Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Eggs Over Easy

During my time in Grafenwoehr, Germany, I was the post's Finance Clerk. For a while I ran around with our Company Clerk, Moe. Many of our evenings were spent in Pressath, a little town a few miles from post, a town where almost no one spoke any English. Our main hangout - but by no means the only one - was the Eis Diele ("Ice Cream Parlor") where the only alcoholic beverage served was cognac. You could (in the early 1960s) buy a bottle of perhaps eight ounces for five marks, at that time the equivalent of US $1.25. The cognac, however, was only a cut above wood alcohol.

The Eis Diele was run by a small middle-aged woman whom we all called "Mama." Later, the first double date for John, Irma, Anna, and me would conclude here.

Somewhere along the line Moe had bought a wreck of a two door car:
  • There were no rear view mirrors.
  • The front seat was a bench seat, unattached to the floor. When Moe put the car into gear the passenger leaned forward to offset the tendency of the seat to fall backward, taking driver and passenger with it.
  • On a left turn, or even when the road curved left, the passenger door would fly open.
  • Only more or less local trips were possible, as the radiator was virtually a sieve. Trips had to be planned with water supplies in mind. Every time we went to Pressath we stopped at a river on the way home and replenished the water supply.
Every year Moe had to get a post sticker for the car, showing that the car had been inspected and was "safe." These inspections were accomplished by German civilians who worked on post, and each year Moe arrived with a carton of cigarettes and left with a sticker.

Late one morning Moe called me at work. He had a yen for some eggs, something we were not going to see at the mess hall during lunch, and suggested we drive out to Pressath to another restaurant and bar - the name of which escaped me long ago. We did that - in our fatigue uniforms, which was against Army regulations - and arrived to find that it was not yet open. My recollection is that there was no sign setting forth business hours, and I speculate that they were generally open only for dinner and the evening bar hoppers. Moe and I had been there a few times but didn't really know anyone there - owners or management.

Nevertheless, Moe knocked on the door a couple of times and after a moment a fortyish woman answered the door. She spoke no English but told us in German that they were not yet open. At Moe's urging I asked whether the two of us might buy ham and egg lunches. She thought about it, invited us in, locked the door, and seated us. We ordered two beers and she asked how we would like our eggs. One hole in our collective German vocabulary represented the phrase "sunny side up" to describe eggs, and we went at it the long way around. We managed to get the concept across, and she smiled and told us it would be just a few minutes.

She reappeared with two plates, everything perfect except that the eggs were very well cooked. But we dug in and greatly enjoyed the novelty of having lunch off post, in a German restaurant, drinking beer. The tab came to less than a couple of dollars apiece. We left a nice tip and thanked her for making an exception for us. She invited us to repeat the experience any time we wished.

Well, then. The next day we went back and were greeted with a big smile. On being served the two beers we engaged her in a conversation aimed at getting her to cook the eggs not quite as long as she had cooked yesterday's. She soon understood and before long we had our lunch in front of us. The eggs were not quite as hard as before, but still a little overcooked for our taste.

The next day we asked for just a wee bit less cooking of the eggs and got that. On the fourth day we repeated the process, using thumb and forefinger to show that we were that close to perfect on the eggs, and on that day they were perfect when served. Alas, that was the only day this was true.

She was on a roll, and the next time we went she cooked them a tiny bit less. Still, we smacked our lips and made the appropriate appreciative sounds. Big mistake. Each of the next several days the eggs came out runnier than the day before, until we speculated that she was just waving them at the stove. We just could not get her to stop reducing the eggs' cooking time. She was on her way to some bizarre kind of egg soup, and not to be deterred. Eventually we gave up and returned to eating lunch at the mess hall.

Sunday, November 25, 2007


My parents divorced when I was in the sixth grade, and I was devastated by it.

Divorce laws were much tougher then, and years later my father told me that in order to get the divorce my mother had had to testify that he beat her and he had to "admit" it in court. My younger brother and I knew nothing of this, of course, and would have been amazed at such farce.

