Wednesday, January 16, 2019
An author's dilemma: should we hide the truth to avoid embarrassing relatives of evil people?
If you think of New Haven and education, there's a good chance you'll think of Yale University, a superb educational institution and part of the Ivy League. New Haven's public schools, however, frequently did a terrible job educating students.
I was the victim of some terrible teachers in New Haven's schools. Some were merely ignorant or incompetent. Others were absolutely nuts, evil, even sadistic and physically abusive. (Some, however, were OK or even superb).
Back in sixth grade, way back in 1958, I suffered from Julia Quinn, a particularly horrid teacher. I complained to my parents but they insisted that I must respect her because of her position—no matter how evil, incompetent, lazy or deranged she was.
I promised myself that someday I would tell the world what my parents refused to listen to. It took me over 50 years, but I kept the promise with my bestselling memoir, Stories I'd Tell My Children (but maybe not until they're adults).
I can still visualize exactly where I was standing when I made the decision to write about Quinn. If I go to hell I’m going find Quinn and beat the crap out of her. But I may have to wait in line for my turn because so many others suffered because of her. If you think I didn’t like her, you’re underestimating my passion. I hated her fucking guts. And I still do.
Some people, including my ultra-cautious wife, warned me to not use real names in the memoir. I saw no need to disguise or minimize evil. Here's some text from the book:
When I was in high school, another teacher, with the silly rhyming name of Herman Cherman, repeated a silly rumor to the school's disciplinarian—our assistant principal George Kennedy. Herman said that I had traveled to school on a winter day, sitting on the convertible top of my best friend Howie's Triumph.
Not only would it have been very cold up there and hard to keep my balance, but I would probably have broken the top and fallen in on Howie and caused us to crash.
The assistant principal believed Herman, and made a school-wide amplified announcement summoning Howie and me to the detention room.
Fortunately the school cop, Joe Manna, came to our defense. He told Kennedy, “These are good boys; they would never do anything like that.” In the one time he was ever nice to me in three years, Kennedy said, “I wish Cherman would mind his own damn business. I have enough real problems to deal with without him making up fake problems.”
Recently in a Facebook group that deals with New Haven, one of Cherman's kids asked if anyone remembered her father. I responded with the story of my unnecessary embarrassment caused by his lying. The daughter then attacked me, calling me disgusting, evil and a liar. She pointed out that Herman won awards for his teaching.
Her father may indeed have been a wonderful teacher and father—but he was not my teacher or father—and in his only dealing with me, was an evil, lying busybody who caused unnecessary pain to my best friend and me.
I will never know the motivation for his lie. I assume he was trying to win points from Kennedy.
The daughter, in a second generation of embarrassment, publicly called me a liar. But her father was the liar; and she, unlike me, did not witness the incident.
I responded that I had no reason to make up the story and that as Shakespeare and others have pointed out, "the sins of the father are to be laid upon the children."
She has good memories of her father. I have a bad memory of the same person. That's life. I have no reason to hide the truth to shield anyone.