Another Move & My first “C”:
1961 was a busy year: In his Farewell Address President Dwight Eisenhower warned Americans about the power of the military-industrial complex. John F. Kennedy was inaugurated President, The Beatles performed for the first time at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, allowing residents of Washington, D.C. to vote in presidential elections, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, and the CIA funded Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba failed miserably.
Alan Shepard became the first American in space aboard Mercury-Redstone 3, a Freedom Riders bus was fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the passengers were attacked by an angry mob; and Rudolf Nureyev of the Kirov Ballet requested asylum in Paris. After 3.5 million East Germans fled the DGR in less than ten years, travel to West Berlin was radically restricted and in a speech about this new “Berlin Crisis” President Kennedy urged Americans to build fallout shelters. East Germany then began construction of the Berlin Wall. New York Yankee Roger Maris hit his 61st home run in the last game of the season, breaking Babe Ruth’s record, the Soviet Union detonated a 58-megaton hydrogen bomb known as Tsar Bomba, the largest man-made explosion in human history, Catch-22 was published by Joseph Heller, "Barbie" finally got a boyfriend when the "Ken" doll was introduced by Mattel and in 1961 we moved to what would become our “hometown,” Pasadena, Texas.
I believe we arrived in Pasadena during our Christmas vacation. We moved into another dreary rental house on Thelma Lane and because the new school district had higher standards for graduation from high school, my older brother Bill remained with neighbors in Irving. Our nuclear family unit now had a new dynamic: I was the oldest son in residence. As usual the stress got to Mom and Christmas was pretty much a high drama nightmare for the family. After we enrolled at Mae Smythe Elementary, things settled down and on my first day in my new sixth grade class I met Roger whose family lived about four houses down the street. After school we hooked up with my little brother Rick and walked home together where Roger introduced us to the other kids on Thelma Lane.
Our acclimation to the new neighborhood went along fairly smoothly; the whole crew of kids from Thelma Lane spent Saturday afternoons watching double features at the Capitan Theater. School was another story: First of all PISD had a higher level of grading performance: an A required a minimum test score of 93%, which made 92-85% a B and 84 – 77% a C. Any score 76-69% was a D and 68% and below was an F. Not only was I eight weeks behind in the curriculum but the grade curve was elevated by 30%!! To add to my discomfort and distraction, the sixth grade teachers rotated through each classroom to teach different subjects, and corporal punishment was an approved option for discipline. My nemesis was the very gruff and grumpy geography teacher, Mrs. Clover, who presented me with my very first C!!! I was devastated! Always the smartest kid in class I was now average!
Why I Tried to Murder Senator Jim Fonaro:
To my rescue came the smartest, biggest, oldest, most accomplished athlete in the school, David Petersen. Best of the best David was an all star Little League pitcher who never lost a game with a .780 batting average and twenty-five home runs. He also excelled at Pop Warner football as a fullback and made straight A’s. What brought us together on a cold rainy afternoon recess was chess. I can’t remember if I won a game during that hour, but I played well enough to impress him and for some reason I made him laugh.
Over the spring we became pretty good friends and our relationship was sealed when Roger recruited us to perform in the class talent show. A fan of stand-up comedy, Roger worked out a three man skit based on Bill Dana’s (a Hungarian Jew named Szathmary) comic Mexican astronaut José Jiménez. David played the straight man news reporter, Roger played a smartass NASA technician who told all the jokes at my expense while I did Jose and got all the laugh lines – we had the entire school including the gruff Mrs. Clover laughing out loud.
Now we come to why I tried to murder future Texas State Senator Jim Fonaro: Fono, as we called him, was the class bully and more than once we got into it on the play ground. One bright sunny day in May, during a softball game, Fono was catching for the opposing team. When I came up to bat, he snorted and called the outfield in, “Easy out! JMac’s an easy out!!!”
Three pitches and two strikes later I completely connected with the ball and sent it soaring thirty feet over the head of the kid playing in left field. It was my first ever home run. I was Babe Ruth! I was Mickey Mantle! Smiling and laughing as I jogged around the base path, I watched the kids chasing after my hit and then rounding third base, there stood Fono waving his arms and calling for the ball. I wasn’t worried; they were still running after it. Trotting up to the plate I was astonished when Fono pushed me down into the dirt. I tried to get up but he just kept pushing me down.
With tears in my eyes I crawled away, got to my feet and grabbed a bat. “He’s out, he’s out,” yelled Fono, “He’s out of the base line!”
As I swung the bat at his head he fortunately turned to face me, threw up his right hand and ducked. By the time I delivered my backhand swing Fono was running toward first base. Before I could wind up for a third swing, two strong arms gripped me from behind, lifted me off the ground and tossed me six feet through the air into the infield grass. I rolled and came up swinging, only to have the bat slip from my grip. David Petersen stood over me holding the fat end of the bat in his right hand.
By then the only male teacher on the faculty came running up to break up the fight and feeling betrayed I was escorted to the principal’s office. I can’t remember how or if I was punished, but I now realize that I owe my life to my true friend David Petersen.
I fully intended to crush Fono’s skull. If I’d succeeded with my first swing it’s likely that he’d be dead or a least permanently injured and then my life would have been a very different story. The irony is that I honestly didn’t know that the rules of baseball allowed the catcher to block the plate and I was totally in the wrong.
Except for attributed photos and text, all content is copyrighted © 2012 JKM