The red velvet curtain has been closed for too long and it’s time to present a new scene. I’m going back in time to first grade at H. C. Lea (Grammar) School in West Philadelphia. Wanting to see Santa Clause was a big thing and I had an unflappable determination to see the jolly old man. There were lots of toys I wanted for Christmas. I’ve decided to include a personal hygiene mishap in MY PERSONAL STORY because it reveals the desire of this little kid to do something he wanted to do, in spite of the obstacles (poop) that got in the way. The “accident” happened in 1st. grade and went unrecognized by everyone except me. Yes, my teacher did smell something unpleasant but I was a “rug boy,” and having just unrolled the rug onto which a classmate had hurled the day before, the timing was perfect and I escaped detection despite the load of freshly minted poop in my pants.
Nowadays, kids talk about “poop.” “Poop, poop, poop.” All “poop,” all the time. This word is often mentioned in popular children’s books particularly aimed at little boys. When big boys with big toys go and gamble this word undergoes a metamorphosis. When I stand at a table playing Craps in Las Vegas, sometimes I wonder if some gambler way back when rolled the dice, lost, and shit in his pants. And the game of Craps was born. Imagine if you will, if Craps had been named Poops. Next time when you’re gambling you’d be standing at the Poops table playing Poops.
Sorry – I couldn’t resist. Getting back on track, when the “accident” happened I was six years old. My Parents were going to take me to see Santa Clause after school that day. So, there I was riding in their car on a mission, and the dried poop in my pants wasn’t going to stop me. Now I come to the point of this story, and I think you’ll understand the reason for my scatological diversion because to this day I won’t let obstacles stop me from achieving whatever I’ve set out to do.
During another Christmas season, when I was one year older, my Mom took me to to see Santa Clause at Gimbal Bros. Department Store in Center City Philadelphia. A radio show featuring Santa Clause was being broadcast on station WIP. I sat on his lap and he asked me if I had been crying. I said yes, and he asked me the reason why. I replied, “I dropped my choo-choo train engine down the toilet but my Mother fished it out.” Needless to say my dear Mom was very embarrassed and reminded me about it for years.
During yet another Christmas, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, my parents gave me a Polaroid Land Camera Model 95, which allowed the user to develop a finished B&W picture in one minute. You would snap the picture, then pull a paper tab containing the undeveloped picture. You would wait for one minute, then peel off the paper backing to see the finished picture. The final step was to coat the picture using a pink strip of soft material containing a chemical that preserved and protected the picture from fading.
Armed with my new Polaroid Camera, I became the photographer for the elementary school newspaper, The Lea Echo. This was in addition to my being on the audio-visual squad — H.C. Lea (Grammar) School’s main projectionist. I wanted to take a picture at a baseball game. What if I could photograph a student sliding into home plate and the umpire calling the runner safe? Well, it happened but I wasn’t in the right position of snap the magic action moment. I stood behind the catcher and umpire, and was blocked from seeing the action. So I decided to stage the photo with a bunch of kids after the game ended. The Camera had a very slow shutter speed and the lens was standard focal length, so I stood with the camera on the baseball diamond in the pitcher’s lane a few feet away. The picture I took, a sports action moment at a schoolyard baseball game, a moment frozen in time, looks like it was taken in real time by a professional photographer. I have it on the wall of my office today.
I was a good photographer but a lousy musician. My Uncle Eddie who gave me a musical instrument every Christmas, gave me an accordion one year. It was half the size of a standard accordion. I was in Cub Scouts and there was some kind of talent night. I remember coming out on the stage, staring into the spotlight and trying to get through the Western-themed song, “Home on the Range.” I performed miserably and barely got through playing the entire song. I didn’t like being in front of an audience. I decided I was never going to be a performer. Yet the stage fascinated me, and would play an important role in my future.
Today’s story gets me through my Grammar School years, and I along with you, will soon graduate to high school and…
MY PERSONAL STORY will continue…