Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Police Gazette

When I was in elementary school I was not much on paying attention in class. I had all sorts of distractions at my disposal. The window by my desk offered a full view of Wm. Kelly Park in Brooklyn, and though it was empty during the school day, the subway tracks ran alongside of the park, with trains passing every few minutes. I used to watch those trains and daydream about the people on them, and where they were headed.

But, by far, my favorite distraction were the many books and magazines I smuggled into the classroom. My two favored literary choices in 5th grade were the latest Mickey Spillane novels my Dad used to read, as well as the Police Gazette.

While the former had all the suspense of a good murder mystery, along with a voluptuous secretary named Velda, the Police Gazette had all the lurid details of whatever horrifying crimes were making the current rounds. In addition to this attraction were the many "true" crime stories from New York City's past. I always preferred the ones from the turn of the Century. Being removed from the events by several decades made them seem less horrid, and more like entertainment.

So, I would fold the Gazette up, as best as I could within my loose-leaf book, and be transported to places far from the boredom of the classroom. It was a good system, at least for a while.

I had already been admonished by my teachers, and parents, about Mickey Spillane being inappropriate for a 5th grader, but the Gazette, well that was news, or at least current events in my opinion, and so it was fair game to read that in lieu of paying attention during "Social Studies". To me they were about the same. But not everyone agreed with my 11 year old thoughts on the matter.

The whole thing came to a head one day after recess. I had carefully folded my Gazette into my book and placed it in my desk, a two person affair with a space beneath the writing surface for storing books and pencils. Then I went to recess, with little idea of the betrayal which awaited my return.

As I re-entered the classroom that morning, something didn't feel quite right. Mrs. Denslow was looking at me with that sly, slightly amused look she always had when dealing with recalcitrant little boys such as I. But wait! As I passed by her I spied a copy of the Police Gazette on her desk! Could it be true? Mrs. Denslow, she of the halo braided hairdo, read the Gazette just as I did? I had always thought of the Gazette as a "man's" magazine, indeed I had first taken up reading it in the barbershop, where it lay alongside of Playboy and Esquire.

I gave Mrs. Denslow a knowing look, as if we shared some great secret between us. Summoning me to her desk she asked if I knew what the Gazette was. I happily replied that I did indeed, and I had the very same issue in my desk. I also added that I was very happy that we shared the same taste in reading material. That's when it hit me! Someone, most likely my desk mate, a refined young lady, had turned me in while I was at recess.

Mrs. Denslow explained to me that I was in class to learn, not in a tonsorial parlor, and as such, the Gazette was not really proper for me to be reading. She would have to call my father about this. We had already been through the Mickey Spillane episode, and I guess that she thought the issue of appropriate reading material had been duly addressed. My father was summoned to school for a meeting with Mrs. Denslow .

The next morning, about a half an hour before school began, my father and I met with Mrs. Denslow in my deserted 5th grade classroom. There is nothing more threatening to an 11 year old than being in the classroom alone with your father and your teacher. No good can possibly come of it.

Mrs. Denslow got right down to the issue, informing my Dad of my transgression, and reminding him of our previous encounter concerning Mickey Spillane. She was of the opinion that I should not be reading either those books, or the Gazette. My father agreed that these were not appropriate for class, but drew the line at her "suggestion" that I not read the Gazette in the barbershop. In his considered view, "What went on in the barbershop" was sacrosanct, and that included the Gazette.

I'm thinking about this episode now because I am just finishing the last Chapter of a book which recalls every lurid article I ever read in the Police Gazette. Like those stories, this one takes place in New York City, at about the turn of the century. Now, Mrs. Denslow was my favorite teacher in elementary school, and she may have been right about the choices I made concerning reading Mickey Spillane at such a young age. But, after all these years, I still have to disagree on the Gazette. Through its pages I developed a love of New York City and its criminal history. And that fascination has remained with me to this very day.

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