Chapter Four picks up where Chapter Two left off in the Winnebago, on the road to a new life in Florida. Of course, nothing went easily with our family because, why would it? Why would we have a home move-in ready for us in Florida? We, of course, did not have a place to stay. But I get ahead of myself. Normally it takes three days to drive from New York to Florida, we did it in two days. We were that anxious to get the hell out of New York. My new Father had been living out of a little motel for the last several weeks while taught summer school. They had allowed him to get started early, normally you start in the Fall semester when you start a new job teaching. But his new school had a teacher shortage, so they made an exception, and besides we needed the money. We had still had our gold behemoth, the Pontiac Bonneville, which never met a gas station it could pass by. It got less than 10 miles per gallon on a good day, and our 20 foot Winnebago which had no A/C. These two vehicles comprised our living quarters. We were soon to add a second car to the family, my Grandfather’s car. You didn’t forget about old Gramps, did you? Oh, and Gramps wasn’t alone either. My sister Tina was with him and her two small children, a young girl and a young boy. Her husband was overseas in Germany, getting everything ready so that they could stay with him there. We all lived in a small travel park for 7 weeks while we waited for our mobile home to be built.
Has anybody lived in a small RV before? There just isn’t any room or privacy. We spent most of our time at the travel park’s rec room and pool. Also, has anybody spent a summer in Florida? You can’t get dressed without sweating. About the only things we had to do to keep us occupied were swimming and sweating, and to break things up, we would change the order by sweating first than swimming. This is where my new father taught me how to swim. Since swimming is better than drowning, I considered this a good thing. Oh, one more thing, my Mother still had a deathly fear of the water and as a result could still not swim. I am not sure if this fear was a result of our trip to Mexico or not? So, to complete painting the picture, let’s do a head count for fun. Mother, Father, sister, me, niece, nephew and gramps. I am not very good with math, so please help me, does this total 7? So, lets keep going with this scenario. Did I tell you that the RV was 20 feet long? Did I tell you that we had no AC? Did I tell you it was summer in Florida? Did I tell you the humidity was 100%? Did I tell you the temperature averaged 95 degrees or better? We came from New York for God’s sake, what the hell were we thinking?
To protect the innocent and the not so innocent, I will give my niece the following name “Jenny” and my nephew “Hellboy”. Hellboy was small and fast and impulsive. So, Tina and I would try and keep him occupied while we were relaxing at the pool. He was only allowed in the water with his mother which is my sister Tina. Occasionally, Rita, our Mother would come to the pool and soak her feet to try and cool down a little. My Father was at school teaching on this particular day. I was in the deep end with Tina. Mom(Rita) was keeping an eye on Hellboy and soaking her feet in the shallow end. When out-of-nowhere, he decided to jump into the pool. Of course, he went under the water, then he came up gasping for air and he went down again. Tina and I raced over to help him but we were too far away to be of immediate assistance. The next thing I know, Mother (Rita) is in the water. The woman who is absolutely terrified of the water was in the water. She was able to grab Hellboy and hand him to Tina, who had just made it to the scene. Hellboy immediately coughed some water out and simply squirmed out of Tina’s arms and shot off seeking other mischief. Mother (Rita) got out of the water never saying a word and went into the Winnebago to change. We all just stared dumbfounded at what had happened. You had to be a member of our family to know the magnitude of what had just happened. The only context I can use is that if you were Jewish, you had just seen the Red Sea parting.
On to more mundane matters. The sleeping quarters were definitely cozy in our little RV. Mom, Dad and I would sleep in the back bed, which was a glorified full-sized bed. My grandfather slept alone on the dinette table bed, which was a short twin bed, perfect for him since he was short. Tina would sleep with her two children in the bed over the driving area. You had to use a ladder to access this bed. This was great for kids, not so good for adults. It was quite a feat to juxtapose yourself in this bed which had about 18 inches of clearance with 2 squirming children already in the bed.
My father would do all his school work on the picnic table or if it was raining, in Gramp’s car. I am not sure why he did not do this work in the rec center of the park? I guess I never gave it much thought, I was only 9 after all.
So, the 7 weeks finally passed and nobody died. My sister with children in tow, made it safely to Frankfurt, Germany where her husband was stationed. Our mobile home was finally ready to move into. It had been a hellish process though, because the install people were terrible. They had to redo work constantly, but finally everything was done to Mom’s satisfaction. Gramps had his room and I had my room and Mom and Dad, of course, had their room as well. We were to spend the next 5 years in this house. It was located in a rental park, replete with a pool, rec center, duh…and a pond with an alligator called Oscar who liked eating marshmallows. We eventually bought a nicer mobile home and had it put on a lot that we had purchased. The only thing is that we no longer had pool access. I lived in this house until I was 28. I know, what the hell? That is for another chapter.
