Saturday, February 7, 2009

Far From (Seventh) Heaven

©2007 By LeeZard

Her name was Faith Mulholland and she ruled her seventh grade class with an iron fist and a short, nasty temper. She was tall and very thin. She wore the same outfit everyday, a light tan, below-the-knee straight skirt and a white blouse. Either she washed them every night or had dozens of them in her closet. She wore little or no jewelry, nothing to enhance her ordinariness, and kept her dull brown hair in a bun with loose strands always falling down on either side of her face. To look at Faith Mulholland was to feel her loneliness in the world and it seemed she saved her resentment of that loneliness for her pupils.

P.S. 147 Today
( From: http://schools.nycenet.edu/Region3/ps147/index.html)
I was transferring to a new school and, unknowingly, into Faith Mulholland’s private gulag. My first elementary school in New York City’s Borough of Queens, Public School (P.S.) 176, only went as high as the sixth grade. So, for the seventh and eighth grades, I was off to P.S. 147 – a longer bus ride and a whole bunch of new kids – a very scary prospect for a young man of 12. Unfortunately, I got off on the wrong foot with the formidable Miss Mulholland on the first day of school in that September of 1959 and it set the tone for my entire school year. Little did I know it would have lifelong implications.

It seems that no bus came to pick up the seven or so kids at my stop on that first morning of school. We were at the very edge of our new school’s attendance area and, not knowing what to do, we waited and waited….and waited some more for the bus that never came. Finally, I turned to Barry Miller, who lived closest to the bus stop and said, “let’s go see if your mom can drive us. I think we’re late.”

Late, indeed. By the time I walked into Faith Mulholland’s classroom with two of my buddies, she was well into her first lesson and the disruption caused by our delayed arrival sent her into the first of many tirades we would endure.

“And, what have we here?” She asked rhetorically. “Did you three have trouble getting up for the first day of school?” You could see the icicles dripping from her words.

Despite the explanatory note about the missing school bus from Barry Miller’s mom, Faith Mulholland was not placated. Looking down at her class roll, and then back at the tardy trio, Mulholland let a small smile sneak across her lips. “Okay, you three, go back there in the last row. That’s our ghetto.” I trudged to the back of the room and looked around at my fellow "ghetto-mates." It didn't take long to figure out our common bond. It was my first taste of antisemitism.

Actually, I didn't even realize at the time that it WAS antisemitism but I knew something wrong had just taken place and I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

Let me digress for a moment. I have never been a religious man but that never stood in the way of my Jewishness. You see, Jewish is more than a religion; it is a state of being. Hitler’s minions certainly never stopped to say, “Excuse me sir or madam, are you a religious Jew? No, okay, then we won’t send you to Auschwitz.” It is who we are, what we do. Whether or not we practice the religion, to me, is secondary. I’m sure there are many Jews who would love to argue this point with me – that is also what we do. We’ll save that one for another time. Nonetheless, this initial run-in with Faith Mulholland was my first inkling that someone could choose not to like me just because I was Jewish.

P.S. 147 Class 7-1 - 1960
Over the first few weeks of the school year, it became apparent our location at the back of the classroom was the least of our problems. Miss Mulholland made it clear we were firmly at the bottom of her food chain. She was quick to hand out punishment to the “Kosher Crew” as we began to call ourselves – usually a “time out,” standing in the hallway just outside the classroom or an extra homework assignment.

I was a favorite target for the Mulholland wrath – and for good reason; I encouraged it. By 12-years old, I was the veteran of an ongoing struggle against the educational authority figures of the New York City school system. Classes were large and teachers had little time for kids who required extra attention – moi, for example. It was a lesson I learned as early as the second grade; I asked lots of questions – LOTS of questions. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I also suffered from what is now called Attention Deficit-Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). As a result, I was labeled “trouble” early on and soon turned my extensive energies to filling the assigned role. Throw in Mulholland’s antisemitism and the stage was set for a long, difficult school year.

We tried to involve our parents. At one point a small delegation of parents went to see the principal, Francis Carroll, to complain of Mulholland’s blatant prejudice. Mr. Carroll told our parents he would “look into it.” I think he is still looking.