I'll always be grateful that my parents handled the divorce and the ensuing years amicably. Never once did either say an unkind word about the other. They usually saw each other very briefly on Saturday or Sunday, when my father came to pick us up and take us somewhere - a movie, a visit to my paternal grandparents, a trip to Boston, and so on. On those occasions their conversations were free of tension.

My mother married a wonderful man, Sam, and we moved twenty or twenty-five miles to a small coastal city (OK, Newburyport, Massachusetts) which my brother and I despise to this day. Not only was it difficult to leave all our friends, but we found that we had moved to a place where the other kids were cliquish and tolerated us only in school and only to the extent that they were required to. Not once were either of us ever invited to go anywhere or join any activity.

We lived there one year and neither of us made a single friend. After school, on weekends, during the summer, we were . . . isolated, I guess is the best way I can put it. We had each other and our parents. We very much looked forward to our father's weekend visits, our only escape from that wretched community.

We then moved another twenty miles or so south, to the city of my mother's birth (and mine, for that matter), and began a much happier life.

Looking back on it, I guess it was during that time that I built a protective shell around myself and acquired a smart-assed attitude. Neither has completely disappeared, even after more than fifty years, but I have mellowed some, become less defensive and less disagreeable.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Will You Take Me To . . .

As part of a job in Boston I had to travel frequently. One several-time destination (including one visit for a month) was Denver. On one such trip I was accompanied by a junior member of the staff, Ginny. We were there for several days and nights, during which time she decided to clear a couple of items from her lifetime agenda.

The first was to see the move, Carrie, based on a novel by Stephen King. We found that it was playing at a theater not too far from our hotel, a theater which soon became my favorite theater in Denver. It's the only theater in Denver that I've been to, but still . . . .

The place was a dive. You could buy beer at the concession stand and you could smoke during the movie. Many took advantage of this option, and not just tobacco smokers. This place had character.

Well, enough of that.

There is much carnage in the movie, mostly toward the end, mostly caused by Carrie White (Sissy Spacek), although to be fair to her she was provoked. Before she dies she absolutely terrorizes her whole community, and after the destruction, as the movie nears its end, there is a scene showing a "For Sale" sign, marginally resembling a cross, on which has been painted


Now a movie has to be more intense than this one to get me really involved. I enjoyed the movie but was never for a moment frightened by it. Until . . . walking down the sidewalk, wearing virginal white, carrying flowers with which to make a small gesture of atonement for the things done to Carrie, comes Sue (Amy Irving). She reaches the cross, bends down to put the flowers at its base, and OUT OF THE DIRT SHOOTS CARRIE WHITE'S HAND, which grabs Sue's forearm.

Even this would not have bothered me but for the fact that Ginny had been a nervous wreck watching the last third of the movie, and the instant that Carrie grabbed Sue's arm, Ginny grabbed mine

My forearm.

In exactly the same place that Carrie grabbed Sue's.

For a split second Carrie White had me and I was gonna be dragged down to Hell.

  • The second item on Ginny's agenda was "to see a stripper." I don't know what it is about this with young women. I know *eye* don't have the slightest desire to see, say, the Chippendales. But I've had several requests to take young women to see strippers and have always accommodated them. Incidentally, they never have anything to say about it afterwards except that it was "interesting."

    Knowing nothing about the seamier side of Denver, I checked the Yellow Pages (Well, what would you have done?) and found a club that advertised strippers. We cabbed it to what might (or might not) have been Denver's equivalent of a "red light district," or at least a mini-equivalent, found the club, and entered. If you've been to one of these you've been to all of them. It was dingy, deliberately under-illuminated, mostly empty, and absolutely voracious regarding the price of a drink.

    We grabbed a small table (we had our choice of the entire array) about ten feet from the stage, ordered drinks, and waited. We sat through numbers by two different strippers, the second of whom had a scar running from her unowhat to her sternum. Nice. (Caesarean? I dunno.)

    Ginny was satisfied after two strippers and three drinks, and we left.

    Donnie: "So, what did you think?"

    Ginny: "Interesting."

