If You Motivate Students, They Will Write


I recently read a magazine article in which a teacher was wondering why today’s kids don’t want to write. She blamed the usual suspects: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, cell phones, and software games. I won’t argue that these tech toys are distractions when it comes to academic work and living life to the fullest, but after reading her essay it was clear: she had no idea how to teach writing and motivate her students.

One of her assignments was a 10-paragraph essay asking parents for an allowance. Truthfully, I don’t think I could have completed that piece. It is boring and just how many ways can you ask your folks for money?

She cited a second assignment that her students could care less about: to write a letter of complaint to the principal because the school was serving too many carbohydrates and sweets at lunch. What kid is going to get behind that one? Carbs and sugar have constituted the teenage diet for generations.

This teacher was dumbfounded that her students did not want to write extensively about these topics. So instead of going home and thinking about her predicament, she badmouthed the kids and claimed none of them wanted to use their brains and back to blaming technology she went.

Now, I’m a fan of technology in the classroom — to a point. I believe we should have control over technology, not the other way around like some educators think. Our district invested in StarBoards a while back and they are wonderful educational tools. They can make a very good teacher a great teacher because one can bring up an article, a photo, a film, a piece of music with one keystroke and flash it before students’ eyes. Want to know what a certain historical figure looks like? Just push the Google icon, type in the name, and there you have him or her. What was Mount Vesuvius and its place in history? Well, let’s go back to the city of Pompeii in 79 A.D. and read a passage written by Pliny. Then, if you wish, call up photos of the city of Pompeii today and see the bodies that were frozen in time because Vesuvius’ lava ash had preserved them for almost 2,000 years.

If you get students interested in a topic this way and then engage them in lively discussion, they will have something to write about and be more than willing to complete an assignment.

A recent persuasive essay I gave my juniors had to do with the book The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. It is the story about how Japanese soldiers invaded the city of Nanking, China, in December 1937. Not only were more than 300,000 residents killed, each victim was tortured by Japanese soldiers in unimaginable ways. For instance, teenage boys were ordered to strip naked after which enemy soldiers handcuffed them and lowered them head first into four-foot holes thereby exposing the lower half of their bodies. Soldiers then released ravenous German shepherds who attacked the boys’ exposed private parts.

Other forms of abuse were Japanese soldiers forcing sons to rape mothers and fathers to rape daughters. Japanese soldiers also took delight in spearing infants with their bayonets and seeing how far they could toss them. They kept score by piling up the heads of decapitated victims.

I found a section of the book that mentioned these atrocities yet did not go into them in explicit detail, but the students got the idea. I also showed them film footage of the Japanese marching into Nanking and we listened as Japanese soldiers joked and laughed years later about their actions.

By now the students were ready for their writing assignment.

It was a persuasive letter. In it, they had to pretend they were Chinese teenagers living in Nanking in 1937 and they were to write a letter to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt  requesting that he send American troops to Nanking to put a stop to the atrocities.

No moaning and groaning with this assignment because the students were saturated with information and felt confident they could do the job. They got right to work.

So instead of blaming students for lack of brainpower and an over reliance on social media, take a look at your lesson plan and see if you have designed something that will truly motivate students to want to complete the assignment.




Almost all of us have dealt with a bully at some point in our lives. I did in high school, and to this day I wonder why I never asked him at the time the reason he had picked on me. But a tiny voice in my head always raises the same point, “You didn’t ask because you were terrified of him.”

Then the frightening visage of the bully comes to mind. He stood five-feet, 11-inches, weighed 210 pounds, had heavy-lidded eyes, fists the size of hams, and a heart the size of a pea.

As for myself back then, I stood 5-feet, 4-inches and weighed 115 pounds. The only time I raised my fist was to staple invoices at the school bookstore. Clearly I was no match for this bully.

I remember the sneaky way he had about him, how he silently stole up behind his victims before the pushing and shoving began. Eventually word of his behavior spread and a caring teacher called me aside. He told me that no one had the right to push me around. The teacher’s advice: Let this bully know I wouldn’t stand for his actions. Fight back. And don’t worry, he added, when confronted bullies back down.

