2008.11.26 Boosted by kumquats and Chinese food

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY   

My life often has a one-thing-leads-to-another quality to it. Eventually everything gets done, but it may seem roundabout to those of a Type A persuasion, those with a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic.

But even when work isn’t involved, even when I’m merely wondering about one thing, I will be led to a second thing and then a third, and on and on until, quite frankly, I don’t recall what the original thing was.

I was at the library sending an email to Marlena Bittner, David Sedaris’ publicist. Tell me you aren’t saying, “Who’s David Sedaris?” If you just said you are, you need to visit the library immediately and check out one of his books. I had asked Bittner if she could arrange a speakerphone chat with Sedaris for a library program.

At the end of my email I tagged on a P.S.: “You aren’t related to my high school English teacher Mrs. Bittner, are you?”

And then I had to stop and think and not click “send.” Bittner. That just didn’t sound quite right. Not enough syllables, maybe? Shoot, only 32 years out of high school and I can’t remember the name of one of my favorite teachers.

I called David at home and asked him to flip though my yearbook and find a teacher with dark hair and big glasses, wearing something black and white polka dotted and sitting on a table.

There were nearly 200 teachers and staff—not counting the fake ones like Lance Romance (Poise and Charm) and Milton Mongoose (Egyptology)—for David to plow through and he couldn’t locate the index.

He passed English teachers Judith Spielholtz and Inge Oppenheimer before getting distracted by names such as Norman Hessel, Waldo Pagani, Felicia Hirata, Cosmo Wenner, Gloria Moskovitz and Stella Trikouros, and then finally saying, “Constance Bitterman.“

“Bitterman!” I shouted.

“No glasses, but she’s wearing big earrings,” David said.

Mrs. Bitterman!

My gosh! How could I have gotten it so wrong? I loved Mrs. Bitterman. She so obviously loved life and wanted to share it with us. She brought us kumquats and invited us to dinner at her house where she served homemade Chinese food.

I loved how she really made us think. She asked insightful questions about all the books she made us read...I’m pretty sure somewhere in the bowels of my basement, I still have those homework assignments.

So, I came home and looked through my yearbook where my browsing took me past a page with my all-time favorite teacher, Mr. Weiss.

What ever happened to Mr. Weiss? I wondered. Mr. Weiss would respond, “No, I don’t know,” every time one of us used the meaningless expression, “You know.”

Wondering about Mr. Weiss led me to the John Bowne High School website where I clicked a link to an alumni site. I started registering and when asked about the clubs I belonged to, I dipped back into my yearbook where I landed on the last pages—with the booster ads in tiny print.

These are not your normal booster ads—line ads of praise or encouragement for the graduates. Sure, there is an occasional “Best wishes to all grads—R. Grossman” and “Shalom Aleichem—Peace on you.”

And there’s a useful quote every now and then: “Never insult an alligator until you’ve crossed the river,” but for the most part, the booster ads are private jokes (“I’m sorry I had to throw you Tony, but it’s better than getting shot) sprinkled with prophesy (“The Yankees will rise again!”).

I read more closely to see if I could find an ad I might have written. I recognized one immediately: One that, I suppose you could say, falls into both the private joke and prophesy categories.

We were upstate New York at a dude ranch for our senior trip and a group of us was sitting around a table in a commons area about to play cards. A fellow student smoking a cigarette walked toward the table as if he wanted to join the game.

Looking back on that scene now, it made me wonder, Where were the chaperones? But back then, I took one look at him and said, “Put out your cigarette if you want to smoke here.”

I paid one dollar to commemorate that moment in a booster ad; I still think it’s great advice—far better than my other gem that night.

The afore-mentioned group was having a hard time deciding which card game to play next.

“Oh, just deal the cards and then we’ll decide!” I said impatiently.

Hmm, sounds like I had a little Type A in me after all.

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