Teachers I Remember - Part One
My Earliest Years
This morning when I woke up I found myself watching Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing--and though I had seen it before, it was oncemore truly a joy and an epiphany to behold. I got hooked right away for they were just at that scene where the Ossie Davis character, who calls himself Da Mayor, or Da Doctor is getting real cantankerous with his Korean beer dealin' shop owners. 'Whatcha mean ya aint got no Miller High Life! That's my beer. You KoaReeans,' etc. etc. Of course I'm paraphrasing, but what a trip he was!
It was as good as or better than one of those fabulous arias, or rather recitativi you might hear in a great opera. It was a perfect scene--and I couldn't stop laughing. Laughing in the morning when you are just waking up is great medicine--it sets the tone for your day--it tones up your flabby emotional state and makes you sing on the way to the shower--and pray while sitting on the shower stall floor in the lotus position and feel the divinely hot, tepid or cooling rainshower cleanse and purify you body and soul.
I used to run around the yard in Makassar in those oedjang oedjang panas, those tropical warm rain showers--like my uncle Godfried Cooke, whom we always called Oom Boy, had prescribed for me to get over my incipient asthma problems--and which obviously worked like a charm. As a physician, what we called een arts in Dutch, Oom Boy knew his tropical medicine. During the war years there was not a lot of western medicine around and he had made a virtuous woman out of necessity, that mother of invention, by studying native means and methods to cure all sorts of ailments.
Apart from any healing aspects it was also exhilirating to run around shivering and ass-naked in those heavy rains, or stand, breathing hard, under the pantjiran, those gushers of water that came down from gutters on the roof, or slide around through the foot deep water inundated areas of the lawn around the house when it really was coming down in buckets.
Indonesians today spell: panciran and I tried to look it up: Preglednik fotografija // panciran - 24sata-
Oops, big mistake. The joys of boyhood were simple and many--but certainly not that precocious! Then again....let's just leave it in--someone might like it.
Now where was I? Oh yeah, that's what I usually do when I get up--maybe listen to opera, watch some great movie scenes, or hear a scintillating presentation on something really cool, new or different.
It is another day today for instance as I am writing this, and this morning I found myself waking up as I watched In acht Meilen um die Welt - Roosevelt Avenue - Programmtipps ...--a German documentary dubbed in French on TV5Monde (Channel 252 on Comcast) on that international stretch of Roosevelt Avenue in Queens. Here's an English website on that place: A Walk Down Roosevelt Avenue in Queens
After I have adjusted to the waking state somewhat and been inspired by what I heard or saw on cable to the point I can no longer just passively take it all in, I jump out of bed and I take my morning communion in the form of my little pills, mijn pilletjes of prescribed medications and check into the bathroom to sit down in the shower stall to meditate on the greatness of being alive in het grote gewaarzijn--in the great aware being.
A little aside: communion is a word of art and recently I heard this story about RFK who went to numerous churches after the assassination of MLK, to help calm things down and was promptly accused of having taken communion in a protestant church. Many Catholics were absolutely aghast and people asked him, is that true, did you do that, did you take communion with heretics? And Bobby said, no of course not. I ate some bread and drank some wine they were just passing down the pews, that's all. They said: Bobby--that's what they call communion in a protestant church! Duh!
Communion to me is partaking of any healing or powerful, magical substance taken with awareness.
Back to my story. It doesn't take that long to find yourself in the mood to take to the streets of day to day existence to and experience life anyway it comes your way. And it always comes to you in the most surprising ways--which is the exhilirating part. The gift comes wrapped every day in a different way. Unwrapping that gift is the joy of life. It is like Sinterklaas every day, every hour, every minute, and every moment.
You never know what to expect--except that whatever it is, it is a great gift--in whatever wrapping it comes.
And you know what--I may not live in Breukelen anymore and can no longer claim to be the King of Queens or the Queen of Kings, whatever, or Da Mayor or Da Doctor of Bedford Stuyvesant like that Ossie davis character, but on my way downtown along Ellis Street I pass through landscapes and scenery not all that different from the world portrayed by Spike. And I feel very much a part of it. A lot of the anger and sharp edges are gone these days, the weather is not as harsh and relationships far more gentle among the diverse groups--one might even use that biblical phrase and observe that in the Tenderloin it almost appears from time to time, on a good day or a gentle night that the lions have laid themselves down with the lambs and appear to get along fine, even though, as some carmudgeon remarked: the lambs won't get much sleep. And that too is true, still even today in the Tenderloin where 'the Ko-Reeans' are more likely to be from Saigon, Iran, Yemen, or China. But the characters that populate the Tenderloin are still as great as ever the folks in Bed Stuy were, or are. You see folks, folks are universal and do universal stuff.
