Driving Lessons

Every teenager dreams of the day they get their driver’s license. It’s a right of passage that ranks up there with ones’ losing their virginity and the first time you got drunk. For me, getting my license and buying my first car with the money I had earned working at the Willowbrook Mall’s Bowery Lighting was like crossing the finishing line of a race while carrying a monkey on your back.

At the time, my most recent experience driving had included taking my mother’s car out while she and my stepdad vacationed in Puerto Rico and being told by my driving instructor to “Slow the fuck down.”

My first car cost me four hundred dollars. A two-tone blue 77′ Ford Maverick with an Eight-Track player. It wasn’t the Mustang I had my eyes on, the one that was eventually wrecked when an errant tire coming off Route-23 landed on its hood and went through its windshield, but it was mine.

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Please note that this image was taken from the internet.

I was so excited about pulling into the school’s parking lot while some rock anthem blasted over the speakers. Then my overprotective mother stepped in like a cop with an ax to grind and told me that, partly due to the distance of my high school and my lack of experience driving, I’d be taking the school bus or hitching a ride with a more experienced driver.

Though there was nothing, I could do or say to right this blockade to my inherent right of passage. I would find a way to get around this carnage of justice during the weekends. Having made many friends in a short time, I lived in Jersey. I had a few who lived within my mom’s imagined loop of territories I could travel.

Being that I had already spent much of my free time at a nearby friend’s home, we made an agreement that he would cover me if she’d ever call. Being that this was before the invention of cell phones and pagers, I kind of wonder how that would work if she ever did choose to call. “Oh, James said he had to drop a deuce. I’ll tell him to call you after, well, you know.”
Or “Oh, he just left to pick up some beer.” Luckily, she never did call.

On the weekends that I did manage to take that Ford for a spin, I often found myself racing down Route 3 South towards the Lincoln Tunnel and straight into Manhattan. The 9th avenue and Canal street traffic was, at least for me, the best education a young driver could ever get. The lanes seemed slimmer, the congestion multiplied, and the yellow taxies that darted in and out as if they were in a pinball machine. It’s a wonder I lived, let alone avoided any significant pileups.

Nine months later, upon graduation from high school, I would use that same car and the driving skills I had learned, to move back to Queens, where I would continue to drive that two-tone blue tank for another two or three years. Looking back, I might have wanted fully to declare my independence, if not chosen a safer outlet for my need for speed. Yet, my teen years were the best time to fight for my freedom.

My First Time

Everyone remembers their first time. The fumbling, stumbling, the feeling of flesh on flesh. The smell and taste of that halcyon moment and that final thrust before… Well, you know. Well, kids, have I got a very different story for you.
Though I’d never considered my Dad to be an alcoholic or a drunk. I have never seen any man consume as much as he did. With the corner bar being his main place of business and social life, sitting along with him drinking my coke, enjoying a cheeseburger and waiting for my chosen song to come on the jukebox seemed normal. During that time my Father dated and even lived with a couple of female bartenders there. The one that stands out for me the most was a voluptuous redhead who had a slight southern drawl, a pension for big trucks and the most beautiful breasts I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Lynn, like many of the women and people my Father dated or did business with, was very kind to me. For many reasons, I enjoyed her company and just being around her. Before she moved in with my Dad, I recall spending time at her studio apartment. Her neighbor, whom, by the way, I never met. Had a bookcase filled with issues of Baseball Digest going back to it the 70’s. I would look on with awe like a lovesick teenager, lusting for knowledge and stories about the players I idolized.
Since their divorce when I was seven. My parents had agreed to a sort of joint custody that gave my Father weekend custody; Something that, for the most part, worked out for all parties. Though unorthodox in many ways, I was left unsupervised during the day, leaving me open to many adventures I’ll leave for another post. From sundown, however, It was an altogether different pallet of colors, shapes, and sizes. While a movie and dinner were frequent outings. We would more than often stop at one of the local bars and waterholes for a few hours before heading home to watch a movie or a rerun of either The Honeymooners or The Twilight Zone.
Though my bedroom was adjacent to theirs. I would sometimes fall asleep right in their bed. On one occasion, I woke up next to Lynn’s naked body. To say it was a life-changing experience would be the understatement of all time. As I lie there paralyzed by a fear that she might wake up and think I crawled in sneakily with evil intention. Motionless, considering it was the first time I ever came any closer than rifling through the Penthouse, Club and Playboy’s located in the bedside table my dad kept a loaded pistol. While I lied there frozen by fear. I managed to move my hands down further enough to start tugging and pulling until I achieved my first erection. Though I didn’t actually, for lack of a better term spill the beans. I was quite proud of myself. Just seconds later I was able to slide out of the bed undetected and tiptoe my way out of the room undetected.
I never mentioned it to anyone or written about it before. As a kid still navigating his way through the fifth grade, it was a bit awkward, At the time, I had just started developing a somewhat crazed interest in girls, but hadn’t kissed one. As mentioned, the level of my experience and knowledge at the time was limited to what I had seen in the pages of adult magazines and what I had been told by older friends who knew nothing. And while I would eventually muster the courage to talk to girls and even date them, that little moment always stuck with me as something paramount and tangible.

