So I am occasionally asked what my childhood was like. I normally let it go, wanting to stay focused on the present but have decided to share a little bit for my birthday and provide one every now and then. In particular, I will occasionally post a story, a relatively short one, about growing up or existing in the realm of New York City. I say "realm" for it occasionally appears as if it was/is an entity onto itself (yes, like the phrase in Annie Hall). This opinion has been magnified significantly after having spoken to people from other locales and traveling a bit within other places. There is indeed nothing like it, and when I describe growing/existing in New York - detailing the various things that happened to me when I was there - invariably no one would believe it. The situations seem too normal (deviating from what people expected took place there), or too far fetched, or perhaps (I think) a bit too raw.
The format of the stories is more or less true to the way that I remember them. As a consequence, some are poetic in nature, some are straightforward descriptions, some are old-folk-tale-like, some are performance-artish, and some are just a bunch of words in open rebellion.
The order of the stories roughly follow my various stages of New York existence. These tend to be identified with different geographic markings, but also chronological order. The early part of my life (stage 1 - from ages 6 to 12) was more or less centered around central park. The innocence and exploration of the age was well complemented by the circus contained within the 4 foot high black walls of the park itself. Between 13 and 20, life was more centered around the lower east side. I know it is broken up into various sub-sections: SOHO, Tribeca, the Village, and so forth - but I kind of adopted the whole thing. This time period (stage 2) coincided with the burgeoning awakening of teenage life and the equally compelling desire to explore the city. After going away to work in Houston, TX (the University of Houston) and later Denver, CO (the University of Colorado) and Washington, DC (the University of Maryland), I no longer identified within any one part of New York. Rather, during this time (stage 3), I tended to adopt the whole thing - basically all of Manhattan Island and even Brooklyn, which was a big thing for me. Stage 4, I'm in this period now (thinking through observations). This is after I moved to Chicago, IL (the University of Notre Dame), moved back to New York for a year on a Russell Sage Foundation fellowship, moved to Ann Arbor, MI (the University of Michigan) and then traveling back/forth to/from New York. During this period, all five boroughs are viewed as New York, which was an even bigger thing for me.
As for the subjects: the topics vary. Some are about the city; some are about people I interacted with; some are about things I saw; some are about several of these at the same time. As for the order that I will post the stories in.... I'm thinking about it. Regardless, here is the first one.
Evil & the Supermoms
The toy was pretty simple:
- put evil on his cycle,
- put the cycle in the launcher,
- wind it up,
- stop winding,
- watch evil zip around,
- fall off the bike, and
- bounce around.
Amazingly simple actually, but unless you had one, you have no idea how many hours of fun this could provide. Really. You could send evil into a wall, off the kitchen table, down the stairs, only to watch evil come back for more. And, of course, after all else has been tried, you could send evil off the huge rock in central park on 103rd street (across the street).
I tried everything in the house and now it was time. I got evil ready - got dressed, and went across the street. I went into the park, made a left, and walked up to the clearing at the top of the hill. I had the whole field. It was mine.
I loaded evil, revved him up, and let him go. He lasted only a few seconds (poor evil), before he hit a bump, flipped off the bike, and was dragged a few feet as he held on for dear rubber life.
I was getting evil back "in the saddle" when, as always, some kid showed up. He was black, about my age, wearing some sneakers, jeans - usual gear. He watched me wind up evil, let him go, and flip around. This time evil lasted a little longer.
The kid asked if he could try it. Sure I said (this attitude changes later in life). He loaded evil, wound him (much harder and faster than I), and off went evil. And yes, off went the kid after evil with the winding thing in hand.
After about a few feet, he swooped evil up and was off down the hill. By the time I came out of my "I-Don't-Know-What's-Happening-I-Don't-Know-What's-Going-On-Oh-He's-Got-My-Toy-What-Do-I-Do" syndrome, He was already half-way down. I did the only thing that I could think off - I screamed for my mother at the top of my lungs. [She had the window open to catch the breeze off the park.]
And with the resounding echo, faster than evil shot out of the winder, more limber than the rubbery white man, and clearly pissed at the kid who was beating me down the hill, there she was.
The word "MOM" had barely come out of my mouth but it still echoed off the building, seconds (no minutes) in duration. I'm sure the word propelled my thief on even faster.
She blew by me on the hill, dressed in clogs, a big flowered shirt (half open), a flowing (billowing as cesca would say-) skirt, and a big 1970 afro. And with this vision (a kid with evil and my mom on his tail), they went off into the distance, up and down hills, stretching for blocks. In that moment, my first superheroine was born - NYC MOM. More real than Wonder Woman (bullet proof bracelets that covered all parts of her body just in time), more spry than Batgirl (who hardly got any airtime in my opinion), and clearly better dressed than Supergirl (blue and red - please), off she went - making the world (or at least our little part of it) safe for her son.
Picture of my mother around that time