One of the defining moments of my early childhood — my life, really — happened when I wasn’t quite three years old, or sometime in the late summer. My mother and I were roaming up and down the Asbury Park boardwalk in the early evening, and one of the highlights (in my mind at least) was the merry-go-round. We gradually made our way south about two miles, give or take. Then I somehow slipped my mother’s grasp and disappeared. Gone. She freaked, of course. She found a couple of cops and asked for their help. They looked, searched, asked all the merchants…no luck. They finally made their way back to the merry-go-round and there I was — staring, bedazzled.
The incident put the fear of God into my parents. From then on they decided I had to be kept on a short leash and monitored very carefully. The result is that I began to feel that my life was being lived in a gulag. Rules, repression, “no”, time to go to bed at dusk, “because I said so,” “you’re too young,” etc.
A similar incident happened when I was around eight. Nowhere near as traumatic but it confirmed a pattern. It was a hot Saturday morning. I convinced my seven year-old girlfriend, Nancy, to go on an adventure. The idea was to stroll from Harrison Avenue in Westfield, New Jersey (our homes were 100 feet apart) to my grandparent’s home in Rahway — a distance of roughly six miles. I’d never walked it before but I had a rough idea of how to get there. We arrived at my grandparents’ home on West Meadow Avenue around three hours later. My grandmother made us a sandwich and called my parents; my mom or dad (I forget which) drove over, took us back.
If I’d been the parent I would have said to myself, “Well, my son is obviously fearless or at least not intimidated by the unknown, and doesn’t lack for initiative or a sense of adventure…qualities that will almost certainly serve him well later in life. I’ll have to tell him to be more careful, of course, but he mainly needs to be hugged and approved of and encouraged to climb new mountains.” Instead…gulag!
In eleventh grade I began tapping out a one-page, two-sided satirical news sheet and passing it around among my friends. Silly, sophomoric, sometimes off-color stuff about school episodes, relationships and sexual stirrings. Definitely juvenile but enterprising. One of the news sheets was snagged by a vice-principal at the school, and a day or two my father and I were hauled into his office and warned about the horrors of my having passed around pornographic material.
An enlightened, forward-thinking reaction from my father would have been something along the lines of “well, that newsletter was pretty lame but my son’s urge to publish and be heard is obviously strong. I just need to encourage him to channel this in a legit way. Maybe go for a journalism degree.” Instead…shame, anger, storm clouds.