“I was born in 1968. The year they tried to murder hope in America.” Van Jones
I’m middle age. Well, past middle age because I’m probably not living to 100. I figure it’s a fine time to take stock of my life up to this point and tell my story as I remember it. All told, I’ve really been very lucky.
My roots are Italian. My mother Elena was born at home in Sora Italy in 1946 and moved here when she was 4. She grew up in Jamaica, Queens. My father Alan is second generation by way of Naples and grew up in Valley Stream on Long Island. I didn’t know my grandfather on my mother’s side until I was in my teens. He was known as Papa Joe. His wife Luisa died when she was in her late 40’s from kidney disease.
My grandparents on my father’s side, Albert (Pop) and Rose, I was very close with. Pop served in the Navy in WWII as a “data processor” in the early days of computing and later spent the majority of his career in sales. Rose owned a consignment store in Woodmere. I loved them very much. You’ll get to know them better later.
I have a vague memory of my great grandparents on Pop’s side – Elvira and Dominic. I guess I would have been about 4 or 5 and I can remember being at their house for dinner, a piano, and their faces. That’s about all.
My parents were married very young, at age 20. At that time my maternal grandmother had been dead about 5 years and my mother was essentially raising her sister Dolores, seven years younger. Papa Joe couldn’t handle his wife’s early death, and being left with two girls he resorted to anger and alcohol. My father didn’t like the way he treated my mother and offered her a way out. Dolores would live with them.
I was born a year after they were married in Mercy Hospital, Rockville Center, Long Island New York on March 22, 1968. ‘68 was a tumultuous year; MLK was assassinated, RFK was assassinated, Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised the Black Power salute at the Summer Olympics, and Captain Kirk and Uhura kissed – the first televised interracial kiss. Of course, Vietnam was in full swing, as was the counter-culture movement. Sgt Pepper was released. And here I was, ready to make my mark.
My earliest memories take place in Brightwaters NY. We lived in a beautiful house owned by my grandparents on a channel of the Great South Bay until I was 6. My very earliest memory is being taken for a walk by Rose. I was in one of those old (now hipster) style baby carriages – the navy one with the white wheels. I think it had springs to act as shock absorbers and many places where tiny fingers could get caught. We were in my front yard and I simply remember looking up at her face. It was sunny and warm outside.
I also clearly remember going to story time at the local library. I was probably about 5 years old and it’s one of the fondest memories I have of early childhood. My mom would take me every week and I loved the warmth of the librarian who did the reading. I remember her being very calm and kind. The stories were always fascinating, and there was something about being in a small group of other children and their moms that was warm and comforting.
My parents deemed me intelligent and insisted I skip kindergarten. I was sent to a Montessori school where I spent most of my days drawing. One day my parents received a letter from the teacher stating that I drew too much. I think they withdrew me soon after that. I also got into my first fight at that school. I remember some punk kid would pick on me from time to time and once he pushed me and I punched him in the face. Maybe that’s why they withdrew me.
I was sent to St Patrick’s in Bay Shore for the first grade. I fucking hated school. On numerous occasions on my way to the bus in the morning I would walk very slowly, and then hide behind a tree or bush as the bus pulled away. I would then return home and explain to my mother I had missed the bus. She was very understanding and would let me stay home and play. I think she may have felt a little guilty about thrusting me into academia too soon. Once my father who was an English teacher at a nearby Catholic high school, St John’s (more on that lovely place later), came home and was furious. I was upstairs playing a game with my mom when he stormed in and insisted she bring me to school immediately. I was late for class. Probably why I have always had a hang-up for never being late.
My other ploy which I am very proud of and remember using at least five or six times was to feign illness at the Nurse’s office. Once I was so convincing at it that she drove me home. I remember sitting in her convertible with the top down, sun shining, happy as a clam, trying to look sick.
The biggest memory I have of those years was accidentally setting our neighbors’ garage ablaze. They lived behind us and the garage was detached from their house by at least 50 yards. There was no door on it. One day I went in there to explore. It was mostly empty save for some garden tools, a lawn mower. I noticed a big push broom and picked it up. Out poured hundreds of earwigs. They just kept coming. I decided I needed to do something so I found some gasoline in the garage and a match. I’m really not sure how I go the match. My dad smoked so it probably wasn’t too difficult. And I set the broom on fire to burn those fuckers. It worked, but the fire also got a bit out of hand. I ran back to my house screaming and mom called the Fire Dept. Fortunately there was only minor damage, but my dad whipped me with his belt when he got home. It wasn’t bad, I totally felt like I deserved it, and I do not disparage him of this. That was the only time he ever hit me. And I never lit random shit on fire after that.
That’s mostly what I remember of 0-6. Oh, and my dog Sandy. I am told she used to pull the socks off my feet and growl a lot. I remember not liking her.