Sunday, January 7, 2018

Talcott Junior High - A Short Story

The Great Divide 
The advances in technology that put a man on the moon had also, by the end of the next decade, put in our hands the means to monitor events in Boston on a hand-held “transistor radio.” In the back of the bus, leaving Talcott Junior High, midway between New York and Boston, the aisle served to divide Yankee and Red Sox fans, and a nine-volt-battery-powered, thumb-wheel tuned radio joined us in rapt attention. Yaz hit a homer off Guidry, and the color in the faces of Knight and Goldsmith on one side went white as the voices on the other side roared. 
At home, my father was home early, and we watched Yaz back up, his non-glove hand feeling for the Green Monster behind him, ready to leap up to catch a paint scraper that never came down. Bucky Dent lofted a fly ball to left that landed in the netting. The 23-foot netting perched atop the 37-foot wall was built in 1936, and was replaced in 2003 by the Monster Seats, a tenure that constituted most of the Red Sox's World Series drought. Yaz slumped to the ground in dismay. Panning back to include the view of the ball high above, the camera had the effect of reducing him to a small figure, dwarfed by the distance between his glove and the ball. 
A nationally televised baseball game on a Monday afternoon, it broke the rhythm of life in New England. A simple graphic indicating only the teams and the score was ample information to swing the emotions of millions. I stepped outside to release a vocal outburst too painful to share with my family. Words alone could not vent the agony. I needed to move, physically move, to exercise the demons of this cruel day. 
Fortunately, football practice came, and our coaches sent their pent-up players to run a lap around the backstop at the far end of the field. At the end of the run, we gathered again around another nine-volt radio, as Yaz came to bat with two on, both in scoring position, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, and with the Sox only down by one. Thirty players in their pads and helmets huddled around the four inch box housing a two inch speaker like penguins at the South Pole waiting together for the return of the sun. Craig Nettles straddled the foul line, waiting for the ball to fall. 
The anchor of the Nightly News waxed poetic, echoing the verses memorializing the fall of the Mudville Nine, substituting final line with, “The Mighty Yaz has popped out.” In the days when I was ashamed to cry, I could not stop the tears, walking down the hall of Talcott Junior High. Today, with so much more to mourn, I cannot muster a single tear. Disappointment is a luxury I can ill afford, as every day is a battle won by stepping over the carcasses of fallen figures my memory strains to forget, in favor of all the pressing matters of the here and now. 
A few years back, I drove my eldest to the co-ed town league soccer championship. Her team seemed sure to lose to the undefeated all boys (after all the girls quit) team. I asked her, “Why are you wearing your Red Sox cap to a soccer game?” She replied, “for good luck.” By the time she was thirteen, the netting that caught Bucky Dent's ball was replaced with the Monster Seats, and the Red Sox had won the World Series three times, three more times than my father and I had seen them win before she was born. At the end of the day, at the end of the game, she stepped up in the goal area and kicked the ball away from one male attacker after another. After a scoreless overtime, the game ended when the last of five chosen for the shoot-out sent his shot wide, and my girl's team beat the unbeatable. The cap had worked its magic.
That November at Talcott I turned thirteen, as did my twins this November past. As the father of thirteen-year-olds, it serves me well to remember that the events in the life of a thirteen-year-old will create memories that will forever last. 
The Elm 
The contents of the marquis of the Elm Theater were a staple question on a Talcott teacher's weekly current events quiz. Talcott Junior High and the Elm were across the street from one another at the southern end of South Quaker Lane, and so the bus ride to school gave us a plain view of the marquis advertising the movie playing, and the movie coming soon. 
Before cable and video tapes made home viewing common, seeing a movie meant going to The Elm. We queued between felt ropes, talking to our neighbors and classmates, waiting to buy a ticket for ninety-nine cents. In the days before social media and cell phones, people met on Friday night at seven at the Elm, in person, sometimes walking a mile or two, but still arriving on time. The lobby was filled with people talking before the show, and during the intermission. The scent of salty popcorn spread from the kernel cooker across the way, and was carried further through the theater doors, bucket by bucket, until the whole place smelled the same. 
A Christmas Carol”, “Fiddler on the Roof”, “The Sting”, “The Sound of Music”, and all the great movies of the day were seen at the Elm, during the weeks they were showing, or you might not see them at all. After the show the patrons filed out of The Elm, and into the crosswalks, making their way across the intersection of South Quaker Lane and New Britain Avenue to the Friendly's for a cup of ice cream. The chatter in the booths filled the air with a cacophony, punctuated by the sound of sizzling grease making fries and cooking hamburgers. In the balcony patrons held debates about what the hero should do next (“She's poison!” versus “Shut up!”), and an empty beer bottle smuggled in through the out door could be heard rolling down the inclined lain beneath the seats.
Everyone knew where Elmwood was, at the southern end of South Quaker Lane, where the movies played, and the school buses dropped us off at school. Elmwood Elementary, just behind the Elm, had already closed a couple years earlier, when baby boomers aged beyond their grade school years. Born in 1965, mine was the last year of Talcott Junior High, as enrollment declines reduced the need for four middle schools to two. The Elm stayed open for a few more years, then it closed, and the Friendly's did, too. 
The Zip code, 06110, still includes the word “Elmwood” in its postmark. I pointed this out years later to a soldier stationed at the Army Reserve Center on South Quaker Lane, who was completely unfamiliar with the name place of “Elmwood.” Used to be, everyone knew where Elmwood was, but today it is unknown even to those who have been working there for years. 
Recalling Camelot 
The turn-table in our homeroom spun at two speeds, 45 and 33 RPM, rotations per minute. Singles, or 45s, small disks with a big hole in their center, required a disk be placed on the center of the turn-table, while LPs, LP standing for “long play”, were wide disks that had small holes in the middle and fit on the turn-table as is. 45s spun at 45 RPM, of course, and LPs at the slower rate of 33 RPM, so a whole album of songs would fit on the two sides of the disk. 
