It is amazing how many of the names of the kids in this class I remember. The teacher standing in the back—that was a lady named Consuela Goins, and she was a wonderful teacher. Every cloud has a silver lining, and one of the benefits of the exclusion of women from most professions was that we had wonderful teachers, especially the women who today would probably be CEOs. My first crush was a girl in this class whose name was Theresa. She’s the one standing to the right of Mrs. Goins. She’s good-looking; I always had good taste. Hugh McGee was generally the class troublemaker—in the middle seat on the right, two girls behind him and two boys in front of him. He was a really smart student, but he was always getting into trouble.
The school was a very mixed group of people. There are no blacks in the class, and there really weren’t any in our neighborhood, but other than that it was, my goodness, polyglot: There were Greeks—one of the girls in the class was named Eurydice. We didn’t even know how to say it; we called her “you’re-a-dice.” There were Irish, German, Jewish, Italian … It was the face of New York City.
I spent a lot of time in the schoolyard at P.S. 13. The police used to cordon off streets—they were called play streets—and we used to play street hockey on roller skates with a regular hockey puck. There were a lot of vacant lots around in those days in Queens and Elmhurst, and we used to have campfires and camped out, if you can imagine that, in pup tents. We would go sled riding in a cemetery that was known as Dead Man’s Hill. It was pretty much devise your own amusement. I’ve never been a parent to go to all the soccer games and all that, because my parents never came to my street-hockey or pickup softball games; they just said go out and play.
I visited my old neighborhood a while ago, and it’s so different—there are no more vacant lots, for example. A lot of the houses have bars on the windows. We used to leave the doors unlocked often. It was a wonderful place. You had the subway; the world was your oyster. There was just enough responsibility that was put on young people that any New Yorker would acquire a certain cockiness.