Lemme tell you, I wouldn’t trade my upbringing back in Brooklyn for anything in the world.
Not that it would even be possible…or that I really didn’t have any choice in it…or that I ever really experienced anything different than what actually happened to me, but all things considered, I never found myself wanting a different life.
Yeah, I wish I wasn’t so nervous around the young ladies. I simply dreaded hearing “Get lost, you loser!” or “No way in Hell!” if I ever actually had the nerve to approach a girl & tell her how I felt or ask her out.
It was required that she either make the first move or show me some definite sign that she was interested on me. Or I required confirmation from a mutual friend that she liked me.
Years later, I found out that there were quite a few girls who, indeed, “were interested”!
My response would always be, “And NOW you tell me??? You couldn’t let me know that way back when, you know, when I was stupid?”
Jeeeez, Louise…and Eileen & JoAnne & all the rest!
I always wished that I didn’t have as many phobias as I do/did.
I was afraid of heights. If it was high, it wasn’t for me! Standing on the roof of our home, helping my Dad string the Christmas lights…wasn’t comfortable being near the edge even though it was a flat, tarred roof & only 2 stories high! Some of those really-long escalators (like the ones at some airports) aren’t my cup of tea. Elevators are cool, except if they’re glass ones like the ones inside the atrium at San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency Hotel (Remember the movie “High Anxiety” with Gene Wilder? It was filmed there.) or the ones on the outside of the 750-ft tall Tower of the Americas in Hemisfair Park in San Antonio (built for the World’s Fair in 1968). Hell, I got scared at Epcot Center in Disney World when we went into the Mission: SPACE exhibit where you only watched (!) a simulation on a screen of you flying a spacecraft & landing it! Strangely enough, I’m not afraid of flying in an airplane (a full-sized, regulation jet thingie, that is) and have done so, dozens & dozens of times…except, of course, when it hit air pockets, would suddenly drop & I would immediately realize that I was thousands of feet up in the air. And damn, no ferris wheels, either!
Bridges have a special place in my heart as I’m scared of both heights AND water! I was happy when I moved to San Antonio in ‘93, to Nebraska in ‘07 & to Columbus, OH in ‘11…no water, no bridges! (In another article, I talk about my adventures with bridges when I lived in St. Pete, FL for 2 years.)
I was afraid of the water (deep water, actually, as I’m fine at the beach or in a pool…up to a certain extent, that is!) and though I could actually technically swim, I wasn’t very good at floating & couldn’t tread water at all. If it was over my head, I didn’t wanna have anything to do with it!
Didn’t enjoy the rollercoasters or most other rides at the amusement park. I always envisioned myself being hurled out of the whatever & getting killed. Same goes for “potentially-dangerous” stuff like skydiving, being shot out of a cannon, or high-speed driving. In fact, although it happened over 40 years ago, I’m sure there are still deep impressions in the dashboard (from my fingers holding on for dear life) of Alfred Alvino’s rebuilt, suped-up 1963 Corvette convertible as we came flying off the Verrazano-Narrow Bridge one evening, doing about 125-130 MPH into Brooklyn!
I hate snakes & am not extremely fond of wild animals that could eat me.
Don’t like the dark, have a minor case of claustrophobia & suffer from panic/anxiety attacks.
I can’t dance, usually sweat like a pig & used to have a lissssp as a young kid.
Despite all these things that I would like to have changed, they really never diminished the wonderful experiences I had growing up & the strong foundation it helped build for me…physically, mentally, spiritually, psychologically.
All my grandparents immigrated to NY from Italy, as did my Mom when she was 10. And I was raised a Roman (roamin’?) Catholic.
Both of those factors were such vital & key elements in my development.
My parents were middle-class & extremely hard workers, just like my grandparents & all my Aunts & Uncles.
Good, solid people with the right morals, a deep set of values & big believers in strong discipline.
Any sort of disrespect…toward my parents, my family, my elders, my teachers, any authority figure whatsoever, or anyone if you really think about…would simply not be tolerated in any way, shape or form.
“Please”, “Thank You”, “You’re welcome”, “May I?” were mandatory at all times. I answered the phone “Hello. This is Michael speaking. How may I help you?” all the time until I was a teenager.
You held the door open, offered your seat to a lady or the elderly, & always let the other person go first.
I am so thankful as I a was a pretty-wild kid, with tons of energy. My Mom would never say that I was bad (or evil!)…”He’s just mischievous!”
If I got into any trouble whatsoever at school, it was never for my grades…I never had any grade, or even a mark on a test or quiz, below an A (90% minimum) until I was a sophomore in college. I’d often get disciplined on school as I wouldn’t shut up!
I’d often finish my assignments or complete the test before the other kids, so that’s when I got bored and ultimately, talked & did other stupid stuff.
And I attended Catholic school, from grades 1 thru 12…and I thank God for that. Back in NY in those days, there was a significant difference in the quality of education between the private (parochial) schools & the public schools.
A huge difference.
It was borne out in the results of the standardized tests given, the number of scholarships earned/awarded, and the actual curriculum itself. I remember always asking my friends who attended public school what they were studying at the time…it was truly like night & day!
While there were certain “specialized” public high schools (like Brooklyn Tech, home of Ken Olson, USCC VP/Director & Stuyvesant) that were significantly better than their public school peers, as a general rule, most public schools lagged far behind.
And having mostly nuns during elementary school (grades 1-8) & a number of religious brothers in high school greatly contributed to a very tightly-run ship, with a strong emphasis on faith & excelling at everything we did (including athletics).