Forgery; Another thing they probably don’t teach in the boy scouts.

I always hated parent/teacher nights, and though I have few memories of my first two years at Our Lady of Fatima, my memories of the next six at Blessed Sacrament are still pretty clear. While moving to a new neighborhood and moving on to a new school was a welcome change. It did come with some unique pressures and expectations. You see, due to my parents working conflicting hours and the fact that their marriage was over by the time I was halfway through the first grade, my grandmother, who was a member of the church and lived just a short four blocks away. Always seemed to get the call when there was trouble.

Fast forward a few years, and I went from being told to sit in the corner and face the wall to being getting selected to join the smart kids in what was called ‘Group 1″. While this was a step up academically, there also added responsibilities and expectations to get better grades while performing at a higher level. While I could hold my own in social studies (aka History) and Language Arts (aka English) Science and Math would create challenges that would plague me throughout the years. While my grandmother, a mathematical genius in her own right, Her tutoring and reassuring did little to conquer anxieties that were manifested in the classroom by a towering and mean Sister Michael Marie. While none of the priests, sisters, or brothers of the Catholic Diocese were what you would consider kind, Sister Michael Marie seemed to have an unusually large bug up her ass. One that made her particularly venomous and quick-tempered. Looking back, she had to be about six feet seven with the build of an NFL linebacker. Rumor has it that she only joined the sisterhood she had tried out for the Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets before being turned down due to the vast quantities of male hormone supplements in her nether regions.

Somehow though, going from class to class, teacher to teacher had a better than expected outcome. Most teachers noted that I was a good student who could benefit from working harder and being a little less of a wise ass. There were a couple who indicated that my impulsive nature and self-control issues were my most significant obstacles; nothing my mother didn’t have prior knowledge to. Forgery (1 of 1)

I would have probably gotten an extra scoop of ice cream or even sprinkles that night if it were not for that last visit to my Math teacher Sister Michael Marie. When my mom explained that the kids were scared of her, Sister Michael Marie growled back, “No, they aren’t.” Luckily, they always kept fire extinguishers within reach, considering I saw her breath fire that night. It was then, when I looked at my mother as if to say “She’s all yours.” before deciding to wait in the hallway,

As tempers quelled and the meeting progressed, my mother and Sister Michael Marie discussed my case whee my teacher ultimately agreed to send me home with a weekly report card detailing the weeks’ tests, quizzes, and my shortcomings. My mother would read, sign, and trust me with its return before deciding on any form of punishment or torture. After two weeks of scorn from Sister Michael Marie and scolding from my mother, I knew I had to take things into my own hands. Though I had no training or prior experience with forgery, I began to study my mother’s handwriting and signature carefully. Within a week, I had it down to a science, from the loops and swoops to the artful curve in the “M’. I still recall the detail I put into signing that first report and the entranceway of the building I would pass before entering the schoolyard. Luckily, that Math wench never caught on. When my mom asked why she wasn’t getting any more weekly reports, I would innocently shrug it off and say, “I guess she forgot.” Though there was some mention of her calling the school to reinstate the reports that had magically ceased to show up, that call would never take place. With the help and angelic patience of my grandmothers’ tutoring, I managed to raise my disgraceful F to a somewhat acceptable D. For years to come. I would use the skills I learned in the fifth grade to offset the punishment and explaining that I would surely follow a letter sent from school reporting falling grades, behavioral issues, or flat out suspension. At the same time, I was never proud of the more deviant behavior I displayed during my adolescence. I like to think of some of my misdoings as survival techniques.

