My name’s Jack. Momma wanted something German and Poppa wanted something Italian. They had such a big fight at the hospital that the nurse just wrote down ‘Jack’ and that was the end of it. That’s the story, anyway. Truth is probably that they just liked the name but my parents never could resist the urge to embellish anything they got their hands on. The stenciled front hall of their brownstone should be proof enough of that. They literally stenciled every inch of plaster and woodwork in the place. It looks like something a Dutch hippie on LSD might have created – so my parents love it.
They actually own the whole building. The story of how they became owners from superintendents is long, flowery and probably not true. In reality, my parents are the hardest workers you’ve ever seen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Momma still – she even moves in her sleep. Poppa isn’t happy unless he’s ‘fixing’ something. Fortunately, he’s good at it because he can’t seem to ever decide that anything is actually fixed.
It was a good place to grow up – as good a place as New York has, I suppose. I’m the oldest of nine. My parents might be hippies but they weren’t much into birth control. Somehow they came to the conclusion that big families were more natural so while their friends were having abortions to save the planet from overpopulation, they were having babies to make the world a better place.
Sometime when I was eleven the last of their hippie friends stopped coming around. Maybe because my parents refused to do drugs – not natural enough – or because they both worked two jobs – needed to keep busy – or because they steadfastly refused to quit having kids – whatever the reason, from then on my hippie parents had working class friends. It was the best time of my life. I was always the laid back kid but even I had limits. Never have understood why hippies refuse to bathe but they do and I haven’t missed having smelly overgrown kids lazing around while my parents worked.
My parents, despite being hippies, were always firmly committed to bathing. Gotta admit, Momma telling me to get in the tub so I didn’t end up smelling like Uncle Siggy was enough to get me in the bath every day since.
I guess from watching my parents, or because my allowance was never big enough, I learned how to work hard. I moved out when I was eighteen. I had a couple jobs and could afford one of my parent’s apartments. I still live in it. It’s convenient when the folks need me and nice to be out of the madhouse when I need to be alone.
You’re wondering what all this has to do with anything. Well, I figure you can’t really know someone without knowing where they come from. And since I can only tell this from my side, you may as well know a bit about me.
We lived on the East side. Not the nicest neighborhood but not the worst. I got into my share of trouble – what kid didn’t – and I spent too much time on the streets. Poppa caught me hustling when I was twelve and I thought he was gonna kill me. I learned the difference between honest work and dishonest work that day. Since I’m fond of my ability to sit down, I opted for honest labor.
Not that I didn’t find the hustlers and gangs appealing – every boy that age thinks crooks are cool. I was no different but unlike most of my friends, I had the kind of parents that don’t just let you do what you want. Fifteen years later, I have a place of my own, a good job, and am doing pretty well. Several of my friends are dead and a couple wish they were. I hated my parents for being such goody-goodies back then; now I thank God for them.
See, my hippie parents with their big half German, half Italian family and their weird work ethic and insistence that their kids do right even when it wasn’t very hippie-like, all that stuff made me me, you know? I grew up surrounded by a kind of grounded weirdness. I guess that’s why it wasn’t so hard to take it when the really weird stuff showed up.