Principle with a Paddle

All thru my childhood, up until I left home for Parris Island and the USMC, I lived just a few miles from Traphagen Elementary School, nestled on the north side, a suburban area of Mt. Vernon, New York.

The school buzzed with a diverse fellowship of students. Many were bussed-in from the South side of town, and still each of us shoulders our own tapestry of stories, experiences and perspectives. My perspective, of course, is a fuckin movie. Grab your wife and kids.

From K thru twelfth grade, I  marched my lil skinny ass up Primrose and then down North Fulton to get to Lincoln school  each morning. I remember my mother taking me to school the first few days and thereafter I was on my own. Today I see parents dragging or carpooling their kids to school each day, to and from, (just as I have done for my own children). For me, however, that was about as Hardknock as life got.

That, and mom’s "switches,” that more or less kept us in check.

Lincoln School wasn’t only where my education began; it’s also where I first encountered racism. And just

being honest, I can say I was probably an inattentive little prick,

probably talked in class and while “higher learning” was supposed to be the goal, maybe my mind was elsewhere. To be fair, I wasn’t an instigator and I didn’t pick fights, but I’m sure I disrupted class in my own ways.

And it’s not so much I remember how I acted. I just know who I am today and how I’ve progressed as a human being. And buddy, I was a hot little mess. Daddy is always at work. No big brothers to break me in. It was just me, my GI Joe (with the kung fu grip) and my wild imagination.

Not obeying in class was likely the reason I was forged into those secondary measures with other troublemakers,  and even forced to play “pick up sticks” behind closed doors in front of a school psychologist once or twice a week.

Eventually, my parents moved me to another school to pick up where I was falling off. The tipping point was  when this larger, grotesque White kid named Kiva Lada claimed I hit his little younger sister. Just out of nowhere, never eve

n had a relationship or a conversation with his younger sister. But I do remember his word being accepted over my own, and some parent – teacher meetings as well as some meet-ups with some kind of juvenile supervisor there in the city of Mount Vernon. There were no further incidents, before or after that one. But in retrospect, I can now see that as a pivotal era in my life that could’ve gone all the way sour.

So yes, that was my first encounter with racism on a major level. Sure, there was that one time in sleepaway camp when a group of white boys chased me down and threw stones at me.  I was briefly hospitalized with a swollen eye and stitches. But that was supposedly exciting, adventurous, extracurricular activity.  Meanwhile, this nonsense with Kiva’s little sister hit close to home; just blocks away from where we lived on Vernon Place, and here I was facing Emmett Till-type allegations that threw me into partial juvenile supervision.

Eventually I escaped Lincoln school (yay parents) and moved to Traphagan, where it felt refreshing like progress was about to set in.

From 3rd grade until 6th grade, Traphagen was my next stop.  Maybe you’ve read me bragging on my social media about how Debbie Allen and her family lived just beyond the fence that separated her residence from the school yard. Or even how I had to walk past Stephanie Mills’ home to get to school each day.

But the bigger picture is that this was an intimate residential neighborhood where the worst that could happen was unlikely to occur. And if you are on top of world events, as I am considering the conflicts, the road rage and scandals, then you know damned good and well what the worst can be. But not here on the North side of Mount Vernon, with the trees and birds and peace of mind. Yes, this is a better quality of life.  Looks like. And by better quality, I mean we were separated by yards, not walls. Our passtime activities were visits to Glen Island beaches in neighboring New Rochelle, or taking an hour-long drive to visit the huge pool at Bear Mountain State Park. Oh for sure mom kept us safe and progressive.

But in grade school, you’re sort of on your own and once I got to school, it was about thrills not higher learning. I’d look forward to recess, flipping baseball cards, or playing dodgeball at lunchtime. I didn’t have friends who I clicked-up with because they lived near me, but I did find some common ground in Parnell and Danny. I did see the older kids tossing coins and I would watch that from afar, but I didn’t have money to gamble. There was our schools Italian bombshell, Mrs. Fraoli, with her long, flowing hair, and my big stage acting debut, starring in a role as “the White Rabbit” in the school play *Alice in Wonderland. Sure those things stand out for me. But what lingers most in my memory is the daily challenge of dodging the school principal, Mrs. Gertrude Maxim.

