Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Dr. Seuss


You stopped me at, “Dr. Suess.”

This is a real, strange development, and I will ask you to indulge me for a moment, because I spent a few hours searching my brain and my computer, and I am enjoying a tiny triumph, thanks to you.

In February of 1973, I trekked off to Romania with the Syosset High School Band, basically to write the story of the first American High School Band since, “The War,” to so visit. The memory of it is awash with other memories, which I am currently enjoying. So, thanks for that.

I developed a lot of friendships on that trip. The following spring, a telephone caller—I think to my home but I can’t swear to it—said that he (or she) was a member of the band who traveled throughout Romania last year and that there was a, “Hat Day,” at the Syosset High School that morning. A photographer and I would do well to see it.

I said, “Hat Day?” The caller hung up.

I called in a photo assignment and drove from my house in Amityville to meet with a Newsday photographer from the Garden City headquarters, to see what this, “Hat Day,” was about.


When I arrived at the office, all I could say was I had just been in an unwritten, live, Dr. Suess book. Everyone but the photographer and I were wearing hats, of all kinds, colors and shapes.

It all was about a, “protest,” by the entire student body (wise guys to nerds to jocks to princesses) against a policy barring hats in school. A, “Hat,” demonstration, in support of one kid (who years later became a famous dancer) named Doug Varrone. The principal got wind of it and decided that rather than fight it, the faculty, staff, administration and custodians would join in.

Two veteran journalists, Mike Unger and Kevin Lahart, told me later to write it, “Dr. Suess,” style.

But Newsday, too, had a policy. No news story had ever been written in verse in Newsday. One attempt, a parody of, “The Song of Hiawatha,” had been offered years before by not-yet-columnist Robert Mayor, but the copy desk crushed him by printing it as prose paragraphs and running it atop two other stories—a heartbreak to see.

Still, I wrote, for the next day’s newspaper:

Hat Day

By Ed Lowe May 17, 1974

Hat day declared. Hats were the rule

Hats on the heads of Syosset High School.

Hundreds of beanies, sombreros and caps,

Fedoras and fezzes and hats with ear flaps,

Wool hats and helmets, hat songs and games,

Mets hats and Jets hats and hats with no names.

To stop all this, now, would be such a shame

(And impossible, too, said Walter Yanette,

the principal.). He wore a silly hat, yet.

What started all this? What made it all go?

It started, said one kid, when someone said, ‘No.’

It started with,, Doug.

Hey, couldn’t we keep all that under the rug?

Doug Varone, 17, in a writing class, see?

He wore a brown hat, like this one on me.

Walt Bemak, the chairman of English dropped in,

Told Feinstein, the teacher, ‘Doug’s hat is a sin.

‘He must take it off, Don. No hats on in school.

‘No shoes off—or hats on. That is the rule.’

‘I don’t mind it,’ said Feinstein;

don’t mind it at all.

‘It isn’t distracting. It isn’t too tall.

‘It isn’t too colorful. It stays on when he reads.

‘Maybe it’s part of him, something he needs.’

‘No good,’ answered Bemak. ‘This is a school.

A hat is no educational tool.

‘I don’t wish to be obstinate, cranky or cruel,

‘But, that hat has to go.

‘A rule is a rule.’

WELL, that’s all the rest of them wanted to know

They spread it around, for a month or so, slow

They organized HAT DAY.

They schemed and they planned

They even set up a parade with the band.

They had posters and streamers

and yellow pompoms,

Including a HAT CAKE from one of the moms.

Feinstein’s writing class did all their ads,

Wrote letters and papers concerning hat fads.

And contests they had

(They looked forward to that,

‘Cause Bemak was judging


Custodians, nurses, typists and clerks

(To tell you the truth, they all looked like jerks.).

‘But what of tomorrow?’ I asked ‘Doc’ Yanette.

‘Tomorrow’s tomorrow. My mind is set.

‘Hat Day will be done

‘And a rule is a rule.

‘There will be no hats

In Syosset High School.’

Becky Clock was head of the copy desk. She laid it out with pictures atop, one showing Varrone with his signature hat, one showing the villain wearing a ladies hat. The copy was broken into stanzas, each one beginning with a huge, Seuss-ian capitol letter.

I got a lot of letters. Washington bureau reporter Myron Waldman, whom I would not meet for a year or two, sent a note consisting of comments by a half-dozen reporters covering the Watergate hearings. One of them, a Washington Post guy, said, “Newsday must be the only Newspaper in the country where you could write like that…if you could write like that.”

I unearthed the thing about twenty years ago, when I was speaking to an entire school over the public address system. I never rehearsed a speech in my life, but I wore the copy out, rehearsing that. The kids liked it.

Sorry I got so carried away. I still owe you a response on your stroke. You seem to have the right perspective. It’s always there. Keeps us appreciative.


1 comment:

  1. Love this story. I'm a Syosset High School graduate of '83 and had Feinstein (DX Fenten) when he was punished and made to teach 10 grade English. Wonderful memories. My hat's off to you.