I have already covered a few events in my life while I was living in Florida in the early years, but those were about close calls only. So what about everyday life? To start with, we were located pretty close to Disney World and Orlando. We also lived within 5 miles of the Gulf of Mexico. Beautiful beaches were less than 20 miles away. So we were in paradise, right? Well, that is what our relatives from the north thought. We soon had relatives showing up that I did not even know we had. We were averaging so many trips to Disney World a year, that I stopped even going on the rides. Eventually after my parents died the familial visitations slowed down a little.
Seriously though, one thing changed for the better. My toy disappearing act virtually stopped. Though I was warned that if she found dust on anything, it would disappear. Dust? This was about ‘dust’? She virtually destroyed my childhood over dust? What the hell? There had to be more. I will just never know. While I still lived in New York and my new father had just moved in with us, I began to discover a devious plot forming. A plot designed to control my future. I started getting models but they were not car models or plane models, they were models of the human body. In the fourth grade, I was the only one who knew where the heart was but hell, if I knew the address of the house I lived in. We certainly had our priorities straight.
Once we moved to Florida, medical books began to appear in my room, with journals discussing diseases. I felt like Dr. Frankenstein. I even had my own microscope complete with slides and all. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say whatever the newest hype that the current hit TV shows were pushing, like Magnum PI and so on. All the while my father would gently point me towards the medical field. To be honest, he did let me read other books besides medical books. I pretty much read everything including the naughty books he had in his collection. Quite a difference just a few years made.
Eventually we got rid of the sweatbox Winnebago and my parents purchased a 27-foot Allegro motor home, with a generator and air conditioner. We even had two swivel chairs and a nice couch. We were really styling now. Too bad we never went back to hell town. Boy, the curtains and shades would have moved with alacrity then.
So, I am sure my readers are saying to themselves, this sounds pretty good. I can do this, right? You are forgetting who this story is about.
Both sexes go through puberty. While the changes young ladies go through are more visible and obvious, there is also more support out there for any psychological issues they may experience during this time. Boys, on the other hand, are just left to muddle through these changes as best they can. Our bodies go through a lot of changes, as well. In both sexes, our sweat glands start producing more noxious secretions, so now we have to use deodorant. We also start producing hair in places we would rather not have it… like armpits. We also both start growing pubic hair. Yes, I do have a reason for going there. Jeez, is everybody a lawyer? As young men, our hormones are going crazy. One visible example is acne, however, not every boy is affected to the same extent. Well, lets say for a period of 3 years from 1970 to 1972, the CEO of Clearasil got a nice bonus. My face looked like a ripe tomato. I also had a major growth spurt in 1971. Thirdly, my voice changed and lastly, my vision changed as well. I went from having 20/20 vision to being blind as a bat. Oh, did I forget to mention getting a diamond cutting hard-on every time a girl walked by? The joy of all joys! Wet dreams or nocturnal emissions came onto the scene as well, just when you thought you had bed wetting under control. Guess what, they could strike even when you took a nap in the day time. My favorite was the crazy dreams I was now experiencing. Every damn time I had a dream where I was in public, I was only wearing my damn underwear. What the F—–g hell has that to do with puberty? Somebody has a really weird sense of humor.
So you may ask me how my parents smoothed this painful transition? Well, for starters, polyester had just come out. Of course, being the 70s, the colors and patterns were atrocious. Who dresses a teenager in orange pants? Did I mention we lived in Florida? This is important because a 100% polyester doesn’t breath at all. So just as your balls drop, they were now sweating as well. One other important thing I need to mention, we lived in Florida. No, I am not senile. I know I just repeated myself. My father was a teacher in Florida. That is a lethal combination. Did you ever see the TV series in Living Color? The characters always talked about having several jobs, well that was my poor father. He taught school in the day time, he taught night school at least three nights a week, he tutored on the weekends and he even taught summer school as well. The poor man barely had time to take a shit. Florida teachers made shit for money. As a matter of fact, nobody made any money in Florida unless you were retired from a northern state. I mention this fact to let the reader know money was tight. This is an important fact that will come up time and time again.