    A different but related incident occurred with my then girlfriend, Dee Dee, in Boston. Her request was that I take her to a porn movie. She had never seen one, some of her girlfriends had, and she felt compelled to close the gap.

    I knew that we wouldn't last a minute in something akin to Deep Throat or Behind the Green Door, so I settled for softer porn in the form of Emmanuelle. Or perhaps Emmanuelle 2. (As if there were a difference. Like dives with strippers, if you've seen one . . . .)

    This was at a theater in what was definitely Boston's red light district.¹ We entered, got popcorn or something, and went to find seats. As soon as the movie started, Dee Dee started fidgeting. She was manifestly uncomfortable with this movie, but I figured that if it was going to last her a lifetime she needed to see a few more minutes of it. I gave it perhaps twenty or thirty minutes and then asked her, "Do you want to leave?"

    Instantly, "Yeah."

    Now it turned out that she had informed all her girlfriends that I was going to take her to a porn film (closing the gap, remember?), and a while later I learned that the next day her girlfriends asked her how she liked the movie. Her response? "Oh, Donnie wanted to leave so we didn't see it all."

    ¹ Boston's red light district was not far from the center of town, and occasionally a couple of us would spend lunch there, checking out the titles of the movies that were playing. They were funnier than anything you could make up:
    • I Wish I Was in Dixie
    • Hot Cross Buns
    • A Hard Man Is Good to Find
    • If You Don't Stop It . . . You'll Go Blind, and its sequel,
    • Can I Do It 'Till I Need Glasses?
  • Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Portsmouth Vignettes

    (The names in this post are all real names).
    • While I was in grammar school (Wentworth Acres, Portsmouth, New Hampshire), my parents were friends with a couple their age, Barb and Glen (Glenn?) Harvey.

      They played cards together (mostly kitty whist, the men against the women) and socialized together. The Harveys had three children, all boys, the oldest being my age and named Tommy.

      Glen liked to tease. I remember one summer Sunday when the four had agreed to have a card game and my mother was still in bed. Glen grew impatient, went back to his house, and returned with a ladder. He turned our garden hose on, carried it up the ladder with him, raised the second floor bedroom window screen, and turned the hose on my mother.

      Her voice still rings in my ear: "Goddamn you, Glen Harvey!"

    • One spring afternoon Glen snuck into our house and left a plastic fishbowl with three goldfish in it. The bowl had an arch that went from side to side, and with a long, flexible straw you could suck the air out of it, filling it with water so the goldfish could swim up and over the bowl.

      There were two small gold-colored fish and one larger fish, as much white as gold. Knowing who had done this, my father named the fish Whitey, Goldie, and Hungry Barbara. Incidentally, Glen had also bought goldfish for his children.

      By way of retaliation, Dad picked up a couple of baby ducks at the Pic 'n' Pay supermarket. On the way home he parked a block or so away from the Harveys, snuck into the kitchen through the back door, and found Tommy at the kitchen table. He plunked one duckling down on the table and said, "Tommy, here's your Easter duck. Don't let your mother and father give it away."

      (Glen tried to escalate this little war by entering my father's name in a raffle for a goat, but nothing came of that.)

      Their duck was named Donald and ours was named Daisy. We later determined that ours was no Daisy, but by then it was too late. He would answer to no other name.

      After a few weeks Daisy was too big to live in the house, and my brother and I, with the help of some playmates, built a small house and a more or less circular wooden fence in the back yard, enclosing perhaps a hundred square feet in all. Daisy was content, and I don't recall him "escaping," although I'm sure today that he could have half jumped, half flown over that fence. He spent much of his time in his house, but would come to anyone who called. We had a rubber kids' pool on the front lawn, and would pick him up and carry him to it.

      Glen used to sit on his back steps and have a beer, and he would put a bowl of it down for Donald. The duck would sip it, shake his head frantically from side to side, and make half-quacking noises of a sort. Enough of it and he would actually get drunk and stagger. He and Glen became best friends.

      One day Barb roasted something or other, took it out of the oven, and left the oven door open. Donald managed to fly up onto the door and walk into the oven. He flew right back out, shrieking. Glen and Barb ran into the kitchen and soon figured out what had happened.