Until I entered high school, I was also an altar boy (who assisted the priest when he served Mass). That, too, I believe, helped me significantly as we had different responsibilities, like serving early Mass on weekdays as well as Sundays, and holding an office in the Regina Paris Altar Boy Society (Sergeant-at-Arms, Treasurer, VP, President).
Many of my social activities seem to center around our Regina Paris parish.
We were fortunate enough to have the necessary facilities, like the Regina Youth Center that had a gym, an auditorium, several meeting rooms as well as a bowling alley (8 lanes), a food counter & a bar/lounge. Yes, the Youth Center also served our needs as we got older.
It also housed the Regina Athletic Assn that had its baseball league for the younger kids & several teams for those eligible (usually 12 yrs old & up) for “outside play” against other organizations…basketball teams for boys & girls…both junior & senior Cheerleader squads…bowling leagues.
Had some of the best times of my life playing baseball, especially when I joined the Juniors team (16-18 years olds)…when I was only 14.
I was certainly overmatched my first year, felt pretty comfortable the next year & excelled my final 3 years as we won the GNYSAA/Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Assn Senior titles in every year (‘72, ‘73, ‘74), a feat that’s never been duplicated.
Got to play in a city-wise All Star at Shea Stadium & a number of other ones throughout the greater metropolitan area. Played on several teams with Lee Mazzilli (future #1 draft choice of the NY Mets, out of Lincoln HS in Brooklyn, and former TX Ranger & NY Yankee) so we would have plenty of scouts at our games.
Our Regina team played against a number of future major leaguers & actually compiled a composite 25-1 record against pitchers who were selected in the MLB draft.
I was also a Cub Scout, a Webelo & a Boy Scout…all of which were absolutely-great experiences. We’d have regular Pack (Cub, Webelo) & Troop meetings on Friday evenings (all the Scouts for a particular “group”) as well as individual den & patrol meetings (individual teams within the pack/troop) during the week.
As a Boy Scout, I had the opportunity to learn an incredible number of new skills & master them, earning merit badges (recognition of your completing the necessary training & passing the skills test to demonstrate your proficiency).
We’d often go camping on the weekend at Camp Pouch in Staten Island, putting up our own tents, building “refrigerators” (holes in the ground we dug, then lined & covered with large “skunk cabbage” leaves to keep all of our perishables fresh & cool) & cooking all our meals. And we’d have plenty of activities to keep us busy.
During the summer, we’d go to upstate NY to Three Mile River Scout Camp (Narrowsburg, NY) for 2 weeks…and that was terrific in so many ways. We learned a whole lotta new stuff, took long hikes (including a 25-mile one) & forged some strong friendships. We would often compete against other troops, played games on each other at night (putting sleeping scouts, cot & all, in the latrine…filling a sleeper’s hand with shaving cream, then tickling their nose with a feather…taking a sound sleeper & putting his hand in a bucket of warm water (yes, they pee themselves!)…initiating guys into our secret club by dripping hot wax over their chests & stomachs) & having plenty of campfires, complete with roasting marshmallows, drinking hot cocoa & telling stories. My proudest moments is when I trounced our Scoutmaster, Mr. Tom Secchia, in a contest to see who could tie the 8 basic knots in the faster time. He was a Scout legend & couldn’t believe that I beat him pretty handily!
When I reached 14 years old, walking through the Brooklyn streets in full uniform on Friday nights tested one’s ability to “appear cool”, so I quit the Scouts. Yeah, I fell victim to the pressures of the street by doing so & actually wished I had stayed on.
No longer would I recite the Scout Oath…”On my honor, I will do my best, to do my duty, to God & my country; to uphold the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically fit, mentally strong & morally straight” or the Boy Scout Law…”A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, reverent”.
I worked hard (at school & other activities) & played hard.
While I always seemed to be in some sort of (minor) trouble, I was NEVER disrespectful & always remembered my manners, thanks to some strong discipline in all facets of my life.
I had a great many outstanding role models (my parents, my grandparents, my Aunts & Uncles, many of my teachers & coaches & others in positions of authority) & a wonderful group of classmates & friends.
No, we didn’t have wide expanses of lands everywhere…we made due with whatever athletic facilities were available, regardless of their condition…we didn’t have lots of money, nor did our parents, but…
We all led very rich & full lives.
We were loved by so many & learned to love in return.
We appreciated whatever we had & made the best of it.
We studied hard & strive to make something of ourselves.
We showed respect & demanded the same from others.
Was it the perfect life, in every possible aspect?
Of course not!
But it certainly taught me right from wrong.
Build a strong base upon which I could grow as an adult.
It certainly didn’t shelter me & gave me “street smarts” (which served me well throughout my life).
A LOT of people I knew didn’t make it out alive or not in serious trouble as the temptations & dangers were everywhere. You hadda decide which path you were gonna follow.
I had enough good, decent wholesome stuff (activities, teams, organizations, etc.) and a whole lot of caring, supportive & loving people in my life to help keep me on the straight & narrow.
I’m sure a lot of other people who grew up in drastically-different environments & situations wouldn’t want to trade their upbringing for anything else, either…and that’s great!
Not saying or intimating that mine was the best, or bette, or worse than anyone else’s…just that it was right for me & I’m thankful for it.
I never had everything I wanted, but probably everything I needed. That fact alone is such an important ingredient to one’s overall health & well-being.
You learn to appreciate what you do have…learn to work hard for those things you want…and learn the importance of always treating people the right way, no matter what.
No matter what.
As always, thank you so much for listening!