Monday, November 23, 2009

Nice Weather, Dicey Language

The weather's been lovely here in NYC for the past few days. Indian summer has arrived right on schedule!

Did you know, by the way, that "Indian summer" is a disparaging phrase, with the same noxious origin as "Indian giver"?

It's an interesting predicament when a disparaging phrase has so thoroughly entered the language that it can't be avoided - because there is no alternative means of expression. "White Trash Cuisine", for example, describes a certain style of cooking in a way no other phrase can (author Ernest M. Mickler "took back" the expression with his legendary White Trash Cookbook", but that only left the rest of us in a linguistical lurch!). "Kaffir lime" derives from an ethnic slur...but there's no other widely-accepted way to describe the fruit. I guess most of us don't say "gypped" much anymore, but that's been helped by the existence of so many alternative terms.


Big Fella said...

Part 2

All of this is by way of finally coming around to the point that at that time, in the 1950's and 1960's, we were proud to call the school mascot the "Birmingham Brave", and his image was replete will feathered headdress and a tomahawk. To us, in that earlier, more innocent time, a time during the Cold War when men, women and children were held in terror of an impending atomic bomb attack, the image of a native American brave, was one of courage, strength and providing food and shelter for the family and extended tribe. These were attributes that were honorable, that any person with good moral character would aspire to.

Something has changed over the intervening years. The school board, in all the political correct wisdom, forced the school to abandon the original mascot and image, and now the school, and its teams are known only as the "Birmingham Patriots".

And that's the irony, given the current situation, where men and women are facing each other throughout the world, fighting and killing one another as "patriots". In my mind, giving a bad name to all patriots.

To cap it all off, the administrators responsible for the stewardship of Birmingham High School and its student's, got suckered by Sasha Baron Cohen, as Bruno:

Big Fella said...

Part 1

In 1943 the U.S. Army built a hospital on a 160 acre plot in Van Nuys, California, name after Brigadier General Henry Patrick Birmingham. Returning casualties from WWII were treated and rehabilitated there. In 1953 the hospital was decommissioned and the facility became the site of Birmingham High School, initially serving 7th through 12th graders, as there was no local "junior high school" or "middle school".

I began attending Birmingham in the 7th grade about 1959. Birmingham was legendary among young students at the time. The campus was huge, most of the class rooms were in old hospital wards. We took shop classes in the former operating rooms, the area where we changed in and out of our gym clothes was the former morgue, and the student store was the former jail. I took a beginning woodwinds class in a former church. This was the only school in the Los Angeles school district that had a swimming pool (since it was originally used for hydrotherapy.

All students were required to take swimming. For some reason, never explained, the swimming classes were not co-ed, *and* for some reason never explained, the boys were required to swim in the nude (there was a solid concrete wall around the pool), but the girls were allowed to wear swim suits. (Certain girls were aware that if they climbed to the top of the bleachers at the football field, they would be able to see over the pool wall.

The gymnasium was the only building on the campus that was actually originally built for the purpose that the school used it for. The historic record notes that wheelchair basketball was invented in this gym.

The class rooms, attached to long corridors, with lots of "secret" anterooms leading up to the former wards were the perfect place to conduct clandestine activity, such as the teacher who had a coke machine installed in his classroom.

Or the student (me) under the "supervision" of the photo club teacher/advisor who slashed his fingers open, while attacking a steel mesh reinforced wall with a crow bar. (In service to breaking through the wall and expanding the photo darkroom.)

That same teacher was very forgiving when after checking out the school's one and only camera (a classic Crown Graphic 4x4) the same certain student took it to a near drowning in the Pacific ocean.

This was a school where the journalism teacher would issue "press passes" to the school newspaper staff, which would grant us a permanent hall pass, allowing us to leave campus at any time.

In 1965 when I graduated, Birmingham's Football, Baseball and Swimming teams were all city champions. Needless to say we were all very proud of our school, which also happened to produce a few people of (sometimes dubious) accomplishment, such as Cindy Williams, (LaVern of "LaVern & Shirely), Sally Field, (double Oscar winner), Michael Ovitz (uber Hollywood agent)and Michael Milken, hugely rich, hugely prosecuted for the junk bond scandals of the 1980's.


James Leff said...

Awesome story, Big Fella; thanks for posting!

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