At Steiner, the brouhaha soon settles down and I'm parked behind a desk at the end of the front row. Dad leaves. I struggle to learn the name of the girl on my right. She's pretty, and I figure if we're going to be neighbors we might as well be friends. The new me is as shy as the old me, however. The new me is still a work in progress.
The teacher re-begins his remarks. He's a broad-shouldered, slightly potbellied man, and his fair locks hang diagonally in a … well, a Hitleresque slant toward his bushy eyebrows. I've missed the part where he gives his name.
At lunch the other kids make a special effort to welcome me. "So what're your hobbies?" I'm asked probably six times. I become self-conscious about their solicitousness, but seize the opportunity. "Our teacher—what's his name?"
My question elicits giggles. A girl with flaming red hair and an expansive smile says, "Isn't it funny? German, I guess."
I wait. Then, in a hesitant, enchantingly soft voice, she says, "A Hard Penis." At least that's what I think she says.
I nod knowingly, or try to as best I can, betraying no embarrassment. My head doesn't actually move much, so I sort of raise and lower my eyebrows, playing it cool. I'm good at using facial expressions to my advantage.
On the third day I have a pressing question about a homework assignment. I can't raise my hand. I raise a finger, but will have to call out. Maybe I can get by simply saying "Sir." No. Too formal. I decide to be brave. Perhaps if I say it fast enough, emphasizing the initial syllable and slurring the rest, I can get by. I'm good at fooling people. "Uh, Mr. PEEEN-ih—?"
He looks over. No one chortles. It worked!
Maybe his name really is Mr. Penis.
There are a lot of funny names here. Kids called Almira and Bethea ... at least I think I have those right. I hurriedly ask when book reports are due, and we go on to a lesson in recitation. Recitation is big here. Every morning starts not with the Pledge of Allegiance but with Steiner's own Morning Verse, which I soon learn. "I look into the world, in which the sun is shining, in which stars are sparkling, where stones repose ..." The class speaks it in unison while standing up—slowly, reverentially, like some secret, ancient chant.
English class begins with two passages we're supposed to memorize. "In the beginning was the word ...," Mr. Penis enunciates for us to repeat. What happened to, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth"? I'm in the presence of goyim, but this isn't Connecticut and they're in the minority.
Then, a few days later, comes: "Respect for the word is the first commandment in the discipline by which a man can be educated to maturity—intellectual, emotional, and moral. Respect for the word—to employ it with scrupulous care and an incorruptible heartfelt love of truth—is essential if there is to be any growth in a society or in the human race …"
I sort of like that one. I've always had respect for scrupulously employed words! I become engaged in the lesson, and soon realize this oddly named teacher and eccentric, quasi-cultish school are growing on me. I made the right choice, coming here, staying in New York. I never think about moving to Stamford again.
Mr. Penis writes the name "Dag Hammarskjold" on the board. I only know it from the plaza near the U.N. Someone then asks him to spell out his own name on the chalkboard. Thank God! Why couldn't I have done that?
He writes: EKKEHARD PIENING.