A lever was flipped to go between the two speeds, as everything except the motor and speaker were mechanical. A person had to place the needle onto the outer grooves of the disc to start the music, and then when the disk had spun to the end it would trace in an endless loop around the inner circle, spitting out static until someone came along and manually lifted the arm housing the stylus off the record and swung it back to its resting place to the side. 
Mr. Price, can we play the song today?” It was a common request, everyone enjoyed the time when it played, even if no one ever listened to the song outside of our homeroom. 
Be my guest,” the young teacher said, gesturing with his hands an invitation to the pupil to play our homeroom anthem. It was no small honor, and not a trivial responsibility. A misplaced needle could scratch the vinyl, causing it to skip out of the groove the next time it played. While the record spun, a scratch would cause the needle to ever so briefly take air, actually skipping the way a child did in hopscotch, landing just a brief ways away on the disk, after the very shortest of low-earth-orbits, so that the part passed over would never play, would never be heard again. A scratch in the wrong way might cause the needle to bounce to a previous part of the track, then bounce again when it returned to the blemish, and the cycle might repeat itself again and again until a human hand gently lifted the needle and delicately replaced it downstream of the scratch. 
The third floor of Talcott was home to a group of teachers that shared a common affinity for the late President whose cabinet was called, and whose favorite song was the title show-tune from Broadway's “Camelot”. Our teachers dubbed the third floor, “Camelot”, and many days began with us listening to the sound of Richard Harris singing a passionate prayer for glory that could be, that would be, and then lament its fading away. 
It was our great privilege and good fortune to be courtiers in the last days of Camelot. The song was our herald, we were all knights in a great order. There was no king, the table was round, and we all had a seat. We were more than students going to school, we were scions of a great regime that rose to greatness, and fell into oblivion. 
Jeez, you damn Indian!” “Why don't you go ask a girl to show you how to do that?” 
EJ was not one to mince words. One of the first things we learned in shop was how fast a lathe could pull you in if it caught hold of your shirt sleeve. 
We learned how to pour aluminum into a mold, and file and sand the rough edges before finishing the job with emery paper. We fed wooden planks into the planer. We measured twice and cut once, and still got it wrong, and had to start over from scratch. We clamped wood pieces together till the glue dried, then put on layers of stain and lacquer. Holes got drilled and tin got snipped. 
Whatever we made went home and was never thrown away. We built paper weights that held the paper our Mom's set beside our landlines, and took notes on the paper it held in place for decades to come. It started as molten aluminum, poured into a mold in the foundry, and came out in the shape of a turtle. A couple holes were drilled through its hind legs so it set well on the dowels pounded into holes drilled into a routered piece of wood, stained brown by skilled hands. 
Boys left shop a bit more like men. Girls left a bit more confident they belonged in a world built by men. Boys whose turtles had rougher edges than those made by their female peers braced for the next quarter, when co-ed Home Ec taught us all how to sew a pillow and bake a cake. 
The Day the Music Stopped for an Uncomfortable Period of Time 
The band stopped marching halfway across the field that today is home to houses. Back then, it was where Talcott's baseball and soccer teams played, and where Mr. Bennett taught us how to march and play in tune at the same time. When we were ready, we would make our way down the side streets to the delight of the proud neighbors cheering us on.
But we were not ready yet. The blare of Bennett's whistle brought us to a halt. Seeing only the back of the head of the person in front of you, most of the band was blind to the unfolding drama. As the leader of the band entered our frozen ranks, my vantage from the position of the first and only french horn gave me a clear view of the man's icy scowl. He was staring into the eyes of a hapless saxophonist whose mistake was, if not unforgivable, certainly has proven unforgettable. 
No one made a sound, so quiet now, except for the tell-tale hiss coming from the bell of the saxophone. Not a syllable was exchanged between the two locked in a stare that brought terror to all in their company, but the sound of suds jetting from a pin-pricked beer can, overflowing onto the ground between them, said all there was to say. When the leader of the band was safely out of earshot, out band became a chorus, and our laughter became our song. 
Brigadoon was a fitting choice for the last theatrical performance at Talcott. Just as the townspeople stepped out of the mysterious mist after a century-long absence , recollections of my junior high, long since dissolved, reappear in my mind, its people unaltered by the great passage of time. 
Memory has the magic power to span great amounts of time, putting you back in moments long ago past,or alternately bringing the long ago past into the here and now. 
This might sound like sheer nostalgia, a desire to hold on to the familiar, fearful of change. But Talcott's Brigadoon was in one way a celebration of a break with the past. The lead actor was black, and the biggest deal with that was the way the student body did not think it was a big deal, at all. 
Project Concern brought blacks and Hispanics from Hartford to West Hartford, a short bus trip for a bus, but a gigantic leap for the students from the inner city. In nearby Boston, scoundrels did more than wrap themselves in the flag, they wielded it as a weapon, desperate to stem the invulnerable tide that would put blacks and whites in the same schools for the first time in forever. It was too soon for some, but for most in the Hartford area the exchange was accepted with little fanfare. 
Born black in the segregated North, rising to prominence as the lead actor in the school play, what seemed of little consequence then, today I look back with an appreciation of what it might have felt like for him. He, too, sat at the round table of Camelot, proud and respected. Maybe it went to his head. Maybe that's why he thought it was cool to put a beer in the bell of his saxophone. 
Type casting did not take into account skin color in the world Candy Ciarcia brought to life, teaching drama in Camelot. Hollywood is just beginning to learn this lesson. When I see the Founding Fathers portrayed by minorities on Broadway, I see the cast of Talcott's Brigadoon stepping out of the mist, not to resurrect times long since past, but rather to connect today to what they knew to be true, what they made real, and what the rest of the country is taking a long time to realize. 
