I had big dreams for high school. I had big dreams for my life. I thought I was going to be somebody ever since I was a little kid. Every movie about high school inspired me. Every movie about comebacks and sports made me fantasize about living out my own training montages and living my dreams in real time. I loved physically exerting myself, but there were only so many karate kid movies. I felt I needed to try other things that might further develop my goals towards stardom and stud-dom. After getting my first degree junior black belt in shudokan when I was 12, it was hard to push myself to keep training. I still went but not as frequently. Karate students and teachers alike warned me of this “black belt disease” when you get lazy after getting a black belt. I didn’t think it was going to happen to me. I’m not sure if it was as much about the black belt as much as that I was just young and wanted something more. Besides, karate tended to be “a sausage fest”.
I looked for other physical outlets to exert myself and develop my status, especially when I felt like I could not depend on Ethan or anyone else for social affirmation. I would go to the park to play basketball, play trombone from Duke Ellington and Jazz Standard fake books in the band shell by myself hoping to be discovered by a park going producer or agent. I also imagined what it would be like if we had an underground pool in our backyard. The one I had in mind, like I saw at one of the karate teacher’s house, would take up most of our yard. I thought how cool it would be to get kids over to swim in it. Many high school sexy things can potentially happen in a pool. Besides, I could use it as part of a physical training regiment to get more in shape and live out my dreams. I asked my mom about the idea and she said we did not have the money to get one installed. Then I thought maybe we could install it ourselves. I could dig it myself. I had great stamina and energy. “How hard could it be?” I thought. When I shared my ideas for the pool’s dimensions, my mom diplomatically proposed for me to instead, dig a small pond for our pet duck, Seymour, to swim in the front yard, and maybe just maybe that it could be big enough for me to soak in. I liked this idea of a challenge and the potential to have a private pond. So that summer before high school I went to work.
I was excited. Digging a pond could be a training montage in itself with my sweat running down the young adolescent muscles of my shirtless chest in the hot sun as I worked my shovel. My life would surely turn into a movie during the struggle for turning my sore body into one of a Hollywood construction worker. I had to cut down part of the honeysuckle bush on the overhanging fence separating the side of our house with the neighbors. I spent the summer cutting down and tasting honeysuckle, digging about two feet to the big oak tree and around the oak tree before I got too close to cutting into the front lawn and the flowers my mom planted. I spent a few hours a day for a few weeks in July digging this cashew shaped small puddle of a pond that was about four feet wide and two feet deep. I couldn’t go much deeper without cutting deeply into some of the trees thick roots. All the while I worked on the pond, I felt proud that I was attempting something so huge and seemingly impossibly difficult. Especially when people thought it was strange that I was digging a pond, what drove me to continue every sweaty day was the line in Rocky III when the sportscaster doubts his comeback to regain the boxing title, Apollo telling Rocky “No, do listen to it Rock. Because when it’s over, everybody’s gonna owe you an engraved apology.”
After my digging, my parents and I ended up putting liner and cement on the bottom of the small pond (puddle), and added rocks and a water pump. It became more of a small fountain, than a pond, one that you could soak your feet rather your waist. We tried putting Seymour in it and encourage him to swim in the little pond (puddle), but he would just go back to wooing his reflection in the basement window. Still I did feel like in my own way, I created something big and tangible, even with respect to the face of the house, as the small 4 by 3 foot fountain/pond was visible as people walked by the front yard of our house. Not bad for a family making less than a six figure income.
Running track in high school was a fitting attempt for me to be a jock. Since my dad used to run long distance when I was little, I thought it might be the event for me. Besides, running was a good precursor training regiment for any physical goal or sport, like dancing or basketball which I still loved to play, as discussed in the beginning of Chapter 13. There was much more of a social scene in track, much more than the limited amount of kids and adults I was around going to karate twice a week. Between playing trombone and track, karate began to be phased out of my life. There were cute girls who ran track, but what I also found fascinating were the social rituals. At the time, Teaneck did not have a regulation-sized track (300meters instead of 400), so all our track meets were away. I ran the mile and 2 mile. As mentioned in the last chapter, Teaneck was very diverse. The majority of our track team was black. When we went for a warm up run the seniors and juniors of the varsity boys team, would chant “I love Teaneck track. The other teams are really wack!”
