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I was born in Brooklyn, NY, as World War II was ending. So I'm a "boomer." Earliest memories are of an idyllic time in a middle-class neighborhood, where the other children would pull me in their red wagons and let me pet their dogs and cats. However, after my father was demobilized, and my remaining grandparent (who had come from Lithuania during WW I to open a brewery, closed for Prohibition in 1920) died of cancer, and my mother was expecting her second of three children, my orphaned parents moved to a public housing project, where they remained for 11 years. There, my earliest memories were of having my 4-year-old hands stomped on and my 4-year-old face juicily spat upon by slightly older children, the first week that I went out to play. These unpleasant experiences helped me to develop (useful for a future author) my powers of observation, so as to spot threats from anywhere; the universal instinct to wander also kicked in, and so began a lifelong hobby of searching for "good places" (safe, and with something to look at) to spend my time. At the age of 30, this hobby led me to Staten Island, a paradise for those with little money who wish to function in peace and dignity, with a choice of endless changes of scenery.
Sometimes things are so bad, they're good. Such was my beloved alma mater, P.S. 125 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Later it was not merely closed down, but torn down True, in six years we students were taught very, very little. The 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade sewing lessons stand out as a particular highlight, and I enjoy sewing to this day. In 1st grade, I was taught how to tell Left from Right, another useful skill that has stayed in my memory, including the very day that I learned it. In other words, the school did not clutter up my head with excessive knowledge, which left plenty of room to do well in college, one day.
Just down the street from P.S. 125 was an old but splendid public library, and it fulfilled all my criteria of a "good place," so I was there very often. My high school was Thomas Jefferson H.S. in East New York, once famous as the alma mater of Danny Kaye, but later infamous for behavior problems. Still, I lucked out. In my two years at TJ, I encountered outstanding teachers: my art teacher, Don Fabricant, and creative-writing teacher, Benjamin Goodman, both attained some national reputation for their original work, and their colleagues in other subjects had high aspirations. The family moved out of Brownsville in time for my senior year, when I went to S.J. Tilden High School, then considered very solid, and the Tilden faculty made sure that I applied for the City University of New York. (Being only fifteen, I was thinking of slipping away somehow after graduation, but could not find employment, and had no option but to accept my acceptance by tuition-free Hunter College, where I started in my summer of turning sixteen.) The only summer course that looked "fun" and had no requirements was Intensive Russian; so began my careers in teaching, researching, and translating. My interest in encouraging struggling youth, some way somehow, is probably self-explanatory. My love of literature as a veritable lifesaver also needs little explanation. To acquire the broadest background that I could for future teaching, I toiled in graduate school at the Russian (now Harriman) Institute and the Department of Slavic Languages at Columbia University for 7 years.
I've taught at William Paterson College (NJ), Pace University (NYC), and Yeshiva University (NYC), starting up Russian-related programs in each. Free at last! I am retired.