Mine was five houses north of Front Street on Merrick Avenue; and mine was the room, up the stairs and to the left. This is where it all began. This is where I went from sleeping on a bed with Popeye the Sailor sheets to something more fitting, like say, a bedroom with Black felt posters on the wall, with black-lights, and strobe lights along with as small globe light that sent tiny prism shaped colors across the ceiling. There was a Jim Morrison tapestry hung over my window that faced the front of my house. I used this to act as a drape and sort of dim the sunlight from insulting me at the early morning hours. Jimi Hendrix was on my wall and there were others posters too, which I used to enhance the “Experience,” so to speak.
Mine was a house facing an empty field, which used to be part of Mitchell Field. A lot happened here in this field. There is a lot of history here as well.
I used to walk through the trails of the old lot and on some days, when I was young and alone, when I was confused about this thing called teenage life and unsure of how to be, how to act, or how to behave in groups of more than just me, I would walk these trails during the sunset hours and find a myself sitting quietly, comfortably away from the emotional pollution of crowds and social pressure.
The months of autumn were always my favorite time for this. The winds had given up their warmth, —but they had yet to turn cold and to me, I saw this as a kind intermission between the seasons. This was a lag period between summer and winter; this is the in-between period or a moment of stillness—same as it is with us, like the moment we have between intervals of breath. And same as we are still at this moment between inhale and exhale—this pivotal moment between the seasons has its own pause between breaths.
I used to walk the trails, alone, and my only ammunition was a pack of Marlboro Reds, maybe a Walkman for a little music, and sometimes a small flask or a pipe filled with something a bit different from the ordinary tobacco.
But sometimes, I would find myself here for no other reason than to sit and watch the sun go down over my small neck of the woods. And I would think to myself. I would think about the crowds and the social pressures. I would think about the life I wanted and the life I would need in order to be the person I wanted to become.
And sometimes, it was good enough to be alone. It was good enough to feel detached and unbothered. It was good enough to walk away and think about the incredible concepts of young life, such as, what it feels like to be in love, or to lose my virginity, and how soft it is when a girls hand touches my face.
Very similar to the bedroom, up the stairs and to the left, in a home on Merrick Avenue that was five houses north of Front Street; I have gone through different stages of growth. However, while I still appreciate the same music, my choice in wall decoration and mood lighting has changed quite considerably. I am no longer a smoker of any kind nor drinker. My hair is short now as opposed to the long lengths, which I used to believe, were no different to the locks of Samson and equivalent to a symbol of my status and strength.
I am 58.4 miles away from where I used to live. The Old town has undergone a few face lifts throughout the years. And as for the trails, they are gone. That vacant land is now home to an adult community. All that remains are the memories I hold.
Since I often find myself on The Island, I still feel the need to take drives down memory lane. A few of these drives stand out in my memory. The first of which is when my daughter was around 3 years-old. We drove around, my daughter was in the backseat, or baby seat, her head and shoulders pushed out beyond the sides of the specialized car seat so that she could see all of the places in which I called out as a place of interest.
Of course, we stopped by McVey Elementary School. We also drove passed Barnum Woods as well. This is where we used to play a game called Manhunt, which is the same as Hide and Seek.
We played this on a wooden kingdom playground set and the rules were you could hide anywhere on the wooden kingdom; whomever was “It” had to tag you, but you weren’t allowed to touch the ground. You had to stay on the wood, which pretty big for us at the time. The wooden kingdom was complete with planks, monkey bars, places to hide, and things to climb across. Unfortunately, time was probably not so kind to this playground. I assume splinters and lawsuits resulted in the wood kingdom’s demise. All that remains are my memories
After this stop, I drove passed good ‘ol Woodland Junior High School. I pointed this out to my daughter. I told her, “This is where I went to junior high.”
Leaning forward out of her car seat to gain a better view, my little girl looked at the red brick building, the series of front doors, and all the school’s glory, which to her was so huge and so new, but to me the school was so filled with a thousand different memories of a thousand different things.
My little girl said, “That school is so big!”
Funny thing is the school used to look big to me as well. And while driving passed, years later as an adult and father, it was remarkable to me how small the school looked.
I drove by the old house last week. I crossed over the George Washington and braved my way through the traffic on the Cross Bronx Expressway, over the R.F.K. bridge, down to the Clearview, and then over to the Grand Central Parkway to pick up my daughter. I picked her up for my weekend visit and we drove through the old town to stop for Colombian food as her favorite place on Front Street.
No matter where I go, no matter what I become, and no matter how far away I move; this crazy town of mine will always be my home. These memories will always be mine. All of them, from the time when I thought I invented forgery in the 2nd grade and signed a bad note for my teacher (which didn’t work out so well because I signed the note in crayon, no less), to the time I drank one too many and couldn’t get down from the roof of McVey; and from here, all the way down to the night when I closed my bedroom door for the last and final time in the house at 277 Merrick Avenue—all of these memories will always be mine
Always . . .
But what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t write these things down and offer to share them with you?