Growing Up

I used to tell people that I grew up in New Jersey. Not anymore. Too controversial. No one objected to my claim that I spent my youth in New Jersey; it was the intimation that I had grown up that raised eyebrows.

I can’t remember when I realized that being born in New Jersey isn’t something that you tell strangers if you want the interaction to go well. After I learned this, however, I remember developing a bad cough whenever people put the question to me (“You wanna know where was I born? Oh I think it was (cough, sputter, sputter.”) Usually, no one has had the faintest idea what I said, yet they would all nod knowingly when I finished sputtering. I suspect they sensed that they really didn’t want to know the answer.

But, hey, you came to this page because you wanted to know what it was like growing up in New Jersey. This is one of those rare moments when I actually wish I was a little older than I am because then I would have probably have something really quaint and interesting to tell you about my childhood (I’ve always envied my dad’s story of delivering milk in Philadelphia as a boy. He would walk behind a horse-drawn wagon that would stop in front of customers’ houses so that he could take the milk up to the customer’s front door. The horse knew the route so well that no driver was needed-the horse just stopped when he was supposed to and resumed walking when he saw my dad returning to the wagon. Now THOSE were the good old days!). The problem with being born in the 50’s is that it came up short on the charm dimension–by then Americans had rudimentary versions of all the modern conveniences-refrigerators, running water, bubble gum-we had it all.

Ok, there were a few little glitches. Our first TV was devoted almost exclusively to airing a test pattern while the workers at the station learned how to broadcast across the river (from Philadelphia to New Jersey). The test pattern was always a black and white picture of a rather noble looking Native-American guy with a headdress that I always imagined would look really, really cool if it had been in color. I don’t think I every saw the color version; color TV wouldn’t be around for more than a decade and by then the native American guy had found another job.

With color TV and video games being years off, I wound up hanging out a lot with Roy, the lunatic who lived next door. Roy was several years older than me and was forever developing new schemes that seemed specifically designed to diminish my life expectancy. His most innovative idea was trying to dig a tunnel under a nearby 4-lane highway (there was no apparent reason for this venture but Roy didn’t need one because he was the biggest and meanest kid in the neighborhood). It was summer so it was fairly easy to compel a team of little kids to go down in the tunnel and work multiple 2-hour shifts a day (I don’t recall ever seeing Roy with a shovel in his hands). Luckily for all considered, there was a sidewalk next to highway that collapsed before we could do any damage to the foundation of the highway itself. Miraculously, no one was hurt, but the stunt won a lot of notoriety for Roy. All the adults in town began demanding his immediate institutionalization, which made him an instant hero with the kids. I think that was my first introduction to the generation gap. By the time I went to Woodstock ten years later it had grown so big that–but wait, that’s a different story, so I’ll stop here.