10 April, 2008

Memories... continued [Reposted from Facebook]

Location: various cerebral artifacts from 1976-1978

This morning my mind is bouncing around and I cannot really pick a memory. Where do I want to go? I don’t know. I jump to my sister and the various vague memories I have of the time we sort of grew up together. We didn’t really grow up together, she was 15 when I was born. All I remember from then was one time she took me to the Leaning Tower of Pizza and I had a great time. And I remember her screaming at my mom since the two of them didn’t get along for the first 30 years or so. My sister slammed her bedroom door so many times, the wooden molding frame had separated from the wall. That’s a lot of door slamming. My mind drifts to my brother. Even fewer memories of him. I remember him visiting with his girlfriend Pam. I remember visiting him in Pennsylvania when he was apparently in graduate school. He had a girlfriend named Marcia. They both had their hair in a perm. Maybe my brother’s was naturally curly? I don’t know. It was the 70’s. he had an afro, as far as I can recall. Is “afro” a racial slander? I am really really sorry if it is, because I did not intend to use it that way, and I honestly don’t know. I guess it can’t be too much of a slander since there’s a store down the street from me called “Afro Mart”. Whatever. I remember one time my brother came to Boston when I was in my mid-20’s and we went to a Red Sox game together, and ate lunch before the game at a restaurant called Thornton’s in the Fenway, which is a place I often went with my friends John and Nick who lived in that area for awhile. I had a crush on this cute Irish waitress who worked there. I don’t remember her name, but she was really nice, and I was always afraid to talk to her. My friend John referred to her as “stove pipes” because she didn’t have the skinniest legs in the world, and he always had to have something wise to say about everyone. When I visited my brother with family in Pennsylvania, we drove there. I think I was probably between 7 and 10 years old? I really don’t remember. That seems about right, because he got married I think in 1979 to Debby, so this had to be before I was 11 if he was with an entirely different girl. And Pam was before that, probably when I was younger than 6. Piecing together the history. I never have really thought about this before. When we went down there, we went to the Hershey factory, which is located, of course, in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I wonder is the town named after the company? Or the other way around? Anyone?

I don’t have a whole lot of memories of growing up with my brother and sister. My brother went to college a month before I was born. I got his bedroom, including his bedroom set. I think part of my bedroom set eventually became his son’s bedroom set, but not all of it. Most of it is still in my old bedroom in Stoughton. My sister was never really around much. I remember her powder blue Volkswagen Beetle. I think she had 2 different ones of those. My brother had a yellow Beetle, and then he had a baby-shit brown Rabbit. Before that he had some other cars like a Triumph Spitfire, and an MG. Don’t ask me why I remember this shit. I was barely even a baby during the time he had those. I remember the sound of my sister’s car, riding in it. And I remember the smell on the inside. It had kind of a neat smell, that you knew meant you were riding in a Beetle. Not sure why or what it was.

My mind also is jumping to other places and times. For a moment, I was thinking about Jay. He was my friend/nemesis in elementary school. He was the smartest kid in the class. I was young for my grade, one of the ones born in October, so I should have been the youngest in the class – i.e. I graduated at 17 years old. Jay was, if I am not mistaken, an entire year younger than that! And born in November, no less! I am 90% sure of that. Jay graduated and turned 16. Maybe I am mistaken? I don’t know. He was little, and he was smart. And in 3rd and 4th grade, in private school (with only 12 kids in the class, all boys), Jay and I would have daily fist fights. Most of the time, I would win. It would undoubtedly begin with a debate over some factual matter, and then deteriorate into blows. The teachers were often out of the room. At Shaloh House (the Jew School), we had half a day of Hebrew studies (read: “prayer”) and half a day of regular classes. The Hebrew part did not focus on learning grammar for the purpose of speaking the language. It focused on alphabet and phonics so that you could read the prayer book and maybe do some reading from the Torah as well. Are the Torah and the Bible the same thing? That’s how little I remember. And I cannot even be bothered to look in Wikipedia. Sad. The focus in the Jewish religion is in practice. You do not need to understand, or even believe. You just need to observe. So for children, it’s about the practice. Celebrating the holidays, and learning the history. I probably learned more than I think I did. The interesting thing is that even though only half our day was English studies, it was a very good education compared to public schools. Though I am not sure I learned any history in that school other than the Hebrew side. I think I just learned reading, writing, and arithmetic. Okay. No big deal. So at Shaloh House, two of my instructors were “The Rabbi” (Rabbi Gurkow) and “The Rabbi’s Wife” (Mrs. Gurkow). Rabbi Gurkow was a funny yet reasonably strict man. Who knows how old he was. They had MANY children. In fact, I think Mrs. Gurkow was pumping out little Gurkettes just about as often as her uterus would retain a new fertilized egg. And all of these children were wandering the halls of the building (unless they had already been sent away to boarding school at “Yeshiva”). Mrs. Gurkow was very strict, but I seem to recall that she too had a sense of humor. As a kid though, you don’t really appreciate adult humor. Occasionally our class would be disrupted because a little 2 year old Gurkette would come wandering into the room and being funny. We would all laugh, and you could see Mrs. Gurkow soften a bit. I wonder how old she was then? My guess is early-to-mid 30’s? I wonder where she is now? I wonder what her first name was? Strange the things you never know, and virtually can never find out.

So, Jay and I ended up going to the same public school, too, because both of our families moved to Stoughton around the same time. I think Jay was about a year later. Jay’s dad I think died when he was young, but I am not sure. I know he wasn’t around. Jay’s middle name was Bertram, and we would all make fun of him for it. When we lived in Mattapan together, Jay would come over to my house and we would play football in the street with a Nerf football. Just the two of us. How do you do that? Well… you pass the ball to yourself. That’s how. And the funny thing is, as you might guess, Jay and I spent more time fighting over what were the rules, than actually playing the game. Was the sidewalk out of bounds? I don’t know. How about the curb? Also, difficult to say.

Another friend of mine from Shaloh House was Sam. He lived in Hyde Park which was another, slightly less crappy suburb belonging to Boston. His family was white trash. I hate to say it, because it’s not nice. But they were. They were a rare form of white trash, though. They were Jewish White Trash. I didn’t think that actually existed, but I guess it did. Sam’s dad worked for the Post Office. And his dad was frequently “in traction”. I have no fucking clue what “in traction” is, but I know he was in it, and I know it was not good. I think that the stuff that would be today treated with either chiropractic, or physical therapy, or pain killers, was then treated with “traction”. All I know is that I didn’t like the sound of it. I got to have some “play dates” (as they’re now called, though that term was never used in 1976) with Sam. More often at his house, it seems. I don’t know where I was going with that. Oh yeah. Now I remember. Here’s one of my earliest manifestations of my ultimate belief system, or lack thereof. One time, Sam Shuman had come to my house for a sleepover. And I remember we were in our beds at night, probably all of 8 years old. And we were having a debate in the dark about God. Or “god” as I would say it, since things that do not exist, do not require capitalization. So, I was arguing for evolution, and Sam was arguing for creation. Very interesting that we had this debate. And very interesting that I remember it all these years. And I remember, I had my slam dunk statement: “What about all the fossils in the ground?!”. And Sam’s response: “God put them there to fool the non-believers”.

How can you argue with that? That’s the beauty of faith. If you are willing to take that leap, then everything else is equally plausible. How do we know, for instance, that we are not walking through the world upside-down, but our visual and vestibular systems are inverting the sensory information to create an impression of being upright?

I could say much more about Shaloh House. And about Jay. And about many things from that time. But not right now. There will be time.

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