I wondered about this well-intentioned logic. There was a time earlier that fall when the bully spat on me as I got off the school bus. A milky, snotty goo clung to my left jacket sleeve. So infuriated, I instinctively hurled the apple I was holding and it sailed through the bus window. I could hear everyone laugh as the bus drove off because the apple had caught the bully on the side of the head. After that, the bullying got worse.

A week later, I finally decided to take the teacher’s advice and hope he was correct. It wasn’t easy, but I had to do something in my defense.

No sooner did I stand up for myself than I quickly found myself shoved halfway over a third-floor railing and praying the fixture could support my weight – and his. Somehow I talked my way out of the precarious situation. I must have said something clever like “Uncle.”

Years later the bully and I discussed that moment when we met at our high school reunion. To my surprise he was no longer the brute he once was. In fact, he had become a rather decent person.

During our talk he told me that as a teenager from a lower middle class background he had always felt uncomfortable being part of a private school setting. Hearing students boast about their fathers’ huge salaries, palatial homes, and expensive cars only filled him with shame. By contrast, he was raised in a two-bedroom Cape Cod, with a broken-down Plymouth in the driveway, and parents who had to work long hours.

“Nothing wrong with that,” he’ll tell you now. “But try telling it to me back then. Not once did I ever feel that I belonged at our school.”

Another problem for him was that he was regarded by many of his classmates as a “dumb jock.” It was a tag that stuck throughout high school and it hurt him deeply.

“How would you feel if everyone thought you were stupid just because you played sports?” he said. “Hey, I’ll be the first one to tell you that I wasn’t serious about hitting the books, but I do have brains. Own a business now, and I’m doing well. But realizing everyone thought I was stupid in high school, well, now that I look back on it I can see how it ate away at my self-esteem. And so I took it out on everyone – you included.”

For all the times he had bullied me – and others – none was worse than the day in gym class when he began pushing around an overweight classmate whose round, innocent face turned wet with tears.

As the bully knocked the helpless student to the floor, he snatched the back of his gym shorts, grabbed his jock strap, and dragged him around the freshly waxed basketball court. Through it all the bully howled with delight while the rest of us were too intimidated to stop him.

When reminded of the ugly incident years later, the bully swore he had changed. “I really have,” he insisted. “I’ve got kids of my own now, and to think about someone doing to them what I did to others really bothers me.”

As our conversation continued, I began to feel a sense of compassion for the bully he once was. Yet I could still recall how he swaggered down the hallways and gave me a chill when he passed by too closely. What I never realized back then, however, was that inwardly he was feeling much worse about himself than I ever did as a teenager.

“Look, I’m no longer the person I used to be,” he said. “What I did back then was wrong, completely wrong. And I’d like to apologize for giving you such a hard time.”

As he extended his hand, I could not help but think that we should have patched things up a while back. Who knows, we might be good friends today.

Then he looked across the dining hall filled with old classmates and said in a low voice, “Hey, there’s Bob. I have to go talk with him.”

Bob had been the kid the bully dragged across the gym floor long ago.

“Hey, lady, I’m Ray Bradbury …”


During the summer of 1997, I heard that the late great fantasy writer Ray Bradbury was going to speak during a writing conference at the College of New Jersey. Bradbury had been among my favorite writers and to get the chance to hear him and speak with him was an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss.

I asked my older son, Kieran, to accompany me. Kieran was nine at the time, but he knew Bradbury and he agreed to tag along.

As we sank into our auditorium seats out stepped the great man himself and for 90 minutes he spoke about his life, writing, the future of mankind, the creative process, and assorted anecdotes that kept everyone in stitches. Amazingly my son did not fall asleep.

Bradbury spoke about being able to remember his birth, still cultivating his inner child, his mentors, his self-education, the effect Mr. Electrico had on his life, how his short story “The Pedestrian” came about after a police officer stopped him and a friend who were out walking one night and asked what they were doing. Bradbury, a bit of a wise ass, said, “Putting one foot in front of the other.” That led to a minor verbal scrap but nothing more. However, an incensed Bradbury went home and wrote a story about a night walker named Leonard Mead in the year 2130. By story’s end Mead was picked up by an empty police car with a metallic voice and driven to the Asylum for Regressive Tendencies, never to be heard of again.

