Saturday, July 11, 2015

Writer (Intro)

The year was 1972. The South Bronx was a national joke and the police nicknamed the area Fort Apache. Many sanitation drivers wouldn't risk entering the slum in the face of never getting out alive. And I found myself right in the middle of this hell. My opponent was hard hitting Willie Arvelo. At that moment, I wasn't worried about getting out alive from the Bronx. I was worried about getting out alive from my bout with Willie---he was knocking the stuffing out of me. And the kids in my class at IS 84 were thrilled. I might have neglected to mention that it was my very first day teaching at this Bronx Middle School. I was assigned to be the Chairman of the Spanish Department. One problem. I didn't speak a word of Spanish. Apparently, in 1972, that was not a requirement. I was told by the Assistant principal that the students didn't know textbook Spanish either. All I had to do was assign the lesson and I would be given a helper (student population was 90% Spanish) to help me with the written assignments and homework grading. I thought the whole thing was ridiculous, but I was getting $37.50 Per Diem, so what the hey? The boxing match with Willie was another matter. At the end of the hour lesson, I gave the "kids" free time and I take full responsibility; it led to impromptu slap fights where I teased using the skills of my legendary (in my mind) Navy boxing talents--using an open hand of course. It was then when I first noticed Willie. The clsss must have known something was going to happen important because they all began to gather at the front of the classroom. I had been taking it easy with my first set of "opponents" and the class squealed in delight each time I madecontact with my open handd--which was as frequent as I wished. Then came Willie. Suddenly, I sensed something stinging my right ear. It felt like a wasp. It wasn't. It was Willie's left hook slap. He was having his way with me and the kids went wild. They must have been screaming loud enough because suddenly the principal, Mrs. G burst into the classroom and put an end to the bout. Someone raised Willie's hand as if he was the winning boxer in a championship bout. I had no argument with the decision. ************************* Mrs. G was not very delicate in the ensuing conference. "What were you thinking, Mr. Tarde? A boxing match--when you were hired to teach school?" I tried reasoning with the mad woman. "It was part of the lesson, Mrs. G." She went from hot to red hot. "Really, Mr. Tarde. What textbook did this lesson come from?" I wanted to joke that those very words were used in the 1956 classic Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford and a very young Sidney Poitier. However, I declined. She seemed in no mood for comedy. I have no idea why I wasn't fired that day. Must have been because they would have had to find another chairman for the Spanish Department. However, I and to go easy on future boxing exhibitions. It was on this day that Willie and I bonde4d. Willie began writing about his life--and would within a few years makke it to the Golden Gloves---a boxing showcase in New York. He would avoid jail as so many of my "students" were headed. And that's where this amazing story begins-----

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