Apparently, a bizarre rumor circulated among the faculty at Traphagan. Supposedly, I lived in another city/that neighboring town, New Rochelle. The irony is that by the time I reached seventh grade, my parents did indeed negotiate whatever they had in their bag of resources so that I would not be confined to the wayward and troubling “zoo” that I imagined Mount Vernon’s middleschool system to be. Even if that is not exactly what it was, that was the picture drawn on the walls of my imagination. And considering I was already troubled, already a troublemaker, that environment was likely where I belonged. I would fit right in like gaseline poured over an already kindling fire. On a side note, my sisters Laura and Julie made out just fine in the Mount Vernon middle school system; after all, they were girls. Mount Vernon really didn’t foster girl gangs such as we’ve heard about  in other neighborhoods. But still, my parents were clearly strategists and had greater plans for me.

But before I even had opportunity to dive into Middle school, I first had to survive elementary school and my trauma with Traphagen Principal, Mrs Gertrude Maxim.

I remembered the faculty and office staff giving me strange looks, whispering that I was “from New Rochelle,” but the truth was from K thru 6 I lived on Vernon Place, just a couple of miles from the schoolyard. In fact, every morning, I walked to school with my tomboy neighbor, Jodi Smith.. My other friends in those days were Brent Tomlin who later tragically died on the football field, there was Georgie Pascquileto who lived across the street from Jodi on Clairemont Avenue; and of course my closest friends of the day were Mike Fields and Peter Tarter; both of whom also grew up and lived on Vernon Place. To this day, I have fond memories of  the Tartar family. Even if they saw me as a nuisance, I saw them as “best friends.” I was always over at their big home across the street, always and admire of Roger Nicky Diane and Peter. In fact, it was Peter who taught me to ride a bicycle at age 5. But everyone I connected to was older. None of them fellow students at Traphagan. Here’s some more irony for you; Peter is now an award-winning film editor, pretty big deal in the world. He once dated the Actress Erica Gimpel who was a superstar in our eyes-killin’ it on the hit TV show “Fame.” And of course Felicia and Debbie Allen living in Mount Vernon not far from Stephanie Mills across the way from superstar entertainers like Jeff Red, Heavy D, Eddie F… add to that, all of us are the sons and daughters of yet another global icon. Right, in case you didn’t know, Malcolm X and his family also come from Mount Vernon, living just off of South Fulton Avenue where their home was both the target and the blessing.  (It’s now a historic landmark). And while Malcolm made a global imprint, fueling change amongst the Black race and across the globe with his audacity and purpose, I’d be out of pocket if I didn’t mention the actor, our homeboy, Denzel Washington, another Mount Vernon spirit, gift, talent and icon who will surely affect thought, progress and emotion for as long as there is oxygen to breathe.

It is in this environment that Mom kept me busy with a medley of activities: music lessons on the drums, cello, violin, and saxophone; running track; and trying my hand at baseball. I sang in the church choir at First Methodist on the corner of Summit Avenue and Lincoln. Our family was deeply woven into the community fabric—YMCA and YMHA programs, day camps, and summer camps. Hartley Park’s free lunches of cheese sandwiches, bug juice, and apples were a staple of my summer days.

I was the kid who walked up 4th Avenue to buy the latest Jackson 5 album or even Barry Manilow’s Greatest Hits. I followed Mom with my sisters as we forged our way into the local Memorial Day parade, wearing our oversized paper-mâché heads, dangerously riding on bicycles, simulating our version of the TV show “H.R. Pufnstuf.” The only other activities I remember were our frequent trips to Glen Island for beach days and kite flying.

Meanwhile, back home, my childhood was filled with my plastic G.I. Joe action figures, a treehouse in the backyard, and the repeat plays of Roberta Flack and a group called “The Pilgrims” I recall as one of those Black singing groups that mysteriously disappeared from the music scene. My dad’s vinyl record collection was my special sauce and unfair advantage in life.  Because other than the four inch thick Sears catalog, its challenger the almighty telephone book, and the three TV networks—ABC, NBC, and CBS—were the marketing giants of the time. This is where we got our information. What was trending, what was happening and how we fit in  seemed to be packaged in these devices. Eventually cable tv happened and HBO brought on my binge-watching sessions of *Godspell*.