By far Bradbury’s greatest story that night was when he was invited to a college class in California titled Ray Bradbury 101. Not long into the class the professor was telling students what Bradbury was thinking when he wrote certain short stories. Now writers — even Bradbury — don’t care if you speculate about the meaning of what they write, but don’t tell them — and especially Bradbury — what they were thinking. After all, that is impossible.

Bradbury recalled that he just sat and stewed. Then the students chirped about what he was thinking of during the writing of Fahrenheit 451 and that moved Bradbury to action. He rose and asked what in the hell kind of class this was that they could sit around and pontificate on his writings in such a manner.

Suddenly the students were defending the professor and shouting down Bradbury.

So Bradbury waved his beefy hand at the class and the professor, and shouted, “Well, you can all fuck yourselves.” Then he stomped out.

The crowd at the College of New Jersey loved the story and Bradbury won them over even more when he announced that he would sign books and give autographs after the lecture. “And you don’t have to purchase one of my books, either,” he added.

Fortunately, I had brought a hard copy edition of Something Wicked This Way Comes. I figured the line would be long and circuitous, so Kieran and I quickly dashed up the side steps to be among the first to meet the author.

He was most friendly and asked my son if he liked to read. Kieran said he did and Bradbury gave him great advice, advice I give my students every day: “Read, read, read. Read everything. Of course, read books, read magazines, newspapers, soup cans, directions on boxes, even graffiti. Just keep your eyes moving, kid.” Bradbury was about to say something else when a lady 15 or 20 feet back back yelled out, “Hey, let’s get this line moving.”

Bradbury raised his aging frame and looked her in the eye.

“Hey, lady, I’m Ray Bradbury and I’ll tell you when the line is going to move.”

There was silence for just a moment then a smattering of applause soon turned to cheers. Bradbury, ever the individualist, had put the loudmouth in her place.

“Guess I lost a fan there,” he joked quietly.

Todd Rundgren Gave My Son a Thrill


Several years ago I took my son, Patrick, to see Todd Rundgren at the Community Theater in Morristown, New Jersey. Rundgren had always been one of my favorite singer-musicians and I often played “Hello It’s Me” and “Bang on the Drum All Day” for Pat and his brother, Kieran. This concert would definitely give Pat a greater appreciation for this artist and continue to inspire his own guitar playing.

Rundgren played for two and a half hours and earned a standing ovation. Afterward, I told Pat I’d introduce him to the famous musician but my son was more than skeptical.’

“How are you going to do that, Dad?”

“I’m a former journalist. I know all the moves. Don’t worry.”

I had already scoped out the theater and I knew where the band most likely would leave after the show. And damn, I was right! Band member after band member trooped out to the Elm Street side of the theater to have a smoke or check out their equipment. We got to speak with all of them. All of them except Todd Rundgren.

“Where’s Todd?” I asked Kasim Sultan, the bassist who played and sang with Rundgren in Utopia during the 1980s.

“Oh, he went out the other side. If you’re going to catch him better do it now.”

We thanked Kasim and hoofed it around the building. Too late.

“Great, Dad,” Pat said.

There was one more option. Earlier in the evening as Pat and I were on the ticket line, I overheard someone saying that Rundgren was staying at the Best Western a half mile away. I told Pat we’d head there and head him off.

“Dad, this is a school night. It’s 11:30. I should be in bed. You’re a teacher; you should know better. Let’s go home.”

“Dude, this is Rock ‘n’ Roll. I’m going to introduce you to Todd as promised.”

We drove to the Best Western but Pat balked about coming in. He was 16 and worried I’d do something embarrassing, of course.

“I’m staying in the car,” he told me. “I know what you’ll do: you’ll go banging on the hotel doors until you find him.”

“Have it your way.”

I walked in and all I could hear were two low voices talking on the other side of a divider. I recognized Rundgren’s voice and waited for the conversation to end. Then he came around and stood in front of me.