 

Youthful Transgressions

While I’m not sure where it all started, I have this vivid memory of being chased and caught for shoplifting by the local grocery store owner. I couldn’t have been more than six at the time, but I remember it so clearly, that I can vividly remember the coat I was wearing and how after being run down. Only to be dragged by my collar to my house, where some furious knocking at the door awoke my father, who still had about two hours of sleep left before getting ready for his 3:00 – 11:00 shift with the bus company. It was the most trouble I had ever been in up until that time, and it sure scared the shit out of me, but for whatever reason, it didn’t deter me from any future shenanigans.

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Now, before I go any further, I want to state in my defense that I wasn’t some problem child wrecking havoc throughout my neighborhood. It wasn’t one of those ‘lock your doors and board up your windows.’ Here comes that troublemaker, kind of scenarios. I was one of those kids who carried groceries, held the door for my elders, and called adults “ma’am” or “sir.” Then, Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope came out, and the merchandising helped turn me into a kleptomaniac. And while I take full responsibility for becoming a conniving thief, I give a lot of credit to the marketing department at Kenner for turning a generation of kids into zombie-like consumers.

At least try to rewind to a time when there was a particular toy of toys so brilliantly marketed that they had children thinking of one thing and one thing only.For us, there was no Toy’s R Us within reach. They were way out in Long Island. Which, for us, was like a foreign nation. We were latch essential kids with parents who lived from check to check — struggling to pay the bills while putting food on the table. There were birthdays and Christmas. You were pretty much on your own the rest of the year, and during at least one of those occasions, you got socks and a sweater you hated.

Luckily, I was a pretty resourceful kid with a handful of friends who’s knack for finding trouble often found me. With a shopping center within striking distance and a five and dime type store that featured two aisles of toys, we had all the incentive we would need. At the time, I still had my army green snorkel winter coat from the winter before. Perhaps, due to wear or my custom tailoring to allow my front pockets to reach to the back of the coat, allowing me to stuff my somewhat bulky jacket full of whatever action figures I could manage.

Over the years, my friends and I managed to come away with quite a haul. As the stores became savvier when it came to dealing with shoplifters and keeping an eye out for unsupervised children, our methods changed and wavered. And though I’m sure we played only a minor part when it came to the changes in both displaying items and including barcode strips. At the time, we often credited ourselves for forcing the change. Looking back, we were much too young to comprehend the consequences of our actions. It was merely us against that older man who managed the store. Outwitting him seemed to be jus just as, if not more satisfying, as leaving the store with the best toy on the shelf. The rewards went far beyond whatever we might have stolen, the risk, the pumping of the blood, and the uptick of the heartbeat that created the rush.

 

The Road Ahead

Somewhere between awareness of my symptoms and diagnosing them came knowledge and acceptance that things might get a lot worse before they ever or never get better. While a pretty hard pill to swallow, (No pun intended.) I feel lucky that I have such a fantastic support system in my wife, family, friends, and doctors. However, there is one thing in particular that has become harder and Road Ahead (1 of 1)harder to accept as time goes by. That is, people always checking in on me and asking how I’m doing. Arguing with and fighting over her being too helpful or over-attentive. As time goes by, I feel myself becoming more resistant to help, while closing myself off to others. I also notice that it doesn’t take much to light my fuse or lose my temper. Whether it be snap reactions or just getting angry over things I can’t control, I’ve come to fear of becoming a cranky old son of a bitch than an optimistic one. As I move towards a new year and a new decade, I hope to move forward by taking somewhat of a step back to the practices I approached and learned from in the past. Simple things, such as meditation, breathing techniques, eating, and exercise, could all help while bringing improvements to my attitude, as well as my life. Hopefully, these little things can help in bringing me the peace of mind and mindfulness I so desperately seek.

