Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco
By Frank Howard Barning
My seventh grade English teacher at Division Avenue School (it was not yet a high school) was a tall red-faced young man, Robert Hamilton Flynn. Frankly, he was a nut case.
Why would I remember, much less even know, his middle name? Because he called his students by first name, middle name and last name. I was always Frank Howard Barning. Then there was Sandra Gail Adams, Lilette Stella Levy, Raymond Paul Wenz, Stephen Martin Zwerling and Steven Charles Mohr. Maybe I'm the nut because more than 55 years later this stuff is still in my brain.
I also remember the middle names of 1950s baseball players. There was Mickey Charles Mantle, Willie Howard Mays, Gilbert Ray Hodges, Carl Daniel Erskine, Jack Roosevelt Robinson, Allie Pierce Reynolds, Theodore Bernard Kluszewski and hundreds more, including Calvin Ross Abrams who lived in Levittown at the time. And don't get me started on middle names of United States presidents. By the way, Harry S. Truman's middle name is just the initial S.
When piano-playing Truman was president, he wasn't particularly popular. To some, LS/MFT stood for "Lord, Save Me From Truman.” Back to Mr. Flynn, who wasn't around Division very long, as I recall. The guy was unrelenting with middle names. He sort of made a game of it. At the time, Lucky Strike was a major cigarette brand and a major advertising slogan was "L.S./M.F.T: Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco." He made fun of Lilette Levy by commenting that L.S./M.F.T stood for "Lilette Stella Makes Fast Tracks." How strange was that for a teacher to say.
My 1960 classmate Cliff Fromm (Clifford Lance Fromm) was also in Mr. Flynn's class back in the 1954-55 school year. He has Mr. Flynn memories, too. "It's interesting how the mind works. I don't remember where I put things and quickly forget the names of new people I meet. Long-term memory seems to be saved on a different hard drive," he recalled.
"For some reason I do remember Mr. Flynn telling Jay Citrin that his real name has to be Jason." He refused to believe that a boy could have the given first name Jay. "Interestingly, my wife Marilyn and I have a friend named Sue, which is her full name on her birth certificate," said Fromm. "She's a retired teacher from the New York City School system and all her official documents have the name 'Susan' inscribed on them, even though she made countless efforts to get them corrected."
Fromm also remembers an incident in Mr. Flynn's class where he called up someone to write on the blackboard. "That person, whoever it may have been, refused and Mr. Flynn said he gets an F as a test mark. Mr. Flynn proceeded to call up more students seated in the same row and there were more refusals, each getting an F grade. I couldn't use an F and didn't know what to do. Fortunately the person just before me got up and went to the board. Phew!"
Also remembering Mr. Flynn was Karen Biro Hewson, class of 1960. "There were a few teachers whose classes I enjoyed, Ms. Eisenhauer, Mr. Keating and (don’t laugh) Mr. Flynn. He scared the s--- out of me, but I never forget to cross my T’s and dot my I’s to this day."
Robert Hamilton Flynn wasn't a bad teacher, just someone with a strangeness that even 13-year olds picked up on. I have no idea what I learned in his class, but there is a continuous reminder of my seventh-grade experience. I frequently email Sandy Adams and her name in my mailing system is Sandra Gail Adams. She refers to me as "Frank Howard."