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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

learning experience.


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

was this?..


"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.