Tue 13 Apr 2010
Because I haven’t posted in a couple days, here’s a random photo from October in San Diego, where I’ll be these next three days…
… and a random circuitous School Daze story from some of the places I was a substantially longer time ago…
Early into fifth grade, I left Beverly Hills for Hollywood. One day I was a student at Horace Mann Elementary just south of Wilshire Boulevard that I’d attended since first grade, and the next I was a student at the now-defunct Founders School a private institution just south of Hollywood Boulevard. The quick change had to do in large part with my fourth grade teacher Mrs. Moore, an African American woman who apparently decided I was a junior white trash racist when it came my turn to tell the class that what I did that summer, which was that I spent part of it with my grandmother in the deep south of Carbon Hill, Alabama. Suffice it to say I had an educational year that Mrs. Moore seemed to relish making pretty miserable, and as a result there was talk of me repeating the 4th grade. But since murder is illegal my mother sought a less violent, more productive alternative, based on the knowledge that my lack of scholastic advancement was because of an idiot teacher, not because I was an idiot.
My teacher at Founders was an Austrian woman with a heavy accent named Mrs. von Hanwehr (which is probably spelled incorrectly, but was pronounced “von Han-vare”), and the class was very small — no more than 12 kids.
Each Friday Mrs. von Hanwehr gave everyone of her students a packet of Sugar in the Raw as a treat. To this day if I find them in a restaurant, I’ll take a couple and later dip a licked finger in and enjoy the stuff until the last crystal’s gone. Mrs. Von Honwehr was my favorite teacher, but not just because of the sugar. Because she made learning sweet again. I started at Founders with a third-grade educational level. I ended the year at a ninth-grade level.
One of my classmates was a tiny hyperactive Asian kid named Harry who wore thick black-rimmed glasses. He was crazy intelligent. Always had to be moving or climbing or something — which Mrs. von Hanwehr allowed him to do — but he was never distracted. When she would ask him a question he’d fire back the answer while opening and closing a window or looking through an unrelated book or making his way halfway up the bookcase on the back wall of the room.
One day we were out on the playground during afternoon recess. It was one of those dreadfully smoggy days in mid-1970’s Los Angeles where your lungs would burn at the end of the day, but you could look prolonged and wide-eyed at the sun directly without it hurting your eyes. I was playing foursquare with others from my class when out of nowhere Harry charges through the court, grabs the ball and runs off. Immediately I’m in pursuit. And gaining. Gleefully he tosses the ball aside, but I’m angry at him for interrupting the game so I keep going and we rip around the asphalt with me closing on him. Suddenly he comes to a skidding stop and unable to avoid contact I barrel into him, one of my clenched fists connects with his shoulder and he gets knocked to the ground.
You’d think I’d shot him the way he picked himself up and glowered at me, his chest heaving with spittle-flecked inhales and exhales coming from his mouth as he worked himself into a rage. With no time to tell him it was an accident, I just took off, now with him chasing me. I ran until I’d opened up a few yards of distance between us, but in running out of playground and looking over my shoulder and seeing he wasn’t going to quit, I stopped and turned, facing him with whatever type of poor defensive stance I could muster.
All I was able to yell out was “Harry wait —!” before he beelined up at full speed and a full foot shorter than me and landed a hard punch right in my stomach. I fell to the ground gasping for air as other kids circled looking on while Harry stood triumphantly over me. A teacher quickly intervened and I was sent to the nurse. Harry was sent home.
When I next saw Harry Mrs. von Hanwehr told him to apologize to me, and he did from where he’d climbed to the top of his beloved back wall bookcase.
The following year my mom couldn’t afford Founders’ tuition so at the beginning of 6th grade I left Founders and went to Cheremoya Avenue School at Beachwood and Franklin for 6th grade. My teacher was Mrs. Mulenthaler (pronounced myoo-len-thall-er) and one of my classmates was Janet Weiss who would later gain fame as the drummer for Sleater-Kinney. She had this huge mop of long curly hair and a penchant for Foghat tee shirts. As such, I had a huge crush on her.
After Cheremoya I went to Le Conte Junior High in Hollywood — the only school in my history of schooling I ever started and finished: seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. I saw Harry again that ninth grade year, entirely coincidentally, on 6th Street in the mid-Wilshire area. I had finished my Herald Examiner paper route for the afternoon and was just riding around when I passed him and his mom coming out of a store. I was still about a foot taller than him. He asked me if I remembered our “fight.” I told him I did. He apologized again. He said he was going to Hollywood High.
So was I or at least up until practically the last minute. Literally a couple weeks before my first day, our increasingly psychotic landlord forced my mom into an apartment search, but rather than just look around Hollywood, she broadened her search and found a two-bedroom flat back in the slums Beverly Hills where we’d previously lived, this time on Hamilton Drive, directly behind the historic Wilshire Theater (now the Saban Theater, though why it had to be renamed is just so much stupid ego bullshit).
Against my wishes we returned to that city for me to attend its high school, leaving me no notice or opportunity to tell the friends I’d made at Le Conte where I was going. By and large my three years at Beverly High was a miserable and lonely and discouraging experience initiated by my mom because of her rationale that Beverly Hills’ school district was so much better than its Los Angeles counterpart. Maybe that’s true, but looking back, I think if I’d had the wherewithal to remind her it was that same school district that had produced Mrs. Moore we would have stayed in Hollywood and my life would’ve ventured down a much different path.
I’m not dwelling on what might’ve been, just bumping into it like I did with Harry on 6th Street.
And while I didn’t encounter a Mrs. Moore during my three years in those shallowed halls, I did have an enthusiasm-crushing Mr. Stern for sophomore English.