09 April, 2008

Memories... continued [Reposted from Facebook]

Location: the corner of rockingham road, summer 1978...
lingering shame...

Spin the magic wheel of time, and where does it land?

This time it falls in 1978. I was almost 10 years old. It was summer time. Living in Mattapan, Massachusetts. Mattapan is a part of Boston sort of like Fremont is a part of Seattle. Though it would probably be more appropriate to say “like Rainier Beach is a part of Seattle” since it wasn’t a very good part of town. Mattapan was once a very Jewish neighborhood, I guess from the 60’s going backwards. But sometime in the 70’s things changed and there was a lot of crime and poverty that made its way into the area and those surrounding it. I would be interested to understand how and why that came to be. How does a good neighborhood become a bad one?

Anyway, I cannot answer that question, and I am sure that there are people who could answer it, so I won’t even hypothesize. Well, I lived on a street named Rockingham Road. Grew up there, and lived there from birth until shortly after where this memory takes place. I went to a day-camp when I was a kid. I was fortunate to be able to do this, because it’s a great opportunity and not one that everyone can have. Especially now, it seems like these things have become disproportionately more expensive than they once were.

As an aside, I am starting to feel like maybe *everything* has become disproportionately more expensive. Not food, or gas, or cars. But important things like housing, education, and recreational opportunities. It is like we are turning our culture into cattle by giving them only the bare necessities for survival in a somewhat affordable fashion, while excluding them from participation in all of the things that enrich life and make it worth existing as something other than a vessel capable of consuming products.

But I really digress there.

I went to Camp Grossman, which was located in Westwood, Massachusetts. This was probably 10-15 miles away from where we lived, and there was a system of many buses that took children from all over, to go to this camp. Very cool. And I went for full days, for 8 weeks of summer (not overnight). If I remember correctly, it might have cost $150 per 4 weeks? Not sure. But it was something like that. I bet it was less. Maybe it was $150 for the whole summer. I could ask my mother… or I could ask my father. And unfortunately, I might receive the response “I really don’t recall”. Camp Grossman was great, and there are many stories I could tell about memories that stem from that place. It was the first opportunity I had to interact with girls, since my school had boys and girls separated. That school did a spectacular job of separating us too, because though we were all in one building (a giant mansion in Milton, Massachusetts, with the boys on main floor, and girls on upper floors), I don’t think I hardly ever saw a girl. Or maybe I did, but I don’t remember them because of some type of latency or refractory period, or whatever you would call it in Freudspeak. Why does my spell checker flag Freudspeak as an error, but not Grossman? Can you answer me that one? I didn’t think so.

So… about that day-camp…

I kissed my first girl there. Playing spin the bottle a couple of years later, probably age 11, in the bathroom (read: “outhouse”) on a sleepover night. It was me, Mark, Michelle, and Jennifer. Just the 4 of us. Playing spin the bottle. And Jennifer was my first real kiss. She wasn’t my first crush. I had fallen hard for Marjorie (an “older” girl – read: “11”) the year before, but she just thought I was cute. After kissing Jennifer, I demonstrated one of the first examples of what has proven to be the “big mouth” that I would always have. I told my friends about it. And then Jennifer wouldn’t speak to me anymore. So ended my first love 

I had my first real girlfriend too. When I was 12 years old, on the verge of 13, I met Sheri at Camp Grossman. She was only 11. And we had a romance that was steamy enough that one of the camp counselors took me aside to talk to me about it and suggested that maybe I was rushing things and should save something for when I was older. His name was Charlie, and he was probably only 16 years old, but he seemed like an adult to me. Funny how that works. I did save things for later, but Sheri and I certainly got a preview of what lay in store for the future. That lasted several months and then fizzled, after some 6 mile bike rides to Canton to visit her. In hindsight, I am quite surprised that at 13 years old, I was allowed to ride my bike to Sheri’s house. In further hindsight, I am not entirely sure that my parents were aware that I was doing this. It is somewhat impressive that I even managed to find my way there.