Like energy is universal and does universal stuff--and we're the stuff it does, universally, all over and everywhere, all the time. Everywhere and everywhen, as e.e. commins would say. It never stops. Thats just the Way it Is. That's the Tao of Being. Just check out these Passages from 'The Tao of Pooh' :
"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast? said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.
There was a time not that many years ago you'd take your life in your hands if you ventured out in the Tenderloin, or parts of the Western Addition, especially from dusk till dawn. Or even from dawn till dusk--when the true vampires might be in their coffins, but you'd still have to be on your qui vive, who lives, what gives, who's there--wiedaar, werda, weirdo?--for the faux vampires that might harrass you, stick a knife in your ribs, or a foreclosure statement in your mailbox. Caveat emptor. You always have to be careful and aware, open and alive to every possibility and every wrapping good or bad that the surprise gift might come in--fall in with those around you, don't stick out like a soar thumb, or a wagging finger, and those around you will smile when you smile--otherwise, they'll grimace when you grimace. Life is a mirror. You are the evil empire you're talking of. You are the devil you are seeing. And that's the naked truth, imperial highness.
OK, back to Macassar and teachers I remember. I was that kid then, running around naked in the oedjang panas, that tropical rain shower on days I didn't attend school. School at that tender age of four, in 1946, was across the street from our house in Macassar, a school run by de nonnetjes, the nuns. A Catholic school for a Prostestant kid--except I didn't know I was a Protestant. No problem, the nuns knew it--and they taught me what it meant to be a Protestant. Not that they went around burning me on the stake, or calling me a heretic. And I was way to young then to be called a heresiarch, as they probably would these days.
Did I mention what a Protestant theologian had to say about heresiarchs, teachers of heresy?
It is kind of amusing so let me give you the reference and the quote--this is one contemporary reformed theologian writing about another: Euangelion: Wright the Heresiarch
Wright is a heretic. A heresiarch. He will forever burn under God's righteous wrath and under the solemn and scornful gaze of the Lamb of God for all eternity if he does not change his theological views before he dies, or rather, his lack of good theology! He is a false teacher, and one of the most influential heretics of the century because he affected people at the seminary level - where pastors are trained and scholars born - and has infected a good number of churches, right down to the layman and youth of the day.
Whoa dude, that's rude!
No, the little nuns, de nonnetjes, didn't do that to me. I was too little to be told I would forever burn under God's righteous wrath--besides I would have had no idea what the heck they might have been talking about. I was never that precocious. I would never have understood that this scornfully gazing Lamb of God was supposed to be Jesus, the Savior of Mankind, for goodness sake. Scorn? God? Jesus? Wablief? 'Scuse me?
But this is what these nonnetjes did and said that taught me a thing or two that forever stayed in my mind: There was some kind of contest which I won. Who knows what the contest was, I have long since forgotten that. But what I never did forget was that I won the prize, but didn't get it. Everyone said I had won, but I didn't get the prize, because I was a Protestant! And I didn't know yet what that was anymore than I would have known , if asked, what that scornful gaze of the Lamb of God was. Or what it might do to me for all eternity. Now that is not just rude, dude, but uncool, or is it uncule? to the max.
OK, nowadays I understand what made those hapless nonnetjes tick--the prize was a rosary! And Prostestant don't use rosaries. Protestant kids don't even have the slightest idea what a rosary is, or what it might be good for. I am not even sure Catholic kids that age would know that either. But a Catholic kid who'd won would have gotten the prize. Brought it home in triump to a proud Mama and Papa. Not me. The one and only Protestant in class, perhaps even in the school. And I didn't even know I was gay then to boot.
Life is unfair they say to the Gay, the Protestant, the Woman, or the Black, the Jew, whatever--get over it.
But what is unfair to us, adults, often is cruel to a kid. How was this to motivate me--to know that when I won, the prize would pass me by, because I was different in some way I could not even fathom, but definitely suspected might not be good. You may think I'm making a mountain of a mole hill, but to a kid, a mole hill can indeed be mountainous. What I am really driving at is not just the passing of the rosary, but the exclusion from the possibility of winning the great prize--for it was a great prize to me, that first time I ever entered into a contest, or even laid my eyes on any kind of prize. Even before I even really knew what a contest was, or a prize--at that impressionable age my mind was rudely impressed with the prejudice of adults towards one another and their offspring. For of course it goes beyond the issue of Catholic and Protestant, it goes beyond me and myself--it was an intimation of what many of us, perhaps most of us, could expect in and from society. Until that society is transformed.
