My Hero and Shakespeare
By Tina Portelli
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I loved my hero, ham and cheese on fresh hot Italian bread with a special
dressing you could only get at Tottens. The favorite part of my senior
year in high school was lunch. Thirty-nine years later, and I can still
conjure up that taste, that smell, those days.
I remember them well. A good Jewish boy being bad. Being bored. Except
for math, nothing piqued my interest. I could barely get through my
English class; it was the thought of my hero that kept me in my seat,
nothing else. An hour to go before I could forget about the nouns, the
verbs and the slob of a teacher in front of me. And get to my sandwich.
Our teacher would drone on until the bell, I could barely focus on what
he'd be saying, just an annoying hum in my ears. How was I to get to
college, what would I become. Perhaps a deli man?
Our English Professor finally had a stroke, so for some days we had an
array of transient substitutes, none of which did anything to enhance my
Then one day, it all changed. Mr. Taylor arrived, our new professor. I
was awestruck by his presence. He looked like an out of work actor, not a
teacher. Standing six feet tall, thin as a rail, ruggedly lanky, and when he
opened his mouth to speak, his baritone voice commanded attention.
The very first day he sauntered in, he organized, and woke up this half
asleep class with his intentions. As he arranged the seating of the class,
instead of the usual arranging by names in alphabetical order, his request
"For those of you who want to be here, and learn something, move up front,
the rest of you can take the seats in the back and read your comic books. "
There is always one student in every class who browns up to the teacher, in
our class it was Rachel Horowitz. She snaps up out of her seat and races
to the front row, first seat. Mr. Taylor stopped her in her tracks and
re-directed her to another desk. "This is where I sit" and so he did,
like he was just hanging out with us, atop the wooden flap top desk, feet
planted on the seat. He seemed bigger than life sitting up there like
It was time to get to work. He already had my attention, just by the way
he mastered his students. He was not like any other teacher I had known.
With his brisk tone and deep voice, he announces "I do not teach spelling,
I do not check for the proper use of nouns and verbs. I do Shakespear, I
teach literature" And he continued, "High school students have been known
to butcher Shakespear, I do not allow that in my class, so therefore, I am
here to teach and entertain. I will read and you will listen and
contribute. I hope you will embrace what I have to offer". And I did,
willingly, and with wild passion.
Mr. Taylor put me on a book path I had not known existed. He would read
Hamlet, Julis Cesar, Macbeth. Except for our heart pounding, not a
sound would be heard in that classroom. Just his voice piercing our
hearts. We'd sometimes forgo lunch and beg for more food for the soul.
Mr. Taylor changed my hero from a sandwich to a man, and my life from
becoming a loaf of spam.