Since I am turning 30, I figured I would take a look back at the last 30 years from my perspective.
[1979 – 1983]
The first four years of my life are a little hazy. My father’s family was my whole world – literally – they all lived across the street from us, so I was always with my Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. I remember my Uncle Joe being a huge ball buster and always taking my legos, my sister attempting to kill me a few times, my Grandmother buying me vanilla ice cream cones with rainbow sprinkles from Mr. Softy, “Painting” my Grandfather’s shed (using water) with my cousin Laurie, chasing my Grandparent’s dog Pebbles under their couch (that was the dog’s name right?), my cousin Clara (aka Fonzie) putting Combos in my cheese sandwich starting a life long love affair with that particular snack, Clara creating plastic with an easy bake oven and it promptly being taken away from us, my Godfather shoving squid between my teeth (because I wouldn’t eat it) knocking out a tooth, my Grandmother (Mom’s side) buying me an organ, eating freshly grown grapes from everyone’s back yards, watching Thriller and “Faces of Death” with my cousins, My mom buying us 45s of “Born in the USA” and “Thriller” (and playing them non-stop), Ida’s Ice Cream shop, Eating Fruity Pebbles at Jackie & Paulette’s house, walking around with Ernie, the Lebanese Festivals where I went on my first rides and making friends with the Vietnamese family next door – they had a son my age that they called “Chewy”.
I also remember a show called “Automan” being my absolute favorite because the dude could make anything with a “computer buddy”.
Does anybody else remember this show?
[1984 – 1994]
We moved into a bigger house in 1984 near the Philadelphia football and baseball stadiums. I remember my mother and grandmother going to the house cleaning it and getting ready to move in. I don’t remember much about my pre-school days, but it is where I inevitably met my childhood friends because the school nor the classroom changed much over the next 9 years. I remember my mother’s father passing away and my father’s mother following soon after while I was in Kindergarten.
There were plenty of kids in the neighborhood and typical of children, sometimes we got along, and sometimes we didn’t. One thing that was clear from the beginning was were were all very competitive with each other in the grades department I never really shook of the fear of getting anything “less than an A because I will look dumb”. Going to a Catholic grade school certainly had pros and cons: The nuns were excellent teachers who had complete control of the class (they didn’t beat us with rulers btw), but you had to deal with the whole religious aspect of a Catholic education, but I didn’t know what the hell was going on back then. I have a strong affection for nuns even though I loathe the church – they were good ladies.
First Holy Communions shifted into Confirmations and by that time we weren’t all sugar and sweetness. The desire to be “cool” started to manifest itself – it might have started with haircuts and clothes (fucking Air Jordans, Z-Cavariccis, and “spike” haircuts), then it was minor acts of vandalism, and then it was going out and wanting to fight the kids who lived on 13th street “by the tunnel”. My first window to the world outside of South Philadelphia came from my growing annoyance at my peer’s taste in rap music. Kriss Kross did not make me want to “Jump Jump” and I wasn’t into wearing my clothes backwards. I was sort of shocked how quickly Kriss Kross morphed into 2-Live Crew, Black Sheep, and NWA. This may have been historical music for a lot of reasons, but my 12 year old ears heard a lot of angry shit that I could not relate to. I ended up befriending an older guy named Mark who lived across the street that was in a bar band who taught me about Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Beatles and that led me into the grunge age (I always liked Pearl Jam more than Nirvana in case you were wondering, but as an adult, I think the Pixies were the best of the genre).
My last years of grade school saw the Soviet Union collapse, ending the cold war and Bill Clinton take office (with a nice box of cigars in his desk drawer). Music was an entry drug to books, which then got me interested in history, which then got me interested in how fucked up the Catholic church was (this was heavy shit for a 12-13 year old going to Catholic school). By the time I entered my first year at St. John Neumann High School (SJNHS) I was done with the church but knew enough to keep that to myself. The school employed blatantly homosexual priests… okay I have to side track here for a moment because I will never have another reason to write about this:
At St. John Neumann High School, we were required to (of course) take a religion class. The messed up thing about this class was after a few weeks of teaching the new testament, the priest blows off the curriculum and starts teaching basic health, spending a considerable amount of time on “wet dreams”. I know what you are thinking because I was thinking it too while I was trapped in the classroom with this lunatic who threatened to spank us if we were getting out of line.
I didn’t have an issue with the priest’s preferences (whatever my understanding of the lifestyle was at the time) but I knew enough to determine that he had serious internal conflict between his orientation and his “employers” (thinking about it makes me very sad for this guy because I don’t imagine his life was easy).