But I’ve jumped ahead in time. I can talk about Sheri more some other time. I actually saw her in high school many years later and recognized her at a track meet. She was doing some type of field event like discus or javelin. I was a runner. We said hello, I think. And that was it. I am sure that wherever she is, the memories are fond… I won’t bother looking her up, since I am sure her last name has long since stopped being what it was (actually, it didn't change). Of course, had I been a girl, my name would still be what it is, but that’s a different story.

So back to 1978. Neighborhood becoming bad. Going to camp. I remember getting my first sprained ankle jumping off the steps of the school bus that dropped me off from camp. I landed funny and it was sprained. That is significant because I have sprained both ankles dozens of times since then, and have virtually no lateral support on either foot (especially my right) anymore. I was born with sort of modified club foot, and had my feet in casts as a baby. But they ended up “ok” meaning, fucked up, but you can’t really notice anything wrong. Other than that I had a propensity for sprains. I am pretty sure the ankle weakness has led to my ultimate problem with calf strains and cramps which has all-but-ended my running career. That too, is another story… I would have to jump forward to 1994 to discuss my first serious calf pull. I’ll save that one. It evokes lots of parallel memories, and I will *never* get to tell you the story about 1978 if I go there.

So… 1978.

One day, hot summer, sweaty from camp, I get off the bus with my little bag that has all my camp stuff in it. That consisted of probably pants, a shirt (it was a rugby shirt with white collar, and with turquoise and brown stripes - *very* 70’s, isn’t it?), my first baseman’s mitt that had somehow been given to me through a neighbor or something (a very cool glove that was intended for adults – too big for me). After I get off the bus, I am approached by a kid (I will mention that he was African American, not because I wish to suggest a racial issue here, though in Mattapan at the time there absolutely *was*, but because I am painting a picture of the story and I want you to see what I saw. About half of my friends were Caucasian and the other half African American, on my street. This boy was not from my street). He was older than me, but I don’t know by how much. Probably only a little bit, though at the time it seemed like a lot. Maybe he was 13? Maybe 12? Maybe 14? And he has his hand in his pocket, as if he is concealing something, and he says “Give me your bag”. So… me being a fearful kid, gave him my bag, even though it was broad daylight, and my house was only like 3 or 4 houses away and in plain view. I give it to him. And he tells me, I think, if I remember correctly, to walk away and not look back. So I did. I got home and I was crying, and I told my mother what happened. Actually now I am not sure if I went home. I think that day I might have had to go to my friend’s house because my mother was at work late? I think that’s what happened. I went to the neighbor’s house which was 2 houses further away, and I was crying and telling the neighbor. She was the mom of my best friend, Phillip, who was one year older than I was. Phillip’s dad was an ex-Army guy and he was an angry and unhappy, big man, who owned attack dogs, and most definitely believed in corporal punishment. He also was not fond of me because he thought I was a little mama’s boy. Which I was. One time I was invited to visit family with them, I think his brother, and they were making sandwiches for dinner, and they only had wheat bread and I said I didn’t like wheat bread (I don’t think I’d ever even *had* wheat bread, because my mother only bought Sunbeam (if I was not with her) or Wonder (if I *was* with her)). And the mother said she would go to the store and buy white bread, and I remember Phillip’s dad, whose name I think was Joe, saying “That boy is too damn fussy!”. I lost touch with Phillip and I have no idea what happened to him after I moved away from Mattapan (shortly after this story). Eventually my mom came home and his mom (can’t remember her name, maybe Virginia?) called my mom and told her what was up, and I went home. I remember my mother sitting on a chair in the living room and me crying more and telling her the story, and I remember specifically asking if I could have permission to use a bad word to describe the boy. I think I either said shithead or asshole. Not sure which. That was the way I was. I would ask permission for everything. Funny how that translated in adult life to needing to seek the approval of everyone I know before I could make a single decision…

So I think I was most upset about losing my favorite shirt and baseball glove. And about the shame of having not tried to run away. I was the victim of a crime. And I was angry. Apparently, either before or shortly after that, my parents house had been broken into, and things had been stolen. I was never told about this until many years later. But it was in this time that my father finally got off his butt and decided we needed to get *out* of the city, and into the suburbs. In March of 1979, after they had looked at many houses, my parents finally bought a split-level ranch in Stoughton, Massachusetts, on foreclosure from the previous owners.

That’s where I want to stop this story.

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