The climactic battle took place March 17, 1960 – the “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre.” The opening skirmish was March 16 when Faith Mulholland addressed the entire class at the end of the school day. “In honor of your teacher,” she intoned, “I think it would be a grand idea for you all to wear green tomorrow on St. Patty’s Day.” Talk about throwing down a big fat green gauntlet!

One of my partners-in-Kosher-crime was Preston Auerbach – all six-feet-two-inches of him. At 13, Preston was already shaving. He was a thick, lumbering fellow who could hit a baseball a mile. He also was very bright and very nice. Everyone loved him – except Faith Mulholland. She took great joy in mocking Preston’s size and his slow easy-going nature – which she mistook for a lack of intelligence. “You know,” Preston said to me as we walked to the school buses that fateful day, “the Irish hate the color orange. I’m not sure why – but I know they hate it.”

Almost in the same next breath we looked at each other and simultaneously (might I add gleefully) exclaimed, “let’s all wear orange tomorrow.”

Neither of us knew the sad history of the struggles between the Catholic Irish Republicans and the Protestant British King, William of Orange but if it would enrage our common enemy then orange it would be. It didn’t take us long to corral the rest of the Kosher Crew and share our idea, which was met with unanimous enthusiasm. I’m certain there was a mad run on local haberdasheries that night because the next morning, the entire ghetto– five guys and three girls – showed up wearing clean white shirts and bright orange ties. Not a trace of green was to be found and when Miss Faith Mulholland strode to her desk at the head of the classroom – in her neatly pressed white blouse and shamrock scarf – the anticipatory silence was palpable.

Mulholland, sensing tension in the air, slowly surveyed her domain. When her eyes focused on the splash of white and orange in the back of the room, the color drained from her already pallid face and you could almost hear her eyeballs lock into place. We stared straight ahead, trying to keep all expression from our freshly scrubbed, innocent little faces – and we waited.

We didn’t have to wait long; it only took a few seconds for Mulholland to regain her composure. “Well,’ she hissed, “I guess you people think you’re very funny.” She fixed me with a laser stare, “And I have a pretty good idea who’s behind this little charade.”

“You,” she snapped, pointing a bony finger in my direction, “get out of my class!” If she thought that was punishment, she was sadly mistaken. Flashing a huge victory grin behind Mulholland’s back, I sauntered into the hallway and out of the building for a morning of relative freedom.

The good news was, Mulholland knew she could not formally punish me (or us) for our monumental act of rebellion. The downside was, she knew she could (and did) continue to make our lives miserable for the remaining three-and-a-half months of the school year.

Interestingly, two other powerful – and ultimately positive – occurrences that year helped shape my later life experiences. The first is that I learned for the first time I actually had some intellectual horsepower. Because of my ADHD, and because I took such great delight in torturing teachers, I was a very poor student – never turning in homework, disruptive in class and a general pain in the butt for anyone in charge. In fact, I think the only reason Faith Mulholland allowed me to move on to the eighth grade was to get rid of me. However, in the seventh grade, we took English, reading comprehension and math progress tests. Mulholland and I were both totally surprised when I garnered one of the highest reading levels in the class; I was reading at a college level and never consciously knew it. I think it really pissed her off. It gave me a first glimmer of self-confidence.


I learned of the second occurrence 40-years later. In 2000, as I was preparing to attend a high school reunion, I came across the name of a woman working as an editor for CBS’ “60 Minutes.” Her name was Stephanie Palewski and I remembered her more as one of my classmates from the seventh grade (but not a member of the Kosher Crew) than from high school. In Faith Mulholland’s lair Stephanie was bespectacled, chatty, always sitting in the front row and always getting good grades. In other words, "not cool."

Since we were both in the media business, I decided to contact her in advance of the high school reunion. I wasn’t even sure she would remember me when I called her at CBS. Instead, her shocking greeting after 40-years was, “Remember you? You inspired me! I never forgot how you stood up to that horrible woman.”

Today, I count my battles with the incredibly miserable Miss Faith Mulholland as part of what makes me who and what I am. And, I thank her for the gift of my friendship with Stephanie Palewski an amazingly smart and cool person. It is a loving friendship that endures to this day.