Back to my time at SJNHS – it was terrible. It sucked at the time and looking back, it really sucked. That school was a dark and miserable place. The Catholic high schools in Philadelphia had track systems based on your ability. Honors Track and Track 1 were the best, Track 2 was average, Track 3 not so good, Track 4 – well – you didn’t see many track 4 kids leave the basement. I was placed in all Track 1 and honors classes, but it was clear to me that many parents got their kids into these classes who didn’t belong – there was a dude who used to sit behind me that I don’t think could read – he used to try to cheat off of me, which I would have been cool with had he not been so open about it. I used to get into fights with this dude and his cronies all the time. It was a joy to be educated in such an institution.
By the end of that school year my old man informed us we were packing up and moving to South Jersey. My sister and I were appropriately horrified at the time and after a few visitations to my new high school, my opinion did not change (the school smelled like cow shit and all the kids looked like they just got done surfing). Leaving the world of South Philadelphia was hard at the time, I knew it wasn’t perfect, but I liked the freedoms it afforded me (an ever increasing mobility thanks to public transportation). I knew Jersey would make me very dependent on my parents for transport and that was not appealing – but in the end it was one of the best decisions my father ever made.
[1994 – 1997]
By the time we moved, I don’t think I was talking to any of my childhood friends; most of it was due to the typical high school split – we just didn’t see each other and we moved in different circles, so it made cutting ties to the old neighborhood easier than I thought. The hardest part was not having the access to my family that I used to have, but weekly music lessons in the city kept up visitation for a few more years until I was independently mobile (but I am getting ahead of myself).
Moving to New Jersey was an adjustment; at first I thought the kids at my new high school were “simple”. That was a costly error in judgment. Having just gotten out of an all boys Catholic high school, co-ed public school offered unique freedoms regarding dress code and the opposite sex. I became friends with Rob Austin on my first day of classes and he still is one of my best friends and actually the only person I still talk to from High School. Rob was friendly with a group of girls that I had assumed would be friendly to a new person. They weren’t. That created an interesting dynamic and earned me a reputation with Rob’s merry little group of band-chicks (I wasn’t taking their shit lying down, hence the reputation).
I had a small window of opportunity to get in with the cool kids the first 2 weeks of class and I had no clue that there was a window, thus resigning myself to an odd form of anonymity. Most of these kids knew each other for years (all 264), so even though nobody gave a shit about me, they all knew me because I was a new face. A new school gave me a chance to reinvent myself a bit, but I didn’t really know who the hell I was, so I went through the motions, but overall I was relatively content in my new surroundings.
In the summer of 1995, my Uncle Joe agreed to take me to Italy for a few weeks (the same Uncle Joe that took my legos from me as an infant) – this was a game changer: 3 weeks left to my own devices with distant relatives who were awesome people. I immediately struck up a friendship with my cousin Luca and we spent the next few weeks playing music and running around my family’s ancestral home. I came back a changed man (internally).
The remainder of my high school years were blissfully uneventful. I joined a little rock and roll band and indulged some rock star fantasies for half a second (covering Oasis and Beatles tunes – which thanks to hours of practicing, I can’t listen to anymore), I remember watching the OJ trial in my English class and thinking justice does have a price, Smashing Pumpkins were the all the rage (“Despite all my rage I am still just a rat in a cage” – I fucking hated that song and the douche-bags that wore the zero t-shirts). I worked at a woman’s shoe store in the mall and made friends with a lot of strippers. I had a few great mentorsteachers that steered me in the right direction career wise (Thanks Mr. Cromer) and then I went to college.
[1997 – 2002]
The guy I was in Italy made a strong comeback when college hit – I wasn’t afraid of offending people’s delicate sensibilities or worried about “what my mother might think”. I immediately made a new friend a few minutes on campus and we have been thick as thieves ever since. Sean and I quickly assembled a posse in college – we were all good kids that wanted to do well, some of them had their issues which led to some philosophical disagreements, but I didn’t really meet any bad people at Drexel.
Freshmen year was a haze of unrestricted freedom, building friendships, bi-sexual girls, and the end of any remaining threads of childhood. My grandfather (dad’s side) passed away in November of 1997 and effectively marked the end of childhood. School was turning into “punish the bad professors” with some professors supporting my verbal terrorism on the lazy professors. A funny side note – I had won a GPA based award in the spring of 1998 and they had a little dog and pony show for the parents; one of my favorite professors, John Hall, was there to give the awards. During dessert, I introduce him to my mother and he says to her “you look too nice to be his Mom!” I think my Mom started to actually believe the stories my friends were telling.