      Vinnie, a next door neighbor, was a medical intern. Glen pounded on his door and shouted, "Vinnie, grab your bag and come quickly." Vinnie assumed one of the kids had been hurt, grabbed his bag, and ran into the kitchen next door.

      The first thing he saw was that the kitchen table was covered with a white sheet. Barb was holding Donald near the center of the "operating table." There wasn't much Vinnie could do for Donald other than to cut away the burned webbing on one foot. I believe Glen got Donald drunk to help with the pain.

      The Harveys also had a small rubber pool, and from that time on Donald would swim in a very small circle, pretty much in one place.

      Fall came, and the time was approaching when it would be too cold to leave Daisy outside. Alas, he was too big to return to the house. My father took him to Clayton, a man with whom he worked. Clayton also owned a small poultry farm.

      In their only miscalculation regarding us that I can recall, my parents told my brother and me that we would get Daisy back in the spring, when it was warm enough. But my dad told Clayton, "Eat this duck as soon as you can." And Clayton did.

      Came the spring and my parents were surprised and horrified that my brother and I asked when Daisy would come home. There were profuse apologies and reiterated statements that "We were sure you would forget."

      Donald suffered the same fate.

    • Not long ago I was at a yard sale being conducted by three generations of women, with the fourth generation being represented by a girl perhaps eight years old.

      As I looked over the offerings I heard the older women asking the youngest what sort of games she played with her friends. Hardly giving her a chance to respond, they began reminiscing about the games they had played when they were her age. When hopscotch was mentioned, I had a flashback.

      I don't know about you, but when I was a child boys played hopscotch too, at least up to the age of perhaps seven or eight. It wasn't unusual to see a half dozen or so boys and girls in one game.

      It was immediately after the end of one such game that one of childhood's little humiliations occurred - four girls jumped me, and three of them pinned me to the ground while the fourth one kissed me!


      Where were we? Oh yes, the yard sale. Being somewhat gregarious by nature, I told the story to the group. The women laughed enthusiastically and the girl looked at me with a smile - I swear - that said that she understood the situation perfectly and empathized with the girls involved.

    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Godwin's Law

    (aka Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies)

    As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

    Let's turn for a moment to the subject of posting comments on the internet.

    It seems to me that more bad manners are displayed on the internet than in any other common setting. Whether the venue is a threaded discussion, an open forum, an opportunity to comment on news articles, or some other enclosed universe, whenever differences of opinion surface, sooner or later someone heads right for the bottom with a mindless personal attack.

    The intensity of the attack varies with what the attacker can get away with. Some sites enforce rules regarding personal attacks, vulgarity, disclosure of someone else's personal information, etc. But in general, some people will go as far as they are permitted to go.

    Let me speak to those people for a moment:
      What are you thinking? If I like peanut butter and jelly and you prefer peanut butter and bananas - or, God forbid, you despise peanut butter with or without anything at all, then if I say

      "I enjoy the way peanut butter and jelly complement each other."

      and then you say

      "You're a (expletive deleted) jerk."

      then what do you feel you have gained?

      You might be right about that, but if so it would be a coincidence, not a demonstration of anything at all about peanut butter and jelly. Surely you can't think that this personal assault has provided proof of your position regarding peanut butter.

      So what do you gain by lowering the level? Is there some sort of satisfaction as a result? An "I showed him" afterglow? Do you smile to yourself, thinking "I won that one?" Can you really be unaware that thinking people, even thinking people who share your peanut butter preference, only shake their heads, knowing that you have not scored one point in favor of your position?

      Have you ever actually tried to understand the position of someone who disagreed with you?

      Do you ever wonder why others refer to you as trolls? Worse, why different people on different sites refer to you as trolls?

      It's because you're trolls.

      OK, I feel better now. I thank everyone for indulging me.
    While we're on this subject, I would like to enlist anyone I can in a different but tangentially related cause. When you were young you heard from someone, perhaps several someones but almost certainly your mother at some point, that the use of profanity was a sign of a poor vocabulary. Yes you did, you know you did.

