Working on Thanksgiving? Please stop whining

All this moaning and groaning and whining and kvetching about stores being open on Thanksgiving and what a terrible thing this is for America and how it’s proof that the terrorists have won is giving me a headache.

I’ve worked in newsrooms all my life. It’s a 24/7 business, and there’s no such thing as a “guaranteed” day off. When the pope died on a Saturday, I got into my car and hightailed it to Manhattan. Same when the space shuttle Columbia blew up. Same when Elian Gonzales was seized. When the war in Iraq started at 8:30 p.m., I turned around and went back to work. When Saddam Hussein was executed at 4 in the morning, I woke up and got to work. I sat in the stands at Yankee Stadium one October night and watched Reggie Jackson hit three home runs . . . and then, when the rest of New York was hoisting beers, I went to work. Continue reading

November 22, 1963 (Part III): A tip of the hat to Mr. Norregaard


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JFK was dead, Oswald was dead, and we carried on.

We went back to school, and one week later I had one of the most important moments of what would become my career. So pull up a seat, kids, and I’ll tell you all about Mr. Norregaard, the best teacher I ever had, and what happened when I violated one of his ironclad rules.

Martin Rudolph Norregaard taught English and Social Studies to 7th and 8th Graders at Brooklyn Friends School. He was likable and funny and no-nonsense. He expected excellence – demanded it, really – and made sure you knew he would settle for nothing less.

He taught us how to write. And not just how to put words on paper, but to labor over them and make sure you got them exactly the way you wanted them.

He taught us grammar and punctuation and usage. He taught us that sentences had structure, that they were a mathematical equation of sorts. And he taught us to diagram sentences, a lesson that is pretty much gone now, and not to anyone’s benefit. He taught us how to put on paper a visual display of how every word in a sentence related to the others. Nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions, prepositions . . . They all work together. Mr. Norregaard was a drill sergeant of diagramming, and if you were in the 7th or 8th Grade at BFS, you were going to learn it whether you liked it or not. Continue reading

November 22, 1963 (Part II)

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Miss Bromley’s floor was swept and clean, the school week was over and it was time to go home, a daily trip that involved walking a couple of blocks to the corner of Livingston and Smith, where I caught the Flatbush Avenue bus to the corner of Flatbush and Farragut, where I transferred to the Ocean Avenue bus, which took me to Avenue N, around the corner from my home.

And the president of the United States was dead.

It was a long daily commute, and this being Brooklyn, the only daily constant was noise. But on this afternoon, the silence was deafening.

Streets normally filled with honking horns, buses normally jammed with yakking passengers and unruly school kids — everything was eerily silent. Five years later, when Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy would be killed, you would hear cries for violence, and you would see faces that reflected shame and anger. Thirty-eight years later, on September 11, you would hear cries for revenge, and you would see faces that reflected fear and rage.

But on November 22, 1963, the only thing you heard was nothing, and the only face you saw was one of sorrow. You could break down and cry, or you could hold it in. Either way, you felt empty inside. And, even at 13, I knew for sure that the world would never be the same. You had Pearl Harbor, Dad. I had this. Continue reading

My first selfie

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It’s official. Selfie is the word of the year. But there were selfies long before there were cellphones.

The one above may very well be my first, taken at about 65 miles per hour while cruising alongside Jenny Lake, in Grand Teton National Park, in Wyoming, as part of our Kerouacian tour of America in the summer of 1971.

The photo technique was totally professional. I stuck a Kodak Instamatic out the window at arm’s length, guessed the proper camera angle and masterfully took the shot, all while controlling the car with my right hand.

I have witnesses. That’s Mike to my right and Hank to his, piled into the front seat of the Ford Maverick, color Thanks Vermillion. Kenny and Jan are either behind us or, much more likely, ahead of us in the blue Cougar.

Hank reports that Jethro Tull was tuned up to 11 on the car stereo. Who am I to argue?

And you kids thought you invented selfies.

— 30 —

November 22, 1963 (Part I)

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I was in Miss Bromley’s art class, which was simultaneously the best and worst 45 minutes of the school week. The best because it was the last period of the week, and the weekend began as soon as the bell rang. The worst because . . . well, because Miss Bromley. If there was a kid in the school who enjoyed the company of Miss Bromley, I’m still waiting for a hand to go up.

Miss Bromley had some sort of handicap. She dragged a leg while she walked, and we all enjoyed making fun of her because what’s the point of being 13 years old if you can’t act like an insensitive jerk? As I recall, Haynes and Ruby did the best Miss Bromley impression. The rest of us laughed. We all knew it was wrong and cruel, but hell . . . we were 13. And besides, it was Miss Bromley. Continue reading

Mazer and Maggie and why I flunked American History

Bill Mazer, The Amazin’, died last week at the age of 92.

Alberta Magzanian, the Toughest Teacher in the World, will be honored by her former colleagues and students somewhere in Maryland this weekend.

There is a connection.

Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you the story of how a radio sportscaster is the reason the Toughest Teacher in the World gave me an ‘F’ on my American History final in my senior year of high school. Continue reading