I got my first cultural taste of being around black peers when on the bus to these away games. When the juniors and seniors Rashon, Sheldon, Addison, and Jamie, would say something about soul food, corn bread, girts, collard greens, or something else in the African American country vernacular, Rashon, who was a fast 50 and 100 meter sprinter with locks would respond saying “Uh huhhh”, making his voice somewhat deep and extra scratchy like he had smoked a thousand cigarettes, kind of like Red Fox’s voice but moreso. It sounded funny and everybody laughed, especially since the black upperclassmen laughed. It was a great experience. Overall, it felt like a lot of brotherly love, especially since our coach was like a mom – Ms MacMillan or Ms. Mac for short. We were kind of proud to have a female coach of the boys’ track team. Ms. Mac reminded me of an older version of Mary J. Blige. She worked and trained us hard. I loved the feeling of soreness after a track meet. She’s still coaching there today and continues to run marathons.
It was in track that I made one of my best running buddies, Chris Hall. We ended up doing five seasons in a row together. He was a great runner. He specialized in the 400 but he easily could run the mile better than me if he wanted to. Our long distance team was sad. I was one of the only ones to run long distance. The best time I ever got for the mile was in sophomore year, with a 5:11. It was the one time I beat a taller teammate and classmate of mine, Brian Wein, who turned into a basketball star by our senior year. Chris and I had some great training sessions during the summer before we did Cross Country. While he was the faster runner, I was always more willing to run longer. I prided myself on my endurance. By junior year, I had developed a bad hip flexor and pointer towards the end of Cross Country season as one of the co captains. Chris finished out the season without me. I became more involved in my dance classes anyway, where the teacher Lucy Walker taught Martha Graham technique.
Dance class with Ms. Lucy Walker was the closest thing I got to female contact my first two years in high school. The most intimate moment was sophomore year when I choreographed a tango with a voluptuous freshman named Tanesha. Ms. Walker saw my natural dance talent and gave me a videotape on how to learn basic Tango (European style). I choreographed a tango to Dizzy Gillespie’s Long Long Summer from the album, “Live from the French Riviera” based on the moves showed in the tape and some ballroom turns I figured out on my own. Tanesha was blazing hot, and I figured I should take full advantage without seeming like I was taking full advantage. I also thought that it would get a lot of hoots from the high school and middle school audiences if there was a sexy moment. So in the “slow-slow-quick-quick-slow” rhythmic pattern of European tango I choreographed putting one hand on her bottom facing the audience, then the other and then we grinded quick quick slow to the ground before quickly moving on to another step. Tanesha complained at first but lightened up when we got great responses at various performances throughout that year. Besides, that moment only lasted for a couple of seconds.
My second year of music camp was instead where I had my first kiss. Camp Encore/Coda was a small co-ed camp in Sweden, Maine, that sat on a beautiful lake with a gorgeous view of the mountain. There were practice cabins in the wilderness. Girl cabins were one side of the camp and the boy cabin on the other. While high school was a place that seemed to continue to be difficult finding close friends and a niche that did not involve being picked on or received as a nerd in some way, music camp was a place where I found a functional identity as an equal peer with socially affirming status. This was probably because no matter how good looking or cool someone seemed to be, ultimately we all had being band and musical theater geeks in common.
It was in music camp during the summers after 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grades that I came into my own, finding lasting status for my sense of humor, and temperament. I never felt so free being silly, competitive, and a non-target around a group of peers. I especially I had fun exploring the creative side of my sense of humor and being received well for it. My first year, I helped write a song with a big thick glasses wearing half English/half Italian oboe player named Oliver, who shared the same cabin as me, about our desire for a well endowed musical theater girl named Roberta that dated a CIT (a counselor in training). It was to a song “Bad to the Bone”. All six of us in the bunk would go “deh dah deh dah deh” “Roberta Roberta” “deh dah deh dah deh” “You’ve got such big huge tits” “deh dah deh dah deh” “You can catch them with mits”, “deh dah deh dah deh” , “They’e like beautiful melons”, “deh dah deh dah deh” “They could hold twenty gallons”. So much for a budding lyricist career. Anyway, It would end with us laughing excitedly bonding about our adolescent lust for the female CIT.