The School is having a Ball!
Mr. Leary, whose manners and appearances conveyed a Woodstock pedigree, assumed a role of authority figure on the receiving end of a counter-culture outburst, much to his chagrin. In the Cafeteria we waited for the buses to come, filled with a giddy energy after the end of classes, able at last to speak to our peers outside the bounds of classroom discourse. Left to our own inclinations, we would have been happy to not learn anything.
On the day of the dance, the cafeteria would soon transform from a well lit array of tables and chairs lined up in orderly rows to a darkened dance floor below a spinning disco globe. The students waiting for the buses to come were anxious to transfer into adherents of adolescent intrigue. The social studies teacher sported a beard that suggested a 1960s sit-in for something, and he seemed overdressed in anything more than shorts and sandals. His ironic task was to advise us against consuming any  mind-altering substances.
He called for us to cease our fermented banter long enough for him to dutifully read us the pre-dance riot act. As soon as the din died down, he was able to utter the first line of the expected code of conduct for the evening to come, barring the evil of intoxication in any of its forms. Before he could begin his second line, a table of eighth grade girls broke out in a chorus. It carried across the silent cafeteria so all could hear, " I would not feel so all alone. Everybody must get stoned."
Despite being a big Dylan fan, himself, he broke from his script to reply with mock praise, "Very nice, ladies, very nice." The projection of his disappointment with them did not seem to bother the girls at all. The first bus was ready to leave, so we never heard the rest of the riot act. Within a half hour we were home, getting ready for the dance. Before arriving, the girls probably got high on marijuana, and the teacher probably did the same. 
Rose of Elmwood 
I may have walked, I may have gotten a ride. It may have been in winter, it may have been spring. All I remember for sure was the darkness, and the girl. The light from a hundred mirrors spun around the caf from the disco ball high above, flickering too fast to see anything for long. 
In the dark I was shielded from the embarrassment a public rejection would bring, terrified as I was of the fate suffered by a boy in my class. He declared to the other boys his intention to ask out a girl when he got her alone in the stain room. Well ventilated and enclosed in glass to make a sound proof chamber, we looked on the way HAL watched the crew members in “2001, A Space Odyssey” through the pod's porthole. We could not read their lips, but we did not need to to know she had shot him down.
I could not imagine a worse fate, a more fatal injury than the specter of such rejection, and it being known to all. In the dark, no one could see me fail, so I needed less courage to try. Still, it took all I had to ask, “would you like to dance?” I shuffled my feet from side to side to the sound of “Hot Blooded.” Then we danced a slow dance, holding her close, feeling her warmth, smelling her scent. She smelled like a subtle flower. She smelled like a rose. 
It was a secret thing. Hidden from view, able to be in an intimate embrace in a crowd of peers, without anyone knowing who was dancing with whom. There was nothing to account for, as though nothing had happened. There were no next steps, no words spoken between us after. Asking a girl at a dance to dance seemed reasonable. Asking a girl for a kiss, well, how would I ever be able to know if she was remotely interested? And if she wasn't, what shame would come from being so out of line? Rather than risk engendering her contempt, when the music stopped and the lights came back on, I retreated home in the dark. A rose of Elmwood, such a sweet first dance, it never mattered to me what her name might be. 
Stone's Tulips 
Down the ramp from Camelot, Mr. Stone and Mrs. Osgood nurtured our social outlook in part by showing us truly exotic films. The two were like opposite ends of a magnet: Mrs. Osgood, a twentyish newlywed, smothered us with liberal love, drawing us to here with equal parts of kindness and cleavage. Mr. Stone was the older, more conventional father figure, who kept us at a distance with stern looks and halitosis. 
The metal reels housing the film was snapped on the end of the arm extending off the back of the film projector. The lead frames of the film were hand fed through the lens apparatus and fed further onto an empty reel snapped onto an arm extending off the front of the projector. Before the audio of the film kicked in, the only sound heard in the dark, silent classrooms at the beginning of the movie was the low hum of a motor, and of the film advancing past the lens. 
The man in the movie woke up, feeling changed. He ate and ate and grew and grew. Once sufficiently larger, his appetite turned to people within arms reach. His form soared above the skyline, chasing after the people below, big enough to devour them in two bites. Finally, the people of the city took to the safety of subterranean shelters to wait out the menace. With no more people to eat, the now-monster left the city in search of food, but found only desert. He soon starved, and fell to the ground, where the people came, at long last leaving their shelters. They climbed atop the corpse, and then cut his flesh into pieces, packed them into boxes, and took it back to be stored in the shelters back in the city. Panning back from the ex-carnated giant outside the city limits, a line of super-sized skeletons comes into view, relating a tale of a series of killers, all stripped to the bone by the survivors of an epic cycle of feast or famine. 
A student who got close enough to know provided a report that was repeated school-wide, “His breath stank.” The man did not take undue umbrage at the slight, for Stone had known worse, much worse. Living beside the high school tennis courts, his house was on the route to and from school, an easy mark for the many alumni of his classes in junior high. They would be considered prime suspects for the crime committed against the residents of his front yard flower garden. Or was it the work of his current students? Of course, word travels fast when a teacher's flowers are cut down to nothing.
Whether they were witnesses to the crime, or simply knew of it second or third-hand, either way they made him jump. His back to the class, writing on the chalkboard, a set of whispers, heard by all, attributable to no one, set him off. “Tulips,” was all they said, but it was enough to bring a fitful reaction. 
Family Photo