    'Tain't necessarily so, and herewith my small contribution toward stamping out the belief that it is:

    The position is most easily refuted by providing examples of people known to use profanity more frequently than the average person but not fitting the mold of having a poor vocabulary. Two who come to mind immediately are Mark Twain and Harry Truman. Now Truman may not have been a walking dictionary but the range of his vocabulary was more than adequate. And Mark Twain - well how could one say he had a poor vocabulary?

    I speculate that this incorrect belief arose as a result of fuzzy thinking. Occasionally, very occasionally, a vulgar word happens to be just the right word to provide the oomph a speaker feels necessary to emphasize an important point. But if I were to acquire the habit of sprinkling profanities liberally throughout my speech, what would happen is that the effect of my using a profanity would be diluted. The ears of my companions, my audiences, would soon learn to tune the profanities out, and I would deprive myself of the effectiveness of using a profanity for emphasis.

    A person who habitually speaks in profanities is a person who utilizes a poor speaking style, but not necessarily a person with a poor vocabulary.

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Politics, Anyone?

    A kind reader, "Lass," has posted a comment way back at the introduction I wrote for this blog (click on "September" at the right, then scroll to the bottom), suggesting that I write a political blog in addition to this one.

    Some aspects of that suggestion are attractive but for other aspects the woods are fraught with marauders, at least prospectively.

    Here's what's running through my mind: For me, the major attraction would be that I enjoy reasoned argument. Those who take the position that "you can't change anyone's mind" in political discussions are simply mistaken. There are people whose minds you can't change about anything, but that's another story.

    There is an internet forum in which I participate that is not inherently a political forum but on occasion becomes one temporarily. I have changed (to some extent) the minds of several people on various issues, and several people have done the same for me.

    When people are actually thoughtful about disagreement, or even about agreement, they will sometimes call to your attention things you have not considered, or things you have considered and dismissed due to insufficient analysis, things you should reconsider if only because you now have more information.

    Perhaps such a blog would make a small contribution by nudging the Republic back toward political sanity. But not, I hasten to add, by acquiring any influence beyond that effected on its readers, primarily by their own participation.

    However . . .

    • Often, political debate is not reasoned at all, particularly on the internet. Many people throw out their positions with little or no justification for them and after that their contributions consist of name calling. Some skip the first step and go right for the name calling. Check any internet news item on a controversial political subject and see if the site allows reader comments. If it does then you will find a mixture of responses with fewer pearls cast than swine who have made their presence known.

      Now the internet did not create this problem. Watch the weekend political commentary television programs in which a few supposed adults representing opposite ends of the political spectrum address issues. In no time at all whole groups of people are arguing at each other, not with each other, at the tops of their voices, everyone talking, no one listening.

      When you see that happen, turn the program off and never watch it again. Once a philosopher, twice a pervert. - Voltaire

      But the internet does exacerbate the problem, due I suppose to the relative anonymity of the posters. It happens that I had already written a post for this blog on the very subject of such internet misbehavior, and I'll post that this coming Wednesday.

    • It would be annoying to see such posts on my political blog, and I would feel duty bound to censor them. Now it is my position that censorship has a bad name, and that it is appropriate in some circumstances. Not, for example, by your government in most instances, but in carefully defined cases.

      In any political conversation *eye* moderated, a comment such as "You're a freaking idiot" would be deleted as soon as I saw it, and the ID would be blocked from commenting in the future. But this is the beginning of a classic "slippery slope." What about a comment such as "You're a freaking idiot. You don't even consider yada yada yada." The first sentence is clearly not suitable for civilized discourse, but the remainder may well contribute something to the conversation. On balance, I think I would delete it. Anyone would be welcome to post any ideas, but incivility would not be welcomed.

    • Another category of commenter I'd want to block would be spammers - those who post only for the purpose of luring readers to some other site or introducing unrelated subjects in attempts to hijack threads for their own purposes. Being apolitical and generally unrelated to today's events, this blog - the one you're reading now - is not much of a target, but a political blog would be.

