Sunday, March 1, 2009

If an Auto harp is dropped in the woods, you'll hear it in Times Square

If you attended public grade school in the 70s, you had the unique opportunity to experience this country's public education system at a brief moment in time when the schools didn't care about being secular, peanut free, caffeine free, paddling free, shock therapy free. Back when the teacher's lounge was smokier than the Landmark Lanes on Tuesday night Import night. Ahh yes, the good old days of sink or swim, there are some memories from the days of Herbert Hoover Elementary that I think both of my readers will enjoy.

Note to both of my readers: I'm not saying the 70's approach to education was better than today's public education. I'm all for a peanut free, pan-religious, all inclusive, paddling free, smoke free drug free zone of public education. Just a little nostalgic. Just 'cause Yogi bear smoked, doesn't mean he was a bad bear or that our memories of him are any less sweet, Dig??

Things we learned in Miss Haller's Music class

Miss Haller was a rockin' rollin' Age of Aquarius kick butt music teacher. She played the guitar, was into disco, encouraged copious use of the Glockenspiel. Opened the piano up to impromptu solos any time, just ask. Bring in your favorite Styx LP, Donna Summer, Neil Diamond, or in my case, HeeHaw's Greatest Hits Vol. 2, and request a ditty and she'd let it roll. Also, she rocked the auto harp so hard my mom actually purchased one.

Thoughts on that Auto harp Purchase: As a side note, my siblings and I, though musically inclined, couldn't hold a candle to the Mandrell sisters or June Carter Cash when it comes to the auto harp. I was always freaked out about playing it "arms crossed." Yes, you can look ridiculous playing the auto harp, but even more ridiculous playing it "arms straight," which requires you set it on the floor and criss cross applesauce legs in front of it. Assuming your accompanying banjo picker and harmonica blower are standing, you look like a dope no matter how musically talented you are. Here is a link to see an consummate auto harp pro, Mother Maybelle Carter, rock the house and not look like a dope playing it as God intended. Note that Mother Maybelle didn't drop it.

Sadly, but inevitably, the family auto harp did not become our pass to the Grand Ole Opry as my parents had hoped, but rather, something we had to dust, carefully, or you could hurt yourself. There is no way of minimizing the sound of an auto harp being dropped because it was slick with Lemon Pledge. Also, mine toes! mine toes! Sucker is heavy. But still hoping for a virtuoso in the family, Anja has lovingly preserved it if not tuned it. Maybe the White Stripes will do for the auto harp what Blue Oyster Cult did for the cowbell: bring it back to the vernacular baby!!

Failing Disco, or How Disco Failed Me:

I recall one uncomfortable music class when Miss Haller pulled out her Andy Gibb record and ordered us to "Shadow Dance," the dance craze sweeping the nation, a sub category of the prevailing wind of the 1970's Disco.

Now, in order to properly teach children to disco, the instructions go something like this:

1. Crouch before a fresh line of cocaine
2. Snort Deeply
3. Point up, or, North Northeast
4. Point down and across, or South Southwest
5. Rinse and repeat foxy ladies!

This being an elementary class, we left steps one and two in the teacher's lounge with the cigarettes. (Juj doesn't encourage drug use of any kind with the exception of NyQuill, but not socially, only for the flu and not for nursing moms 'cause it dries up your milk. Yeah, I'm saving you a life experience here ya don't need. Of course all the instructional staff at Herbert Hoover Elementary were clean and sober. Lighten up readers, you know this is a PG-13 blog 'cause its about the 70s.)

Also, if you do a line in an A.M. music class, it makes it harder for your teacher to get you to observe nap time after lunch. However, all the erasers will be vacuumed in record time.

Miss Haller partnered me up with Brad Runkel. She didn't tell us that Shadow Dancing as dictated by Andy Gibb requires one person to lead in the various pointing exercises, one to follow. Brad and I couldn't work this out on our own and he spent the lesson yelling at me to do something with me yelling back to him to do something.

Brad and I failed Shadow Dancing. When I confronted him about this childhood hurt at our class reunion, he of course denied it ever happened, but I'm still smarting over this misfire. Here is a photo of Brad and I healing our rift over the Shadow Dancing debacle. I'm on the right. Brad seemed to have carried on with his life unaffected by this "U" in Elementary Shadow Dancing.

As a side note, for my third grade birthday, my sister Paula purchased the Andy Gibb record for me. My mom immediately forced me to return it because of the racy album cover photo. We outsmarted her by purchasing the "cassette tape" and smearing up her glasses. Treasure Island, 1978, still have the sales receipt.

Miss Haller threw a Rockin' Christmas Concert back in the day when Public Schools Assumed everyone celebrated Christmas:

Annie Sullivan couldn't hold a candle to Miss Haller when it came to workin' Miracles with rowdy elementary age children. Particularly skilled in getting us to stop hissing the lyric:

"We Wisssssssshhhhhh you a Merry Chrisssssstmasssssss."