“Hi, Todd,” I said. “Great show.”

“Oh, you were there? Thanks.”

We chatted briefly and I told him that I had seen him five times over the years. But the most interesting concert was his show at the Valley Forge Music Fair in Devon, Pennsylvania, on November 23, 1974. I went on to explain that on the way driving there, some drunk had slammed into my car at 45 miles per hour and bashed in my driver’s side door.

“Was anybody hurt?” Rundgren wanted to know.

“None of us,” I said. “But the guy who hit me bounded from his car and issued all kinds of threats. He said he was a member of the Mafia and that if I reported the accident he’d have me killed.”

Rundgren’s eyes lit up. “What? So what did you do?”

“I reported him to police. Turns out the guy was telling the truth about the Mafia. He was even driving a stolen car.”

“Then what?” Rundgren asked.

“We hopped in my car and got to your concert with 10 minutes to spare.”

“You did all that for me and my music?”


The story I told him was absolutely true, but I realized that I had him where I wanted him.

“Todd, would you do me a favor?”

“If I can.”

My son, Pat, is sitting in our car in the hotel parking lot. He’s a bit reticent about meeting you. He’s only 16. But he plays guitar and I’m sure he’d appreciate it if you said hello to him.”

“Absolutely, let’s go.”

Rundgren and I headed out of the hotel and sneaked up on Pat who had pushed the front seat into a reclining position. His eyes were closed. As I approached the window, Rundgren ducked behind me.

“Pat, open the door, please.”

As he did I said, “Pat, I’d like you to meet Mr. Todd Rundgren.”

I moved and Rundgren stepped forward. Pat sprung from the car, got to his feet, and extended Rundgren a hearty handshake. We spoke about music for the next 20 minutes and Rundgren could not have been nicer to my son.

Thanks, Todd.

Teaching, Hitler style


Fifteen years ago I left journalism to become a high school teacher. I’ve never regretted the move. Although I did wonder about it on my first day of teaching.

It was second period — an 8:15 a.m. English class — and the students rolled in all excited to see friends and start the school year anew. I introduced myself, welcomed them to Room 002B, and we got under way. Midway through the class, for whatever reason, I mentioned Adolf Hitler. A glazed look swept across the classroom.

“Hitler?” I repeated. “He was in all the newspapers during World War II.”

Still no response.

“Does anyone know who Adolf Hitler was?”

Students averted my eyes.

I remained outwardly patient, but inside I was thinking, “Are you freakin’ kidding me?”

These were freshmen in high school and they had no clue. So I wrote his name in big chalky letters on the blackboard and spent a couple of minutes describing one of history’s most notorious human beings. I’ll say this for the kids in their defense, they at least had good questions after learning about the German dictator.

Then the period 2 class trudged in. They weren’t quite as excited as period 1, but they were well mannered and when they had settled in I began.

“Hi, everyone. I’m …”

A student in the back row raised his hand and squinted at the blackboard for a moment.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you give extra credit, Mr. Hitler?”

Nobody laughed. Not one kid.

I told the student that I would not assign extra credit and my reason for that is if you are going to give me C-work, you’re probably going to give me C-work for extra credit, so why should I raise your grade for the same level of work? Just do the assignments I give and improve each time. The student seemed okay with that.

I then explained Hitler to the class as well.

Happily the rest of the classes knew who Hitler was, but a few teachers got wind of what had transpired in my earlier classes when one of their students told them “that Hitler guy in Room 002B tells funny stories.” For the rest of the year, I was known as “Mr. Hitler” among the faculty.

So, what does this anecdote tell us about students? Clearly that some of them lack important general knowledge, that many don’t read, and that only a few have great discussions at home. So every English teacher’s job is to make certain kids read, discuss, and write every day. And if you can blend an element of storytelling with your lessons, you not only will capture their attention, you will get them talking about your lesson for the rest of the day.

And when will you will know that what you’re teaching is having an impact? When some kid comes up to you the next day and says excitedly, “Hey, Mister, look what I found on Google. Says here that Hitler was a good dancer too.”

