I thought the education system in Bridgeport was pretty good, until I moved to Trumbull, Connecticut. I was in Mrs. O’Connor’s third grade class. She was a rather stocky, no nonsense woman. You didn’t dare speak out of turn in her class. One look from her withering stare would frighten you to the core. A few months into the year, we started to learn to write in cursive. However, instead of first learning how to write something important like your name, Mrs. O’Connor had us write the word sat. We were given a blue notebook and a number two pencil. We had to write the word sat five times. Then Mrs. O’Connor would come and evaluate our work. Jet engine parts were subjected to less stringent tests than the word sat. Each letter had to be at a perfect slant and size. She would come over to your desk armed with a compass, calipers, and a protractor. She also had a sextant to make sure that your letters faced true north. Woe to you if one letter was slightly out of kilter. She would make you do the whole set of words over again. And again, And again. Being left -handed only compounded the problem for me. The paper was at the wrong angle, my hand would smear the pencil lead. It got ugly. By the time we moved to Trumbull I had managed to write three words-- sat, set and sit.
I was enrolled into Booth Hill Elementary School. For the first time, I had to take the school bus. When I lived in Bridgeport, I would either walk to school or take public transportation. Taking the school bus was a whole new experience for me. The bus would lazily take its time meandering through the streets picking up kids. We would bounce around when the bus hit potholes or dips in the road. Sitting in the back of the bus was especially fun because when you hit a bump, you would get rocketed into the air and float for a second. Sort of like zero gravity on the space shuttle. You avoided at all costs the seat above the wheels. There was no space to put your feet!
My mom drove me to school for the first day to register me. We took a tour of the building and I was assigned a class. I walked in and nervously sat down. The teacher came over to my desk, introduced me to the class and gave me a piece of paper. She said sweetly, “Barry, please write your name on the paper.” I’m dumbstruck. I’ve never written my name. I could print it, but she said write it. I wished my parents had named me sat, set, sit because that was all of the handwriting I knew. I looked at all of the other kids. They are busy, working on scrolls, illuminating ancient manuscripts and writing Chinese characters. I started to panic. One by one the kids start to stare at me. I think they murmured something akin to who is this moron, or something to that effect. The clock tick tocked away and I’m frozen in my seat. The teacher started to tap her feet. Sweat started to pop on my brow. My armpits got moist. I’m in trouble.
I wildly scan the room hoping for a miracle. I suddenly spied the alphabet chart in the front of the room on top of the blackboard. Each letter was in upper and lower case. YES! I can do this. I looked for the upper case B, then the lower case a. I string them together. I’m on a roll now. I looked for the r and wrote it twice. I’m in the home stretch. Here’s the y and done. I handed the paper to the teacher. On it was written--Bqxzrr~?y. I’m beaming with pride. She took the paper, gave me a nervous look and walked up to the board. She wrote Barry on the board. I sat at my seat grinning like an idiot. The other kids smiled and returned to writing calligraphy. The teacher went to her desk and returned with a handwriting book. The first chapter—sat, set and sit. I knew it was going to be a long year.