One event sticks in my mind as being the time I realized how much fear and guilt can be great motivators for escaping into work. The event itself was fairly inconsequential but what I learned from it seemed to resonate with me later in life any time I felt like I was alone or somewhat of a social pariah. I believe it was in fourth grade and I was feeling in a mischievous mood. We lived in a fairly safe neighborhood and most afternoons we kept the front door of our house open, especially since kids often came for music lessons from my mom. One afternoon, my mom said she was going to go across the street to drop something off at a neighbors and that she’d be right back. I said okay.
Feeling like I wanted to test the limits of being a smartass bad kid, I wanted to play a trick on my mom, which I rarely had the guts to do. I thought I could pull it off by making it seem like an accident. When she left, I ran downstairs and locked the front door along with every other door in the house. About 10 or 15 minutes later she came back and I heard her try to open the front door only to be met with the handle locking in place preventing her from opening it. I went downstairs to get a closer listen to her struggle. My mom is a very strong woman so seeing her struggle at anything awkward was something rare to see, especially when it comes to being organized or having things in place. She rang the doorbell, and I tried to act like I wasn’t home but could not stifle a giggle. I felt in control and I couldn’t hold in my amusement. But then I heard that tone in her voice, that tone that alone always seemed to threaten my mortality. She knew I had played a trick. She said, “Jonathan Henry Arons you better open this door right now or else.” And just as proud as I felt for getting one over my mom, just as quickly this wave of guilt and fear swept over me. I knew I was in trouble. The more I waited and giggled, I knew the worse the punishment was in store for me. So I quickly unlocked the door and ran up to my room.
I was too embarrassed to go back downstairs so instead I decided to be an extra good boy and do some homework in a reading book, one of those books where you had to read a story about something in science or history and answer questions at the end of it testing you on your understanding of what you had just read. I read that night’s homework and wrote out the answers to the question. But I was still scared of what was in store for me downstairs, so I proceeded to read and answer the questions in the next chapter that was due next week. I ended up spending the next two hours doing the next four or five weeks of assignments for that class. By the time it was dinner and my dad got home from work and my sister got back from school, we all had dinner. I remember quickly apologizing to my mom, but she seemed like she had other things on her mind and didn’t give it another thought. In my own way, I felt like I dodged a bullet.
What was funny, though, was that aside from realizing I wasn’t that much in trouble I realized I didn’t have to do any work for that class over the next month. I almost felt like I had cheated, like someone else had done the homework, when it was really just me in a kind of “panicked social pariah creative” mode. I felt like I discovered a neat trick to make life somehow easier for myself. Generally throughout high school and college, I still thrived at leaving things to last minute mostly, but still I remember that experience of locking my mom out of the house as being the pinnacle moment for discovering how I could feverishly make investments in other forms of status in my life when I felt like another form of my personal status was threatened. And true to form, looking back, this “panicked social pariah creative” mode was my motif operandi throughout my youth and adulthood whenever I felt like either kids picked on me, ignored me, or thought I was unworthy of their loyal friendship. I would always throw myself into my work. Thank goodness I did not only have academics to prove my self worth. Being physically active and musically inclined made me feel like I could not be strictly classified as a bookworm, and that I indeed had some popular, even “studly”, potential somewhere.
Growing up, my parents noticed I seemed happiest and most socially well adjusted when I was busy doing something, probably because I did not have to rely on the social dynamics of just hanging out doing anything among kids my age. I needed structure of an activity to keep my socially well-adjusted skills present. So my parents always kept me moving. When I was a little guy, my mom took me on walks all the time around Teaneck and made frequent bus trips city to go to the Museum of Natural History and Metropolitan Museum of Art. My favorite was the History museum because I always loved learning about where stuff came from, but most of all I loved the huge Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. That was a must see. My dad took me on hikes. We went canoeing, and played basketball. When he used to run, I would ride my bike along the same route he ran. At times, I’m sure my hyper-competitiveness got on my father’s nerves, especially when I tried to get him to play with me when he threw out his hip at work. Mostly though, the activities that would dominate my creative mind, my sensual sense of worth, that I felt I could escape into especially when I felt the threat of loneliness were dancing, music, and sex.
The first sensual activity I fell in love with was music. Ever since I could remember, there were always classical piano pieces and songs from the Great American Songbook emanating from the music room of our house. My mother was my first music teacher. She taught me my first scale and music theory when I was three. Every winter and spring she would have all her voice and piano students put on a recital. Often times, my mom included in the recital some abridged form of a Broadway musical. The ones I remember most were South Pacific, and Guys and Dolls. Her students and kids from around the neighborhood would make sets from scratch. A few of the recitals were held in our backyard. I fell in love with the idea of musical theater. As mentioned in Chapter One, I kind of imagined that at some point when one turned into an adult, life could change into a musical at will.
I hated playing piano because I just found the coordination between left and right hands to be incredibly challenging. I enjoyed singing much more because it was so much easier to get attention musically and dramatically using words. Typical of my hypercompetitive, overly sensitive self, when I made a mistake at 5 years old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb during a dress rehearsal my mom always had the day before the recital, I got up from the piano, turned around and yelled “I quit” as I ran outside the Ethical Culture Society building where so many recitals were held. After that, I mostly sang on my mom’s recitals and I was quite good. However, my low point was when I was six or seven and I forgot the second verse to “Winter Wonderland” during the recital. I ended up crying. I was so embarrassed. I wanted to be the best, and I knew that forgetting the lyrics guaranteed pity praise that the other students who sucked usually got. Afterwards, parents complimenting me, telling I was really good aside from forgetting the lyrics, just made me feel worse. God it really felt like the world was over when I made mistakes like that. It felt like someone could stick their fingers out at me and laugh and that I could do nothing to stop them because there was not denying I had made a mistake, and how awkward and out of control it felt. Oh well. Post recital cake usually made me feel better.
Aside from the attention, I loved the world singing transported me to. I loved the feeling that I could bring people into that place of vibrant joy that I felt shoot out of my eyes as I gazed over them. The pique of my prepubescent singing was singing “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” from “Guys and Dolls”, where not only did I sing the hell out of those lyrics in my tweed suit, but I also ended it with a big jumping high kick into a sliding kneeling knee pose with my arms spread outwards. It was my third year of karate, another activity I found a lot of self worth and an outlet for my socially geeky, outsider angst.
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