My childhood memories also conjure daily routines included eating tuna casserole, looking forward to mom’s juicy apple dumplings, and if Mom wasn’t blowing her sports whistle to summons us back home, she was otherwise sneaking corn and ham into our pancakes (yuck!). And oh yeah, “time for your Caster Oil!” Holy shit, what children are dressed up in home-made clothes, lining  up for a tablespoon of caster oil everyday!? The Gilmore children, that’s who! And then there was our workout routine where my two sisters and I would sing after Mom:

“Bend and stretch, reach for the stars,

Here comes Jupiter, there goes Mars.

Bend and stretch, reach for the sky,

Stand on tippy toe, oh so high!”

I’m not sure if Mom got that from *Romper Room*, *Captain Kangaroo*, or *Mister Rogers*, but it was my life as an adolescent.

This painting I’m brushing for you is a diverse one; my colorful and detailed canvas of life from my younger years. Not necessarily an optimized or focused upbringing, but certainly a crisp, unpredictable and robust dive into the memories surfing thru my head.

So, how did I end up as a target, afraid of Mrs. Maxim, the school principal. Why the fuck was she bending me over the desk in her office, smacking my ass with her oversized wooden paddle as if this was Catholic school? Yes, I’m clear now that she had a fetish going on and probably satisfied herself in the moments that I left her office with my hand holding my sore cheeks. But did I deserve all that? Also, how many other little black boys did she do this to? I’m certain that old battleaxe bitch is dead now so we’re only left to imagine.  But then, since I already had such a flourishing and colorful environment of experiences and relationships, the randomness of it all, I’m feeling like it was a necessary, novel reality I lived and breathed. And with the outcomes that life has given me I wouldn’t eat it any other way.

Doing the assessment now, I can see the way society works. I can see how I might’ve been considered “slow” back in those days, especially considering my poor behavior. no, I wasn’t subjected to the little yellow bus, but then that wasn’t the only factor that makes you slow. Do I have any records of this? Maybe some old photos, maybe there is a report card somewhere. But I mean, who needs a scoreboard when you have memories of going to get the switch for mom to beat our asses or even the leather belt from dad? These were “highlights” of my adolescence. Tense but character-building moments that didn’t save me from the pen but saved me from much worse, I’m sure. This was my sense of “normal and routine” in the Gilmore household. Was it an excuse for having the school principal on my ass for no good reason? Other than to say, “I lived in Rochelle,” somehow breaking the school rules? You should see the sarcastic gleam in my eye right now. Sure.

And before you clown me, just know I couldn’t express myself then as I can today. I am god (with a razor sharp pen) today. Back then? I couldn’t explain my way out of a bowl of peanuts. I didn’t know how to debate either. In the whole scheme of things, I was in need of mentorship and on a path downhill, for sure.

But today, im thankful for life, for those early friends Mike, Peter, and my sister Julie—all of whom are still alive to experience these tech-curves. Yes, it’s still a wonderful life despite the rollercoaster ride I’ve taken.

I’m now an award-winning novelist. I have hundreds of businesses who have invested in my special skills and talents. Mom’s still kickin it and thriving into her 90’s, still talkin ‘bout “I really need to get my website goin” and as I pour myself a short glass of Crown Royal to celebrate this submission, I’ll certainly drift back in time to recall the next part of my story.

Yes, mom brought us to participate in the MtVernon Memorial Day Parade! We'd make paper-machete' heads like H.R. Pufnstuf and we'd wear thos big creations on our heads while riding our bikes!

The Man, the Myth, the Watchmaker

Pierre-Yves Müller, the notorious Swiss watch maker, is sitting in a minimalistic garden chair outside his house located in the heart of fairy tale Swiss Alps. FashionFreaks were lucky enough to get an interview with this mysterious precision watchmaker.

It strikes me the second I see him, this man is the real deal. Well groomed fingers with nails trimmed to perfection. These hands are his tools and they are taken care of in the same manner an auto repairman takes care of his tools.

Pierre-Yves greets us with a conservative smile, there is no room for small talk in this interview. But small talk is not necessary, we want to know everything about the man and his company, Tick Tock, Tick Tock...

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World's Leading Urban Lit Author is also Publisher, Film Maker and marketing guru.

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