I had belonged on Rosendale Road. I was alien in New Jersey. In one short trip I had gone from simply “being” to wondering who I was. We celebrated my eleventh birthday in a seedy motel cabin set in a stand of bleak, scrubby pines in the New Jersey barrens. The ground was hard packed, flaking clay. Small one or two room cabins surrounded by dry and dusty driveways. My father was in the city looking for work and there was nothing for my mother and me to do except listen to the radio and read through stacks of comic books, as if bed ridden.
My father found work at an advertising agency on Madison Avenue and we moved into a small suburban home, set on a tiny, manicured lawn, surrounded by similar houses in Westport Connecticut. It seemed a miserable, shrunken life compared to my free roaming days on Rosendale Road.
At school the first week I was the “new kid in town,” an object of fixation by the entire class. Every student projected his or her fantasies of the perfect friend or boyfriend, a phase that is inevitably followed by the group’s rejection when the “new kid” turns out to be as unexceptional as everyone else, only different.
The kids in suburban Westport were certainly different from my friends on Rosendale Road. I had played with Franklin Kraft who barely spoke English and came from an upper class German family and with poor kids down the road who I couldn’t bring home. We met and played together as members of different tribes. We didn’t try to be like each other. We knew who we were. We didn’t need to conform.
But in Westport, no one seemed sure who they were or had any idea who they might become. They were bonded together only by a common need to be like each other.
Suburban kids were always supervised and there was no place to run away. They didn’t know their fathers who made long commutes into the city, leaving early and coming home late. They lived with their mothers in neat houses smelling of floor polish with tiny yards scented with roses. There was no place to explore, to dig in the dirt, follow a trail, chase a phantom. Instead, structured, controlled times … piano lessons, dancing lessons and boy scouts … filled the afternoons.