by Steve Goldfinger
At age ten, I went to my first opera, Four Saints in Three Acts. Its composer was Vaughan Williams. Its librettist, Gertrude Stein. The line, “Pigeons on the grass alas” was her most memorable absurdity. Some of my classmates who were there with me probably still remember it. They may also recall that, not long afterward, we were taken to see a play performed by the Jean Louis Barrault company. As it was entirely in French, I am certain not a single word of it remains in our minds.
So, why were we fifth graders bused from PS 193 into the big city for these bewildering performances? Well, we were a group of bright kids selected from various elementary schools across Brooklyn who would comprise a so-called “opportunity” class that would last from grades 5 through 8. Our curriculum was intended to maximize what was thought to be our potential.
It wasn’t all artsy stuff. Back in 1946, we had some serious discussions about the world and concluded that communism was probably best for China. That same year, Miss Sullivan taught us about propaganda techniques in advertising. I learned not to be duped by testimonials and glittering generalities.
My mind was challenged.
I witnessed my first death in 1946. Fred Cornman’s father, a musician, came in to play the piano for the class. We sat in the auditorium, listening. Suddenly, a clamor of discordant notes erupted from the piano as he slumped onto to the keyboard. And at that moment, for the only time in my life, I heard a loud death rattle. I knew exactly what was happening. I raced from my seat down an aisle to the back exit to escape. Miss Sullivan was close behind me, running to the principal’s office.
I can still hear that rattle.
I fell in love for the first time in the eighth grade. Her name was Paula. She sat next to me. She was beautiful, clearly the most popular girl in the class. The rare Sadie Hawkins Day (February 29th) was traditionally when girls would ask boys to a dance. I couldn’t bear the thought that she might ask someone else, so I oafishly pre-empted her by inviting her to go with me. She accepted. Over the next months, my thoughts were torrid; our behavior was chaste. I remember the thrill of her allowing me to put my arm around her shoulder at a movie. I remember kissing her at her door. It was the first time we kissed. I mean really kissed. And it was the last time we dated. We went to separate high schools. So obsessed was I with Paula that I did not date again until my senior year.
My heart still skips a beat when I think of her seventy years later.
Since joining BOLLI a few years ago, after a long career in medicine, Steve has been exploring his artistic side. He has been active in both the Writers Guild and CAST (Creativity in Acting, Storytelling, and Theatre) as well as the Book Group.