In January of 1976, I was born a white male. While I was born in Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights, where my father worked, I grew up across the George Washington Bridge in New Jersey in the middle class suburban township of Teaneck. My father’s side is Russian, Polish, and German while my mother’s side is English and Irish. When I tell people my fairly diverse genetic combination of Eastern and Western European people, most people just write it off simply saying, “okay, so you’re just a whole bunch of white”. Nevertheless, since my great grandfather emigrated to NYC from Russia and changed the family name Aronchokoff to Arons, for most of my childhood and adolescence I identified myself as having primarily Russian roots, even though it only really made up ¼ of my genetic heritage.
Both of my parents worked. My dad was a Doctor of Public Health, an administrator, who organized hospital information data for Presbyterian. Being a public health doctor is not as lucrative as a medical doctor, but the fact that he technically was a type of doctor always carried a lot of impressive weight. My mom taught piano and voice lessons out of our house. Those were the sources of family income. When I asked my dad how we compared to other people financially, he said we were in the top percentage. Despite growing up in a white two-story house with green shudders, at times it felt we were not quite as upper middle class as other people on the block, many of whom were Orthodox Jewish. Teaneck despite having a multiracial multi cultural history, was a town where there were definite divisions. There was a primarily Jewish side of town, a rich Waspy section, a middle class mixed race section, a poorer black section, and a poorer white section. It often seemed that we were on the poorer side of middle class in our primarily jewish neighborhood. My mom was always very good, almost obsessive, with keeping things neat and clean, in addition to keeping full time jobs with the music teaching and her non-profit special education advocacy organization (more on that in Ideological section).
Because my Dad and my mom combined made less than a six-figure salary, it seemed our family was always on “a budget”. Despite not ever having the most fashionable current stuff, we were never left for wanting too much. We always got some semblance of an acceptably mainstream upbringing. Most of the clothes I wore were hand me downs from other families that we knew. I never really minded not wearing anything very fashionable. I was surprised and appreciative at the rare times when other school kids complimented on something I was wearing, times when I was very appreciative of my predecessor’s, usually the Milo’s or Acito’s kids’, seemingly timeless taste. It was always kind of big deal if my parents took me to shop for going back to school clothes at thrift shops or discount stores, like Bradlees or Kmart in nearby Paramus, New Jersey. I would be scared some times if any cooler peers would catch me there, which was a silly fear because they would be shopping at more expensive places like Macy’s, Bamberger’s and the like.
I think maybe we went on three family vacations, two when I was very young, one when I was around 4 years old when we went to San Francisco to visit my great Uncle (my dad’s uncle). My dad drove us there in his red and white Volks wagon van across the country. The second time was a camping trip somewhere in the woods of upstate New York, where pictures were taken of me smitten with a Latina girl of the same age, who was part of a family who happened to camp next to us. The third vacation was one a weeklong trip in Honolulu, Hawaii when I was 12. We could only afford it because my Dad randomly won a raffle at the International Potluck Dinner at the rich private school where I attended. That was the dinner where I played my first song on trombone in public, “Tequila”. He only bought one ticket compared to the richer parents who bought more. When his ticket was drawn at the dinner, the payoff was a little over $2000 dollars, which afforded us the Hawaiian vacation that summer, one where almost all of us got sick for five of the seven days except my older sister. We still had good times together at the luau during one of the last nights and when we went to the zoo where we saw the monkeys with the huge pink swollen butts.
We had cable television. We never had more than HBO and basic cable. No WHT movie channel (just ask people who grew up in the 80’s what that was) or Cinemax. I never seemed to have as many cool toys as the peers I went to school with or lived around. I mainly got the bulk of my toys at Christmas – Clash of the Titans, Dungeons and Dragons, He-man, Transformers and the “water beats fire beats wood beats water” animal warriors action figures. By the time I was 9, I got a BMX Murray bike right when they seemed to go out of fashion, but I rode the hell out of that bike. Before that I had a green Incredible Hulk bike, one that I once put band-aids on when I thought it got hurt taking a nasty fall.
My most used toy was the basket of random sets of Lego parts, which were hand me downs from the Acito family. I made so many random looking yet impressive ships, houses, and weapons with a motley crew of Lego parts. I often felt proud and privileged for the few Lego’s that had smooth sided angles that sloped down for their two to four circle units. I could do a lot with those smooth sided Lego’s. My best friend across the street, Ethan, always had nicer and more complete toys. Plus he had video games which were just starting to become mainstream. My parents got Coleco briefly when I was 8 or 9 when I obsessively started to play “Tron’s Deadly Discs”, but my mom took it away after seeing how much time I spent playing it. She took it away saying I should be outside playing, or “drawing a picture”. This was the 80’s, before the Internet and computers became mainstream household items. I remember thinking both how weird and cool it was that Ethan’s dad, a medical doctor, spent so much time in his computer office online with the phone head plugged mysteriously laid into the two circles of a modem pad. I remember us going in there while his dad wasn’t there and sneaking looking at VGA graphics of video games and a few dirty pictures, and briefly looking at chat rooms (remember late eighties and early 90’s at this point).
In our house, for the longest time there was a yellow rotary phone in our kitchen, and a button house phone in my parents’ bedroom. I remember being so annoyed with how long it took to dial a number on that phone when I was in a rush to call someone. Much of the furniture in our house was from my mom’s house, where she grew up in Holly, Michigan. Her mom died before I was born and her dad died when I was a year or so old. The furniture included old Persian rugs, old wooden tables, cabinets, even the piano in the music room in our house was a Detroit Grinnell Brother’s standup piano.
Table of Contents
Part I – My Material (Physically Having) History
- Chapter 1 – Race, Money, Fashion
- Chapter 2 – Plants, Pets, and Education
- Chapter 3 – Jobs
- Chapter 4 – Connections, Opportunities, Genetics
Part II – My Sensual (Feeling) History
- Chapter 5 – The Satin Edge
- Chapter 6 – Gifted, Hyper Competitive, and Overly Sensitive
- Chapter 7 – Puppy Love and Status
- Chapter 8 – Busy-ness as Salvation
- Chapter 9 – Karate and Self Image
- Chapter 10 – Homophobia and Musical Expression
- Chapter 11 – Digging a Pond, High School, and Music Camp
- Chapter 12 – Heterosexuality, Self Esteem, Avon Fashion
- Chapter 13 – The Opposite Game, College, and Sex
- Chapter 14 – Cruise Ships, Internet, and Control
- Chapter 15 – Saturn’s Return, Delayed Gratification, and Aging Dreams