Over the speed limit
Tomorrow I go from 55 to 56. 55 has been a cool age. I have enjoyed saying it; “fity five” (I leave out the second f) Fity six does not sound anywhere near as cool, still, it sounds a year cooler than fity seven, although I think for fifty seven I am going to add the second f back in. Fifty seven seems to me to require more dignity.
Going from fifty dive to fifty six reminds me of the huge change in my life when I went from 5 to 6. That was a big year. That was the year I switched schools for the first time. Because I was in the bulge of the baby boom generation, there were never enough public schools for my cohorts and I, although at 5, I’m pretty sure that I did not know that I had cohorts, or how to get rid of them if I had them. What I did know was that my school, Braeburn Elementary was crowded. My Kindergarten class met in a temporary building, or, as it was universally known in those days, a “shack”. Braeburn was an older school, far removed from my neighborhood. I was there only the one semester before the new school, Richmond, was finished. Other than throwing up at our Christmas party, and learning the Lord’s Prayer, how to skip and the great milk, cookie and nap times we had each day, the thing I recall most about Braeburn was their fundraising Minstrel Show. One of our neighbors, Dick Roland, father of my classmate Mark, put on black face and participated in what I bet was the last district sanctioned Minstrel show in the Houston School system. I had never heard of a Minstrel show before that, and frankly could not understand the whole point. I am still not sure that I understand the point, but that was the last one I ever saw. It was an odd thing seeing the father’s of all of my friends dancing around on stage imitating, in the words of my mother “colored people” (“They like to be called that” she confided). Maybe they did, considering the vile alternatives of that racist time.
The longest six and a half years of my life were spent at Richmond Elementary School. There I developed every bad habit and every anxiety which plague me to this day. Almost nothing good ever happened to me at Richmond, although a lot of funny things did. I think the thing which is most interesting is that despite the fifty years that have gone by since January 2, 1959, elementary school still looks pretty much the same, it just has less paddling. The elementary school my daughter went to looked and felt very much like mine. Not even the water fountains or restrooms had changed very much. The cafeteria looked the same, although the food had changed some. The prices for the food certainly had. It was 27 cents for a plate lunch at Richmond in 1959. This included a meat (sort of) a starch, a vegetable and a carton of milk. For two cents more you could get cookies, for seven cents more (later reduced to four cents) you could get ice cream. You could not get a lunch like that for 27 cents today. Even if you could, you would not buy it, it was inedible, which is why many of us just bought four cartons of ice cream for lunch.
One thing that has changed, independence. Richmond was a few blocks from my house and as a six year old I walked there every day. I was not specifically in the care of any of the older kids, but there were enough of them around to where my mother did not mind turning me loose. I can’t imagine people today sending their six year olds, unaccompanied, to school. I would not. But it was exhilarating. Over the six or so years of walks I expanded my vocabulary to include colorful profanity, I learned about sex and figured out how to invent various lies for not having done my assignments. It was time well spent, really, the only thing that was attached in any way to that school that was time well spent. That has changed, elementary school today is time well spent. There are not forty kids to a classroom presided over by a sadistic middle aged woman anymore. They teach you how to think, at least a little bit. Anyone who tried to think for themselves at Richmond Elementary was not going to do well or perhaps even last long. Most years I was sent to sit in the back of the room, away from the rest of the class, for weeks at a time. We were not allowed to talk at lunch. Can you imagine that ? I think that you can talk at lunch in most prisons. We lived for the monthly air raid drills to break the tediousness of our existence, even though we were reminded by them that we would. one day soon, be burned beyond recognition in a nuclear holocaust. As Robert Klein used to say, at least we’d have “an orderly nuclear holocaust”.
All of that was fifty years ago. But I swear to you, the 45 years since I got out of elementary school passed much, much faster than my six year sentence at Richmond.