Each three to six week session summer of music camp filled me with the hope and confidence that I hoped would carry into my high school year when comparable social status seemed so much harder to come by. My second year before 10th grade, I had my first kiss with a singer named Sue. She was actually not my first choice that summer. I had liked this other girl who was in her bunk, a girl who I did not think I had a chance with until the last days of the session that summer. However when it came to the candle lighting ceremony that ended every session, where everyone at the camp gathered in the large concert hall and recounted their favorite camp memory holding a candle, which was the only thing that lit the area. I ended up sitting next to sue instead of the other girl. Sue and I had flirted but I did not take the flirting seriously. Sue did this thing where she licked my ear, while the candle was on the other side of the hall. I turned around and we kissed with our lips and I remember incredibly welcoming erotic feel of her soft tongue playing with mine. Even though we were surrounded by people sitting around us, it was dark enough to feel like we had a private moment until the candle reached us, at which point we composed ourselves.
Later that night when we went back to our bunks to change for the upper camp dance, Trev, my cabin mate and friend of Sue’s said that he heard that she might be willing to go all the way. I was intrigued, and a little scared. I also still kind of hoped that I might have a chance with Sue’s cabin mate. I was on a roll after my first kiss after all I thought. When the other girl saw me waiting outside the dance hall, she went up to me, shook her head, said “you animal”, and walked past me. Sue and I just ended up French kissing on the dance floor the rest of the night. No going all the way but I was kind of dizzy from all the new kissing sensations I was experiencing. By my modern standards it was too much tongue for kissing but at the time I felt like Sue’s tongue wonderfully devoured my mouth and tickled my brain. We innocently kissed good night after the dance, promised to stay in touch, and the next day when our parents picked us up to return home and get ready for the school year. The only action I got that year was my Tango with Tanesha. I was excited to return to Maine the next summer as a Counselor in Training. Sue was going to be one as well. I was excited to see what would happen next.
Most of high school and up through college seemed to follow a pattern. I tried to get the best grades I could get. I tried demonstrating my exceptionality to nerd-dom by showing off my athleticism and physical prowess either in track or dance. I tried to avoid being made fun among my talents, shameless overachievements, and my obvious sensitivity to such ridicule. Teenagers smell fear, especially among their peers. Perhaps the thing I hated the most about classmates with various higher status would poking fun at me, was when I would freeze with so much rage and embarrassment, that I did not know what to say in return.
Another part of the pattern was that since I had gotten so used to being a target, I expected to be an outsider. I hated it and embraced it at the same time. I had grown used to having a chip on my shoulder, which had two affects. One was that I was suspicious if things went too smoothly during social situations. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop (A habit I have to this day), a joke to be made, a crack that would reveal that I was foolish to believe in the illusion that I could get away from some kind of taunting or mental abuse. Secondly, I found that after being disappointed or heartbroken or letdown, I could channel that energy at dancing or playing trombone at parties, concerts, etc. If someone was nice to me or I felt included, part of me thought that either something was wrong with them, that they had lower status than me in some way that I couldn’t see, and that because they liked me I shouldn’t like them too much for fear of catching their lower status that made me seem worthy in their eyes. It was a pretty twisted way to internalize my self esteem.
My sexual fantasies I had about high school girls, and the couple of girlfriends I had towards the end of high school would always temporarily quell the insecurities I had about my manliness, my dancing, my sensitivity, and my place as an equal socially functional and respected peer. I remember hearing and disbelieving these underclassmen girls who said there was a “Jon Arons fan club”. I never saw myself as that likeable by the mainstream of high school. I had been rejected so many times, I was very suspicious of any type of compliment, assuming there was an insult right behind it, like the nice brown suit that looked like shit in 5th grade.
Obviously, since I often saw other male peers as competitors or potential bullies, it was difficult for me to make male friends. And when I did make friends, the pattern of fear of a successful friendship was compounded with the anxiety that it could also be ruined by any potential “gayness” that I was afraid may latently be lurking inside of me as a sensitive, mostly nice, artsy dancing young man. Nerdiness and gayness might as well have been the same in my head. Low status was low status. Then I would act silly and funny to diffuse that tension which won me attention and acceptance within various social circles. Much of the charm and silly over the top humor I became known for in high school among my friends, and even more so in camp, often stemmed from compensating for these insecurities. Blessed were the few times when I could leave from a hang of being funny and silly with Ethan and/or Vikas, my two best friends in high school, or any other male peers, and NOT beat myself up for any gayness that I imagined could potentially ensue or be construed as already have happened from finally having fun and acceptance with dudes. I even had this fear among my male teachers.
