The world is a much different place when you’re young. Then again, everything is different when you’re young, crazy as ever and willing to dare it all on a whim. The world is so big and new, yet so small, consisting only of you, your friends, your family, the town, the same places you go and the same things you do. I knew there was more for me out there. I knew where I stood. Or, at least I knew where I was trying to stand. There are so many unspoken components to our youth. There are impulses and changes, which we cannot understand. There are different pressures to young life; pressure to fit and belong; pressure to perform and to produce.
I knew there were more things to do and more places to see. Like anyone else, I had a drive to be elsewhere. I wondered what it would be like to live somewhere else or be someone else.
Like anyone else, I had the normal, usual, routine groups of friends. I had my everyday hangouts that I gathered at. Each week, I swore to do something else or go somewhere else but yet, I rarely ventured away from the pack and the pack rarely ventured away from the usual hangouts. I had my share of good times. I had my share of bad times too. Either way, this was the beginning of my life. I was just a sprout back then. I was eager and afraid. I was everything a basic troubled kid could be. In fact, I was all that and more. I just never told anybody.
There are people in life that we never forget. There are kids from the neighborhood which could never be forgotten. There is too much history. “We go back like car seats,” is the saying I’ve heard. There are too many stories and too many memories. We have too many laughs and crazy near-death experiences, which is par for the course when you’re young and willing to dare the law. There were too many nights when we howled at the moon and ran around like wild little hoodlums, comfortable in our own castle and brave in our own backyards.
I knew where to go when I was young. I knew who to be with and what to expect. I knew the different places in my town and the names of the people in the different cliques. We might not have always hung around each other. We might not have known each other well but people from the neighborhood meant something. What I’m saying is anyone from the outside or from different towns were not accepted or allowed to infringe upon anyone local.
We had fights. Sure, we did. We had our secrets too. We all did. We had our general, run-of-the-mill dysfunctions. We had baseball fields. We had schools in the town. We had parks. We had parking lots, which is where kids like us would gather. There were a few arcades in the town. There was a bowling alley. There were the favorite delis and pizza joints, which will always have a place in my heart.
There were love stories and war stories in my town. In fact, this is where my story began. This is where I learned to ride a bicycle. I learned to run and laugh and play. I had my first beer here and consequently my last as well. I had my first crush here. I lost my virginity in this town. I lived some and I died some.
I remember on the occasions of town fairs, carnivals, or feasts, the whole town came out. As for the kids in town, we would say things like, “Everyone was there.”
Of course this was a figure of speech because not everyone was there. Everyone that was anyone was there. I suppose this is what that saying means. Everyone that was anyone.
The social exercise of popularity has always been interesting to me. I never wanted to be anyone. I always wanted to be someone. I wanted to be like some of the people I knew, charismatic and cool. I wanted to be someone that drew attention without looking for it or promoting myself.
There were those who for some reason, people were drawn to them. This was magnetic, if not automatic.
I always wondered about people like this.
For some reason, no one ever challenged them. The world seemed easier for them. Maybe it was their looks. Maybe it was their personality. Maybe this had to do with talent. I don’t know. Maybe this was me and something that only I worried about.
There were people that walked in the room and everyone took notice. I would see this with envy. I wondered why. I wondered who decided these standards which made people so attractive. Maybe this is why I stayed with the same people. I might not have enjoyed everything but at least I knew I was noticed. I was part of a group. We were crazy. I get that. We were in trouble too. I get that as well. We were the outcasts and knuckleheads of the town. If something went wrong (or missing) the truth is this probably had something to do with us.
Nevertheless, I had my place in the circle. I admit to my struggles and to my challenges. I admit that not all times were good. My youth was not comfortable. I had trouble learning in school. I had social anxieties that came with no explanation.
I admit this openly the same as I admit that not everything was bad. There were good times. We might have been bad kids but we were good people. Or better yet, maybe we were good to each other. Perhaps, that’s it. We were good to each other. We knew each other. We knew each other’s secrets and weaknesses. We were comfortable together. Our town was only so big and there were only so many people, but at least we knew each other.
I knew there was a big world out there. I knew that someday, I would move on and do other things.
One day, my small pond would grow bigger. I knew this would happen. I saw this coming once the weddings started to happen. People moved out. Life happened. Yet, there are times (like now) when I think about the old days. There are times when I think about the silly little rumbles at the skating rink over by the Coliseum. I think about the park on prospect. I think about the nights I found myself stuck on the roof of McVey Elementary School. I was too drunk to remember how I got up there and too drunk to figure out how to get down.
I think about the carnivals and the rides and the times I danced in places like this with Lucy in The Skies. For those who do not understand, this is a reference to a Beatles song, which is more accurately a reference to L.S.D.
I remember the summers the most. I remember a night on the roof of my house. This was my little spot. I would sit on the roof and contemplate my life. I’d hope that somewhere out there, love would find me. I wondered if I would ever make my way. Where would I go? Where would I end up? And hell, to think of the age I am now, which back then was ancient; I wondered how the hell I would get out of my teens, let alone my 20’s or 30’s.
I’m 48 now. I’ll be 49 in a few months, And no, I don’t think I ever thought I would make it this far.
We don’t talk so much anymore. I mean the kids from the old town. We see each other on social media. We leave messages or funny comments. We have families now. We’ve gained weight. Some are bald. Some are doing well and others are faced with different challenges. And sadly, some are gone.
I thought about Jeff yesterday. He’s gone. I thought about Tommy. Gone. And Joe too. Also gone. I think about Dorian all the time. Gone.
I think about Dino sometimes. I think about Billy. I think about Pete. I think about Craig. I think about the flow of life, the people we were and the kids we used to be.
I think about the decades, which is nearly five now. I think about how much time has passed between us and yet, put us all in the room and we would all howl. We would carry on the same as we did back in 1987.
I saw something about my old friend Ralph. I heard he lost his Father. I was sorry to read about this. And Scott too. I heard what happened to him, which, fortunately, I hear he is healing up and coming along.
I know that I used to want to break out and see the world, which I have. But sometimes, I want to go home. I want to see my old friends. I want to let them know how much they mean to me. I want them to know that because of them, even the bad things have helped me create a brand new life.
No matter where you are, we will always be the kids from the neighborhood.
I love you, my friends.