When I started Junior high school, I was 5 foot 2 inches tall with a pot belly and no acne. When I entered the 8th grade, I was 5 foot 8 inches tall, skinny as a rail with acne and did I mention having oily hair as well? Apparently, that is another delightful change boys go through at this time. When your hair is not busy being oily, dandruff crops up instead. Did I mention we did not have a lot of money? But we had a new motor home. Priorities, priorities. Just get another job Dad. Would you consider a 6 inch growth spurt any reason to buy new pants, at least for your growing boy, nah? Did I mention my father was a school teacher? Not only was he a school teacher, he was a science teacher at the same school I went to. He not only was all these things, he used the most heinous product ever developed in the history of mankind, the dreaded pocket protector. Which he insisted that I wear as well, of course to protect my shirt from the every leaky new ballpoint pens that had started coming out. Finally, did I mention that my vision had changed, which necessitated glasses. Did you know that the absolute cheapest pair of eye glasses you can buy are those with black plastic frames? Well, they are. As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, my parents thought I should take up either chorus or learn how to play a musical instrument. Just shoot me now. I thought I would take the easy route and take chorus. Well, good old dad forgot to tell me about the dreaded change that would take place in my voice. Why would the little omission be important, I don’t know, because we had to sing in public as a part of our grade. We weren’t just singing for our health. Oh, I almost forgot the one missing piece to this wonderful puzzle… the suspenders. I now had to wear a pair of them because my pants kept falling down due to the fact I no longer had a waist to hold them up. It is a damn good thing I still had my hard-earned pugilistic skills garnered in New York. Yes, I am the individual that all those nerd movies were modeled after. Mother Nature has a strange sense of humor at the time when a young man has his highest libido, no self-respecting girl would touch him with a ten foot pole.
So, this is how my parents supported me as I entered puberty. I got in more fights than Rocky Balboa. They named another series of movies after me, Fists of Fury. I had to fight just too survive. You thought having my father as a teacher in the same school was bad, try having him as your teacher, yep, that happened too. Yep, more beatings on the way. Did I also mention that the school was too far away from our house, so I rode with him to school, that was good for another whack or two. When adults reminisce about the good old days, I want to kick the shit out of them because Junior High School was good for about 0.001% of the school population. This wasn’t even the worst of it, our gym showers had windows in them, yep, windows. The coaches had to stand in an adjoining room and watch us takes showers. Making sure we used soap and shampoo and lathered up good and that we stepped in a special bucket with antifungal solution in it, so we didn’t get athlete’s foot. Talking about being creepy. Did I mention that all the female coaches were lesbians, how bad was that for the girls? The sad thing is that we did not know any better, we were just dumb kids.
So, I finally fought my way through the 8th grade and after 2 years of cage fighting, my clothes were no longer suitable for polite society. My mother broke down and bought me new clothes for 9th grade. I also went to a new school that was closer to home and I was no longer living under the shadow of my father. So, now all I had to deal with were wet dreams, a raging hard-on, and acne. My clothes now fit me, the pocket protector was gone, the black framed glasses were replaced by metal wire ones. My parents finally got tired of replacing the mysteriously broken plastic glasses. My musical aspirations were given up because after my voice finally changed, I really now sucked at singing. Donny Osmond I was not. My mother finally getting tired of refinancing the house to buy Clearasil and introduced me to Ivory soap. Magically, within a few weeks, my acne was a thing of the past. Sorry, Mr. Clearasil CEO, no more bonuses for you. Of course, all these changes took most of the ninth grade, why would I start the year off ready to rumble, that would have been too easy. So, it finally seemed like I had the school thing under control when my next major hurdle came into view, boy, was this a doozy. FYI, I am not going to go into every year of my life this thoroughly, so just be patient. This is puberty after all. Kids commit suicide over this shit, OK? Where was I? Happy Days was a very popular TV show at the time. Everybody remembers the Fonz, right? Well, they came out with a whole product line based on the character. One item being shirts with a big thumb held up in the air with the caption I’m The Fonz. Yep, you guessed it, my Mom bought me that damn T-shirt. In gym class, we had to wear shorts, a t-shirt and, of course, sneakers. We also had to bring a towel for our shower, and being young boys, combs were optional. I am sure you are seeing where this is going. Just when I thought I could retire my brass knuckles, and even though I only wore that damn shirt for one class period, it followed me for the rest of the school year. It even followed me into high school but not as bad. I don’t know how many fights I had to get in because of that stupid shirt.
I finally made it into high school and that went as well as can be expected. I in fact graduated with honors and I even landed in the top 10% of my class. I considered this to be pretty good because I never truly applied myself that much. During this time, I only had a few close friends and some friends at school I used to hang out with during lunch time but nothing serious. I only had one girl friend in high school. I know, can you believe it? Whatever happened to the young Casanova? You would have thought I would have scores of them. I guess, I was just too busy surviving my teen years. I am hearing crickets right now. All my readers are saying, is this it? Psych, of course, it isn’t it. Don’t be silly. That was just my school experiences, the rest of the world awaits you, my young Padawans.
