Has Anyone seen my old Friends Martin and Joe?
by Paul Morantz
copyright July 2011
(bottom row beauties–my friends Claudia Pawlan, Celeste Fremon and Suzanne Knolles)
My first job, as it was for many kids, was delivering the morning paper. But my father was concerned with my safety and ended it.. Then as a senior year at college I was the co- sports editor, along with Lance Spiegel, and had daily responsibility for putting out the U.S.C. sports page. But that was more fun than work.
So arguably my first job was during my first year of law school. Our class had a big break in the middle of the day and somehow a person I met on campus talked me into taking a job as a noon duty aid at a predominantly black elementary school named after its street—37th St–watching kids eat and play over two lunch periods. I was called “coach” and supervised play time. The kids were great. I also knew for many I might be the first white person they had real contact with and I wanted to make a good impression. I understood the best way to get along with kids was to not treat them like kids.
I remember the cutest third grader who I always stood in line for to get her orange juice. I asked some girls once how they knew I had a hot date later that after noon and they replied that I was wearing new shoes. One fifth grader, the best athlete, calling my attention to a lady going by in shorts, asked in a conspirator’s whisper, “Coach, did you catch them legs”
“”Hey,” I scolded, “that is somebody’s mother.”
“We’ll she sure ain’t mine.”
Then one day on the playground /the laughter died as the news flashed– Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. I clocked out in the office and then headed for the gate, nervous that my car was parked several blocks away and I was probably going to be the only white man in the vicinity. When I reached the gate, there was about 12 5th and 6th graders waiting for me, all having not returned to class after the bell ending lunch period had sounded.
“”Coach,” a tall girl with braces said, “We are walking you to your car.”
They then formed a tight circle, grabbed my hands, and lead me to my car (a green 69 Triumph GT6). It remains that moment I am most proud of so naturally the same little school would also give me my funniest memory.
In 1967 (the year of OJ) U.S.C. decided for the first time to have song girls and looked for campus volunteers. Penny Ward became the head cheerleader, while Celeste Fremon, now a renowned journalist, won most hearts and is today considered the mother of all song girls now famous for their sweaters. I was friends with the entire group, which was not entirely accepted by loyal Trojans. Many complained that U.S.C. all-male cheerleading was a tradition, and further the girls did not compare well to crosstown rival UCLA’s more experienced pom-pom waivers. So one day I wrote in my column:
“The first time UCLA played USC it lost 72 -0. A few years later when they got the courage t to try it again they got beat 56-0. But the 3rd time, they tied. So give the girls a chance.”
One of those brave girls–Claudia Pawlan—two years later invited me back to the 37th St. school to visit the classroom where she was now a teacher.
At the time, my shoulders sort of slumped like his, I had similar wavy hair and mustache, and as his was at that time my left wrist was in a cast. Most of the kids on the playground were not around when I worked there before so looking back I should have not been so surprised that a kid walked up and said, “are you Joe Namath?”
I could see the news spreading as kids were pointing at me.
So I waived.
But one kid—Billy– close to me when I worked there, recognized me and asked if I would later visit him at his class.
Firs, however, I sat down in Claudia’s class to observe her teaching when a boy left his seat, came to me and asked for my autograph. I couldn’t help it… this was too funny. I signed his name. The next thing I knew the entire class was lined up to get my signature. While Claudia controlled her giggles, I took center stage and gave the class one of those “education is more important than sports” speeches.
I assumed Broadway Joe wouldn’t mind.
When I left the class I went to Billy’s class. As I approached the door his teacher, aware I was coming, immediately gave Billy permission to go out in the hallway and talk to me. We chatted a bit, I was happy he remembered me and our friendship. “Billy,” I said. “After I am gone you have to clear up this Joe Namath thing and tell them who I really am.”
He promised he would and then after saying our good-byes I turned to head downstairs and heard him say to his classmates triumphantly as he reentered his room, “See… I told you he was going to come visit me.”