I'd like to think that if Miss Haller had seen the "Happy Birthday to you.... CHA CHA CHA" trend coming, she would have nipped this in bud with a stern warning, implied threat, a dose of public humiliation, and positive reinforcement and we'd all be better off at our children's birthday parties.

Shock Therapy as the precursor to Love and Logic:

There was a 5th grade teacher who was so beloved, that no one seemed to mind that he'd shock unruly kids with his Vietnam era field phone. This teacher was so beloved, that more than 25 years after not getting him for 5th grade, I still grieve. The Vietnam phone shock was "fun," and a "privilege" and "educational" as far as keeping students in line. Also more efficient that getting them to copy pages out of the dictionary. Sometimes you need to discipline in a pinch and time doesn't permit for Love and Logic. Could you get away with this circa 2009??? I think not, and public education would have suffered immeasurably without Mr. B. and the way he got us to think outside the box when it came to shock therapy.

The Wrath of Mrs. K:

Juj was kind of a quiet little angel in elementary. Remember, I didn't decompose until high school. My report cards were riddled with teacher comments like "wish she would talk more in class," and "she's a little too quiet," and "have you tested this kid's hearing???" My parents would fill the "reply" section on the report card with the standard response of "we wish she would shut up at home."

Quiet angel days noted, one issue cracked my composed shell. I had completed a spelling test where "god" was lower case, as it should be in a context where there is an understood separation of church and state, and my fourth grade teacher flipped her wig. Ordered me to rewrite my misspelled word 10 times and turn it in.

Juj refused on principle. Mrs. K didn't use the word in a sentence, therefore, it wasn't clear if it was God that we sang about in Music class, or the Egyptian sun god Ra.

My refusal forced Mrs. K to call my dad into school. Note that my dad only missed three days of work in his 67 years: one was a heart attack, one was a stroke, one was the lower case god incident of fall of '79.

She spat, she sputtered, she harrumphed. Father daughter stood their ground. We may have won the battle, but it was only October, and Mrs. K spent the rest of fourth grade kickin' my butt every chance she got. Today, this incident would have gone to the Supreme Court and I probably would have had a parade and product endorsements and a spot on Letterman's couch, but in the 70's, it just means your teacher has 7 months to take it out on you.

Hank the Janitor and his Miraculous Sack of Puke Dust

As a parent looking back on her childhood, who hasn't pined for a 50 pound bag of puke dust the first time your child gets the stomach flu?

I remember Hank appearing on the spot anytime someone lost his lunch with his "Settle Down, Settle Down," and with a sweep of his arm, the puke was contained, dried, odor neutralized, and swept away as if it never happened.

Third grade art class, a classmate took out 32 kids with a very runny five star breakfast gone astray. 32 kids standing on chairs, shrieking, crying as we watched the toxic yellow runny substance spread across the floor at record speed. (don't know what the actual record of puke spread is, but this has to be in the top 10 international performances) Along comes Hank and saves the day with his Magic Dust!! I ask you readers, was this a figment of my imagination? Taken off the market for some toxic content?? Cut from the budget in these tough economic times??Where does one purchase magic puke dust today??

Please chime in with your happy 70's public school memories, and let me know where you can trade in puke dust.


Jannie said...

I still need to finish reading...I was just sidetracked on youtube listening to June Carter-Cash and Johnnie singing lots of different songs...which led to watching parts of Reese W. and Joaquin P. in Walk the Line...which led to Joaquin freaking (quietly) on's a slippery slope.

juj, rhymes w/ scrooge said...

Which led to Ben Stiller Spoofing Joaquin freaking on Letterman. Ok Jannie, you're excused. I wander all the time.

StephS said...

well, I can vividly recall the smell of puke dust and I must disagree that it with the assertion that it was an "odor neutralizer"; "slight masker" maybe. I remember so little. We sold Affy Taaples because the factory was only a mile away from our school. I lived in Chicago and when I was old enough to wander the streets with my elementary school friends we'd go there and could by a carmel apple with a broken stick for 10 CENTS! Okay I just remebered this: my mom let me walk a half mile to kindergarten by myself! One time I was picking dandelions along the way and when I got to Shelley's house I stopped and yelled for her (remember yelling at friends houses to come outside? We never went to the door. Savages) Anyway I'm out there yelling and yelling and she's not coming. Finally her mom, Joanne, comes to the window and says "you're late" and then I freak out. I get to school and the doors are shut and when I get to my room the PRINCIPAL says over the intercom, "Is Stephanie Rink there?" and I almost pee in my pants because I thought I was in big trouble. But Joanne called my Mom who at least called the school to see if I made it. There was also the time in 4th grade when Jenny Lubeck and I were stopped in the alley behind her house by the pervert who asked us where the Biograph theater was and then asked if we ever saw "one of these" and waved his schlong at us. We ran screaming to her house and her big sister was on the phone and when we told her what happened she said, "oh they just saw a streaker". So then I thought it was no big deal. Jenny's sister also hipped us to the Sugarhill Gand and patiently explained what a blow-job was (to my utter amazement). Thanks for stirring up those memories Juj.