Happy: May 2002 Archives

What a legacy! Yes, but while still alive, for most of her eighty years, Antonia Pantoja must have been just a dazzling, inspiring, sometimes daunting, everyday reality for those who shared her life and for those whom she helped. In the end, she helped all of us, making the entire country, and New York especially, a much better place.

Juan Gonzalez describes her impact on individuals, in today's Daily News.

With all due respect to Marc Anthony, Ricky Martin and J.Lo, no one during the past 50 years did more to elevate the Puerto Rican community in the United States than Pantoja.

One look at the doctora's story however and Gonzalez's comparisons seem grotesquely lame.

Sent down from Smith because her educated father thought too much education would make her unmarriageable, over sixty years later she returned to the school she had loved so much, completing her degree this spring, at 87. In the meantime she had been through two unhappy marriages and had built an impressive career.

Ms. Martindell is mindful that the same career-versus-children concerns that led her to leave Smith the first time still echo in this generation. "I think women can have it all," she said. "We live so long, you can have the family and then have the career. I didn't do anything real until I was 50."

"A friend told me that after I graduated, I should take a year off to find myself," she reported, delightedly. "But as long as my health holds out, I need a project."

Apparently we don't always know what we look like to others, even if we try to live two lives.

Warren Allen Smith, 80, sat at the corner table looking clean and gray, dressed in dark corduroys, a sweater, an orange oxford shirt, specs, a conservative part in his hair. Above him there were cheap chandeliers, and the place was done up with false flowers and dancing cherubs.

"Nobody wants you when you're old and gray," a drag queen sang.

After cordialities, the old man turned to his former student and asked, "Did you know I was gay?"

"I don't think it was any big secret," his former student said, his eyes large and amused by the question and the atmosphere. No one had tastes and style like Mr. Smith.

"Oh, really?" He seemed disappointed. For 37 years he had lived a dual existence. Half the year he lived in Connecticut as a closeted man, dedicating himself as the model high school teacher. The other half of the year he spent in New York living his secret life, his captain's paradise, he called it. He even threw burning garbage cans at police cars during the Stonewall Riots of 1969.

"I thought nobody knew."

They stood at the bar for a cigarette, and William Allen Smith, editor of "Who's Who in Hell," detective of the paranormal, inspector of the male form and beloved educator, attracted the misfits and fatties, and they poured out their hearts and histories to the aged oracle.

Do you know what it's like growing up gay in Long Island? asked one.

Am I too fat to find a man? asked another.

The teacher listened attentively before offering a hopeful quotation from Truman Capote's English teacher: "The football boys might hate you now, but they'll love you later."

Hugh Hicks never met a lightbulb he didn't like, so he collected them all.

He was not above what might be termed stealing, and he proudly displayed stolen bulbs in a group he called 10 Hot Types. In the Paris Metro in 1964, he noticed a series of 1920's-era tungsten bulbs along the wall. He did not know that the bulbs were wired so that if one was removed, all would go out.

He surreptitiously removed a bulb, and the tunnel was suddenly pitch dark. With people screaming, he scrambled to replace the bulb.

"But I couldn't get it back," Dr. Hicks said in an interview in The Baltimore Sun. "So, you know me, I grabbed two more and took off."

It's her Jubilee! She deserves at least one very cute streaker. No, we all do! She certainly seems amused.

The streaker was pounced on by at least four police officers and forced to lie face down, spread-eagled on the ground.
Sounds good to us.

This is a quite wonderful little reminiscence of a part of our shared culture whose story presses quite a few buttons even today.

"Come will and come may, I must face it," she would sigh.

[Her husband Jake"s] role, where appropriate, might be to add, "You're breaking your father's heart."

This page is an archive of entries in the Happy category from May 2002.

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