In hindsight it seemed my parents spent most of our money on plants, pets, and education. My mother had and still has a very serious green thumb. She made many trips to D’Angelos Floral Acres in Dumont, the place where we would also get our Christmas tree every year. My mom always kept the front and back yards full of flowers and plants, making our yard one of the most beautiful on the block. We had a peach tree in the front yard, and an apple tree and peach tree in the backyard. The apple tree grew pretty large and ended up getting blown down in a violent storm. Now the backyard features a large cherry tree. Front yard of the house was about 1500 square feet and the backyard about twice as deep as that. The rose arbor at the front of the walkway in the front yard featured roses in full bloom every spring and summer, and an ivy bush that surrounded and climbed the light pole with our address 210 painted on it. She was big on using no pesticides. Everything had to be organic.
What our house was most known for was a raspberry bush she planted that magnificently grew along the white long fence in the front yard. People walking along the sidewalk often stopped to pick the many raspberries that were on that side. My mom always allowed it because there were always plenty that grew on our side of the fence in the front yard. That side was for us unless we gave permission to pick them there. I thought the raspberries were magic because when I was little and ran a fever, I went out and lied under the raspberry bush by the fence and dropped some into my mouth and immediately felt better.
Aside from the raspberry bush, our house through high schools was known as the house with the “ducks”. When I was 11, my dad discovered a farm in Wykoff, NJ called Pitman’s farm and fell in love with some ducklings. He and one of my sister’s old boyfriends built a cage for them to be kept at night. During the day they roamed free. There were two compartments in the cage, one for the ducks and one for some rabbits we also got at the time. We had to get our neighbors signed permission to have the ducks because they were considered wild fowl. We named the first two Donald and Daisy. Donald died of pneumonia that winter, and we got another duckling for Daisy. I named it Seymour, because it reminded me of the dopy look Rick Moranis had playing Seymour in the movie Little Shop of Horrors I saw for my 5th grade birthday party. Daisy ended up getting killed by a raccoon. Seymour spent much of his remaining life during the days looking at his reflection in the basement window by the driveway probably thinking it was another duck. Seymour was really my dad’s pet. He took care of him more than anybody else. The duck poop also made great fertilizer for the plants. I never saw richer soil more densely packed with worms than what was in my backyard, and all without pesticides. By age 18, I had lived around five cats, four bunnies, two dogs, three ducks, and numerous fish. Many of them my dad buried in the back of our backyard by the hedges that separated us from the house behind us.
Being on a budget never prevented us from being well fed, and healthy. My mom was a self described “survival cook”. She could stretch out leftovers like nobody else. Everything had to be healthy. My mom’s most recycled staples were old bananas that she would make into banana bread, old bread that she would make into bread pudding, and old chicken bones, meats, vegetables that she would boil into water along with chicken bouillon cubes and a douse of apple cider vinegar to make chicken soup. Growing up my mom did not allow any of our food to have artificial colors or flavors. Everything had to be “natural”. The only times I indulged in artificial anything was after school when I would ask for a dollar from my mom while she was giving lessons in the music room. I would get a package of hostess cupcakes or two Chocodiles (chocolate coated twinkies), AND either a package of Starbursts, Mamba, Skittles, or Twix. You could get both cupcakes AND some candy for only a dollar in the eighties. (25 cent Chocodile man that was a good deal!) I would come back home and see if I could stretch out eating my cupcakes over a course of a half hour watching “You Can’t Do That on Television” on Nickelodeon.
In hindsight, aside from the mortgage and food, the bulk of the family income seemed to go to my education and programs involving sports and music. My older sister was not as driven academically as I was, so lucky for me the bulk of that type of extra curricular activity program spending went to me. My parents paid for my karate lessons, trombone lessons, music programs, and summer camps. Most summers I went to the budget local day program called, “Sports and Arts”, where they opened up the public high school or middle school and took various classes in sports and arts. In high school for three summers my parents splurged to send me to music sleep away camp. Aside from camps, I was very lucky how my dad was always there to drive me to and from every lesson and class beyond walking distance.
When it came to education, my parents took out loans and mortgages to send me to private schools. They wanted to make sure I went to schools that would challenge me and make the most of my abilities. I attended the Bede school from 2nd to 4th grade, and Saddle River Day School from 5th to 8th grade. Going to Saddle River Day School was where I became increasingly conscious of my relatively poorer unfashionable status. They had a dress code where we had to wear a suit and tie every day except certain Fridays. I was often was made fun of for wearing “high water” pants too short for my legs. Another time, when I wore a brown suit we got on sale to school, a couple of kids with whom I was peripherally friendly said “nice suit Jon”. Just as I felt happy for getting a rare compliment, they quickly followed the compliment “yeah. It looks like shit!” and laughed at me. This was pretty much summed up the type treatment I got up until the middle of 8th grade when along with my parents, I decided it was best to switch to go to public school and be around a more diverse group of kids my age. When I transferred to public school I realized I was at least a year ahead in knowing a lot of things especially in math classes, etc.
Overall, I had always excelled in school classes and had somewhat of a reputation as a nerd in both private and the public high school I went to. One of the straws that broke the camel’s back that made me leave Saddle River private school was how I won a citizenship award trophy at the end of 7th grade, an award that usually either went to either an 8th grader or 12th grader so by the time I returned 8th grade I was an even bigger target. I just couldn’t take it anymore but more on that in the ideological chapter. Throughout my Teaneck high school career, I excelled in my Honors and Advanced Placement courses. I ended up 8th in my class out of 400 people in the graduating class senior year. Despite having been involved in dance and music throughout high school, when I met with my guidance counselor to discuss colleges and career, she told me I was too smart to be a musician or artist and that I was more cut out to be a doctor or lawyer. My parents were supportive in anything I wanted to do, but encouraged that I get an addition degree in something else along with music, as a backup just in case things did not work out. I did not have to be convinced too hard. The consummate competitor and overachiever, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do both. My first choice was to go to Manhattan School of Music and Columbia, second Eastman and University of Rochester, and Oberlin College and Conservatory third. I got into MSM but got waitlisted for Columbia. I did not get into Eastman but got into U of R. Oberlin was the only place I got into both college and conservatory.
Between my parents taking a second mortgage and me applying for college loans, I was able to afford five years of a double degree program where I got two degrees from Oberlin, one in Jazz Performance (trombone) and the other in Biochemistry. I was told Biochem was an ideal degree to have for applying to medical schools. When I first started at Oberlin, my initial vision of my life was that I would become rich helping and healing people as some kind of doctor. I thought neurosurgery would be good because I figured I could do surgery a couple of days a week and be a famous musician and entertainer the rest of the week. I wanted to prove to myself and to all the doubters how I could be equally successful in both art and intellect. However, by my third year, I realized how much more of a performer I was than a scientist. I fell deeper in love with music, specifically jazz and popular music, its construction, aesthetics, and transcendent ability to touch people and the depths of my emotions at the same time. I went through the motions to get the requirements of biochemistry done while I spent more time practicing and digging into my music and finishing that degree as well. I knew I had to try pursuing music as a career somehow, I just didn’t know exactly how yet at that time.
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