Piece #23

Over the years I have often been critical. I have done restaurant reviews for Pulse news, critiqued everything from plays to politicians on CJAD Radio and most recently penned a book review for the Jewish Book Council in New York City.

My inclination to critique started in Grade 1 with “Fun with Dick and Jane.” The two protagonists in our reader were two little kids who hung out with Sally and a dog named Spot. I felt that these kids were too easily amused. One of them would only have to point and say something like “See Spot run” and they would get all excited.

Our class would take turns every morning reading aloud. When it was my turn, I stood up and read the line  “ ‘Look Sally,’ she cried, ‘there’s Spot’.”

I did not exactly understand what was going on but I was very concerned.  Why was Jane crying? Was there something wrong? I spent the entire day worrying about Jane.  I stayed behind after class to ask Miss Wadman about it. She would know for sure. She was a teacher and she’s the one who gave us the book in the first place.

”Miss Wadman, why is Jane so upset?”

“What do you mean? What makes you think she’s upset?”

“She was crying.”

“Jane was not crying.”

“Oh yes, she was. I will show you.”

I took the book out of my school bag, found the right page and proudly pointed to the line.

“It says right here, ‘Look Sally,’ she cried.’ “Why was she crying?”

“She wasn’t really crying. When it says she cried, it just means she said.”

“Then it should say she said.”

I didn’t believe Miss Wadman for a minute and remained convinced that something was bothering poor Jane and nobody was prepared to even talk about it.

The rest of my early reading consisted of Superman and Mighty Mouse comics voraciously devoured at the barbershop owned by Mr. Struzer on Villeneuve Street. I admired the strength of Mighty Mouse and vastly preferred him to the scrawny and squeaky-voiced Mickey who I felt was vastly over-rated.

I read every comic book in the shop not because I had a haircut all that often. I had been ordered by Mom to go sit in the shop if I ever came home from school and there was nobody home.

You could walk to the barbershop from my house without having to cross a single street. Location. Location. Location. That’s why Mom had anointed Mr. Struzer to be my designated unpaid babysitter.

Mom used to walk me to school every day until one afternoon when she arrived late and I opted to head home on my own. Had I not shown this momentary streak of independence, Mom would have been walking me to work every day at CJAD.

My barbershop/personal daycare/reading room was located across the street from a rooming house which featured a blue neon sign that proclaimed the place to be “The Florida Apts.”

So this was Florida? This was the place so many of my parents’ friends were so excited about visiting? It did not look all that impressive to me.

It certainly did not look as good as the Cleavers’ house on “Leave it to Beaver.” I was convinced that Beaver Cleaver would be a fun friend to have. I kept looking for a house with a white picket fence so I could knock on the door and ask his mom if Beaver could come out to play.

I was also convinced that the Plaza restaurant on Park Avenue was the Plaza Hotel I had read about in all those books about New York City.

Where did I find all those books? At the Jewish Public Library. I had heard from friends that it you were a kid, you could join the library for only five cents.

Then you could borrow three books at a time for two weeks. And then you could borrow another three books. All this for five cents.

Armed with a nickel I found on the street I headed for the library  on the corner of  Mount-Royal and Esplanade. I eagerly walked up to the counter and plunked down my nickel.

I was so excited. I was about to be able to read all the books  I wanted. The librarian gave me a pink card on which I had to write my name and address. That was no problem. But then she told me that I would have to get my parents to sign the card. Now that was a problem. They would not be home until late that afternoon.

I wanted to start reading right away. There must be something I could do to get around this inconvenient red tape.  I came to the conclusion that the required signature would have to be forged.

I knew that my own handwriting looked like a child’s handwriting so I could not sign. If I asked Mr. Struzer, he would probably tell my parents. I would have to find someone else.

I walked to the corner of Mount-Royal and St. Urbain and started explaining the situation to friendly-looking adults, pleading with them just to write my mom’s name on the bottom of the pink card.

Some were amused at my request while others were appalled but they all turned me down one after another. This went on for more than half an hour. Then I spotted what looked a college kid smoking a cigarette. She had a long ponytail and looked less law-abiding than all the others. Maybe she would agree.

She did. I patiently spelled out the name Schnurmacher. She wrote it down on her cigarette package and then signed on the dotted line. I have been an avid reader ever since.

Writing and penmanship were major issues in my house ever since I received an F minus in conduct. Other kids were terrified to go home with their report cards. Not me. I usually received mostly Very Goods and the occasional Excellent. There was however one time that just like Lucy, I had some ‘splainin’ to do.

As Mom looked at my report card, she said, “Tomi, vat does it mean conduct?

Mom called me Tomi when she was upset about something.

“Conduct means how you behave in class.”

“You have an F minus. That’s a bad mark.”

“Yes, Anyu, that’s true. But it’s not as bad as a U which means Unsatisfactory which is the worst mark. At least I did not get a U.”

“Yes, but why did you get an F minus.”

“Because the teacher says I talk too much in class.”

“So? Vat’s wrong vit dat? You are a smart boy who likes to talk. There is nutting wrong vit dat.”

Unfortunately my teacher Miss Rettig did not see it that way. Her opinion differed to such a extent with Mom’s take on the situation that one sunny Friday afternoon I was told I had been talking so much I would have to be punished.

My punishment? I had to write out the sentence, “I must not talk in class” 500 times” and hand in this assignment by Monday morning. When I told Mom about it, she was livid. Not at me. At the teacher.

