

I really didn’t know what to make of P.S. 177. It was a strange looking building, like something out of Russia, with those minarets. It wasn’t friendly like the castle in Disney’s Magic Kingdom (which would be decades into the future), and that dull red stone color wasn’t particularly attractive. But it was “school,” and it could have looked like a pumpkin. All I knew was that I was going to have to go there.
I was not happy being trundled off to kindergarten back in September 1945. My teacher was Mrs. Smith, a lady with light color hair and a pointy nose and chin. She did the best she could with a roomful of brats. All I can remember is playing with wood blocks and finger paints, which had a great smell. I think we also used watercolors and brushes, which was something like the “painting” I did in nursery school.
We would line up outside the school by the two side entrances. One was marked “Boys,” the other, “Girls.” But that must have been for an earlier time, because both lines were unisex. School would break for lunch, and we’d be ushered across Market St. by a cop—a fixture in that intersection during my entire P.S. 177 tenure. I learned at my 6th grade graduation, where the cop performed the song onstage, “The Cop on the Beat,” that his name was Anthony Manisera. He did not have a good voice, although he carried the tune fairly well. A singing cop in uniform complete with the .38 revolver on his hip—that was a real novelty. I couldn’t imagine Tony being a “cop” cop, chasing bad guys and all that. He seemed more a crossing guard type than a law enforcer.
P.S. 177 had a lunchroom, for the kids who ate in school. It was terrible, had an odor like sour tomato soup, sour milk, sour everything. Like Barf City I was fortunate not having to eat there. I went to eat at my grandparents’ apartment in the “B” building, because my mother worked.
There was also a garden of sorts in a small yard behind the school. My sister seems to think you had to go through the lunch room to get there, but I don’t remember that. We both remember “gardening.” She planted and grew kale, which she took home when it was grown. I just remember hoeing the ground, which was more fun than sitting in a classroom.
I remember in the first or second grade, our classroom was on the second floor, we were told not to go up to the upper floors where the older kids were. I believe that P.S. 177 at the time (’46) went higher than the 6th grade. ‘Course, I just had to see what was going on up there, and I trekked up the metal staircase to maybe the 5th floor. And I remember seeing the older kids smoking cigarettes in the hallway.
Sometime between first and third grades, the class took a trip—to the bowels of P.S. 177. We were introduced to the custodian, a rather dapper, prosperous looking Italian in a gray suit and he wore glasses. He looked like he never got his hands dirty. He showed us the coal-fired boilers in the basement, and probably some other stuff. The guy who did get his hands dirty, was kind of a grubby guy—Mr. Sabatini.
First grade is kind of a blank. But I knew from the outset that I didn’t like school. I hated school. All work, no fun. So, not surprisingly, I wasn’t a very good student, and my report cards reflected that. My father would sign the back of the report card if my grades were Satisfactory. Otherwise, he refused, and my mother would have to sign. The teachers said I was lazy, I didn’t complete my work, my conduct stunk, yadda, yadda.
below: the comment of Cliff's 4th grade teacher Miss Harris

Postscript: Mrs. Harris--
Almost done with the workbook. Should have it finished by next Tuesday, and I'll bring it by.

Tessie A. Miller, my second-grade teacher left a lasting impression. She was good. I remember one day that one of her former students, then in the army, came to her class, in uniform, to visit her. She just beamed when he walked into the classroom. Miller must’ve left an impression on him, too.
Usually, I was bored. On warm days, the teacher would open the windows using a long window pole, must have been about 8 feet. It had a hook on the end that grabbed a metal eyehook on the upper window. In classrooms that faced the river, I could hear the BMT trains grinding their way up the Manhattan Bridge. I was always fascinated by the girder structure on that bridge.
Mrs. Harris was my fourth-grade teacher, young and attractive.

We must have been doing some painting in class, because Miss Harris got into an argument with Eugene Gratz. Gene had a small can of paint in his hand, and he threatened to throw it at Harris. The argument escalated and Gratz tossed the paint. It went all over Harris’ dress, and she ran out of the classroom crying.
The first day of fifth grade with Miss Sorkin, she told us what she had planned for us that term. At one point were going to make lollipops or something like that. It seemed to be the funest thing that I would be doing in my entire school attendance up to that point. Unfortunately, I came down with bronchial pneumonia, and missed the lollipops.
Sixth grade—Aaron Werner. He drove a Henry J. What a piece of junk. The car suited him well.
Some random memories:
While I never had Mrs. E.K. Lapping for a teacher (I think she taught sixth grade), I remember seeing her during assemblies. She had a weird twitch at the corner of her mouth. We had to dress up for assemblies, and I had to wear a tie. The large assembly room had sliding walls on tracks that could be moved to create temporary classrooms. I remember being in one. The stage was rather ornate.
We took field trips. One was to the fire house on East Broadway where we were able to slide down the pole. A fireman at the bottom caught us, and there were no accidents. I had to take a small leap of faith jumping over the opening to grab onto the pole and then sliding down. Other trips saw us on the IND subway going uptown. I think we went to the Museum of Natural History. I remember that the stuffed animals were kind of boring.
At one point, I think it might have been the fourth or fifth grade, I became a “monitor” for Miss Feldman, the administrative assistant in the principal’s (Miss D’Alessandro) office. This deal got me out of class, and I’d go around to different classrooms with notes that Miss Feldman gave me. It got me out of class, I was able to roam about the building at will (I think you needed a “pass” whenever you left the classroom-like to go to the bathroom), and best of all, really the best of all, I got to slide down that great polished wood banister on that magnificent sweeping stairway that led up one flight from the main floor. And, for P.S. 177, it didn’t get any better than that.
I happened to be in the neighborhood when the school was being torn down. I was able to slip inside and look around. A lot of the interior had been gutted by this time. Most of the staircases had been taken out, and classrooms were stripped. But certain things snapped my memory back into sharp focus—the low (kiddy-height) of the water fountains. And the metal “Exit” signs that hung down from the high hallway ceilings on very long chains. There wasn’t too much else to see.
While I never liked 177, I felt like a part of me was being torn down, too. And that corner on Market and Monroe will never be the same.
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