You did not worry too much about candid photos being taken in the age of film and disposable flash cubes. It wasn't a simple matter of pulling out your cell phone and pointing and clicking and posting to Facebook. Some assembly was required in order to take a snapshot, especially at night. Unexposed film was coiled up in lengths of 24 or 36 frames, each 35mm in length, housed in a light-proof cylinder. It was hand loaded into a camera, advanced one frame at a time. If you sprung for ASA 400 or 800 you could set your F-stop a little higher at the same speed and get a wider field of vision in focus without reducing the shutter speed.
Flash-bulbs came in cubes, with one flash-bulb in each of the four faces rotated to the front, one at a time. A tiny chemical explosion lit up the room. After the fourth bulb flashed, the cube was thrown away, after it cooled down, and replaced with another.
After the last frame on the roll was exposed, a button on the bottom of the camera was pushed, and a crank flipped on the top to allow the film to be rewound back into the cylinder. You took the roll to the store to get it developed. Prints and negatives would come back in a week, but you had to hold onto your receipt until then. To crop a photo, you sent back a special order with the negative strip included, and a print marked up to show the person in the lab what you wanted to see in the new print.
Family photos were typically an annual event, taken by the professional photographers who staffed the studio at Sears and Roebuck in the Corbin's Corner Shopping Plaza. Our parents would lead their five boys on a short walk down Burnham Drive to the break in the wall at the fire gate at the end of Elmfield, wearing our best horizontally striped t-shirts. Over the years, as one was passed down from older brother to younger, the shirt could be seen in the series of family photos moving from left to right in the age ordered row of brothers.
In my thirteenth year, the photographer was having a hard time getting me to smile. A family photo without every smiling, or at least not frowning, was not worthy of hanging on the wall at home. She asked me, “Who is your girlfriend?”
Well, of course, the honest answer was, “no one,” but that would be more embarrassing than blurting out the name of a girl I wished was my girlfriend, so out came her name.
The photographer got the shot she needed, and my Mom got some intel on my secret world, and I had spoken my heart and staked my claim to a Talcott cheerleader with perfect teeth and a tight fitting sweater.
Inclined Planes
After completing the inclined plane lab, in which simple planks were set at an angle until something slid down the ram, we hanged the planks up high in the back of the room in a place that would soon prove to be a safety oversight. The problem began when a fellow student announced to the class that he had observed me doing something I shouldn't be doing. Maybe I was trying to squirrel away a sinker used to add weight to whatever we were trying to make slide down the plank. In any event, he ratted me out to everyone, including the teacher.
My response was swift and to the point, conveying meaning at the speed of a right hook to the jaw, followed by a pair of body blows setting up a left jab, again to the face, knocking the rat back into the base of the rack holding the planks. The true lesson in potential energy was unleashed from above, each and everyone plank presenting the potential to inflict blunt force trauma, falling down on and around the ass-kicked rat.
Mrs. Govotski shrieked, the fight stopped, and I was sent to the principal's office. It wasn't quite a big enough deal for “Stiff Nuts”, as Principal Michael Stephanian was known by staff and students alike, so the vice-principal dealt with me. “So, he ratted on you, and then you hit him?”
I nodded, not sure if it was a question or a statement of fact. Either way, I had nothing to say.
I get it.” He got it. It made sense to him. I was dismissed. Other teachers felt the same way. A straight A student who fought, too. There was something of a ying and yang duality to it, I guess. In the time when Gordie Howe and his kids played for the New England Whalers, I had scored the academic version of a Gordie Howe hat trick: A goal, assist and a fight, or an A, a 5 and a U.
The status of celebrity went straight to my head, until clarity came from the girl identified to the Sears and Roebuck photographer as my girlfriend. The phantasy came crashing down around me as I closed my locker and turned to her with the swagger of a conquering hero. But she pre-empted any approach with a simple sentence, a rhetorical question for which I had no answer, “So, you think you're a big man now because you got in a fight?” That was exactly what I thought, and then I did not know what to think.
It was beyond my comprehension then, and for years to come, that two people could have a falling out and ever recover. Her words cut the cord between my reality and my aspirations. It wasn't the last time I got in a fight, but if I had the spiritual insight to take into account her constuctive criticism, it would have been, and I would have been better off for it.
Years later, in high school, the boy I fought in science class came back to town with a visiting JV football team, and sought me out. We were all smiles, joined by the memory of this extraordinary event that elevated our notoriety to untold levels. In tiem, the fight gained me the admiration of the guy, but the respect of the girl was gone forever.
Decades later I heard that her ex-husband had beaten her when they were married. In the first draft of the previous sentence it began, “The man she married …,” but, on second thought, I have decided to not use the term “man” in the description of this person.
My Power School app chimes in a half a dozen times or more throughout the work day when my daughter is home sick, sending an alert each and every time one of her classes convenes without her present. No one told my parents about the fight in the science class. After all, I earned a dispensation for fighting because I punched out a rat. What sense would it make for the administrator to confuse the greater lesson learned by turning around and ratting on me to my parents?
The only clue would come later, in the form of an A-5-U.
At the end of the marking period, I carried home the hardcopy of my report card, and was confronted with the reality that there was no way to change a U to an S, nor change a 5 to any other number. My three part science grade was believed to be the only of its kind, and A-5-U. A was for highest academic performance; 5 was the highest number possible, signifying the worst possible citizenship; and U stood for unsatisfactory effort.
I don't give a crap about the 'A',” my father began. “That 'A' isn't going to get you anywhere if you are getting 5's and U's.” There was no invitation or opportunity to account for the failing metrics. The teacher's opinion was just as infallible, if not more so, than that of Pope Paul. A father of five boys, he ruled by decree, and he decreed that I should improve my effort and attitude totally, and without delay. As President of the PTO, his message to the teacher was no message at all. The opinion of a teacher was accepted without question.

