I think the sixth grade was the second major turning point in my life. Moving to Florida was important and probably laid the foundation for my feeling that I lack a home town but events in 1957 changed more than just me. But sixth grade was important because certain events converged.
I went to a brand new school that year, Greynolds Park Elementary, one built to serve our particular area (known as North Miami Beach). It had just been finished during the summer and was an airy, friendly looking building. I looked for pictures of it but there seems to be none. There were no hallways in the classic sense. All classes opened onto covered walkways. All classes had windows opening out to the open fields. The windows opened, really, because there was no air conditioning. When it got hot (most of the time in south Florida), the classroom door was opened and the windows were opened. As I recall, this was pretty much all the time. It was more unusual to have them closed.
Schools today look more like prisons to me. More like this picture.
Sputnik was launched in October of 1957 and that really shook up the country. How could the Soviets have jumped ahead of us? The Space Race was on! Mr. Moltane, my 6th grade teacher, was almost obsessed about this. He wanted us all to get involved in science, to consider careers in engineering. He was a short, stocky man, balding and gruff looking. He was passionate about science so he emphasized math. Since that was a subject I enjoyed, I did fairly well.
It was an interesting year for me. I got involved in the Audio Visual group. These were students who ran the old 16 MM film projectors, nothing more. But I got to watch a lot of those old Bell System educational films. Very simplistic explanations of atomic energy, rockets, even computers. But they did give me something of an understanding of these things, something which helps me even today. Maybe that's where I picked up the habit of breaking things down into simple representations to understand them.
I worked in the cafeteria for a half hour each day, mostly running racks of dishes, silverware, and glasses through the dishwasher. I also worked a half hour each day in the principal's office which consisted of mostly sitting around or running notes to teachers. I read more than anything as an office assistant, anything available.
I was a "good boy" then. I got good grades, I paid attention. I participated.
When you're 11 years old, you start experimenting with life. Maybe looking for role models, or new ones to replace ones that seemed outdated or silly. The late 50s was a time when juvenile delinquents were on a lot of people's minds. Rebel Without A Cause, which came out in 1955, had sparked a lot of interest in the subject and it was becoming a great concern. Being "cool" became important.
That's when things started to change for me. I didn't want to be "square" (as nerds were called then). I was already reading books by Kerouac and Ginsberg, delving into the Beat Generation. I also read a lot novels and accounts of juvenile delinquency and street gangs of that period. I was curious about many things and knew I couldn't experience them all myself but I wanted to try.
I started getting into a little trouble at school. We used to make "match guns". These were simple devices. You took an old wooden thread spool, a piece of elastic, put them together and fired kitchen matches from them. Of course, we fired them at each other half the time. One day, I got caught at school with a pocket full of kitchen matches and that was the end of my "good boy" days.
I blame it all on having an older brother. Since he was two years older, I looked up to him. We didn't get along, though, never had. Still, whatever he did, I wanted to do. Because he was "cool".That meant BB gun fights, smoking cigarettes, and just being a juvenile delinquent in training.
My best friends were all about the same things. Pat, Marty, Mike, Steve, "The Ger" (Harold was his name but he hated it), and I began hanging around together which meant nothing but trouble. We weren't bad kids, really, just bored and curious. And adventurous.
Sixth grade was really just the beginning. It would be in junior high that we began building reputations.
A Night Unremembered
2 years ago