Monday, August 10, 2020

Missing In Action

A funny thing happened to me in high school. I disappeared. There’s a hole in my chronicle. I might say that I sat in one of those brownish chairs wearing my special brownish shirt and vanished into the woodwork but that was in college when I prayed to the God, I swore I didn’t believe in, not to be called upon.

High school was different. Maybe I was at the beach with a million other New Yorkers on a sweaty Sunday in August. No, that was when I was probably about eight years old. My family had rented an orange umbrella with black stripes. I dashed into the ocean and must have drifted a while because the black-striped orange umbrella had multiplied a thousand fold. In fact everybody had the same umbrella. I was rescued by a lifeguard who found me wandering aimlessly after I stepped on someone’s sandcastle.

I can name everyone in my eight grade P.S. 99 class plus all those who skipped as well as those who were left back but I cannot count more than five or six from the Forest Hills High School graduating class of 1950. Where was I? I was thin but not that thin. I majored in anonymity. Forest Hills was a perfect place to dematerialize. There were no forests and no hills. Nor was there a me.

I imagined that everyone else had grown up that summer of ’46, except me. Maybe I overslept or had the mumps. I surmised that they knew something I didn’t. Not academics. They knew how to be grown-ups. They wore sport coats. They shaved. They dated. They knew small talk and big talk, flirts and blurts.  They were equipped to make their way in this world. I was still in the ninth grade of elementary school…..except it stopped at eighth.

It had never occurred to me it was all a game and they were faking it. I had to learn the art of being an impostor, suave and debonair. I couldn’t do Cary Grant or Clark Gable. Maybe I could attempt Henry Fonda or Spencer Tracy. I finally settled for second banana, the guy who ends up with second bananettes.

Somehow I got through it all but thoroughly lost. Too old to be a street urchin, too young to be a derelict. I followed my father's steps into Pharmacy School. It was the wrong prescription. In my freshman year we had to deliver a presentation before the class of 150 on some topic pertaining to the practice of pharmacy. I spoke about hiccups. This should have been a clue I was on the wrong path. 

My years at Brooklyn College of Pharmacy were one big hiccup. When I found myself it was too late. My mother said pharmacy was something I could always fall back upon. I fell for the next fifty-three years.

Being found may be overrated. I prefer the idea of becoming. We're all works-in-progress. Even at this age this clay is still soft. 


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