The Ramp 
The ramp to Camelot was a highway to skateboarders, a practice Mr. Stone tried in vain to curtail. It was a transitional DMZ between the permissive culture of the third floor and the traditional educators below. 
For me, it was also a waterway. When my mother was in St. Francis Hospital giving birth to her fifth son, I escaped the containment of the adult given the hopeless duty of minding the other four. I made my way to the waters and the wild of the algae choked drainage channels near my home. The runoff from Corbin's Corner Shopping Center backed up behind the dam I built with rocks and mud and grass. When enough water was behind it, the dam was breached, and a mighty current was sent forth like a raging flood. 
A friend on the other side of the headwaters of Rockledge Brook teamed up with me, rolling magazines into a pipe from the bathroom sink faucet to the rim of a tall trash can. Much too heavy to be carried by two, we were still able to maneuver it to the top of the ramp on a dolly, just like a science lab on potential energy, or the difference between static and rolling friction, or how high do you have to tip a plank before something flat rolls down it. We left it leaning just inside the double doors, then returned to class to establish our alibi.
The bell rang, students filled the hallways, and pushed open the door to usher the flood. Judging by the high water line left behind, the water spread out, spanning the entire width of the ramp on its path to the sea. Once it reached the second floor, it collected at the low point of the flooring, forming a large pool two inches deep in front of the door to Mr. Stone's classroom. 
Arriving a few minutes after the water, coming from a classroom too far away to be considered suspects, we watched the crowd gather in the halls, delayed from entering, as Stone called for custodians, like Charleston Heston commanding the sea to part. But he did not have a prayer. We just walked through the pond, tracking water and filth as we forded his entryway. Class began with our teacher barking into the air about the sheer, intolerable assault on the dignity of his office presented by this random act of vandalism.
Free Throws
The call came from coach to play man-to-man. All season long we had tried to mimic Michigan State's 2-3 zone, but now he decided to ditch it after all. Michigan State, led by Earvin Johnson, beat undefeated Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in the NCAA final that year. Coach attributed the success of the Spartans to their 2-3 zone, and noted the lack of production by Johnson when his teammate Gregory Kelser came out of the game.
Within moments of the switch, I stole a pass and raced half the court on a breakaway. Ascending to the hoop, I was caught from behind, and we both ended up crashing into the padding on the wall, four feet past the end line. For the first time in my athletic career I said something to an opponent other than, "Good game" in the post-game handshake line. On my way to the foul line, in a clutch of players, I turned to him and said, "That was a good tackle. You should play football."
The mother of a teammate in attendance told me afterwards that my breakaway play and the aftermath, "made the game interesting." It was a revelation that she was less than engrossed by the entire sporting event. For me, everything in life paled in comparison to the excitement of an athletic contest.
In my junior year of high school, my youth football coach, and father to a daughter, founded West Hartford's girls softball league. Before then, like back in the years of Talcott, girls in the junior high years had fewer options. There a lot more cheerleaders. A boy's job was to compete in uniform, and a girl's job was to cheer on the boys. It never dawned on me that the girls could find anything of greater interest than my performance in these hallowed games.
An eighth grade cheerleader too an interest in the score sheet after the game, but it never occurred to me that her interest in me might extend beyond my stats. She complemented me on my perfect two-for-two shooting at the free throw line. I might have taken the opportunity to complement her on how perfect she was to say so, or how perfect she looked in her cheer-leading outfit, or how perfect her Dorothy Hamill haircut looked. I was standing on the charity stripe of love, and did not even take a shot.
One of the eight seventh graders that formed the JV basketball team, we played a three game season against the other three junior highs in town. Coming off the bench, I averaged one point per game, all free throws. 
True Faith
St. Brigid Parish encompassed almost all of West Hartford south of I-84, so we knew many of our classmates at Talcott for years before. Even if we attended different Elementaries, many if not most of us were in the same pews on Sunday, and walking across Elmwood on Wednesday afternoons to the same CCD classes at St. Brigid's school. Sectarian divisions of the twentieth century were still on their last legs in Hartford at the end of the youth of the Baby Boomers. St. Francis Hospital was where Catholic doctors cared for Catholic patients, so my brothers and I and many if not most of my classmates were born there. Hartford Hospital cared for Protestants, while Mt. Sinai was predominately by and for Jews.
Real estate agents had maps of the town with the Star of David drawn over the neighborhood in the north, referred to as the “Reservation”, ostensibly for the preponderance of streets named for First Nation tribes such as Mohegan, Pontiac, Miami, Seneca, Iroquois, Mohawk and Huron. At the center of the Reservation was King Phillip Junior High, named for the First Nation Prince conquered by the British en route to pacifying the Tobacco Valley. A significant Jewish migration after World War II brought many from Hartford to northeastern West Hartford.
On the southern half of the Real Estate agents map of West Hartford a cross was drawn. St. Thomas, St Brigid and St. Helena teamed with parishioners, whereas today the diocese had combined the three into one, and still have no luck filling the pews on Sunday.
But when the ballots were counted, my school had elected Goldsmith to be our student body President. Even without years of doctrine, without consuming a single communion, he was one of us. And if he was one of us, and a leader to boot, then we were something more than a group of Catholics. The clergy depended on us believing their teachings were the only way to raise your child, and the student body had already figured out the opposite was true. It never dawned on them to change their tune, and maybe they never will. The sun sets on cultures who think they are their own source of light.
In the Elm, our mother echoed the soulful lyrics, breaking the theater's never enforced code of silence. With one word she counseled her age ordered sons seated to her left. It was an adjustment for her when my older brother Joe told her of his marriage to an emigre from Ukraine in a civil service, and the plans for the religious ceremony in the Jewish tradition. She confided in me, but never spoke of it to my brother, “I always looked forward to you boys getting married in a church.”
Then you shouldn't have taken us to the Elm to see 'Fiddler on the Roof' and lectured us about the importance of 'Tradition'.”
The attempt to reassign ceramics maestro Harry Arnini to Hall High in the north was met with fury by parents who saw him as an indispensable part of Elmwood's identity. They won that fight, and we still put the slip-caste turkeys I made in high school in the middle of the table every Thanksgiving.
My math teacher, Mr. Bran, was similarly summoned to the north. H filed a brief but memorable protest agains what he saw as a sectarian selection. As a Jew selected to teach the predominantly Jewish children of the Reservation who attended King Phillip, he had reason to suspect that religion had something to do with it.When Goldsmith asked him where he was going, he fashioned an arm band out of a scoresheet and marked it with a David's Star, fit it around his arm and replied, “KP, of course.”
Goldsmith laughed, and Bran frowned, and I did not know what to think. Mr. Bran and the late Dr. Bookman had tutored a math team dynasty at Talcott that had guided my older brothers to pursue a course that led them to attain PhD's at Harvard and MIT. Bran did not want to go north. Even without years of doctrine, without consuming a single communion, he was one of us.
Maybe if Bran had taught me for a couple more years, I could have been a contender. Maybe if the parents made as big a stink about Bran as they did for Arnini, the world could have been my oyster. But, on the other hand, the white glazed turkeys are still a big hit on Thanksgiving.
The Afterlife
The stairs to the CEO's office at the new headquarters at 999 South Quaker Lane rose from a free throw line in the old gym. Proud proprietors of PACMAN and Cabbage Patch dolls, COLECO, an abbreviation of Connecticut Leather Company, bought Talcott from the town a year or so after it closed its doors to students.
For a brief period, though, former students made their way back to the gym on certain weekends. The shop, auditorium, classrooms, and cafeteria were relegated to darkened, empty spaces, so that as a whole, Talcott Junior High had become the world's largest roller-skating rink. Waiting for a sale to go through to a new owner with no interest in a gym, its final nights of use by the students of West Hartford were as memorable as any. That was where a tall blonde, made taller by wearing roller skates, caught my eye, and smiled, and motioned with her index finger for me to come to her. 
Jude was a rare name then, and rarer still for a girl. But she was such the complete feminine package that I was convinced for a long time that the Beatles were talking about a woman when they sang “Hey, Jude.” Her spirit was as light as her hair. Her smile as wide as the curves that undulated from head to tow like a sultry ocean of flesh. My attraction to her overcame my shyness, to the point that somehow my feelings came to her attention. I am not sure how many intermediaries were involved, but one way or another she became aware that I liked her, and I became aware she had a boyfriend in high school, and then she became aware that I was heartbroken to hear that it was the case that she was not available to go out with me. 
Nevertheless, there we were, out on a Friday night, rolling around the old gym, and she was inviting me to engage her in direct conversation. A first year hockey player with almost no skill at skating on ice, I managed on wheels a modest c-cut, and rolled suavely backwards in her direction. There she told me how pleasant she found my overtures. It was the sweetest of rebuffs. 
Years later, sitting in Middletown's Harbor Park, a member of Great White was sharing shots with me that he had bought, but lacked the stomach lining to drink. Famous for his music to millions, I could not recall a single tune. But, I knew of the band. It played to a packed room in Rhode Island on a Thursday night, before indoor fireworks set the hall ablaze. Jude perished along with many others in the smoke. The white liquor from the Great White band member offered no consolation. 
For Elmwood, rollerskating in the gym was a consolation prize. For me, Jude's smile just for me was a consolation to be prized. If there is a heaven to come, let its gates be the double doors to Talcott's gym, with Jude waiting on the other side, gliding above the wooden floor on a pair of angel's roller skates, with a smile just for me.
© 2018 John Kilian 

