My family lived in San Francisco’s Chinatown District during the late 1920s. I attended Francisco Junior High School, which drew its students from Chinatown and the predominantly Italian North Beach area. Like eighth graders then and now, we usually had time between classes to release the energy we had stored while listening to our teachers.
We had blackboards that were really black in those days, and when the teachers were away from the room, a favorite activity was throwing the erasers at them. One boy would draw a circle on the board and his friends would take turns seeing who could come the closest to hitting it.
One of my classmates excelled at this. He would throw his erasers from the back of the room. He threw the hardest, and was the most accurate. The signature mark of his throws was the cloud of chalk dust that arose when the eraser hit the board. I marveled at his accuracy and the strength of his arm. For whatever reason, his left-handedness also impressed me.
We attended Galileo High School together for one year before I transferred, and although we were never close friends, for some reason I always remembered the accuracy and strength of that left arm.
I continued school, got a job, married, and raised a family. My classmate went on to play baseball, where he earned the sobriquets “The Yankee Clipper” and “Joltin’ Joe.” I shall always remember him, however, simply as Joe DiMaggio.