by Arthur Chertowsky
Mr. Ireland was already a walking anachronism when he was teaching the boys’ gym class at The High School of Art & Design in midtown Manhattan in the early 1970’s. His grey military crew cut, his red, white and blue bowties, the ever-present smile on his face, and his manner of movement, like an old song-and-dance man from a 1940’s war musical, all contributed to him being a fish out of water amongst the long-haired teenage artistes he had to shepherd through the required and despised exercises. More than his physical appearance, though, was his unexpected kindness and simple good nature that separated him from his peers in the teaching profession. Many times he’d pretend to roughhouse with a student in his class, using the boxing skills he’d learned long ago in the service in World War II to motivate a shy or disengaged boy. This tactic worked well with many boys for many years, until, I hear, in the 1980’s, his fancy footwork, and exaggerated punches that never connected, and goofy smile, enraged one particular boy, who, along with some similarly inclined friends, beat Mr. Ireland until his mind found respite in another time and place. Broken, alone, unable to support himself any longer, he wandered drunk and homeless through the streets of Manhattan, and once or twice, before his anonymous demise, a former student or two recognized their teacher, engaged him in conversation, passed him a few bucks, and moved on.
Arthur Chertowsky, 100 years ago, achieved an MFA in Fiction Writing from Brooklyn College.