Earlier in the book I mentioned that my family became a matriarchy after my blood father passed away. This remained so for the rest of my Mother’s life. But it wasn’t for lack of trying on my new father’s part. Life was not all fun and frivolity in our household. To make the story telling easier, he will forever more be called “Dad” or “my Father” after all he did raise me. And my relationship with him lasted a lot longer than my blood father’s relationship with me did. For better or worse, my real father only had a limited but albeit a very important role to play in my story and he will only be mentioned one more time a little later in the narrative. So back to my Dad and Mom’s story. My Mother had firm control of the family by now and she wasn’t going to give it up for anything or anyone. Dad did have some say in decision-making, but the final word always was Mom’s to make. She, on a regular basis would remind my Father that he brought nothing into the relationship but financial hardship, and that she gave up her beloved house in New York so he could escape his previous life. She also reminded him that she did not consider the mobile home we lived in a true house, and that he still owed her one. Not to beat a dead horse, he never was able to get her a suitable house according to her standards. Not till after he made the final sacrifice was Mom able to buy a house with his retirement money. So in essence, he did finally keep his promise to her posthumously.
My mother could truly be a hard woman. They fought almost non-stop the first year we were in Florida over these things. It got so bad that a suitcase was actually thrown outdoors onto the carport with all Dad’s belongings in it. She said that was all he owned and told him to go if he didn’t like living there. Needless to say, our family was in dire straights at that time. It almost ended that night, the only thing that kept them together was the plea I made to my Father. I went out to him on the carport and begged him to stay. I told him that I loved him and that I needed him. Both of which were true. I don’t think I could have stood another round of just Mom and I. Till this day I don’t know if I did the right thing. While it was right for me and ultimately right for Mom, I don’t think it was right for Dad. Only two times in my relationship with my father did I see this happen, the first time was then. The light just faded in his eyes…I think that something died in him that day.
He no longer put up a fight, everything was “Yes or no, Rita”. He did not drive the car anymore, unless he was just driving to work. Mom always drove us everywhere. Back then, the man always drove the family car everywhere. He started buying her flowers every week. That is when he started working all the extra hours. I also started to see him drink a little more heavily. He never got to watch what he wanted on TV, it was always what Mom wanted. So, he usually slept in his chair. There was virtually no conversation at the dinner table or in the living room in the evening. He would kiss Mom on the cheek, because she always turned her head when he went up to kiss her. The only time it was even attempted was when he went to work and when he came home from work. I don’t think that they ever had sex after that fight. She was polite to him and never belittled him to her family members or friends. It was basically a civil marriage, one of convenience not love. Though, I am sure, if I could question them both right now they would deny it. I do think they cared for each other, I just don’t know in what way. I know when he did pass away, it appeared that she did miss him. They were after all together 25 years. I will discuss his final days in a later chapter.
When we moved to Florida , we were alone, unless you count good old Gramps. That was quite a departure from our lives in New York. I am sure my Mother also held that against him. So now instead of keeping in touch with all of her family in person, she had to do it by phone. There was no unlimited long distance back then. Our phone bill was routinely around $200.00 a month. Don’t forget this was 1970, this is equivalent to about $1,400 today. This drove Dad crazy. Mom was very lonely at first, but family started to visit more and more frequently. Most of the calls were made to Robert and Ronnie. Then I remember that there was a period of time of almost a whole year when her and Ronnie were not on speaking terms. I think it had to do with her choice of a husband. I think that he thought Dad was not good enough for our Mother. He never respected him, and frankly showed him little respect, no matter what Dad did for him. To give credit to Dad, he never lost his temper with Ronnie, no matter how poorly he was treated by him. I think this was a very complicated dynamic. I think it might have also been part of the problem. Our family always came before her relationship with Dad, at least, initially that is. I believe this did change with time, as their relationship matured. I, of course, can neither prove or disprove any of this. All the members of the parties involved are now deceased. Eventually, the immediate family started following us to Florida. The first to move there was Robert, followed by Ronnie after he got sick and then Tina when here husband retired from the military. Now things seemed to be much better for Mom and Dad because she was no longer lonely. She had her immediate family all around her. Eventually, Robert moved again, this time to Georgia, but he was still a lot closer to her than New York.