Monday, October 2, 2017

Stolen Children

Today I got in the car and heard the news of the Las Vegas massacre. On the way home, they played Tom Petty after announcing his passing. His lyric “I don't understand the world today” haunts me on this day of inconceivable loss. So many lost their lives to the act of a man that never before raised the slightest alarm.

In Irish culture, such turns of fate are explained as the works of faeries, the mystical beings of the eternal woods who come and exchange the dead for the living. A victim of a stroke who loses some faculty is said to have been deprived by a faery, taking his good mind and replacing it with something tarnished. Like pirates, they return to the forest with their booty, enjoying endless revelry, unconcerned by the blemishes left by their passing through the world of mortal humans.

Yeats wrote of the legend of the faeries, how it would console those who lost a sibling before their time. While they came and went like grim reapers, the fear of their coming was balanced by a pagan notion of heaven where the lost child would enjoy a life without care for time eternal.

The Stolen Child

W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

j24u - a deeper dive into current events by John Kilian

Here they are:
    Oct 25, 2016  Topics include MidEast conflict, immigration, U.S. health and healthcare,demographic changes in U.S.

    Oct 26, 2016 Catholic Church, Afghanistan, Swordfish

   Nov 4, 2016 FBI, Wikileaks, The path to the Presidency for Hillary Clinton seems likely but not uncontested.

   Nov 6, 2016  meaning of j24u, performed by Leonard Cohen,Irish Rugby, Global Warming

   Nov 7, 2016 Landslide predicted, FBI v. State Department history, Canadiens fast start, sans PK Subban

   Nov 8, 2016 Election Day, Cats Stevens, age differences between parties.

   Nov 9, 2016 Election 2016 postmortem, Belinda Carlyle 

   Nov 10, 2016 Wendy Colonna, We Are One, Trump policy on Gun Control, Mental health

   Nov 12, 2016  The rise of the Montreal Canadiens, and the demise of Leonard Cohen and TPP

  Nov 23, 2016 Regime Change hurts Canadiens, Darly Hall and John Oates, Demise of youth hockey?, ROW tie-breaker, Election fraud allegations

Stay tuned for more.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Middletown Poems

End of the Season

Their only win of the season
led to a game under the lights.
They ran and kicked but in the end
they lost again that night.

We gathered afterwards on the bench
where all twelve of them could sit.
They spoke of the fun they had
and how much it would be missed.

The playoff game in latest October
was played in an early November chill.
Even in all the excitement
the weather dampened the thrill.

A coach had words to say
on how the kids could better play,
but the last word went to the girl not too old
to say at last, "It is cold!"

Friday, February 21, 2014

Gold Medal For Kevin Dineen

A thrilling end of regulation play in the ladies gold medal hockey game. With a minute to go and the Canadians on the attack with an extra skater, trailing by one, a linesman commits a cardinal sin of officiating and interferes with play on the blue line. An American plays the puck down the ice towards the empty net,... and it hits the post! Holy cow!

Une fin palpitante du jeu de la réglementation dans l'or médaille jeu de hockey de dames. Avec une minute à faire et les Canadiens à l'attaque avec un patineur supplémentaire, de fuite par un, l'arbitre assistant commet un péché cardinal de l'arbitrage et interfère avec le jeu sur la ligne bleue. Un Américain joue la rondelle sur la glace vers le but vide, ... et il tire sur le poteau! Vache sacrée!

