Daily Archives: June 2, 2009

On Life: East, North, West, South, Left, Right, Down, Up

I’ve taken up a new hobby recently by using Classmates to reconnect with some of my classmates from my years in the 1950’s growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

ABQ was a small town then. The population was about 90,000 when my mom and I moved there in September, 1950, and about 120,000 when I left for college at Caltech in 1962. I worked in ABQ my college summers, and then made one or two visits a year until my mother died in late 1982. I haven’t been back to ABQ since then, but my wife and I will be there in three weeks to attend the wedding of the son of close friend.

New Mexico is one of the largest states. You spend more time in it than any other state when driving across the country via “old” Route 66.

NM is also very sparsely populated. There were about 120,000 people in ABQ when I left it. I attended the Rose Bowl game in Pasadena in January, 1966. The stadium was full, with close to 100,000 people in the stands, and I realized that most of the people from ABQ could be seated in the stands.

NM had about a million residents when I moved to Manhattan in 1966. NM is about 128,000 square miles, or about 8 people per square mile. Soon after arriving in New York, I learned that Manhattan was about 23 square miles, which meant that were Manhattan to have the same population density as New York then it would have had fewer than 200 residents. This meant that, for example, a single subway car could have held five times the number of people living in Manhattan at that density. From time to time while going home on a rush hour on a packed IRT #7 train in the days before air conditioning, I wished that it did have the same population density.

Bob Fralick, a fellow Highland High School (HHS) graduate of the class of ’62, and I are trying to organize an informal reunion of HHSer’s from the 50’s and 60’s, to be held just three weeks from today, on June 23, somewhere near HHS, and so I’ve been sending emails and friends invitations to the many kind people who have taken the time to sign my guestbook.

One of the first to sign my guestbook was Gary Spitzberg, or “Gary G” as I would now call him.

ABQ was then both a very stable and a very transient town. I had many classmates who went to the same three schools as did I: Bandelier Elementary, Woodrow Wilson Junior High, and HHS. The transient population was then, and I expect now as well, primarily members of the military. ABQ then had both an Air Force Base at Kirtland AFB, and an Army base at Sandia.

Many career military people would arrange to have ABQ as their last assignment. Having served their earlier, they knew it was a great place to retire. For example, one of my closest friends during my years at HHS was Dennis Conlon. His father was in the military and had decided to retire in ABQ. Jan Beckedorff’s father was a colonel in the U.S. Army. I later saw Jan several times when he was doing his training for the Peace Corps at Columbia, around 1968, when I lived on West 95th while attending NYU’s graduate school of mathemaics, the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, CIMS.

ABQ was a great place to grow up, and to retire. The problem was what to do between the ages of 18 and 60+, which is why I first left ABQ to go to college in California, and then, having had a lifetime dose of LA-LA land in my undergraduate days, then moved to NYC, where I spent twenty years on Manhattan’s West Side before moving to the suburb of Chappaqua, where I have lived for the past 22 years.

ABQ was then quite diverse by economy, and, as is probably the case still today, quite divided by race and religion. For example, I can recall not a single meaningful encounter with a black person — they were called “Negroes” then — during my childhood.

Though now a Jew, and the father of a Rabbi, I was barely aware of Jews during my childhood. My mother bought most of my clothes at Stromberg’s, a few blocks west of the Sunshine Theater Building where she worked for a few years. One of my classmates was Joann Gardenschwartz, whose family owned the store. Though I now know by her name that the family is Jewish, I didn’t know it then. I do recall knowing that David Ball was Jewish, as I had learned his family did not go to church, but to something called a “temple,” and that the name of the religion of the people who went to that temple was Judaism.

I often wondered what went on inside when I rode past the “temple” building on my bike, on the way from my home to downtown or to the main branch of the public library. I expect I thought it was some kind of Roman or Greek ritual.

One of the people I know went to all three schools with me was Gary Spitzberg, and I wrote the following note on his Classmates Message Board a few minutes ago:


We went to all three schools together.

My favorite teacher at Bandelier was Ms. Stone. I arrived late for the first day of school, since my mother had moved us to ABQ just the previous weekend.

Ms. Stone was reading Bambi, and I arrived in time to hear the ending and have a good cry.

This was followed by a lunch and then a nap.

I decided school was a great place to be, and I can think of no better way to start an elementary education: have a good cry, eat, and then sleep.

My mom and I ran into Ms Strone at the Safeway near Central and Girard several years later, when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. Ms. Stone immediately said, “Hi, David.” My mother asked how she had recognsed me, for she knew that Ms. Stone hadn’t seen me for years.

Ms. Stone said, “He’s the same, just bigger.”

My wife Karin is also a teacher and I have noticed the same phenomenon when she has encountered former students. I also noticed it earlier today when I visited the home page of fellow HHS alum Sheila Parsons. Her page has a photo that alternates between Sheila then and Sheila now. Sheila graduated in 1966, I in 1962, so I didn’t know her then, but looking at the picture of “Sheila Then” brought back a flood of memories of my fellow classmates, and how they look in their “Then” pictures. (I still have my yearbook and will post a picture of Dave “Then” as time permits.”)

