P.S. 251 Childhood Memories- So much of my upbringing comes from Brooklyn’s P.S. 251 Paedergat Elementary School. I spent most of the 1980′s there; there was only one male teacher, and he didn’t even have a grade- he only had an occasional computer class. PS 251 was a traditional New York school: a crazy mix of social politically correct liberalism with conservative authoritarian and patriotism. Ronald Reagan was the idol of the teachers as they watched immigration destroy their 1950′s view of the world.
It was a Magnet School- may still very well be, I’m long gone so don’t care. I was in the “Eagle Program for Gifted Students”. There was a “2 Class” where “normal kids” got their average public school education, a “3 Class” were slower students…uhm…existed, and “Special Ed” where the mentally handicapped (or emotionally handicapped) children had their coursework.
From Pre-K to 4th Grade, I always ranked 1-3 in my grade. It was my educational peak. Please don’t think I’m boasting; as soon as I hit Junior High School (7th grade) I realized none of that mattered. When I went to High School in Florida, I totally realized nothing that I did in Elementary School meant anything. Don’t tell your kids that.
Anyway, the title of this post is “Living in the Shadow of Your Sibling”, so let’s get to it. I have to change the people’s names on this one. I usually don’t do that when I write about old personal experiences in school or life- for example I pretty much gave the whole life history of Dr. Henry Milton from Boyd Anderson, and ripped Juan Miguel Arasa of Florida to shreds right here on Skew.DailySkew.Com. But in this case…my instincts tell me I ought to not use real names.
Enter Rose Hart. She was a few years ahead of me, but everyone in PS 251 knew her. All of the teachers would rave about her. She was always #1 in academics and the various school plays, musicals, and regent tests. At least I think so. I never saw the stats. Her reputation may have been built on legend, or she may have been an Nth level genius. I looked Rose Hart up on Facebook before I quit FB. Rose Hart made a career of going to school: doctoral training at Harvard Business School, graduate coursework in Sociology at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, undergraduate studies at Harvard College, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and she now is an MIT professor. Yeah, she was smart, no doubt.
Rose Hart was worshiped by the teachers, administrators, and was recognized by the city, county, and state..she won national competitions, and was known and respected by the mayor and assembly people. If you envy her already, imagine what it would feel like to be her younger brother. Enter Chris Hart.
Chris Hart was the only black kid in my Kindergarten class (a notion which became laughable by the end of the 1980′s). We were together from Pre-K all the way to 6th grade. The third person in this little triad was Barbara Glickman (real name). Chris look liked a kid version of Lionel Richie, and was from Trinidad. The teachers would always mention how great Rose Hart was, what new achievement she won, and how Chris would hopefully follow suit. Chris Hart was not very outgoing back then. At the beginning, I think he got A’s and 90′s, although it may have been because of his last name, who knows for sure? He was pegged as a future superstar, kinda like Ken Griffey, Jr. However, when it came to class rank, myself, Douglas Katz (before he got skipped a grade), Marissa Moses, and others interchanged being top dogs.
It was during 3rd grade, where the veneer of the Hart Family Legacy began to shatter. Chris actually stole some index cards from the teacher’s desk- and got caught! This was scandalous in our class due to the aforementioned authoritarian nature of PS 251. Chris Hart was supposed to be a teacher’s pet, and here he committed a crime. The next bit of gossip occurred when Chris was caught by the computer teacher for holding hands with Wasana, a girl from Sri Lanka. He got into trouble for that.
During fourth grade, my mother accompanied the class on a field trip (to Burger King!), and Chris looked lonely. My mom showed him tenderness by holding him on his shoulder and walking with him. He needed it. I used to speak with Chris over the phone occasionally, and his parents where hardly home. One worked for MCI or AT&T. Not sure about the other one, I think ConEd? He never spoke of Rose, although she would sometimes not want to give him the phone when I called, and teased him about getting calls.
Fifth grade also was the debut of Chris’s cousin Rita. She was obese. She may or may not be a knock-out now, but back then, she was the butt of many jokes for being ugly, and Chris and Rose didn’t really want to be associated with her. Chris and Rose’s youngest brother Norman also started to come to P.S. 251 earlier and now was playing with us in the school yard. Norman was not a future star; he was a little imp and a bad seed. He actually sucker punched me while we were playing Asses Up handball in the school yard. When I tried to attack him, he ran faster than I could run- no easy task. I tripped and busted open my knee. I still have the scar. Norman was laughing, and Chris was on his side. I never was able to get revenge on Norman. I usually fought guys bigger than I was, so I relished at the opportunity to throw a midget around on the concrete jungle.