I would have felt sad for Kevin Dineen if he lost, because the Canadian coach was also the captain of the Hartford Whalers. i spoke with Kevin not long ago when he was coaching the visiting team against the Connecticut Whale. He told me how nice my family was, with a great deal of melancholy. Within days his mother would pass away.

Je me suis senti triste pour Kevin Dineen si il a perdu, parce que l'entraîneur canadien a également été le capitaine des Whalers de Hartford. J'ai parlé avec Kevin il ya pas si longtemps, il a été entraîneur de l'équipe visiteuse contre le Connecticut Whale. Il m'a raconté comment ma famille était agréable, avec beaucoup de mélancolie. Dans les jours sa mère allait mourir

He would return in the playoffs and his team would rally from two goals down to end the season for the Whale. On his exit Hartford treated him to a standing ovation, chanting "Let's Go Whalers" as he walked around the boards waving and thanking the fans, as he left the ice he played on, for the last time.

Il reviendra dans les séries éliminatoires et son équipe se rallierait de deux buts à la fin de la saison pour La Baleine. Sur sa sortie Hartford a traité à une ovation debout, chantant "Let's Go Whalers" alors qu'il marchait dans les conseils agitant et en remerciant les fans comme il a quitté la glace, il a joué sur pour, la dernière fois.

Lucky for the linesman, the Canadians complete the two goal rally today, and then they win in overtime. Kevin Dineen wins the Gold! Let's Go Whalers!

Heureusement pour le juge de touche, les Canadiens compléter les deux but rassemblement aujourd'hui, et ils gagnent en prolongation. Kevin Dineen remporte la médaille d'or! Let 's Go Whalers!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tenor and Bass - Timeline



At the beginning of 1938, the Austrian government, in an effort to maintain its independence from Germany, ordered a referendum to decide whether to join Germany, and thus reneged on a pledge to German Chancellor Adolf Hitler to agree to the merging of the two countries. Pro-independence supporters were expected to prevail in the balloting, and Italy's Prime Minister Benito Mussolini pledged to defend the Austrian regime against a German occupation.

On March 9, Rupert von Trapp completed his medical school studies.

On March 11, after Hitler persuaded Mussolini to renege on his pledge to the Austrians, a coup in Austria coincided with the arrival of German troops to seal the unification of Germany and Austria. The bells of Salzburg were rung in celebration at the insistence of the German military. German laws were adopted quickly that removed Jewish doctors from Austria's state hospitals.

The Von Trapp Family Choir declined an invitation to sing at the celebration of Adolf Hitler's birthday on April 20.

On May 20, in anticipation of a German invasion, the government of Czechoslovakia mobilized their military. A clandestine plot by senior leaders of the German military and civilian leadership determined to depose Hitler by force in the event he order Germany to engage Czechoslovakia in armed combat.

The Trapp family fled Austria in June by train, eventually reaching England, and toured Europe over the summer. The Austrian frontier is sealed shortly after there departure. Against the will of Georg von Trapp, Heinrich Himmler, a chief architect of the Holocaust, takes control of his villa in Aigen.

At this time, it was a matter of common knowledge that political opponents of the Nazi Party were being committed to concentration camps. In the summer of 1938, a concentration camp was opened in Mauthausen, Austria at the site of a quarry operation. The steps leading up from where stone was removed by prisoners became known as the “Stairs of Death.”

In fall, the von Trapp family secured an advance from an American concert promoter and departed for the United States aboard the American Farmer, arriving on October...

Negotiations between allies France and England versus Germany over the summer resulted in the withdrawal of France and Britain's threats of force to defend Czechoslovakian sovereignty over the ethnically German portions of the country known as the Sudetenland. Without the support of its allies, Czechoslovakia allowed German troops to occupy the Sudetenland without armed resistance in early October.

Ernest Hemingway published “The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Storieson October 14. The “Fifth Column” refers to a clandestine force of sympathizers who support an invading force by way of espionage and sabotage. People of Germanic heritage were viewed with suspicion as Europe and the United States witnessed the expansion of Germany.

On November 9, anti-Jewish mobs in Germany and Austria carried out extensive vandalism of Jewish businesses, houses, schools, hospitals and synagogues. Local authorities did not intervene as they watched countless window panes shattered and fires lit, earning the event the title “Kristallnacht” - the Night of Breaking Glass. Many Jews were killed in the process, and tens of thousands of Jews were sent to concentration camps in the wake of this event, triggered by a reaction to a German diplomat being killed by a Polish Jew.


Johannes von Trapp was born in Philadelphia to Georg and Maria on January 19.

In February, the von Trapp was notified that their visa would not be extended.
In March, they left by ship on the Normandie to tour Scandanvia.

On September 1, German troops invaded Poland.
On September 3, France England declared war on Germany, and Winston Churchill was appointed as Britain's First Lord of the Admiralty.
On September 17, the Soviet Union invaded Poland
On October 6, the former territory of Poland was divided and annexed by the two invaders.

From October 7 to 11, upon returning the the United States aboard the Bergensfjord from their Scandanavian tour, the Trapp Family Choir was taken into custody on Ellis Island by immigration authorities. Rupert was spared incarceration due to his status as an applicant to immigrate.

On November 30, the Soviet Union's Red Army invaded Finland.

