Not a sports team; they influenced my life, although I can’t attest to whether or not they did so on purpose. They could be anybody, but today they belong to me. They were my teachers at Public School 233, from the second through the fifth grade. In retrospect, I don’t think they cared for me. (Actually, I’m positive they didn’t like me.)
I remember many more, but these are the ones I choose to share with you, because these are the teachers who, each in their own way, managed to carve their permanence into my life.
All of them are deceased, so I have no qualms about what I will or won’t say. All I guarantee is I won’t embellish on the truth. I don’t have to.
It was Brooklyn, New York, and the Second World War was ablaze. The only men around in those days were a little too young or old for the draft, and those who were classified as 4F (physically unfit).
At the time there was a very popular song, which lamented the fact, “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old.” A gal who had no one to date usually sang it. It simply meant: Guys too young or too old for the army were left out of the military service.
Mrs. Kaplan’s pet class was called “Choral Reading.” She had a severe affection for herself. “Lady Kaplan,” as I labeled her, stood all of four foot eleven inches tall, but never the less to us little kids she came across as an imposing figure of a woman. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall who’s the most beautiful teacher of them all,” was perfect for her. Mrs. Kaplan never passed a mirror she judged unsuitable to admire herself in. Mrs. Kaplan seemed to be in a constant pose. Her class consisted of having us (third grade) kids memorize the same poem. She, of course, picked the material. Our input wasn’t remotely an option. This didn’t go down well for little da harv. When I submitted an original piece for the class to read, I got a flat turn down without her even giving me the courtesy of reading it. We would then rehearse it as if we were a concert orchestra, and present a performance to the student body. Of course, Mrs. Kaplan was our conductor. After we were all assembled on stage, she would be introduced by the school principle, to a very organized student body response. She was indeed a Brooklyn diva. I do believe I still have a couple of her mannerisms as I direct today’s actors.
One day before class began, I decided to try out my skills on the class before Mrs. Kaplan made her entry. I didn’t realize she was there behind me. As I called the class to attention while emulating the Kaplan baton technique, it suddenly became deathly still. I turned to see Lady Kaplan standing there in a complete over-reactionary mode. She dabbed at a supposed tear as she informed me of how deeply hurt and embarrassed I made her feel. I relay this information about Mrs. Kaplan because it was my first exposure to a serious actress. She had me going. I knew this was going to be my final fling as a school humorist; instead it was a first-hand experience with a real honest-to-goodness actress. It was also my first exposure to a woman who couldn’t turn off. Mrs. Kaplan was always in a portrayal of someone or other. Lucky for me, our school principal had long since become aware of the Kaplan over-reaction-to-everything approach.
During the same year, I went from Kaplan, to O’Shea; from drama queen, to the schoolmistress of music.
O’Shea had her own sadistic little sense of humor. She got off on making the parents upset with her. It wasn’t the era of the broad-minded parent.
At first my mother and father were pleased to hear about how accomplished our school music teacher was and how we were all going to learn harmony.
I doubt seriously if Miss O’Shea cared for any of the parents. I think she resented having to deal with any of them, especially at the Parent Teachers Association meetings. What O’Shea did was pretend to listen to the parents and then do her own thing. Her favorite songs were hymns, of any kind, and “Negro Spirituals.” The first time my dad questioned what we had learned that day, he immediately thought my answer was very funny. My mother, on the other hand, didn’t care for her little Harvey learning “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Abide With Me,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers,” as our earliest musical assignments. To this day, I still remember most of the words. I have to hand it to O’Shea — I mean, P.S. 233 was ninety percent Jewish kids. She must have been laughing her ass off every time an eastern European Jewish immigrant parent was subjected to “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I still smile every time I think about it. As a matter of fact, I’m smiling right now as I recall those marvelous images from my past.
Not all of my recollections provide a tickle. Mr. Solovey was a returned war hero. He was a decorated veteran who had two ships sunk under him. He definitely displayed shakiness attributable to combat exposure.
We learned discipline from him, and how to conduct ourselves as professionals. Solovey was a basic mathematics teacher. When he gave a student a work assignment, he expected it to be done. We all learned right away, there would be no forgiveness. If a kid didn’t do what was asked of him, Solovey gave them a fail for the assignment. He’d say, “If any one of you doesn’t do their part, the whole team suffers. Ships are lost when a single sailor doesn’t do his required assignment.” I remembered he would get this gray look on his face whenever he spoke of a sailor not doing his duty correctly. Rumor had it he never could forget his loss of comrades.
It was during my third grade that I had as a teacher the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. When Mrs. Glassberg spoke, I listened. I was married to her every move. She didn’t look like my mother, or any other of my relatives. Mrs. Glassberg was a movie star. How she walked and talked made a lasting impression on every kid in the class. The girls would emulate how she walked and talked and the boys seemingly overnight developed unbelievably good manners.
Kaplan, Solovey, O’Shea, and Glassberg, without knowing it, cast a lasting influence on a third grader’s future. Kaplans’ drama, O’Sheas whimsy, Soloveys’ professionalism, and Mrs.Glassberg putting on display what a woman should be. Some might say it was my first class in “Woman Appreciation.” Yes. Some might say that.
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