They become friends. He tells her he fell in love with his best friend whom he had known since grade school and she asks: did you ever tell him? And he says Nah! She goes: Why not? And he: well, you see, at a very early age I discovered I was different, because I was cripple, in a wheel chair. Then I found out i was also different because I was Jewish. By the time I fell in love with my best friend, I was not ready to admit to him I was not just a cripple and a Jew, but a cripple and a Jew and a queer. I figured, three strikes and I'd be out! Whereupon they both burst out in laughter--liberating, healing laughter.
But let me go on with my own story, for just a few years later, other forms of discrimination came to raise their ugly head in the waters of my consciousness. Racial prejudice. Gender prejudice--and much much later, for me at least, not for other more precocious kids, prejudice against unpopular forms of attraction.
I am not even talking about sexual attraction--young kids don't know much about sex--or shouldn't in any event until much past the age where they might already feel attracted to others. My first attraction was for a two year old girl when I was four! She spurned me, that little bitch! Two years later, when I was six, she four, on another island--for we had both moved from Celebes to Sumatra by then, I found out she had again become my neighbor and I sped to her side as fast as my little legs could run across the street--only to be not so much spurned, this time, but sorely disappointed: Had I really been in love with that? Love is fickle.
She no longer turned me on, whatever part of me that referred to--it certainly wasn't sexual in any conventional sense of the word. Not that Tineke, that was her name, was not still a very, very cute blond, and skinny as she had turned out to be at the age of four, but her personality just wasn't my cup of tea.
Within a short time I turned to a little male class mate--Dirk-Hein, or rather he turned towards me and I responded--we were in first or second grade when we met and became best buddies--and had engaged in oral contact within a year or so--just once, Your Honor, underwater in the swimming pool, kind of pretending we were little fish nibbling on each other.
I swear we didn't know anything about the emperor Tiberius's nibbling predilections on the isola di Capri. Tiberius (14 to 37 AD) - Reviews on RateItAll
Besides, members of the jury, it was Heintje's idea, not mine--but I was not averse to it, for I liked Heintje. And it was not sexual in the conventional sense, for we didn't know the first thing about sex then--at least I didn't. Heintje might have been more precocious or better informed perhaps at the age of seven or eight. Who is to say--but I did catch him and Rini H. once play-acting in a funny way behind the loods at school.
For me the issue of homosexuality was not an issue till much later...many catechism lessons later. But some kids are more vulnerable that way. I was never called a sissy--I'm not sure if I ever was one or not--but no one accused me as such. Other kids are--and suffer immensely under the accusation. Especially under certain special circumstances, like when they hear sermons thundering against the exact feelings they suspect they might be harboring, or against the very nature they are just beginning to discover is truly, deeply and innately their very own.
The scornful gaze of the Lamb is not a cozy place to be for a kid that young.
I am not sure if I should include Tineke or Heintje as among the teachers I remember, but in truth, they were--or I would not be telling the story here in this forum. And maybe in some way I was their teacher too. Come to think of it, we are all each other's teachers, aren't we, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, we always teach each other--and ourselves. We just need to do a better job.
Some teacher are just more memorable than others--and the nonnetjes, then Tineke and Heintje have stuck in my mind. There were others I could have mentioned--my cousin Peter with whom I grew up in the camps on Java, my earliest male role model who was not a hostile enemy, and whose eventual decision to attend gymnasium rather than some easier school curriculum I followed, to my great benefit for so much of my pleasure in life comes directly from that classical education--and of course the Japanese camp commanders who taught me so much about discipline, cooperation and obedience, as well as the value of hard work and good food--and not the least my own loving mother who cared for me when I went through every possible childhood disease during the camp years and guided me in developing a positive outlook on life no matter what. She was the strength in my life under the most trying circumstances. At some later time I may say something more about the contributions of my Dad, whom I love, but didn't know at all till I was already walking and talking, and who I still don't know all that well, because he has chosen to remain silent about himself on so many things.
I will continue with teachers I remember after lunch, or another day, maybe even on another page of my journal entries. For now, I wish you all bon appetit.