On March 13, hostilities between Finland and the USSR ended. The invasion of Finland by the Soviet Union's Red Army in the winter of 1939-40 was repelled by a force that was greatly outnumbered. The Finnish troops were trained to maneuver in Arctic environments, featuring infantry on skis, and camouflagued by white parkas.
On April 9, Germany invaded Norway. The British Navy's assault on Narvik, Norway in the spring of 1940 sought to deprive Germany of strategically important sources of iron ore for their war machine. Austrian mountain troops held the Navy and five times as many British and French troops at bay by holding high ground above the port and its entrances. The British could not contest these positions due to the absence of troops trained in extreme cold and mountainous and snow-covered terrain. Despite their targets proximity to the Arctic Circle, only summer uniforms were brought on board by the British. Norway remains under German occupation until the end of the war.
On May 10, Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands. On the same day, Neville Chamberlain resigned and was replaced by Winston Churchill as the British Prime Minister.
On Jun3 22, after British and French forces were pushed back to the sea, an armistice between Germany and France established a German occupation zone in northern France that included all of France's Atlantic coastline.
On July 3, negotiations with the French admiral in command of a large contingent of vessels in Algeria failed to secure British objectives that would at least neutralize the threat that the formidable naval force there would fall into the hands of Germany. A massive barrage of British naval artillery destroyed the WWI era Battleship Britagne, with a thousand sailors on board perishing.
In the summer, German air forces attacked British military targets in Great Britain. British counter attacks on Berlin included a sortie that inadvertantly bombed the civilian population. The Battle of Britain then excalated, as Hitler ordered the daily bombing of London over the course of September and October.
Germany's inability to destroy Britain's coastal defenses pre-empted the launch of Operation Sea Lion, a planned amphibious and airborne invasion of Britain.

On March 11, the third anniversary of the annexation of Austria by Germany, the United States officially ended its neutrality when President Roosevelt signed lend-lease legislation providing financial and material aid to Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Free France, China, and other allies.
On June 22, Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union in the largest invasion in the history of warfare. The intentional deprivation of food to foreign troops and civilians in areas that fell under German control led to the starvation of millions.
During the summer of 1941, the United States halted the export of petroleum to Japan. Negotiations were accompanied by the positioning of naval assets by both countries in preparation for battle over the Dutch West Indies, a strategic souce of petroleum and rubber, and the majority of Americans acknowledged the likelihood that the United States would enter the war as combatants.
On December 7, Japan attacked American ships recently deployed to Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiin Islands. Within days the United States declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy.

In May, Hitler and Mussolini meet in Salzburg. In this meeting, Mussolini commits to the large scale deployment of Italy's Eighth Army to the Eastern Front that would follow in June. The force includes three newly created divisions of mountain (alpini) troops.
During the summer, the von Trapps perform for an Army camp in Stowe, Vermont. Later they buy farmland on Luce Hill there.
On January 26, Soviet forces target Italy's Alpini divisions, the last remaining units of the Eight Army.
By February, Italy's Eigth Army no longer exists in Russia, after suffering heavy casualties.
On March 9, on the fourth anniversary of Rupert's graduation from medical school, Rupert and Werner von Trapp report as draftees of the U.S. Army. They become innaugural members of the U.S. Army Ski Troops, the predecessor of the 10th Mountain Division. They soon become U.S. Citizens.
On May 16, the Allies bomb Rome.
On July 10, the Allies invade Sicily.
On July 23, the King of Italy deposes Mussolini.
On September 8, General Eisenhower announces the surrender of Italy. The Allies and Germans battle to occupy Italy over the next 20 months.
October 18 to November 11 – At the Third Moscow Conference, the Allies(China,UK,US,USSR) agree that after the war, Austria will be treated as the first victim of Nazi aggression, and be permitted to regain its independence.

The 10th Mountain Division deploys to Italy.
The allies drop a single bomb on Salzburg's Cathedral. During the war, fifteen allied sorties result in the destruction of close to half the city's buildings.

March 29 – Soviet forces cross Austria's eastern frontier. The Red Army suffers heavy losses, and their victory is followed by their perpetrating vast amounts of sex crimes over several years time, eventually leading the Soviets to strictly garrison its occupation forces in Austria in 1948.
April 29 – French forces cross Austria's western frontier.
May 8 – Germany surrenders. British and American forces enter Austria. Austria is occupied by the Allies(France,UK,US,USSR) until 1955, when its independence is restored. Salzburg becomes the center of American occupation operations in Austria, and Werner and Rupert von Trapp return to Austria as occupying forces in American uniforms.
July 26 – The Allies(China,US,USSR) submit Postdam Declaration of terms for Japaneses surrender. The “prompt and utter destruction” of Japan is threatened.
August 6 – The United States drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
August 8 – The Soviet Union declares war on Japan, breaking a six year truce.
August 9 – The Soviet Union invades Manchuria, previously occupied by Japan. Later that day, the United States drops a second atomic bomb on Japan, this time in Nagasaki.
August 15 – A recording of the Emperor of Japan is broadcast on radio announcing his acceptance of the Postdam Declaration – ending hostilities in World War II. Japan is occupied by American forces.

The von Trapp brothers return to Vermont.
Rupert von Trapp graduates from the University of Vermont, and marries Henriette Lajoie, whom he had six children.

Werner von Trapp marries Salzburg native Erika Klambauer, a childhood friend of his sister, Martina, and with whom he had six children.

1950 Werner von Trapp erects a stone chapel to honor WWII veterans on the hill above the family home, carrying the stones used to build it up the hill in his ruck sack.
Ski Troops in WWII

The invasion of Finland by the Soviet Union's Red Army in the winter of 1939-40 was repelled by a force that was greatly outnumbered. The Finnish troops were trained to maneuver in Arctic environments, featuring infantry on skis.

The British Navy's assault on Narvik, Norway in the spring of 1940 sought to deprive Germany of strategically important sources of iron ore for their war machine. Austrian mountain troops held the Navy and five times as many British and French troops at bay by holding high ground above the port and its entrances. The British could not contest these positions due to the absence of troops trained in extreme cold and mountainous and snow-covered terrain. Despite their targets proximity to the Arctic Circle, only summer uniforms were brought on board by the British. Norway remains under German occupation until the end of the war.
The United States formed the 10th Mountain Division in 1943, before the advent of recreational skiing in America. Austrian ex-patriots, among them the von Trapp brothers, Rupert and Werner, were instrumental in training American troops with no prior experience on skis or alpine conditions. The 10th Mountain distinguished themselves for valor, suffering among the highest casualty rates of any unit in the war. They exceeded the expectations of their foes, achieving surprise by taking terrain thought to be impassable, leading to the capture of troops and positions that gave the allies a vital strategic advantage.