Pretty much all through high school it seemed that any fear of getting an erection would give me an erection. How strange it was for my kind Algebra Trigonometry from Ghana, Mr Yehlu to explain some interesting math postulate. And then me wondering what kind of girlfriend or wife he might have, if anybody thought he was attractive, and then me wondering what about him would be attractive to a woman. And then all of a sudden I found myself becoming my sister, saying something like he might be “a honey of a guy”. And then my eyes would glance towards his butt while he wrote an equation on the wall and “Bam!” I would instantly lose my masculine identity imagining I was both Mr. Yealu being admired by someone like my sister and someone like my sister. And as I started to fear I might get an erection, I felt my penis move a little bit, and was scared that I’d be turning gay.
I had hope that this was just some anxious neurosis because at various other points during for few short moments during my adolescence the idea of having sexual relations with both my parents and sister also popped in my mind, before quickly pushing them aside. Still those obviously irked me too. I chalked it up to my mind working out the possibilities of anything happening. For some reason, it was easier for my mind to accept those sexual fears about my family more as thoughts than desires because of our overall goody-goody functional and supportive lifestyle. Though my dad hugging and accidentally kissing me on my neck or close to my lips sometimes made me nervous during my sexual identifying neuroses. Both my parents backed off on being so affectionate towards me when they noticed how weirded out I got. I wasn’t eight years old anymore after all. Still I feel blessed for having been so hugged and kissed by both parents growing up as will be discussed later.
It was through Ms. Walker’s dance class, competing in sports (track, basketball, Frisbee), and playing card games with my guy friends that I sublimated this fear into aggressive rage and creative energy. And yet I imagined the silver bullet for all of my social insecurities would be if I could just have sex with a girl, the ones in school and in the magazines I fantasized about, when pleasuring myself. I figured that would prove once and for all to myself and to others I could be respected to be as equally cool and accepted. I ended up putting an ENORMOUS pressure on the eventual act of sex with a girl to prove my social worthiness and potential status.
After sophomore year, my second summer going to Encore Coda getting second base action with Sue left me feeling fairly confident going into junior year of high school. Consequently, I had my first real girlfriend that fall in high school, a girl in Ms. Walker’s class named Melanie. The first date I took her to was dinner at Bischoffs, the local ice cream parlor I tried to bring my eighth grade crush to who cancelled on me last minute. That was the only place I ever ordered grilled cheese sandwiches because they were so good. American cheese anywhere else just never did it for me. Melanie was the first girl I extensively got to make out with, including petting. I noticed the smell on my fingers when we pet each other. As funky as the smell was, I was turned on more by the feel. I figured I should learn to enjoy the smell if I was to get more opportunities to make out and feel.
We often made out in the basement of her house, before her Dad would check up on us, at which point I often walked home late at night along the double yellow line divider of Queen Anne road with extreme blue balls. I would try to relieve them by watching in the basement of our house squiggly lines porn channel that was scrambled on the cable box. All I needed was the moans and the general motion of something going on behind the squiggly lines. Melanie and I broke up New Year’s right before apparently she was ready to have sex with me. I just wanted the freedom to see other people. Over the next couple of months I experienced that common male miscalculation when you think you have it going on more that you really do.
I didn’t find anybody else until I shot for the moon and asked out a very pretty freshman singer/dancer in the musical South Pacific we did that spring. I felt a little like I was robbing the cradle as a junior asking out a freshman. I was surprised that she said yes when I asked her out during the cast party after our last show. Maceo Parker’s “Live From Planet Groove” was playing in the basement of the house where the party was thrown. On our date, conversation during dinner seemed a little forced. But when there seemed nothing else to do, while we hung out on a park bench, we started to kiss and the date was saved. We continued to make out through the movie we saw that night Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Overall that relationship was the first time I became aware of how much physical attraction could make up for lack of emotional connection. However a couple of weeks into it, I found myself beating myself up for feeling bored even in the presence of her hot body. My hypercompetitive, perfectionist, paranoid brain used that as fodder to accuse myself of being gay. I mean everyone else lusted after this girl. Who was I to not always lust after too now that I was with her? The freshman and I promised to stay in touch while I went away to a different music camp that summer, Interlochen, in Michigan.
