EXCERPTS FROM MY MEMOIR
bathgate avenue and other scenes / 1st grade-4th grade / 3 ½ to 9 ½ years old
When I was very young, probably between 2 and 3 years old, while living in Paterson, New Jersey…where I was born, my mother was standing on the porch of our house smoking a cigarette facing the front yard with her back to the house. She had the cigarette cupped in her hand when I came running up to her. My height must have been perfect as I ran right into the burning coal of the cigarette with my eyes wide open. It missed my cornea and hit the white of my eye…everyone had an enormous scare. This could be the reason of my ‘burning vision’ and why I like the song “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.”
For some reason my parents had me skip kindergarten, I must have been doing advanced calculus by then or at least asserting my independence to the extent that they felt I was mature enough to enter first grade. My birthday is very early January and it made me the youngest in every class I was in for the rest of my education.
I would continually have severe bouts of ‘croup cough’ while living in the Bronx. It always gave me great difficulty with breathing and there was a time that I had to spend the day in my parent’s bed. They had a four poster bed and they spread sheets over the top and all four sides to get me fully enclosed at which point they would turn on a hot vaporizer with a dollop of Vick’s vapor rub in it to help break up my cough and congestion. Things were done and handled differently then, even the doctor always came to the house.
suburban values and other troubles…5th grade to 11th grade
We moved when I was going into fifth grade, at Holmes Elementary School, which I attended through sixth grade. Now, I’m not sure why everyone seemed to be so sexually precocious, but I had this famous 5th grade birthday party for my 10th birthday. My parents were working, so to supervise, my Aunt Clarice was our chaperon. She went into the back bedroom and basically left us alone. So after so many spin the bottle turns we came up with another idea. One girl would go into the kitchen and each boy would have about 5 minutes to do what he wanted and all the girls agreed and so we went at it, though there might not have been much to go for, still the excitement and idea was so risqué, we were all giggles, like we were in this ‘secret society’ together. Come the Monday of school, word got around and before I knew it, I was called into the office and my mother had to come in and a whole to do was made out it. Basically we all got a good chuckle and couldn’t really believe that everyone was so outraged by it, I mean it was good clean fun, just a little early for our age.
NORTH MIAMI BEACH
cars, sex and money…shallow values…11th to 12th grades
High School was kind of weird in NMB, there were 4000 students and it felt very impersonal…until I started getting to know the principal. He was a rather short man with who knows what set of problems and inferiority complexes that he took out on his students as power plays. He was called Dean Duncan and it would come to pass that I would be visiting his office about once a week, I wasn’t that much of a trouble maker, but mostly in my senior year when I was ready to move on…the current situation almost seemed passé. I’d be called down for truly inane banalities that made me cringe; I’d wear my shirt out or I didn’t shave for several days and I’d have to explain to this small minded idiot that I came there to learn, not to be disciplined by some non-existent fashion police…it’s not a parochial school, if I wanted to be in a constant uniform I would have chosen to attend a parochial school, not a public school. My mother used to have to come in all the time as I’d get suspended for 3 days just about every other week. One of the times, this consummate asshole, made my mother come, only to point out to her that my pants were so tight that it accentuated my ‘male package’ as he put his hand on my thigh to show her. I had to hold my tongue and my fist as I wanted to tell him FUCK YOU and also punch him in the face. What an utter prick! So this was the atmosphere I had to deal with in North Miami Beach Senior High.
Travels to Israel
Utopia: idealism, romanticism, Zionism, socialism, existentialism…17-18 years old
There was a lot of entertainment available on the ship; you could occupy yourself all day long if that was your shtick. It didn’t take too long to figure out which bar was the most fun to drink at and which bartenders you could jive with and which were more uptight. Remember this was 1963 and uptight was the social norm, for most. The ship was a microcosm of society. There were the very wealthy, the middle class and the poorer. It was also a bit like living in NYC where every few blocks was an entire different culture and ethnic display popping up. Here it was probably mostly the same ethnicity but nonetheless a sense of different neighborhoods. Every night there was some entertainment or other; singers, jazz, dancing or other entertainment. It was customary to get nicely and elegantly dressed for these forays of pleasure, which admittedly I enjoyed at times and indulged in to some satisfaction. Other times I would opt out depending on my mood or preoccupation with some thought or book I was reading. Besides the entertainment were the culinary delights. Every meal was looked forward to and sensually enjoyed, along with excellent and sophisticated service.
living in New York City / 18-22 years old
In order to sustain my financial situation, I had to work during the days and so going to art school at night was my only option. So it was the Art Students’ League of NYC that became my second art school, where I studied with Stephen Greene but was primarily left alone for 3 hours to paint, use the models or at times, nap in front of a blank canvas.
Stu and I decided to get an apartment together in the West Village, which was fantastic, I loved living in NY and all the richness of ethnicity that existed in so many several block enclaves as one walked around one of the most diverse cities in the world. These were the days of hanging out at some of the folk venues in the Village, where the streets were thronged with all sorts of characters transitioning from the beat generation into the new born folk generation, odored with revolution in the air.
This was when, during the winter we saw ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ for the first time and started astutely listening to Bob Dylan’s first albums and discovered Joan Baez, Dave Van Ronk, John Hammond, Koerner, Ray, & Glover and the full gamut of folk artists and blues artists and jazz artists that rocked and changed the face of this nation. Roland Kirk blowing three saxes at once on St. Marks Place and the Velvet Underground at the Electric Circus; listening to John Cage and his cacophonous sounds and non-sounds of ‘is this really music’ music. Hearing John Fahey’s open modal tuning for the first time and hanging out at Gerdie’s Folk City, Café Wha and all the tiny joints down McDougal St. and eating those delicious sausage, onion and pepper sandwiches served at the sidewalk grills all over the Village.
Moved to Crestone to build a body of art and to write poetry and a memoir
Artwork by Stephen Futral
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