During this time, the teachers and administration had already written off Chris from equaling Rose. PS 251 went up to 6th grade, and Chris’s prospect was pretty much over by 3rd grade. His grades slid in 4th grade, and by 5th grade the Hart name was diluted by an obese cousin with braces and low grades and a little jerk in the ranks. Chris and I had stopped phoning since 3rd grade; in fact in around 5th grade he started to make fun of me (called dissing or ranking).
So I bet you’re still scratching your head, asking yourself, so what’s the point? He didn’t really do anything bad. He just couldn’t get grades and attention like Rose. Big deal. Well, Chris Hart jumped the shark in 6th grade. That’s when the hormones started to take over our bodies, and boys were starting to be concerned with looks and image (well, I still played with my toys). A boy by the name of Levar took Chris aside, and became his advisor. I swear Levar was like Satan. He was much more developed physically- he won many street fights, and tried to mimic Mike Tyson. He had sex before he was 13 years old. He had hazel eyes for a black kid. He and Chris were both “light skinned”. Levar was from the Glenwood Projects, just like I did. Levar told Chris who to speak to, who to hang out with, how to speak to girls, what sneakers to wear, how to wear a shirt, how to pronounce words, what to focus on, and Chris worshiped him for “wising him up”. Chris’s childhood was officially over. It was like when Doc Gooden listened to and looked up to Darryl Strawberry.
Levar and I of course got into a minor scuffle, but never got into a closed fist battle, although I did threaten him like the poodle I am. However Levar did push Chris into fighting me. It was close to the end of 6th grade graduation. Our teacher Ms. Funk was never in the classroom, and we were left unattended. Our permanent records were unsealed and Ms. Funk had announced our attendance records, reading and math scores, and GPA. Chris finished with an underwhelming career, but had the record for never being absent. That’s right for 8 years, he never missed one day. That’s because his parents sent him on the bus or dropped him off and ignored him if he was sick. Pretty sad. Me? I was absent 100 times over that same period, but had a good GPA (I started to miss out on math because my eyesight was going bad).
Anyway, after Ms. Funk left the class, Chris was ragging on me for being absent so much, and I retorted by saying how his grades sucked, and how surprised I was at that fact. Things were getting out of hand, and we were arguing in front of Barbara who was sharing our table. She protested that we have been together for so long, and we should stop. Levar was telling Chris to take me out. So we fought. It was the longest fight I ever had, and I’ve had many. We fought all through the classroom, knocking down tables and chairs. Levar had taught Chris a karate kick, but I caught it mid-air, like in wrestling, and had him in a standing knee lock. Looking back, we were both wasting energy by showboating. We didn’t really want to hurt each other. We were both protecting our egos. I never wanted to hurt Chris, and he had to be pulling his punches, or maybe he didn’t know how to really fight, either. Barbara finally broke it up. Levar said Chris won, my guys said I won. In secret afterwards, Barbara made us shake hands, and we did, but Levar took Chris away and said that he did a great job beating up the white boy. Chris agreed. That was the end for us. (For the record, it was a draw.)
But that’s not all…Levar made Chris join a street gang: VIP (Vanderveer International Posse). Joining a street gang was a rite of passage. You had to be “tested” to join. That meant 15-20 VIP jumped you on a public bus, school lunch room, or outside of school. If you took it, you passed. If you ran, you failed.
Here’s an interview regarding Vanderveer International Posse from the New York Times:
Q.: Larry, how many do you know who have been shot?
LARRY: A lot. That’s all I can say is a lot of people I know.
Q.: More than five?
LARRY: More than 20. People that’s 18 and under. Cause we used to be in a posse called V.I.P.: Vanderveer International Posse.
Q.: Over what period of time were these people shot?
LARRY: Like two years, three years. Some is dead. Some crippled. Some of them is still selling. Some of them is in jail now.
And that’s a wrap. Little Norman eventually turned to gangs, too. Why did Chris Hart turn bad? Was it because his parents never went to his school theater plays or musicals, and only went to Rose’s? Why did his parents seemingly disregard Chris ? Did they believe they created Perfection with Rose, and any other child was inferior? Why? Why? Why? ™
We’ll never know for sure. However, you can bet that Chris lived in the shadow of his sister, and never was able to win the acceptance of his parents. Where is he now? He’s not on Facebook; Rose is. He’s not listed in any Ivy League School roster; his sister his. Is he alive? In prison? Did he move back to Trinidad? Does he have an office job somewhere? Did he achieve success in business? Perhaps because his name is common, he doesn’t stand out as much in the search engines… although his sister’s sure does.