    • Now there are only two ways, at least on, to deprive the riff-raff of the ability to comment:

      1. Have each and every comment emailed to me in advance so that I can permit it to be posted, or refuse permission. No thanks. If the blog became popular I would be buried in emailed posts to approve or disapprove. This would be an inordinate amount of extra work and would, incidentally, deprive would-be posters of the instant gratification of seeing their comments become part of the dialogue. I suspect that deprivation would discourage some people from commenting, because who wants to write a comment today and have to wait until tomorrow to see if there are responses?

      2. Set up the blog so that only "approved" people could read it. Again, no thanks. would be a great help if it provided the ability to block specific ID's from commenting. Every ID would get one chance to post flamebait, and then it would be blocked from commenting and the troll would have to find someone else to plague.

    UPDATE: I've done some research, and several other blog hosting sites do provide bloggers with the capability of blocking specific ID's from commenting. Naturally, the blog has to be set up so that only people with ID's can post comments, as otherwise any troll could keep posting anonymously. But this is a small price to pay, it seems to me.

    So . . . Lass may get her wicked way and I might host a political blog. If so, however, it won't be immediately. I need to think about how the blog would work:

    • Where exactly will the topics come from? Probably current news, but there are other possibilities.

    • Beyond the responsibilities of a hallway monitor, what should be my personal involvement?

      • Should I just post about a subject, possibly listing what I see as salient points, then sit back and let readers tear each other's throats out?

      • Should I stake out a personal position on each issue I introduce?

      • Should I participate in the give and take of the comments?

      • How does a topic "die?" When a new topic is introduced? When commenters run out of steam? After a predefined period of time?

      • How often should I post new subjects? Should there be a schedule, as there is with this blog? Should the timing of new posts simply be news-driven?

    Anyone with suggestions or thoughts on these issues might consider expressing them in comments related to this post.

    I'll be looking for you there, Lass. Ah ha ha ha ha ha.

    Wednesday, November 7, 2007

    Del Mar Disaster

    Having dropped out of high school and joined the Army at seventeen, I took the GED Tests and had no trouble with them. A few years later I began taking some junior college courses. In 1965 I found myself in Corpus Christi, Texas, and enrolled in a US History course at Del Mar Junior College. It was a disaster.

    Our "professor" was a retired Colonel (Air Force I believe), and he knew absolutely nothing about teaching. His approach was to read aloud to the class, all students sitting at their desks, books open to the page he was reading from, reading silently what he read aloud. For the entire duration of each class. For the entire duration of each wretched class. Well, some days chicken, some days feathers, and I don't think anyone dropped out because of his approach.

    I think several did drop out after the first exam he gave. He had actually managed to find an approach to exams that was worse than his approach to teaching. The exam was a trivia test. Here are two of the questions, word for word, that appeared in the exam, along with the correct answers so you won't have to sit there with them on the tips of your tongues.

      Q. Who (sic) did Frank Lloyd Wright call "der Meister?"

      A. Louis Henry Sullivan

      Q. What is the width of the standard railroad tie in America today?

      A. 56.5 inches

    Now when you are being bored to death reading along with a nitwit's
    studying "architecture in America," however briefly, you are going to be exposed to any number of architects, some or all of whom will be praised. It is one thing to know and appreciate the facts that Sullivan was a more than competent architect and that Frank Lloyd Wright admired his work. It is quite another thing to consider important the fact that "der Meister" was a phrase used by one architect to express his admiration for another. Unless maybe it's an in thing with architects, I dunno.

    But even worse, and possibly the most useless bit of information requested in the exam, was the width of the railroad tie. It is interesting that private railroad companies laid their own tracks, that the tracks were of different widths, and that consequently one company's trains could not use most other companies' tracks. It is also interesting that someone finally realized this was not a very good approach and that eventually a standard track width made its appearance. Absolutely the least important bit of information about all that is the width finally settled on.

