Friday, May 3, 2013

Rant #956: Those Were the Days ... ?

Well, I don't know if they really were THE days, but they are days that I cannot forget.

Just celebrating a birthday during the past week, it has forced me to reflect on my formative years, or the years when I went from being a baby to a young man.

As I have told you many times, I lived in a place called Rochdale Village, in South Jamaica, Queens, New York, a place that was both wondrous and frustrating at the same time.

It was a brand new community, some say an experimental community, a mainly white, middle class community plopped down right in the middle of a long-time, very proud black community.

The experiment was simple--could blacks and whites live together?--and we proved that we could, at least for a few years.

Several things spoiled the whole thing, including changing times, various teacher strikes, and the aftermath of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, but in those early years of the development, I think we proved that those with the same dreams and goals were color blind.

I lived in this development from 1964-1971, and those later years--1968-1971--were rife with safety issues, crime, drugs, you name it.

And the schools weren't very good, either.

I went from what could be called a very progressive school for its time, P.S. 30--to a school also modeled on progression, but an educational institution that became the hot pot for everything that was wrong with the development at the time, I.S. 72, Benjamin Schlesinger Intermediate School.

This was the newest school in the development, and the school with the most problems.

Every problem that was present in the development was present in this school, seemingly 100-fold. There was little or no discipline, and the teachers were powerless to do much of anything.

It seemed as if outside forces had taken over the school, and declared that this was going to be the battleground that they would fight for and win.

And, they pretty much did, destroying the last vestige of the pride of this development.

I can tell you that being a student in that school was a situation that I wouldn't ever want to relive again.

There was the safety issue, which was impossible at that school.

There were rampant muggings, pin attacks, shirt fights, you name it, we had it, including riots during the school day. Anti-white, and what I later found out, anti-black people living in the development bias was rampant.

I was in the Honors, or SP program, there, and while I did manage to learn things there, it was a zoo, a real zoo, with no laws, no rules, and virtual anarchy every day we went to school there.

For a variety of reasons, including the education situation, any families-both black and white--left the development in the early 1970s, and now,  Rochdale Village is basically a minority community, a very long-standing one, one that I haven't gone back to since about 1976 or so.

But for whatever reason, the community brings back nostalgia to the kids who witnessed, first hand, its rise, kids like myself, who actually saw buildings go up on the grounds.

The place is ready to celebrate its 50th anniversary in late 2013--the first tenants actually moved in right after JFK was assassinated--and there have been many reunions and celebrations of the place over the past decades.

I guess we kids were there at the beginning, and most of us spent our formative years there--I certainly did, ages seven to 14--so it kind of rings nostalgic to us, the good and the bad.

There are numerous Facebook pages put up by the original kids of the development, and there has even been an award-winning book telling the history of Rochdale from the beginning to the present.

A big 50th anniversary reunion is being planned for the development, and Rochdale itself is holding its own festivities.

What am I getting at here?

Well, I have my own Facebook page devoted to the old neighborhood, and the other day, I put up what I hope to be a series of scans of my old I.S. 72 yearbook. I hope to spread this out over the next few weeks.

Well, it elicited lots of comments, both positive and negative, and many sort of in-between.

First off, it is rare that you see a junior high school yearbook put up on the Internet. Yes, high school yearbooks are all over the place, but not junior high school yearbooks, so I have myself something of an exclusive by putting this thing up.

Second, putting up some of the pages of this book--mainly focusing on the teachers and staff of the school--has produced lots of comments, positive and negative, about the teachers and the school.

A lot of the teachers were very good educators, some were in it for the ride, and I am sure this isn't unlike any other school of that time, or this time.

But the creaky black and white pages of this yearbook bring out lots of remembrances about what we were doing way back when and how we feel about it now, with decades of hindsight to use to see what was really going on there.

I hoped that people would wax nostalgic at these page scans, and they have.

There are as many different opinions on that era as there are people looking at these scans, and everybody seemingly has an opinion on a particular teacher or situation.

I also think a lot of people have lost their yearbooks, and they probably haven't seen these pages in years.

Anyway, I applaud all of those who have responded. The give-and-take has been quite nice and informative.

As I said, I hope to put up more pages as the weeks go by, and I am sure they will elicit many more comments, especially when the class pictures go up.

Look, I am sure that you look back on your junior high school or middle school years with some fondness, or even a lot of hate. Those were difficult years for everyone, as you become a young adult. Everyone has funny stories, and unhappy ones too.

Those were MY years in MY development, and for better or worse, I will never, ever forget them.

The yearbook pages just reiterate that those were both the happiest years of my young life and also the most frustrating, both at the same time.

They helped make me what I am today, so I guess my waxing nostalgic had even a greater purpose than I might have thought when those incidents were actually happening.

It has been a fun ride, I have to say ...

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