The Grandest of All Grandfathers


On January 11, 1968 my grandfather died. His name was Herbert Tintle and he was the best grandfather a child could have.

What made him special was that he was kid-oriented. He may have been 74 years old, but he was still 12 at heart. As a child, I’m told, Grandpa was a handful. In eighth grade he gave the nuns so much trouble that his father — my great grandfather, Augustus — walked into his classroom and dragged him out by his collar. Once they got outside my great grandfather announced to his son that he no longer would go to school. Instead, he’d go to work. Within an hour his father had him shoveling coal in their basement for the next five hours. The next day he was driving a horse-driven carriage around Paterson, New Jersey, making food deliveries 10 hours a day.

His life for the next few years was steady, hard work, but it never broke his spirit. Apparently he was a clown during his teen years. My father and uncles used to regale me with stories about how Grandpa often tied bedsheets together, lowered himself out of the fourth-story window of 35 Oak Street, pushed off the side of the building and tried to swing Tarzan style to the neighbor’s apartment house next door.

When he wasn’t endangering his life from great heights, he liked to race cars when the Passaic River froze over. Yeah, Grandpa was different. In 1915,  he somehow earned entrance into Columbia University. How is a mystery, but he took a two-year course and earned a gold medal in mechanical engineering. I’ve seen the medal and his report card, so I know that much is true.

During World War I he joined the Navy and saw submarine duty, but halfway across the Atlantic the crew got word that the war was over. Grandpa didn’t complain. He headed home and met a girl named Agnes Merna. They eventually married and had three sons.

Grandpa, it seemed, never lived up to his potential. He did not pursue a career in mechanical engineering. Instead, he took a job as a Public Service bus driver and worked long, hard hours to support his family through the Great Depression.

In 1952 I was born, his first grand child. He bathed me with love and attention and would do anything I asked. He took me for rides on his bus and often we went out for ice cream. (It didn’t matter that he was a serious diabetic). One time he even built me a go-cart replete with horn and headlights.

“Anything for my boy,” he often said.

Grandpa was true to his word. One September when I was four years old my mother decided to send me to pre-kindergarten at St. Anthony’s Church in Paterson. I usually spent Saturdays with Grandpa and I didn’t want to go to this strange place. But I did. I remember the first day in class the nun running the program asked me a question that I did not know the answer to. The older kids laughed and I sunk in my seat. As she kept up the questioning, I grew more miserable.

This happened again the following week, and when I went back to my grandfather’s house he could tell something was wrong. I told him about the annoying nun and how I didn’t want to go to school there anymore. He just listened quietly.

The next week my mother dropped me off at St. Anthony’s and about an hour into class my grandfather showed up at the door. He walked in, took me by the hand, and led me away. The nun made some noise but as my grandfather told me years later he basically told her to mind her own business and quit teasing his grandson. And, by the way, he was going to mention her actions to the pastor.

Now that’s a grandfather!

But he still had another trick up his sleeve. That summer he told me about the Paterson Falls. He explained it was a 45-foot high waterfall in the city of Paterson and that we ought to visit it. So we drove across town and parked by Hinchliff Stadium, not far from the falls. Then, as now, there is an iron bridge that crosses over the waterfall and that’s where he took me for a closer look. I can still feel the cool spray of thousands of gallons of water rushing over the rocky ledge from the Passaic River.

I must have wanted a better view that day because Grandpa picked me up by my wrists and dangled me over the walkway. I remember something about it to this day, but apparently I remembered it quite clearly when my mother came to pick me up that afternoon. When she asked how my day went I told her Grandpa had taken me to the Paterson Falls. She thought that was neat until I mentioned that he had dangled me over the walkway by my wrists to get a better view.

A shouting match erupted between Grandpa and my mother. Although my grandfather was a tough guy, I’m told he was no match for my mother that day.

My last memory of Grandpa was Saturday, December 23, 1967. My father and I had gone to visit him just before Christmas to invite him to our house for holiday dinner. We spent a few hours talking and having a good time. Then, as we were about to leave, Grandpa leaned out of his living room window two stories up and yelled to the street below where my father and I were standing by our car.