    In those days smoking was considered a lesser crime than . . . oh . . . say . . . being a straight white male, and in the school you could smoke in the hallways if you were taking a break. I zipped through the exam - seventy-five questions if memory serves - and was first in the class to finish. I do not mean to imply that I found the exam easy, only that these were not the sort of questions that allowed you to reason your way to the correct answers. Either you knew or you didn't. I no longer recall how many correct answers I submitted, but I suspect that mostly I "didn't."

    Incidentally, in case you are thinking gleefully that I "still know" the answers, I hasten to confess that I Googled them.

    I went out to the hallway, lit a cigarette, and contemplated changing courses, perhaps to something more useful, such as Left-Handedness Among Readers of Braille Sanskrit. A moment later I was joined by a young woman who was furious. She was taking the class because she wanted to be a teacher, and to get a teaching certificate in Texas you had to have taken American History in a Texas school.

    "I graduated with honors from Northwestern, a HISTORY MAJOR! If I flunk history in this shitty little junior college . . . ."

    We rolled our eyes and commiserated with each other about retired colonels who decided to teach. I suppose this was unfair to retired colonels in general, but I do believe that you'd have done the same thing at that time, in that place. Unless of course you were a retired colonel.

    However, we learned the following week that he graded on a curve and that she and I had scored A's.

    Vietnam called and I had to take an incomplete on the course. I shed crocodile tears and then smiled bravely while I waved the flag and cajoled Del Mar into giving me the incomplete.

    The good news is that, for me at least, Vietnam was decidedly less unpleasant than that class. The bad news is that by the time I got back to the States I had lost whatever motivation I needed to continue my education.

    Sunday, November 4, 2007

    Grammar School

    My first grade class at Wentworth Acres in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, had a recess period of . . . well, I don't really know. Perhaps fifteen or twenty minutes.

    Our teacher was Miss Wilson (real name), and for recess she organized us into two columns, one of boys and one of girls, who would march side by side out the classroom door, down the hall, and outdoors.

    Every morning before recess Miss Wilson would give the class a short written quiz on some subject. She would collect our papers and grade them, and there was a reward for the highest score: you got to be first in your recess line, and you got to choose the person who would be first in the other line, your marching partner, so to speak.

    When I had the highest score I always chose Nancy and when Nancy had the highest score she always chose me.

    Interestingly, I do not remember anything else involving Nancy. I'm sure we didn't play with each other, on or off the school grounds. Although she must have lived in Wentworth Acres, I have no "picture" in my mind of where she might have lived, as I have with many of my other classmates and playmates.

    Little else about grammar school stands out in my memory. There were two classes for each of the six grades, and I was one of several grammar school dorks, although that word was not in currency at the time.

    In the fifth grade I got my first crush on a girl. A classmate also had a crush on her - she was in our class - and we occasionally commiserated with each other. She didn't seem to know that we existed and we didn't know what to do about that. Years later, when I was in the Army and in Germany, my father sent me a newspaper clipping. She had become "Miss Maine." Googling her name, I now learn that over the several years following that, she had fifteen or twenty supporting roles in various television program episodes, then married and retired from acting.

    When I was in the fifth and sixth grades, it would occasionally happen that the Principal's secretary was out and he - Mr. Hooper (another real name) - would have to go somewhere. I would be tapped to go sit at the secretary's desk and answer the phone and take messages while he was gone. I imagine I was chosen because I could afford to miss an hour or two of classroom discussions. Being a prolific reader, I was already familiar with much of what was being taught.

    Jumping backwards here, my family moved to Portsmouth when I was in the first grade, and in short order the school contacted my parents and expressed a desire to move me into the second grade. I was not a party to the discussions my parents had on the matter, and I do not have a sure sense today of how I would have felt about it, whether I would have wanted to skip a grade or not. I do have a vague recollection of them telling me that the issue existed and that they had decided against moving me up a grade. Again, I have no memory of my feelings about the decision, whether I was happy or disappointed. Most likely, I think, is that I just shrugged it off as unimportant.

    Many years later I asked my father what had been the deciding factor, and I learned that he had skipped a year in grammar school. For him it meant falling a little behind and working hard to catch up. Also, he disliked being the youngest - discernibly the youngest - in his classes all the way through high school.