By the way, Bob Fralick and I are trying to organize an informal reunion of HHS grads from the 50’s and 60’s, to be held three weeks from today not too far from HSS. (My wife and I wil be in ABQ that weekend for the first time in 25 years, to attend the wedding of the son of a close friend.)

You may appreciate my recent blog post https://daveshields.wordpress.com/2009/05/21/on-democracy-losing-an-election-absolute-power/ about my days as co-chair with Lynn Wooden of the Bandelier Safety Patrol, and later as the co-chair of the Woodrow Willson “Don’t you DARE try to get into school early Hall Patrol.”

You can find more of my ABQ posts by searching my blog, for ABQ or “Albuquerque,” in the Search box near the bottom left corner of the (large) main page.

There is one story worth recalling here:

I recall vividly the day, standing in the playground at Bandelier, in the second grade, when I realized that, if I extended my arms,

If I faced the Sandia Mountains, that was East
My left hand was pointing North, towards Santa Fe
My back was facing (“backing?”) West, towards Mt. Taylor
My right hand was pointed South, towards Socorro.

This combined both direction and handedness in a single stance, and that image often comes to mind whenever I get lost and have to orient myself, or when I’m first in a new place, such as Moscow or St. Petersberg. I know by the time of the day whether the sun is in the east or west, and I then superimpose the image of the Sandias on the local terrain.

I’m having so much fun writing this note that I’ll copy what I have written so far and put the rest in the form of a blog post.


Here then, the continuation of the note to Gary.

Gary, I recall you were an athlete. Did you play baseball. I played Little League for a couple of years. I was the first baseman on the first team — I am left-handed — and was faced with one of my first challenges when the coach informed me that I was to be replaced by a younger player. He said, in essence, that I could either be the last, or “worst,” player on the first team, or the one of the best players on the second team. I decided I could learn more by staying on the first team, even though it meant I would get less playing time.

I think I made the right call. You learn the most from those who you know are better than you, not by lording it over people whom you deem to be your inferiors. This is, I think, an important lesson in life.

The player who replaced me was Ricky Galles. I later learned that his father owned the largest Chevrolet dealership in the town, Galles Chevrolet. I also later learned that he was by far the better athlete, for he was a first or second round All-American as a halfback at Kansas State. He went to work for the family business on return from college, and later became quite well known as a sponsor of various auto racing teams consisting of the various brothes Unser, whose family owned a garage on the west side of town, not too far from the Route 66 drive-in where I learned to drive a bike. I can still recall going over the series of small hills at the drive-in, trying not to avoid crashing into the speaker poles. The Cactus drive-in was much closer to my home, and was a wonderful piece of architecture. We didn’t have a car in the 50’s, and so didn’t go there often, though I do recall seeing Jose Ferer in “Cyrano,” in which he gave a masterful peformance.

By the way, Ricky should appreciate my blog post in which I describe why I had to ask the folks at the Indianapolis Speedway to “start my engine,” which they graciously did.

I remember to this moment the afternoon when I hit my first grand-slam homer. The ball sailed over the shortstop’s head, and then rolled down the long slope towards the north. The outfielder took one look behind him, and realised the ball would be about a quarter-mile away before it finally stopped rolling, so he gave up and the game continued with a new ball. Our coach, whose name I cannot recall, was a wonderful man and a great leader.

I played Little League until midway through the summer of 1956. I took off a day to see “Forbidden Planet” at the Hiland theater. My mother worked for the theaters and so I could go for free. The coach noticed my absence the next day, and I made up some lame excuse. For some reason, I soon lost interest in the game, and so did not finish the summer.

The reason the coach may have remarked on my absence was that I was Master — as children were called in those days — “Perfect Attendance.”

My mother was a single parent, and so I was aware that for me to be ill was a great imposition.

Thus, I am probably the only person who ever felt a surge of joy on being told they had the mumps. In those days every child had, though the order varied, mumps, measles and chicken pox. Mumps, or it may have been measles, was my last, and so I knew that once I got over it, I would no excuse for missing school.

Thus, I didn’t miss a day of school due to illness from the start of third grade until sometime in my graduate education, a run of at least fifteen years.

I think I got a small pen for my four years of PA (perfect attendance) at Bandelier, which explains why my first stop at the Woodrow Wilson Junior High School (WWJHS) was to see what awards awaited those with PA. I learned that no pens or other trinkets were available, but that I would get a certificat, and so got three of them.

I learned when I entered HHS that they didn’t even bother with certificates, but kept the string going.

It was also because of PA that I first learned that those from families with clout got more goodies, when I saw on the front page of the local paper than the son of the School Superintendent had gotten his photograph on the front page for a measly three years of PA-ness. Three years! I already had six or so by then.