“Ridiculous. You vill not write one word. I vill write it for you.”

Mom did indeed write my 500 lines. On the last page, she added an   elegantly written thank you and her signature. On Monday morning, the teacher took one look at the lines and asked me. “You didn’t write this. Who wrote this?”

“My mother did.”

“She was not the one who was talking in class. She is not to supposed to write the lines. You are. And I want to see them written by you and handed in by Wednesday morning at the latest.”

I went home and told Mom that I would be the one who would have to write “I must not talk in class” 500 times.

“No, you won’t Tomika. You will only have to write it once.”

I wrote the line in my childish handwriting and Mom spent the next two hours copying my handwriting 499 times. This time, there was no thank you and no signature. I handed in the assignment Wednesday morning and Miss Rettig was none the wiser.

How did Mom help out with my Talmud class and did my Dad really invent the credit card? That will have to wait until tomorrow.

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Great story!

  2. Reminds me of my second grade report card. Got E’s (Excellent) in all subjects, but a C in conduct for reasons that I never understood. My parents only concentrated on the C which they vigoursly informed me was unacceptable!

  3. Fantastic! I was also a constant talker in class…and a bit of a class clown. Even though I was a disrupter, I always got the laughs and somehow this saved me from my lousy marks, as I was not attentive at all and didn’t enjoy school, except for Art and English composition – I was good at those two things. How lucky for you that your mother stood up for you that way. x

  4. I was a mischievous, social, disturbance to any classroom. Fortunately for me, I was quite likeable, and as my teachers always put it, “it’s a good thing, you’re cute!” or else I would have been doing a lot more restitution than I did! Socially, school was a great time for me; academically though, it was a constant burden. Years later, when I had my daughter tested in kindergarten, she was determined to have ADHD! I read between the lines and found that I was in fact ADHD too, though I slipped between the cracks and had a helluva time getting through Elementary and High School! I am no dummy though, but I have to be inspired to learn anything that may be easier for most. One recollection I had over the years was encountering my old Principal at an Archdiocese Convention and I sidling up to him saying, , “Hi, Mr. Kouri, remember me?” You’d think he’d seen a ghost and one that had been haunting him for over 15 years! Oh, did I forget to say, that I had to present myself every morning before heading on to class back then?

  5. love your stories…you remind me of my son Barry who was a talker in class but one time he came home he was 7 or 8 years old when I saw him standing at the door alone, I said what are you doing out of school? he said the teacher accused me of talking and this time it wasn’t me, so the teacher has to apologize to me…I knew my son was telling the truth, so I called the principle Lerer Zipper, and explained the situation, he said to come to his office with Barry, which I did, I explained to him that Barry never lied and if he said that the teacher punished him wrongly then it is true…so Lerer Zipper looked at Barry and said, “I cannot ask the teacher to apologize to you, she is an older person, but I believe you, and I apologize to you for her, is that ok? Barry accepted his apology and went back to class, he never forgave the teacher…just reminded me of your story, because I always stood up for him. I love reading your stories because they also jog my memory and take me back to those years that you write about…
    you are so talented…

  6. I found Dick & Jane ridiculous. My dad had just returned from Canadian Forces in WW ll. Plenty of books – I finished Hardy Boys, etc.,by 8. Next came Perry Mason & Damon Runyon. I identify with this one. 🙂

  7. In kindergarten I got an Unsatisfactory in “gets along with others”…My parents were more than surprised as I was a very friendly, easy going youngster with lots of friends. When talking about school and grades this was often brought up with much laughter…Imagine, Rhonda getting an Unsatisfactory in “getting along with others.” I have often wondered what the teacher’s rationale for this was…

  8. Excellent … Brought back many memories, like the first time I was allowed to go to the library room in grade two. I was ecstatic!

  9. I was called a “chatterbox”.
    Love your imagination.
    Keep writing about your/my childhood days .

  10. Excellent read. Reminds me so much of my youth. Keep the stories coming. BH.

  11. Your stories take me down memory lane. Keep on writing

  12. Tommy you have inherited your story telling from your mom. You are 2 of a kind & I love it. 🤣😆😂😃😀😍

    1. Thank you Claire

  13. Talk about talking. I called back to the teacher and got expelled I was so rude!!!! Love your stories Tommy. The way you write feels like you are in the room having a coversation!!! So amazing♥️♥️♥️

    1. Thank you Johanne

  14. I love your stories, reminds me of when I was younger, in Coronation School and Northmount High School. those were the days…. I wasn’t miss goody 2 shoes either, talkative in class, too !! so many memories, so great that you r writing them down!!

    1. Thanks Anne

  15. I can’t believe you knew Mr. Streuzer. I not only knew him but his tiny wife as well. She and Mr. Streuzer were best friends with a couple, the Aarons, who were the closest thing to an aunt and uncle that I had growing up in Montreal although by the time I was 10, I was a head taller then both of them. What a small world.

    1. Small indeed.

    2. Tommy, my grandfather was Joe Struzer. We often would go for a drive in my fathers car to Villeneuve to say hello to Grandpa…if there was nobody on the barber chair of course. If someone was being worked on,we would ride around the neighbourhood until my dad would go in for a tall glass bottle of hair tonic called BOOSTER.This orange liquid helped tame my fathers curly hair.

      1. Your grandfather was a very kind man and a great barber.

  16. What a gift reading you!

  17. I can’t stop I’m addicted to a great real life story!🙏

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