--------------------

(UPDATE - 2007)

Stephanie recently visited me in Seattle to check out a possible university for her son Casey. Of course, I insisted she stay in my guest room and, of course, we had a jolly old time.

One night, just for the hell of it, we decided to Google FAITH MULHOLLAND. We really didn't expect any hits but, to our surprise, there were a few. One was an old newspaper article about the man who was her father. It was a sad story; he rose to become a respected judge in the New York State system, only to lose his seat in scandal. "Mmmm," we thought, "perhaps a contributor to her darkness."

The second item we saw was an obituary for Miss Faith Mulholland. As we read it, and without looking at each other, Stephanie and I simultaneously broke into song, "Ding dong, the witch is dead......."

Did we feel guilty for disrespecting the dead? Not at all.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hockadooooo

©2009 by LeeZard

Don’t know what “Hockadooooo” means? Go see the musical “Memphis! (Or, look below if you must)*

It’s as simple as this; LeeZard loves the theater and I absolutely LOVED Memphis.

I do not give my applause away easily, even less so do I participate in standing ovations. I found myself willingly and enthusiastically doing both last night during and following a preview performance at Seattle’s grand ol’ Fifth Avenue Theater, thanks to Wende (TWBGF).

The rest of the audience agreed, breaking into shouts and whistles after many of the rousing, often emotional song and dance numbers, topping the evening off with an instant, spontaneous standing “O.” All well deserved.

As described by Broadwayworld.com:
“ Written by Joe DiPietro, composed by David Bryan (Bon Jovi keyboardist and founding member) and directed by Christopher Ashley, Memphis is a story about the passion and roots of rock 'n' roll featuring an original gospel, rhythm & blues, and early rock score fused with a contemporary sensibility.

‘Memphis follows the fictionalized life story of a white disc jockey in the segregated south, who started playing black music on the radio. Set in the 1950's, Memphis explores interracial relationships, the power of radio and how music broke down racial barriers,’ according to the press notes.

With musical numbers like "The Birth of Rock 'n Roll", "The Music of My Soul", "Scratch My Itch", "I Don't Make the Rules", "Stand Up", "Memphis Lives in Me**" and "Steal Your Rock 'n Roll" the show also features the choreography of Sergio Trujillo (Jersey Boys).”

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
“The co-production with San Diego's La Jolla Playhouse is inspired by the life of Dewey Phillips, a Memphis DJ who challenged the times by playing music by black artists along with white ones.”



The African American cast members – who make up most of the ensemble – not only bring to the production their heritage of slavery, heartache and discrimination – which adds a resonating authenticity to the entire experience – they also contribute amazing pipes, fabulous dance sequences and some down-home authentic gospel. The “minority” White players aren’t far behind, especially Chad Kimball who stars as DJ Huey Calhoun.

Montego Glover shines with her emotional and lyrical range in the lead as Felicia Farrell, the forbidden object of Huey’s affection and his creative muse.

J. Bernard Calloway absolutely inhabits the character of Felicia’s domineering brother Delray. But James Monroe Iglehart nearly steals the show as Bobby, who starts as the janitor at Huey’s first radio station gig then explodes in song and dance on Huey’s TV show as “Big Daddy.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen an entire audience so quickly and spontaneously erupt in shouts and whistles after a number midway through the production. It was exhilarating.

Several reviews of the play mention that the producers hope for it to end up on Broadway but, they are still looking for an appropriate ending. The ending in the Fifth Avenue’s production was sad and, for LeeZard, one of the few disappointments. However, it is the music – and the cast’s delivery of it – that carries the day.

Despite all the amazing music, though, “Memphis” does not sugarcoat the racism and hatred of the 1950s Deep South. I think LeeZard liked that almost as much as the music.


* From a review in Variety: Kimball adds an intense hyperactivity, torso and legs in ceaseless motion as he proselytizes for the new, raw sound through naughty ad libs and a parent-infuriating playlist. Huey's thumbs-up shout-out "Hockadoo!" paves the way for integrated musical tastes and -- we're led to hope -- a society to match.

**Click on this post's title, HOCKADOOOOO, to hear David Bryan’s version of “Memphis Lives in Me.”