Sophomore year brought steady employment (with it some excellent friends – Jack and The Good Looks Crew) and steady romance which brought upon forced maturity; looking back I wished I had another year of not being too responsible, but responsibility suits me. During the next few years my cousin Anthony introduced nature into my social scene organizing camping and rafting trips which have become a staple for years to come (Nate in particular enjoyed these outings and has bonded with Anthony). Somewhere in the middle of this bliss George W. Bush managed to become president of the United States. Like an asshole I didn’t vote (but Gore carried in my town anyway) but I have never skipped an election since (and never viewed Florida the same way).
Some time in 2001 I went to see Glenn Philips (lead singer of Toad the Wet Sprocket) playing at the Northstar bar in Philadelphia. The guy opening for him was late and my friends were at the bar wondering what the hell was going on. This tall kid was drinking a beer next to us (overhearing us complain about the delay) says: “I hear the guy opening is pretty good”. We were all glad to hear that, so this dude puts his beer down, walks up to the stage, picks up the guitar and starts singing this song:
Remember, this is before John Mayer became any form of famous, and a douchy celebrity dater. I maintain that Mayer is one of the best guitar players of my generation and he blew our minds. Excellent performance. He was very nice after the show, selling his self-made EPs of what became “Inside Wants Out”. That fucking CD was the soundtrack of my college years.
I worked hard in college and graduated a term early, allowing me to start working early and earn some money, I shifted easily from full time student to full time worker.
In mid-2003 I broke up with a long time girlfriend and made some major life changes. I fully embraced the out with the old mentality: I rid myself of troublesome acquaintances, about 140 lbs of excess weight, started focusing on my corporate career, and opened a computer repair shop.
During this time I went on a ridiculous amount of dates. I tried all methods: bars, dating sites, blind dates – anything I could think of or suggested to me – why? – because why not? I met alot of nice girls and always tried to do the right thing. The added bonus about going out on all of those dates was it made me much better at job interviews. I had some opportunities inside and outside of my company (I kept my corporate job in addition to running my business for those not in the know) that I attribute to the girls I spent time with during those years. In the middle of this storm, I started my first blog – “Traffic in the Skyline” (I don’t mess with it anymore, but it’s still out there).
As Mayer got more famous and became more interested in being a celebrity, my musical mascot became and continues to be Ryan Adams. This song is a personal favorite:
Eventually I met my wife and those single days were all over.
[2006 – Present]
With my future wife in the picture, my life started calming down quite a bit (sometimes naturally, sometimes I forced it). We closed the computer shop down to everyone’s relief (eventually) and I started spending my free time looking at houses. Since the housing market was in such an unsteady state, it took us two years to find a place we felt wasn’t going to lose value. We moved in December 23rd 2007 – it was a pretty good Christmas that year. In October of 2008, I made an honest woman out of Allison and we got married…
With thirty years behind me, I am looking ahead to a future that is isn’t assuring: that pot belly has come back, the economy is still depressed, oil supplies will continue to drop as energy concerns rise, fresh water has the potential to be in short supply in thirty years as we continue to pollute the oceans (making it less beneficial to develop desalinization technology), but I maintain hope that everybody can get their shit together and I can bring a child into the world that still has potential to do amazing things. Responsibility: You can hide from it – but it will always find you, so you might as well embrace it.
Sure some other stuff has happened along the way – promotions, fights, reconciliations, new family members, a new president, – and I am sure all of those stories will be told in some way, by me or someone else, but this is good for now.
I will end this article and this period of my life with a few pearls of wisdom:
1. Be brutally honest with your family, it is better to have it all out in the open than to try to spare someone’s feelings or your concept of your own self-respect.
2. Good friends are truly a rare gift; bad friends are a dime a dozen (I like to throw my dimes at cars that cut me off).
3. If you can, make friends with people who are of different backgrounds and ages than you, it helps you get different perspectives of life and you borrow some of their hard earned wisdom.
4. Accept that you, like most people (myself absolutely included), are probably a total asshole. Once you accept that you can move past it and attempt to live a decent life.
5. Sitting on the couch will get you nothing but a fat ass.
That just about sums up 30 years, thanks for taking the ride with me. I am looking forward to the next trip.
Take it away Bruce…