I’ve been enjoying a MyFamily.com site devoted to the small, insignificant corner of New York City where I grew up. Grew up, in fact, and got married and where my first son was born. College Point; there’s no college there anymore but it is a point jutting out into the East River, which is not a river at all but rather is an estuary, just up the Long Island north shore from LaGuardia Airport.
This site has a fanatic following of mostly Baby Boomers like me who remember the old days, fondly? no, let’s not say fondly, not always, “clearly” might be better. The town is so small, and there were so many of us, that we all feel like we know one another based on shared experience if not on actual acquaintance.
The shared experience, the volume and the quality of the shared experience, is the key to the sites success. I don’t think you could do it with a more “Leave It To Beaver” kind of neighborhood. Those kids lead a sheltered life, they’re too happy. The Beave’ had better weather too, and the odds are that he didn’t get terrorized by his teachers at school. The Beave’ and his friends had fights now and then, but it’s all so cute! Nothing traumatic. Our lives weren’t like that.
College Point was a shared-adversity. Like New York City as a whole, only more so. Coming out the other end relatively ok was like surviving a plane crash together, or a hostage situation.
The traffic was murder, literally. Just ask little Nancy R., oh, I’m sorry, she got hit by a car and killed. There were lots of fires to die in. We drove cars with the kind of reckless abandon usually displayed only by stunt-drivers or the insane. There were lots of self-immolation style auto accident deaths, sometimes more adequately described as suicides or manslaughters. Drugs were not a passing fancy in College Point, and no one waited for the Hippie days to get started either. There were plenty of drugs, ups, downs, codeine-cough-medicine and reefer from the post-war years on. And Heroin, too, with the usual accompanying deaths. Most people knew somebody; my old baby-sitter Jeannie W. went home from work one day to find her son dead with a needle in his arm. Junkies go to prison or die, or both, College Point junkies were no exception.
Somehow we Baby-Boomers remained light hearted in the face of all of this.
Drinking, under-age, barely-of-age, and over-age, was epidemic. The drinking age was eighteen, and way before that a lot of us knew how to hang around outside a deli and wait for someone’s older brother to come along and buy beer for us. There were so many bars in town that it made the Ripley’s Believe it or Not in the Sunday papers. It’s true, more bars and more churches per capita than anywhere else in America. By the time I was sixteen there were bars that were so devoid of business that they’d serve you as long as you were as tall as some adults and looked like you’d shut up and drink. Bartenders live on tips; nobody can live on no tips. We tipped as good as we could afford to, we wanted to be allowed back.
Fighting in general was a given, no one of us boys could avoid it, and lots of the girls went at it too. Bloody fights were common, with a sprinkling of brutal stompings thrown in. One of the really frightening boys came over to a car full of my friends one time and told them to beat it, he didn’t want them hanging around in front of his house. Poor Richie I. was just stoned enough to ask the boy sarcastically what his problem was. In a flash he had been pulled out of the car, through the window, knocked to the street between the curb and the car and heel stomped more than a few times. Those were the good old days.
There were sex-driven aberrations, of course. We heard of a couple of instances, one an older brother and the other an older cousin, where some poor kid was forced to blow a family member, or where some teenage girl was donated to a crippled war-veteran relative. We showed uncharacteristic compassion on these occasions, forgoing the opportunity to tease the victim. We were stunned to silence in a sympathetic, “there but for fortune” kind of way.
On the site we conveniently forget the beatings and the rapes, and most of the drugs too. And people’s behavior is tidied up a bit too. Everyone in town loved Warren B., it’s true, and we all speak of him like a saint on the site. No one has mentioned, not even after I alluded to it, that he was the champion car thief of all time. He had a different car every night; if he was late for school he’d steal a car to cut his travel time, he’d swing by the bus stop and pick us up. He was famous for it, but now we just say what a swell guy he was, and he was too, I loved the guy and the cars had nothing to do with it, but he probably stole a thousand cars over the course of his career.
Believe me, growing up in College Point was quite the adventure. Now we are all having great fun reliving our shared history. It’s a little like a reunion of Blackbeard’s pirate crew, if they only joked about the bad food and the storms, and left out all the bloody bits.