“Here Joey, catch,” he shouted.

As I looked up, he tossed me a bag of candy. He wished me well, said he loved me, and yelled, “Merry Christmas.”

“You too, Grandpa.”

He died 20 days later. But every time I pass his house, I park my car, get out, and replay that scene from 48 years ago over and over and over

PROM-ises, PROM-ises


The high school senior prom was approaching and I had no intention of attending. But two classmates, Jack and Kevin, approached me and said I just had to be at their table because we’d been classmates since seventh grade. The problem was that Jack and Kevin had girlfriends; I had yet to date. In fact, I had promised myself as early as seventh grade that I would never attend the prom. That’s how shy I was.

Even at 17, I never thought I’d outgrow my social shortcoming. My friends pushed and pushed so I eventually caved and said I’d see what I could do about getting a date. I went home and told my sister, Alice, about my predicament and she gave it some thought. A day or two later she told me about a waitress named Carol at the restaurant where she worked. Carol was five-feet, two inches tall, an attractive blonde, and tops in her class, Alice assured me. I was interested.

So one Saturday afternoon I just “happened” to go to the restaurant and my sister introduced us. Carol waited on me, I ordered chicken croquettes, we talked, and I asked her out for Saturday. She said yes. But Friday came and I thought I should give her a call. I didn’t know why, but I did.

“We can’t go out,” Carol said in a firm voice.

“Why?” “Something’s come up.”

“How about next week?”

“I don’t think so.”

Well, Carol and I never went out that Saturday or any other Saturday for that matter, and it would be two years before I learned the reason why she had backed out of our date. By then I had taken a summer job at a nearby school and one day I was speaking with a teacher. She had the same last name as Carol and I asked if they were related. Yes, they were, she told me. So I explained how I had asked out Carol two years earlier and that she had mysteriously brushed me off after accepting the date.

The teacher explained that was probably the day Carol found out she was pregnant by her former boyfriend. A few days later, Carol’s family sent her away to have the child.

The next day I told Jack and Kevin that the date with Carol didn’t work out. They thought for a moment and said they had “the perfect girl” for me.”

“And who’s that?” I wanted to know.

“Her name is Carolyn,” Kevin said. “She’s a friend of my girlfriend.”

Hmm, a blind date. I wasn’t comfortable with that, but the guys were insistent and being their peer I, of course, went along with what they said like any teenager would.

My blind date was set for the following Saturday. Carol was now in the rearview mirror; Carolyn was up ahead and coming around the bend. Carolyn turned out to be wealthy and living in a gated community. No pressure there for my first date as we drove up to her stately home.

As I walked in her house accompanied by my friends and their girlfriends, Carolyn made a grand entrance down a stairwell. How ravishing was she? Well, have you ever been on a date and realized that you were the dog?

It was all downhill from there.

From our initial conversation it was obvious that Carolyn and I had little in common, so I asked Kevin if I could hang with his girlfriend while he entertained Carolyn. He agreed and eventually the night dragged to its conclusion. Jack, his girlfriend, and I dropped off Carolyn at her home. I said good night, turned, and slinked into the backseat. Jack and his girlfriend sat in the front as the car rumbled through the gated community.

As we wended our way to her house we spotted a rather large-figured girl walking on the shoulder of the road. “Hey,” said Jack’s girlfriend, “that’s my friend. Pick her up, please.”

Jack complied and this 17-year-old girl, who weighed about 250 pounds, squeezed her way into the backseat and off we went. We drove another two minutes when Jack arrived at his girlfriend’s house. They bid each other farewell with a drawn-out kiss.

Given my lack of dating experience, I was rather embarrassed and turned to look at our new passenger thinking she’d roll her eyes at the proceedings occurring in the front seat. Instead, she gave me a long look as if she wanted to kiss. I turned and stared out the window, never so embarrassed.

Obviously, I did not make it to the senior prom, but at least I kept my seventh-grade promise.