My summer at Interlochen before senior year of high school was intense. Talent wise on trombone I was the best of the worst and the worst of the best. There were two major classical ensembles for wind instruments to play in, concert band and WYSO (World Youth Symphony Orchestra). If you made it to first chair in Concert Band, you could challenge into WYSO and knock a 3rd chair down to the concert band. I got to do 3 or 4 challenges throughout my session but could not break into WYSO. That was okay for me because I played 2nd trombone in the top jazz band, which got a lot of solos. I did not feel a need for high rank in classical ensembles to give me musical affirmation.
That summer, however, was the first time I ever became head over heels infatuated with a girl. This viola player at Interlochen really caught my eye. We met while I was singing some blues and jazz standards jamming out with my pianist/bassist friend from New York David Grossman. Her and her friend came into the concert hall/practice room when they heard us jamming. I started singing more later in high school on account of they needed more singers for the jazz band I played in during this Saturday music school program at Manhattan school of music preparatory division I went to during the regular school year. That’s where I had met David. She looked like a teenage version of Lynn Whitfield from the Josephine Baker Story. I had crushes on black girls in high school before but there was something about her that I was drawn to. I sang a blues right into her eyes. She had one of the most intense set of “ bedroom eyes” (a term Ethan used when he visited me and met her). The issue of race did not seem to matter much. I remember in fact being turned on even more by it not mattering. I was cheating on the freshman girl I had left at home, and she was cheating on her boyfriend who was a black Memphis State basketball player and a foot taller than me. I was flattered that I could compete with such a jock, as a 5 foot 7 skinny white trombone player with glasses. If we ever got looks that we assumed was on account of race, I kind of embraced it because I always felt like it was me against the world anyway. It was nice to have a partner. The only time I felt conscious about being white around her I remember was when I met up with her with her black gay male dancer friends before a camp dance. I just wondered what they thought of me being white or if they felt they had to change their behavior around me or not.
It’s easy to feel bitter about past relationships, especially during adolescence. Still, it’s funny how the pain from old relationships can reverberate into future ones. This viola player was much more experienced than I sexually. I was a little intimidated by her experience and told her I was saving myself until things got more serious. I promised her I would try to satisfy her doing everything but sex (up to third base). I knew she liked the way I touched her. I remember taking my time tracing my fingers over her hands and forearms watching a concert, or tracing designs around her neck while sitting on the bench overlooking the large lake next to the Kresge amphitheater where so many amazing concerts took place. We went out for two passionately making out weeks. I caught her flirting with a couple of other guys and her friend would try to distract me or intercept me. When I confronted her, I’ll never forget her saying, “You ever get to the point where the sight of someone just makes you sick”. She said that in as nice a way as it possibly could be said, but still it was pretty rough to hear. I was devastated. The sky turned red to me and I walked back to my bunk and just bawled. She apologized towards the end of camp and we kept in touch writing letters for a couple of months. She wrote about getting more experimental and sexually open in her letters and that intimidated me further, besides making me more scared that she would hurt me again. We lost touch until a few years ago when she found me on facebook. Now she’s happily married with kids.
I had broken up with the freshman while going out with the violist. When I got back, the freshman “now sophomore”, invited me to see a Sade concert at Jones Beach. It had to be the most sensual concert I had ever seen. I loved Sade’s music from all the years of listening to smooth jazz on CD 101.9. She was barefoot and sexy. Diggable Planets opened up for them. It was an amazingly beautiful warm September night with a soft breeze. The vibe was so chill (probably because of all the weed that was being smoked not by us). After the concert, when the topic arose, I ended up making an excuse not to continue seeing her, to pick up where we had left off, because I was still hurt from the summer. I said I wanted to focus on my studies so I could get into a good college, but I was really just scared of getting hurt. Plus even though she had said she saw people that summer too, I still felt guilty.
It seemed to be the start of a pattern I would have for a long time, turning down opportunities for relationships in favor of focusing on work, missed opportunities that might have made me feel a little less lonely. What was also funny was that I remember saying and thinking in my head that maybe now I only liked black girls, probably from often hearing phrase “once you go black you never go back” so often. I thought it was a cool thing to claim, an unexpected taste. Besides, I had taken so many classes about black culture, and done so much reading on jazz, that maybe I was just meant to be with a black girl. By the end of senior year, my loner mentality wore down and ended up dating a light skinned Dominican girl named Judy, another dancer in Ms. Walker’s class a year behind me. It would be a relationship that would last on and off for the next nine years.
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