Among the other basic information I acquired while a Bandelier student was how to spell Albuquerque. I recall to this day the evening and the time — I am certain it was a Saturday, about 7PM — when I was trying to learn how to spell “Albuquerque.”

I finally got it by pronouncing it so, “a – l – b – u – Q – u – e – r – Q – u – e.” There were two Q’s, with the first surrounded by a U on both sides. Both of the Q’s were followed, of course, by a U, and also by an E after the U.

I later used similar logic when I first encountered “Mississippi”: “m – i – S – S – i – S – S – i – P – P – i.” Two SS’s, Two PP’s, with four I’s before, between, and after them, as in “iSSi” and “iPPi.” Start with an M and you are done, as in MISSISSIPPI = M + ISS + ISS + IPP + I.

Or, speaking as a mathematician, you can’t forget MISS + IS + SIP + PI, though I never thought of it until I wrote it just now.

The latest example of this was “Cincinnati,” where my Rabbi son attended school for two years: “C – i – N – C – i – N – N – a – t – i.” One N followed by one NN followed by one T, with the obvious vowels, which are not doubled, between. Or also, realising that the first six letters are just CIN concatenated with itself: Cincinnatti = CIN + CIN + NATI. That is “Sin Sin Nati,” though the town is more commonly known as The Queen City.

I wrote my mother often — at least in my view though I am sure not in hers — during my college years:

Janet Shields
302 Stanford SE, Apt 5
AlbuQuerQue, NM, 87106

That is just under 60 characters, so you can appreciate one of the pleasures of living in New York was to have the following address:

134 W 93 4B
NY NY 10025

which is 22 letters, almost three times shorter. I could have cut this to 20 by dropping the apartment number, but one of my neighbors at 134 was a postman, so I cut the USPS some slack to make his colleague's job easier. This also explains why I left in the 10025, even though I could have gotten down to a power of two — as a programmer I count in powers of two — in less than 16 (16 = 2 * 2 * 2 * 2) letters. This was hard in that my birthday is December 8th, and 8 is a power of two. I was married on December 27th, the cube of 3.

Though Chappaqua is a wondeful town, I recall saying to myself when I had to enter my new address on an envelope, “I now live in another town with that damn Q, bu at least there is only one of them:”

10 Sabina Rd
Chappaqua NY 10514

This is close to 32 letters, half of my childhood address, and I take some comfort in having an address with a length close to a power of two. I now drop the “Rd”, the town name, and the state name when writing a return address, which brings me down under 16 letters.:

10 Sabina

President Obama has an even shorter address, as “Presiden Obama, “B. Obama,” or “White House” would suffice. By the way, I once read that the best address to put down as your emergency backup on your passport is just “The White House,” and did so for many years. The argument is that if you are caught in some foreign country and the authorities can’t find anyone at your immediate address, then they will get in touch with the White House. Moreover, if the authorities see that your backup address is “The White House” they may try to keep you from coming into harm’s way while in their country.

The last visit to Bandelier that I can recall was when I was about 20, which would be sometime in the summer of 1965. While driving around, either in our Volvo 544, or my Yamaha YDS2 motorbike, I stopped near Bandelier, and walked over to one of the swings I had used many times about ten years earlier.

As I swung to and fro, I noticed a full moon illuminating the playground. I then realised that ten years was 3650 days, so that 1000 days are about three years. So 10 years was 3,000 days, or 30 months, meaning the same friendly moon had shone down on the playground about 30 times since I had last used that swing.

I then wondered what would become of me over the next 10,000 nights, or about thirty years, when I would be near the half-century mark.

Within three weeks I hope to visit the same swing.

It will be 44 years, or just over 16,000 days — near a power of two — since I last sat on that swing.

The moon will have shone down on that swing almost 500 times –near another power of two — and I look forward to the silent conversation that will then transpire between David Then and David Now.

Or, as David Then would have said to David Now, “See you later, Alligator.”

In any event, I will first look Down at the sand-covered playground, and then Up at the sky, thus completing the circuit:

East, North, West, South, Left, Right, Down, Up

This is just a reminder that Life is where you find it, wherever and whenever you look for it:

East, North, West, South, Left, Right, Down, Up

I expect one of the first questions that Dave Then will ask Dave Now is how many wonderful people I have met since that long ago evening.

I will tell him about a movie I once saw, in which the character Forest Gump says:

My momma always said, “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

which, on reflection, is closely related to Leigh-Ann Tuohy’s equally wise observation, “God gives people money to see what you’re going to do with it.”

I will then say that I have been fortunate to meet many, and that — as I know Dave Then did not appreciate — many of the most wonderful were his friends and classmates during his lucky years growing up in Albuquerque.

Towards that end, I have just taken several photos of pages from my copy of the ’62 HHS Yearbook. I will post them here, or as part of another post, as soon as I figure out how to do it.

(My picture can be found in the leftmost photo in the next to last row, on the middle of the right hand page.)

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