 

Fight Club

When I went to my dad for advice on how to handle a bully and some of the kids in my first-grade class who had taken it upon themselves to make my time in the schoolyard as miserable as possible, I would have never guessed the lessons I would get or the path it put me on.
While one can imagine a parent taking their kid to school the next day to speak to the school principal or even confront the kids involved.,
My father took a completely different route by taking me down to the garage and introduced me to the heavy bag and boxing.
Within a few weeks, I had mastered the art of the jab, hook, uppercut, and the cross. Most importantly, I learned about balance and why striking my opponent when he was off-balance was so important. Now, this might seem like a lot for a kid who was still in the second grade, but I loved it absorbed everything I learned from my dad like a sponge. I loved working out with him and emulating his moves. When he bought me my first pair of black Everlast gloves, it felt as if I graduated to another level. Fight Cub-1
From there on, whenever someone messed with me, they got a face full of knuckles and rarely ever fucked with me again. By the end of the second grade, I got to know the principles office pretty well while learning that no matter who started the fight, the one with the bruises and bloody nose rarely ever got blamed.
About a year later, my dad gave me more lessons I’d never forgotten. They included pressure points such as the nose, throat, and chest. He would always tell me, “If they can’t breathe, they can’t fight.” and “Seeing their blood puts fear in their hearts.” “If you want to end a fight quickly, bloody up their nose.” All these lessons would help me face my bullies. At the same time, I gained a great love and respect for the sport of boxing while continuing my dream to compete and win the golden gloves and eventually become middleweight. I carefully followed fighters like Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Sean O’ Grady, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Ray “Boom, Boom” Mancini, to name a few.
I think it’s worth noting that while I had a very short fuse and quick temper, I never started or went looking for a fight. With all the fistfights I had in that five or six-year period, I often teared up after leaving one victorious. Weeping and wondering why he decided to push me so far. I once sent a friend to the hospital for two days with broken nose vessels. I got into a lot of trouble with sister Mary Patrick for that one and a warning that another fight would get me expelled. Though the threat of being expelled had me wanting to change my ways, I was more preoccupied with the thought of apologizing to the kids’ mom and doing everything I could to regain that kid’s friendship. Not many people saw that side of me, but it was there. I’d also like to credit an older kid named Ronnie, who handed me my first ass-kicking while roughhousing in one of the nearby ball fields. It serves as a reminder that everyone takes a beating now and then. It was an event that stayed with me throughout my lifetime and plagued me until we reconciled decades later. During that exchange, he explained that he never meant to hurt me, but I was like a raging bull, coming at him like a locomotive. Thinking back, I probably deserved the pounding I got. It taught me a lot about raising my fists in anger and thinking before taking action. All these years later, I still remember and appreciate what my father taught me. I still work on the heavy bag, attempt to operate the speed bag and use the footwork to give me a sense of balance.

Setting Goals for 2020

Though I’ve never been one to make new year’s resolutions, this year I decided to set some goals for myself. While I feel that some of these goals are quite ambitious, I think that they’re both realistic and attainable. One of those goals will be to focus more time on my writing, with a focus on non-fiction and, in particular, highlighting my early life and experiences. In recent weeks, Written-1I’ve focused much of my free time writing and trying to relearn the essential grammar skills I learned in school. Though my editor at Jersey Beat and my half-brother both teach at different levels and both volunteered to edit my work, I don’t feel it’s right to burden them with more work than they already have. Aside from my books and lessons I’ve learned, I’m considering hiring a writing coach, or at least utilizing some of the services available online.
In the end, it might be worth noting that my interest in creative writing preceded my passion for photography. For one who thrived on creativity, yet somehow suffered when not nourished by such. Writing and photography served as balance, allowing me to lean towards one while the other stagnated mentally. Short story long, I feel that some, if not many of my own stories need to be written and told while memory still serves.