Thanks Thom for the 3 Word Wednesday words! And hope your year move to the East Harlem/Harlem border is everything you dreamed and more. Me a bit jealous. I will return part time within the next five years!
I was twelve that Halloween in 1962 when our family left the garden apartments in Beech Hills, Douglaston to live fifteen minutes northeast in East Birchwood, Jericho LI. Fifteen minutes on the Long Island Expressway (LIE) or Grand Central/Northern State Parkway, but a world apart. Exits 41N & S had just opened on the LIE, and East Birchwood was almost directly off it.
I called us “Expressway followers” as we had moved to the garden apartments when the exit to it was built eight years earlier. My father needed quick easy access to the city. He played poker one night a week in a game I imagined to be like Felix and Oscar’s but with the players were mostly in the arts, and took endless classes at The New School another night. We were going to live in the suburbs but not shaped by them if we lived the life of my father’s almost dream. He really wanted to live on Fifth or Park but didn’t believe in private school and most city schools weren’t what they are now. I had passed almost every test to get into Hunter, (Hunter’s ed department’s school–the only “gifted” coed school then but bombed at the finish line.
The house was unlike any we had been looking at in Great Neck or Lake Success. Later my father would take me to the see the house we almost bought in Lake Success. It had its own pond. But there was a recession in 62 and we were a stock market family. Almost everything about our lives was shaped by the market but my sister and I didn’t really realize that then. Our father loved to tease us with hints of what could have been. But my sister and I spent our childhoods and most of our teens thinking we were middle class then just slightly more. Our parents didn’t want to take the sheen off our lives by bothering us with money problems or explaining how sometime we had more money than most people in Jericho.
Our house was an eight room four level split. I loved it. I loved how modern it was, and not really lived in. The family that had lived in it before us kept it in pristine condition. Their only concession to bad taste was a caricature of their family with their name on the mirror in the bar in the rec room. We kept it for the tackiness factor in the house that was to become, in my opinion, overly decorated. But we were the first people I knew not to have a couch in the living room but five chairs and a love seat.
I loved the house for all the reasons I was to hate it as I grew into my teens.
There were four or five developments in the Jericho school system, parts of Brookville, Old Westbury, Muttontown, and South Jericho which was near Hicksville, now regular then lower middle class I think, and thus never talked about. I didn’t know until years later that South Jericho was famous for houses built from Sears catalogues but I could tell you all about the Quaker cemetery, meeting house, The Milleridge Inn which is the oldest continuously operated restaurant in America as is the old portion of the Jericho Middle/Senior High School.
I always tell people I grew up in a school district not a town because everything revolved around school. Even then Jericho was considered one of the best schools in the country. I had been in the Special Progress (SP) classes in the city; I could have done Seventh and Eighth Grades in one year or taken enriched classes because I passed a years worth of tests. My parents felt they had to give me the choice so over the summer when my sister and I were at camp they did serious house hunting. It was the first time we weren’t actively involved in the process. My parents were moving for other reasons one being all my friends had stopped talking to me the year before. I had gone from being everybody’s friend to an outcast. But in my new Junior High I had been making friends, rich girls who lived on the right side of the Expressway and were in the SP. My parents assumed I had been going through a stage and would continue making many new friends. So did I.
I had my first boyfriend and my first kisses. Well a bit more than that. They didn’t call him Hot Fingers in the final skit because he was good on the guitar. David went to Bronx Science and I was in love with everything Bronx. I wanted to be a cool girl and cool girls didn’t come from Queens. Having a boyfriend, coincidentally also from a garden apartment area of Queens seemed to be as close to the Bronx as I could get. I didn’t lust for him; I’m not sure I even liked him but he was there.
My first day of school was November 1st. Somehow my records hadn’t arrived, and I was put in a regular class. Not just regular but the “A”s to “F”s when I’m an “S.” That bothered me more than it should have. I thought I looked cute. My dress was a red and white checked shirtwaist with a large red patent leather belt. My brunette flecked with red and blond hair was brushed to a sheen, tied in a pony tail and my mother had let me wear a hint of red lipstick. I wanted to die when I walked into my first class, English, and saw all the girls dressed in Villager Oxford shirts and ugly A lined wool skirts. Almost no girl had make up on. The ones who did had eyeliner! They weren’t cool but bad. I knew the difference from my intimate study of older girls in the garden apartments, books, magazines, movies and TV.
I sat next to Anne Feigenbaum, an obvious bad girl. She began talking to me and I perked up for a second.
“See that boy who is staring at you?”
Actually I hadn’t noticed Steve Miller but he was about the cutest boy I had ever seen. My heart flip flopped.
“Don’t you ever talk to him. That girl sitting next to him? That’s Bev Cantor, his girlfriend and my best friend. Get it? She’s my best friend, and I swear I will punch you out if you so much as look at him.
Anne was big. She looked like she could knock me off the ground. I believed everything that she said. Somehow I lost the voice that had been so vocal my first six weeks of Junior High. I gained 35 pounds in the next six weeks. When my parents would ask about my day I would mumble something. I wanted to cry but couldn’t. The only people I could talk to and wouldn’t really talk but yell when I wasn’t mumbling were my parents and my sister.
I did horribly in school. The subjects that had seemed so easy in the advanced classes in Queens seemed like Greek in Jericho. When my records arrived the guidance counselor asked me not my parents if I wanted to be in the Honors Class. I said no because I thought that’s what he wanted me to say. It didn’t occur to me to tell my parents.
I was officially weird again. Every morning I would tremble as I went to the bus stop because, several times a month–I never knew when, Joan Hoffman would tell Gary Stein to throw me into the bushes, and he would. They found it funny. It went on for about two years.
I did nothing to stop them. I did nothing to make myself likable. I couldn’t even say hello to people. My gait was off. To this day I couldn’t tell you how to play field hockey. Not that I have ever needed to know that. I couldn’t learn Spanish. The rules of grammar eluded me. I knew I wasn’t stupid but I felt it. I hated who I was. But inside me I knew there was a popular funny smart girl waiting to come out.