Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hello, Houston: A Hate-Love Story

Allow me to re-introduce myself. I've been running for a long while, much of it in place, but fate has conspired to drag me back in close proximity to one of the greater sources of anxiety I've ever known.

All this time, I've treated Houston, where I lived for twelve years, as a slice of autobiography, a sliver of the past best left in the past. Which isn't to say it was all bad; in fact, the final two years of my time in the city were great, for the most part. Fact is, I was a child, under my parents' care, and they made the big decisions at the time. The one that had the biggest effect on me was where to send me to school. I understand now they were stuck between a rock and a hard place: Houston public schools weren't the greatest, and my family wanted me to get a Jewish education, so I was sent to fertile ground for some of the nastiest grade school cliques and bullies I've ever known.

I met with a friend of mine recently, one of the few friends I had from those days, and she asked me who I thought was the worst. "Boys or girls?" I asked. It didn't matter who. Whether they were guys or gals, they were both pretty damned bad.

It didn't help that I was a sensitive kid who got upset with the slightest teasing, then lashed out in anger at whomever was doing the insulting. Most of the time, the punishments came down on me. Honor roll was based on behavior, not grades, so in seven years at this school, I only made it twice.

In fifth grade, I walked out of school intending to run away and never come back to the hell I was living. I got as far as the railroad tracks a block or two down the main road. I then turned around and went back to school, walked into the offices, and complained that I was being abused by nearly everyone. I was sent to a psychologist. The other kids found out and made fun of me for it. I went to an appointment with the psychologist after a particularly bad day of being teased and bullied about it and said some things that ensured I never went back to the psych again, ensuring that I have a conflicted relationship with therapy to this day.

So, Houston was hellish that way.

I found an escape route, though, an unexpected one. And I'm looking forward to indulging it again once we move, actually.

A neighbor girl lived on her ten-speed bicycle and encouraged me to ditch the training wheels on the Schwinn I was on (peer pressure, terrible in some ways, can be beneficial in other ways). Once I was on a ten-speed of my own, I flew. I biked all over. Mom thought I was six years too late in learning (she taught herself how to do it at five), but she and Dad let me go wherever I liked. I fished out enough spare change from the powdered chocolate tin on the kitchen counter, biked to a stereo shop a ways down one of the main roads, and fished through their bargain tape bins for albums. I biked to libraries and bookstores and movie theaters. I biked through my middle school years, pretty much.

The neighbor girl and I once biked to downtown Houston and back on the bayou trails, a round trip distance of at least twenty-plus miles. We thought our parents would freak out when we got home, because we were racing against the setting sun and losing, but I arrived home, in the dark, to my mother's great news that I got into the arts high school I really wanted to attend. It kicked off my deep love for the visual arts that lingers to this day. My dad still thinks I went into glassworking in part because of the times he and my mom would take me to the Houston Festival, but I always loved visiting the art museums, especially the Menil Collection, the Rothko Chapel, and the Contemporary Arts Museum. One of my favorite art tales concerns a Mel Chin sculpture that was in front of the CAM. My high school years proved that things could get better if one kept going through hell.

And then we moved. To small-town central Pennsylvania, my first instance of culture shock, and the first inkling that not all moves are good moves.

Jury's out on whether this move to just outside northwest Houston will be a good one or not. But we've got a house out there now and we're coming. Physical and mental baggage and all.

P.S.: No, my son will NOT be going to the same school I went to, but I will be worrying for him just the same. I'm a mom. It's in my job description.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014


We'd sing the rhyme, among many others, when we were being bused to and from day camp, all of us settled into our seats (some of us in the best ones at the back, anticipating the bumps in the road that could send them towards the bus roof at just the right moment) and watching the suburbs become the country in the morning, only to view the reverse in the afternoons. It was probably one of the top five bus songs, along with "99 Bottles Of Beer" and "Cheers To The Bus Driver," and it could occupy us for a while if we sang every verse…

Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peeeeanut just now, I just now found a peanut, found a peanut juuuust now.

I find this song is going through my head a lot right now partly because it's summertime, but also because we're going to do something big and, for me personally, kind of scary. I didn't like where I grew up very much. I didn't like the grade school and middle school I attended. Camp was a source of many of my happiest memories, but the summers were brief and I eventually outgrew camp.

It was rotten, it was rotten, it was roooootten just now, it just now was rotten, it was rotten juuuuust now. Ate it anyway, ate it anyway, ate it aaaaanyway just now, I just now ate it anyway, ate it anyway juuuuust now. Got sick, got sick, gooot siiiick juuuust now, I just now gooot siiiick, goooot siiiick juuuust now.

Dan's job hasn't been treating him well for a while now. It hurt my heart to see him frustrated with being overworked & denied chances for advancement, so I let him know if he wanted to look at opportunities that would take us away from New Orleans, he could do that. We can still rent out our house here, like we did when we were in Queens for four years. I don't have an occupation comparable to Dan's income-wise that could keep us here. It made sense for him to look elsewhere. I didn't think the search would lead back to my childhood home, though.

Just died, just died, juuuust diiied juuust now, I just now just died, just died, juuuust now. Went to heaven, went to heaven, went to heaaaven juuust now, I just now went to heaven, went to heaven juuust now. Kicked out, kicked out, kicked oooout just now, I was just now kicked out, kicked ooooout juuust now.

Dan signed the written offer, which is far better than what he was getting here. He gave his boss notice today. He starts the new job in mid-July. We're looking for homes in an area with better public schools so that we don't have to pay out the nose for them. I worry some about how the little guy will handle the actual move, though he seems just fine with it right now. I worry a little bit more about my reactions to it. For 25 years, I left it behind and was pretty happy to do so. Come mid-July, it comes roaring back.

Back to Houston, back to Houston, back to Hoooouston juuust now, I just now went back to Houston, back to Houston juuuust now.

"You shoulda stayed in New York, kiddo," my grandma said half-jokingly when she heard the news. "Full circle, huh?"

My mom says to treat it like another great adventure. Which it will be, I'm sure, once I calm down some.

My dad's happy because he can check out Spec's when he comes to visit his grandson, and possibly head down to Galveston in the summers like we did when I was a kid.

I won't be completely alone. One of the few good friends I actually made in grade school, and reconnected with via Facebook, is still there. Maitri is making room in the New Orleans expats for me, she says. Probably the best part is that we won't be moving into my old neighborhood. That would be too, too much.

I think back on it now, though, and some good things come to mind. I learned to ride a bike there and biked everywhere once I got the chance. I attended summer musical theater programs, volleyball camps, the rodeo each year, Astros and Oilers games (something in me can't believe a stadium now exists that dwarfs the Astrodome)…and then I hit my first two years of an arts high school I got into, a school I loved…'til my parents had to move us all up to a teensy central Pennsylvania town. So there are some positive things to build on. Yeah.

I am going to miss New Orleans.

Big time