Why I hate birds


Fords was one of the most interesting sections of Woodbridge, New Jersey, for a young boy to grow up during the 1950s and 60s, and Lafayette Estates was where the action was. Completed in 1955, this housing development featured a thousand homes and a thousand burgeoning families from Brooklyn, Jersey City, and even Hell’s Kitchen. And almost every house had its share of characters. This is the story about one of them.

One afternoon in July of 1960, I was out exploring the woods off Ford Avenue near Route 1. The woods was a 15-acre site with all sorts of trees, bushes, a marsh, a stream and “Snake Hill” where kids who lived nearby often hid out when they got in trouble with their parents. The woods has since been replaced by the Kensington Apartments, an architectural eyesore that rose up 51 years ago.

Now, I’m not a nature lover by any means, but there was a story at the time that a kid had drowned in quicksand just behind Snake Hill. A quicksand pit in Fords, New Jersey? I didn’t think so — even at age eight — but I wanted to make certain.

So I headed out after lunch and spent the better part of an hour investigating when suddenly I was pushed from behind. The next thing I knew Paul Monyer was sitting on my chest. Paul was the neighborhood bully. At 16, he was regarded as the neighborhood psycho, and he knew how to threaten people.

“Tintle, this is our turf, so don’t ever let me see you around here again,” he said. “Otherwise, this is going to happen to you.”

Paul turned to his aide-de-camp, Jimmy McGuirt, 15. Jimmy opened his hand and revealed a baby sparrow. Paul took it from him, looked at me, and glared. Then, with bird in hand, he squished it on my mouth, leaving me with a bloodied face and spitting out a mugful of feathers and a bone or two.”

Panicking, I somehow broke loose, scrambled to my feet, and took off. To this day, I can still hear their sinister laughs in the distance as I was running home.

Honest, Mrs. Cline, President Kennedy is dead


All of us 57 years of age and older remember where we were the day President John F. Kennedy was shot. Many, like myself, were sitting in a grammar school classroom listening to the CBS announcement over the public address system. Some of us cried, a few laughed, but most remained silent. All I could think of was how I was going to tell Mrs. Cline, who was sitting in her car a block away waiting to pick me up along with her son, John, and our friend, Bill Henning.

As the school bell sounded at 2:50 p.m. I bounded from my seat, grabbed my book bag, headed for the door and dashed down the fire escape. I wanted to be the first to tell her the news.

I dashed across the playground of Our Lady of Peace School in Fords, New Jersey, weaving in and out of sobbing mothers and stunned students. As I passed the Flynn and Son funeral home, I saw Mrs. Cline’s car parked across the street. I looked both ways, crossed, and opened her front door excitedly.

“Mrs. Cline, Mrs. Cline,” I said, puffing a bit. “President Kennedy’s dead …”

“Joey Tintle,” she said in a raised voice, “you and your stories. Now you’ve gone too far.”

“It’s true, Mrs. Cline. He was shot in Dallas. The guy on the radio called it an assassination.”

Just then John and Bill arrived and sat in the back seat. They were quiet for some reason, probably because Mrs. Cline was chastising me.

I did not argue with her. In 1963 when an adult told you off, you just took it without complaint.

As her car moved down Ford Avenue, she tried to make small talk with John and Bill. They mumbled something inaudible and perhaps because they did not mention Kennedy Mrs. Cline threw me a stern glance. A half mile later we arrived at an intersection near P.S. 14. That’s when she reached to turn on the radio.


While I cannot quote the newscaster verbatim all these years later, he made  it clear that Kennedy had been assassinated. Mrs. Cline almost drove the car onto the sidewalk as she crossed through the intersection. As she gathered her wits, she lapsed into tears. It was a combination of hearing that the president had been killed, and surprisingly to offer me a heartfelt apology for losing her temper at me.

“Well, he certainly did his job,” she said, referring to the assassin who we’d eventually learn was Lee Harvey Oswald.

We drove on in silence for another three-quarters of a mile and she dropped me off at my home.

Every five years after that I used to call Mrs. Cline and we’d talk about our shared moment in history, and never once did we deviate from our recollections. And she always apologized for snapping at me that afternoon then we’d collapse in laughter.