More Ways to Skin a Cat, and Alexander Pope
So it’s 1967 and the ‘Summer of Love’ was gearing up in San Francisco and the Hippies were getting’ all that free love and dope and I was like sixteen and stuck in Philadelphia and even stucker in my sophomore English class at North East Catholic High School for Boys.
I was a bad student. Awful. I never read a book. Never did my homework. I hated school.
North Catholic was – it’s been closed – an all boys school. Very strict stuff. Most of the teachers were priests, Oblates of Saint Frances De Sales. But there were also many lay teachers. Mr. Richard McCarron was one of the toughest. Which brings me back to my Sophomore English class. I knew from the instant he wrote his name on the chalk board that I was in trouble.
He filled up the boards with notes and we were all to copy them down – all of them, front, back, side … And then came the homework : Read thirty to forty pages a night from the novel and answer questions from the notes … I was cooked.
But, one day Mr. McCarron gives us an assignment : Take a line from a poem and make a poster. A picture, a photograph, something non verbal to complement and accentuate the literary. Well, now he was in my wheelhouse.
My wife is a teacher and every year she tells me about the one kid in class, usually a boy, who does nothing but draw 24 / 7. To the exclusion of everything else. She’s always frustrated when she gets one of these kids because they are very difficult to interest or point in any direction. I always tell her to give the kid a break. He’ll come around. Maybe not in your class, or even the next class but he’ll come around. Such intensity must, and will burn a hole through the wall that surrounds him. He’s never going to be normal but he’ll be all right. And maybe, with a little understanding and even encouragement, just a little better than all right. I was one of those kids.
Well, I kicked ass. Got an A+! And Mr. McCarron was so impressed that he asked me to do more … 24 more! He supplied me with 24 inspirational lines from the great writers and I was to make a poster for each one.
When I was finally finished he took the posters and decorated the room with them. And then … next marking period, flunked me. FOR NOT DOING HIS HOMEWORK! That was the only class I ever flunked and the only time I had to go to summer school to make it up. I was pissed, and pissed for years after that. And over the years, and years, and years I would imagine looking up mean Mr. McCarron and storming up to his door, pounding it down and giving the aged old, decrepit creep a piece of my mind. Maybe even spill his soup in his lap.
But you know? In summer school, I had a teacher that zeroed in on my unique perceptions. He knew there was more ways to skin a cat and Alexander Pope. I got an A in that class and left with more self esteem and confidence than I had ever gained in all four years of high school.
I only mention this because the other day my wife’s reading the Inquire and says,
“Hey, Bobby. This guy taught at North” And I’ll be damned. It was a picture of Richard McCarron. He wasn’t old and decrepit. He looked … like me! Must be his son? Turns out it was indeed my old English teacher. He was retiring. He had worked his way up in the archdiocese – a big muckity muck in the school district. He was only seven years older than me! Seven years! We probably have grown children the same age! We could be drinking buddies for Christ’s sake!
He couldn’t have been twenty-two years old when he was my teacher back in 1967. When I was thinking of bolting out west to a life of unbridled freedom, he was thinking about teaching a bunch of kids in a tiny, cramped room in the Frankford section of Philadelphia about Shakespeare and Shaw. We were both just babes in the woods. I had a lot to learn and he had a lot to teach. But we each had a lot to live.
I’m sure Mr. McCarron is a very nice man, much more forgiving of his grandchildren than he was to me and my fellow students back in 1967.
So, I became a starving painter and he became a muckity muck in the school system. That sounds about right. We both turned out all right. Maybe a little better than all right.
No hard feelings, Mr. McCarron.
Maybe I’ll look the guy up someday.
Nahh. What would we have to talk about?
p.s. I may have gotten some of that Summer Of Love stuff and the dates wrong … I was even worse at history.