Po Boy Views
Not Your House Anymore
Alice Blue Gown
Growing up in the lower west side of Manhattan was not as hard for myself or my siblings as it had been for the grown-ups around us. It was extremely difficult for our parent’s generation and we were consistently and constantly reminded of the hardships that they had gone through, were going through and could look forward to enduring, as their travails were now compounded by the burden of being saddled with a bunch of ungrateful, ungraceful and uncontrollable heathens that neither rod nor religion could tame; which were neither spared nor tempered. Beatings and bibles were quite liberally applied, especially when we, the cause of their affliction, pointed out the lack of control that we had in being put in this precarious position (life) to begin with; it was to confession or concussion for the likes of us unless we blindly followed certain ‘rules’, at which point, the adult portion of the conversation ended with the caveat “as long as you live in MY house”.
The adult behavioral patterns and social mores exhibited around me were steeped in the traditions of illogic passed down through generations of ignorance and to any child’s eye they made absolutely no sense. From my middle child vantage and the perpetual soup that I found myself embroiled in, the adult world was cruel, unjust and thoroughly and unimaginably attractive to me. Grown ups were masters of their world but not the world around them and it was the world that was wrong and not them. Their logic was irrefutable. Adults to my young ken were responsible only to themselves and their peers, they came and went with impunity, they drank, they fought, they said mean things, and meant them, and they told kids what to do; kids had to obey on threat of death or worse or else, period.
There was nothing more mysteriously glamorous to me than a group of adults getting together and getting drunk, chain smoking, singing, dancing and eventually getting into fist-fights, plus, they never had to eat the crusts of their pieces of pizza before taking another slice. I couldn’t wait to grow up.
My older sisters were disciplined and devoted, the younger kids were irreverent and calculating; the middle child was Wednesday’s child and full of woe. My mother, Big Red, the reigning autocrat, believed that my ambitions to become an artist would lead me to a future that included the wearing of a beret, the growing of a goatee, the getting of tattoos and the marriage of myself to an oriental woman and, she was having none of it. To me, it sounded like heaven, I was looking forward to getting a four-masted schooner inked to my chest as soon as I could and wondered what the older guys meant when they said “you know what they say about Chinese girls?” I sure was looking forward to finding that out.
Meanwhile, I was in love with a girl in my class that fell in love with every type of boy but my type. I lost ground to the athlete, the teenage misogynist and that kid that played saxophone in the school band with wavy black hair. I was way ahead of the curve, for it wasn’t for decades that being a sensitive male animal became an attractive trait. What was attractive then was the kid from down the block that had gone into the Navy and walked around on shore leave in his uniform, a girl on his arm and a case of beer on his shoulder. One of those swaggering swabbies would eventually marry my oldest sister.
My kid brother got off lucky. Having two older sisters gave my mother not a clue about how to handle an energetic, troublesome and graceless curiosity of a child with a penis. There was no precedent, no previous guide nor manual of instruction. I, having never been born before (that I knew of), had no idea of who I was supposed to be and with an aplomb worthy of a master thespian proceeded to do everything the exactly the wrong way. My brother was cunning enough to skirt the havoc that surrounded me in the innocent tactless swathe I cut through my childhood and the patience and peace of mind of all around me.
Little did I consider myself a trail blazer, however in retrospect I can only credit myself with my kid brother’s ability to successfully cross busy streets against traffic, participate in harmless five finger discounts, seek the sanctity of a secret childhood identity and to tell the truth or lie as the circumstances might warrant.
That all changed with puberty, mine that is, as my hormones began to stir, my boundaries expanded, my responsibilities to the family life increased and my face exploded with acne. I no longer became an annoyance to my mother for running across Tenth Avenue (against the traffic) to filch shards of ice from the ice truck while the driver wrestled a block into the tavern across the street, wicked weapon looking tongs being the only balance, his shoulder protected by a burlap sack. She seemed reconciled to the fact that I would meander on errands, want to spend time alone in my room listening to the black music station and want to go out and be with other teenagers to do “nothing”. She was not patient with my predisposition to periodically run away from home.
I had become indispensable to the execution of the evening meal, I brought income to the household by selling newspapers on the street, and in bars, at night and I was becoming too big to beat. Besides, she could send me out to pick her up a six pack more than once an evening and be a focal point for her ridicule, bad temper and mental cruelty. Can you say that about your very own mother? Sure, I just did.
I decided to leave once and for all, to achieve my dream of independence and made my final escape plan. In a nutshell, I would attend extra classes to graduate early and deliver an ultimatum to the goddess of the universe, declaring my intended freedom from restriction in exchange for family support. My backup plan was well in place, plan B.
I stopped listening when my mother’s response began with the words “as long as you live in MY house…” and instead of hearing that tone of harangue that I had come to know so well, came the song “Anchor’s away, my boy, anchor’s away…” and I could not but smile.