So enough about my family for now, this is after all my story not theirs. I mentioned earlier that I had to start wearing glasses in Jr. high school. There was unfortunately a little bit of a time lag for them. I did not get my glasses as soon as I needed them. As a result, following the lectures in my classes was difficult especially if the instructor would write information on the chalk board, luckily, I had a close friend whose notes I was able to copy, so, I did not fall behind too much. But it was particularly difficult in my math classes. Especially when I tried to follow the teacher’s train of thought as he worked out the equations on the chalk board. As a result, I hated Algebra and Geometry. It would take my entering college to finally get a firm background in the mathematics. In my 7th through 12th grades math was a total wash. I was able to get by with A’s and B’s because I was to find out that I had an absolutely fabulous short term memory. I simply memorized my way through school. So I passed each class easily, but I retained little. This was a problem when each math class served as a building block for the next year. So, as I entered each year and progressed further in my math classes, I had to work a little harder in my rote memorization. All this was necessary because a pediatrician said that my eyes would adjust after my growth spurt. Well, they never did. I am almost 58 now and I am still wearing glasses. So, even though my glasses added to my nerd look, they made my life in school a lot easier.
So, as I blindly kickboxed my way through school, my skin cleared up and I continued to grow taller. My final height would be 6 foot two inches. I continued to exercise and increase my bulk and strength as well. So I eventually moved from the nerd classification to “loady classification” with asterisks. As usual, I never really fit in one group. Even though I worked out and ran, I wasn’t part of the “jocks” because I did not participate in organized sports. While my grades were solid they were not good enough to propel me into the “braniac” group either. So I became a “loady” by default. I did not smoke pot but I still managed to fit in somehow mainly, because everybody in this group was so laid back that they really did not care one way or another. There was also the rich kids, which kind of crossed through some of the groups and they kind of had their own subset. I, of course, was so far away from that group that it wasn’t even funny. But because of my imposing size, I was simply left alone by the bullies, mainly because I had a reputation of being a little crazy. I just never backed down, no matter what the odds. So it was simply not very much fun to pick on me.
Now that I have discussed how and where I fell in the school hierarchy, it is time to discuss my health status. I was a “loady” in many respects even down to my core body temperature. I ran a full degree cooler than the norm, so when out-of -nowhere I got a UTI and spiked a temperature of a 105 degrees Fahrenheit, my parents rushed me to the hospital. I was in the hospital over a week, because the infection spread to my kidneys. It was a wonder that I did not end up needing hemodialysis. They eventually found that I had a partial blockage and that was rectified with endoscopy. So I ended up missing a few weeks of school. One of the fun things that came with my urinary tract infection was that I had testicles the size of grapefruit. So I was bedridden while I was in the hospital. When I was finally discharged from the hospital, I walked like a bow-legged cowboy for over another week.
But my health woes did not end here. I ended up getting bilateral pneumonia. This occurred several months later. I had been feeling under the weather for quite some time, but each time I felt like I should tell my parents, I would start feeling a little better, so this went on for three weeks, until finally I just felt too bad. So, enter Dr. Haber part deux, Dr. Leon. What an absolutely fabulous doctor. I don’t know how my parents kept on finding these great doctors. He was at the end of his career and was tapering off his practice. This allowed him to devote plenty of time to each of his patients. He always found ways to work you in on a moment’s notice. He never let me down, and boy, I kept him busy. He was my doctor all the way through high school and into my early years of college. Unfortunately, he never got to retire as his passing was untimely. So when I went in to see him, he did a thorough examination and immediately took a chest x-ray of my lungs. It seemed like just mere minutes passed and I was being admitted into the hospital. Dr. Leon informed me that both my lungs were whited out with less than 15% of one lung being still clear. He told me that I was a very lucky young man. I was in the hospital for 11 days, and I ended up missing an additional week and a half of school. My doctor wanted me to stay away from as many people as possible, because he said that my immune system was impaired due to the pneumonia. So you can imagine with me missing so much school that I would have problems keeping up. Well, my teachers made sure I was not bored in the hospital. I not only managed to keep up with my fellow classmates, I maintained my GPA as well.
It was during kidney infection visit that I met my one and only high school sweetie. She was a brand new Korean nurse. She worked the night shift. I was really sick one night and I was experiencing, you guessed it, uncontrolled diarrhea. I was too weak to really be embarrassed when this angel of mercy came and cleaned me up. We just hit it off and before I was discharged we exchanged phone numbers. This is when my fixation with Asian women began. She had just turned 20, I know I was only 16 at the time, but she was just so nice and was a total hottie. Our relationship lasted for the rest of that school year. It ended when she moved back to South Korea to be with her family. She was just too lonely living in the U.S. You must be thinking to yourself, what a way for a relationship to start. I hear crickets again. Were you expecting a traditional love story from me? Have you been paying attention? Come on Man!
This seems like a good place to end this chapter. So relax… take a break and I will see you in college in Chapter Five.