Chanting and Ranting

I don’t recall my class­mates’ names at this point so, if any of them were added to the list above, I wouldn’t know. But I can describe a few and attrib­ute bits of info about them. I recall there were three Jew­ish boys in my class, each very inter­est­ing. Two of them were prepar­ing for their Bar Mitz­vahs for when they turned 13. They occa­sion­al­ly prac­ticed togeth­er, recit­ing their cho­sen pas­sages from the Torah. I was informed that Jesus stud­ied and read from the Torah as a boy too. The Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible that we know as the Old Tes­ta­ment.

We had a lot in com­mon regard­ing our com­mit­ments to our faiths. I was in train­ing to become an altar boy and had to mem­o­rize and recite a few lines of Lat­in dur­ing mass. My con­fir­ma­tion was com­ing up in the spring and I would be 13 too. It was a time of pas­sage. If I came upon them in the hall­way or out in the school­yard and heard them chant­i­ng, I would lis­ten. They would turn, give me a look and say some­thing in Hebrew and we’d have a laugh. They could have said: “Lech lehiz­dayen,” and I’d have no clue. I prob­a­bly still would have laughed. One of the boys talked enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly about the Six-Day War that occurred back in June. Egypt, Jor­dan and Syr­ia got their col­lec­tive butts kicked by the Israelis. In the process Israel tripled its size after cap­tur­ing the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. The boy said Israel was his coun­try too and hoped to pray at the Wall at the Tem­ple Mount. He might even move there some­day. Jerusalem was spe­cial to me also. Jesus had his last sup­per there and the Via Dolorosa “The Way of Sor­rows” was depict­ed in the four­teen Stages of the Cross sculpt­ed in their tor­tu­ous glo­ry in bas-reliefs lin­ing the walls of our church.

The third boy was a pecu­liar sort. He was pale, pudgy, freck­led, and wore black horn rimmed glass­es. Every day he sport­ed the same black tie-shoes that he also wore in gym class. He pos­si­bly had cooties because the girls kept their dis­tance from him. He wasn’t too friend­ly, and occa­sion­al­ly would get irri­tat­ed and start curs­ing peo­ple. Not foul-mouthed curs­ing, but the hex­ing, jinx­ing type. He claimed to be a war­lock.

I drew a pic­ture of him in class and gave it to him. Okay, I exag­ger­at­ed his hair height some and added bolts to his neck. All in good fun mind you.  But he had no sense of humor and prompt­ly crum­pled it up, putting it in his pock­et. He point­ed at me and cursed me quite specif­i­cal­ly: “YOU will die in 1976, when the Lib­er­ty bell will fall on your stu­pid-ass head and you’ll be crushed.”

I actu­al­ly lived in Philly in 1976 and cog­nisant of the curse, stayed clear of the Lib­er­ty Bell that year.

Samuel S. Fleischer and Gene London

Unlike my war­lock class­mate, my art teacher liked my draw­ings and char­ac­ter­i­za­tions.  She told me about a Sat­ur­day draw­ing class, also in South Philly, that I had to attend! She had friends there and helped me get reg­is­tered at Samuel S. Fleish­er Art Memo­ri­al on Cather­ine Street. This his­toric lit­tle art school that has been there since 1906. Fleish­er was tuition free and man­aged by the Philadel­phia Art Muse­um.  It also fea­tured a pri­vate art col­lec­tion of paint­ings and sculp­tures next door in a spec­tac­u­lar Romanesque church. It was tru­ly inspi­ra­tional. It was a priv­i­lege to be a stu­dent there and I felt at home in this artist com­mu­ni­ty. The encour­age­ment and acknowl­edge­ment I received there bol­stered my con­fi­dence that I would be an artist. The instruc­tor talked about draw­ing what we see and how we inter­pret it. As observers, we need­ed to look at basic shapes, rela­tion­ships, com­po­si­tion, shad­ow and form. It was a vocab­u­lary I didn’t speak but total­ly under­stood.

The first draw­ing I did was of a fel­low stu­dent, a love­ly dark-haired girl who was a lit­tle old­er than me. It was a side view por­trait pen­cil draw­ing on cream-col­ored paper. She liked it right off, and asked if she could have it to give her mom. I agreed and got a soft hug out of it, very aware of the oranges in the bas­kets. And you know I’m not talk­ing about a still life set up in the room.

There was an overkill of children’s shows crammed into the morn­ing hours of TV on the three chan­nels avail­able in Philadel­phia through­out the 60’s. Cap­tain Noah, Chief Halftown, Pix­an­ne and Sal­ly Star each fea­tured a pre­tend char­ac­ter in a col­or­ful cos­tume. The Gene Lon­don Show on the oth­er hand was the real thing. Gene (Eugene Yul­ish) was a won­der­ful sto­ry­teller and tal­ent­ed artist. He was quite col­or­ful in his own right. He’d sing and cry when he told his sto­ries and drew car­toon­ish char­ac­ters, many from Dis­ney sto­ries. He had a ”Mag­ic Win­dow” seg­ment where a suc­ces­sion of his draw­ings would illus­trate a sto­ry with delight­ful musi­cal accom­pa­ni­ment.  I didn’t enjoy the kid­die show aspect of his show, but was impressed with his draw­ing abil­i­ty. He would crank out an elab­o­rate draw­ing on a large sketch­pad and col­or it in a few min­utes. I found out lat­er he drew every­thing out so light­ly ahead of time that the TV cam­era couldn’t pick it up. Ah HA! That’s why he was so fast. The last four lines of a song he sang went like this:

And when the story’s over And when we reach the end. We’ll live hap­pi­ly ever after, Where? In the land of Let’s Pre­tend.

In the 70’s his show dis­in­te­grat­ed into a bizarre for­mat fea­tur­ing an old man­sion, ghosts, secret tun­nels and UFO’s. After he retired from TV in 1977 he worked as a dress design­er in the Fash­ion Indus­try in NY. He was renowned for his pri­vate col­lec­tion of 6.000 Hol­ly­wood gowns and fash­ion acces­sories worn by movie celebri­ties. He had an obses­sion for Hol­ly­wood star­lets and their cloth­ing. Joan Craw­ford sent him a love let­ter of sorts then lat­er a two-piece silk jump­suit with a chif­fon cape for his col­lec­tion. He prompt­ly tried it on but the fit was incom­pat­i­ble, unfor­tu­nate­ly. He request­ed and received her under­wear and bra so he’d have a full ensem­ble.