I was walking in a park with my girlfriend the other day when she asked me a strange question: “Are there free water fountains in New York City?” she wanted to know.
For a second, I wasn’t sure. I have been living in Germany for so long now, it’s sometimes hard to remember such things. But eventually the answer came to me.
“Yeah,” I said. “We’ve got free water fountains. But they’re usually in parks.”
“Oh, OK, that’s cool,” she said. “I just wanted to know because my university is thinking of installing water fountains. I was just curious.”
I said that that was fine but for some reason didn’t drop the subject. “Yeah,” I continued, “the water fountains we had in our parks in New York City were rock solid. They were usually made of stone or concrete and looked like they could withstand a nuclear blast. I remember the one I used to drink out of at my old park. It was, like, a waist-high cement box with a cement footstool at the base.
“Really?” she said. “Yeah,” I replied, and then we both said nothing for a little bit. Eventually, I broke the silence. “Jeez,” I said, “now you got me thinking of the water fountain that used to be in my old school yard!”
There was delight in my voice when I said this because I hadn’t thought of that water fountain in so long and thinking of it brought back a lot of memories.
After this conversation with my girlfriend, I began to think of other objects from my childhood, and I decided to write a post about them. Enjoy.
The Nintendo gun controller.
When I was about 4 years old, a family friend bought me a “Nintendo Entertainment System.” It came with two games, two controllers, some kind of robot – whose purpose totally baffled me at the time – and a gun shaped controller. This gun shaped controller, officially called a “Zapper,” was for shooting games like “Duck Hunt.” I remember thinking that this gun controller, which had a red trigger and a long gray muzzle, was the coolest thing ever. I still remember the clicking sound it made when you pulled the trigger.
The pennants on my wall.
In the very first apartment that I lived in, my mother and I shared a room. She slept in a king-size bed on one side of the room and I slept in a twin bed on the other side. My bed abutted a wall and I remember that I decorated that wall with pennants. One of the pennants was made to celebrate the Mets’ 1986 World Series victory, another had Epcot Center printed on it.
My mother’s silver cigarette case.
Until I was about 16 years old, my mom smoked one cigarette per day. Her brand was Marlboro Lights and she always got the soft pack. She would store the soft pack in a boxy silver case. The case, which I’m sure she acquired on one of her many trips, was embossed with a wavy pattern and was elegant looking.
The pack of nude women playing cards.
As far as I know, my mother is not gay and never has been gay. But for some reason, she kept a pack of nude women playing cards in her night stand. As a child, I remember looking at these cards with wonderment. The photos were not X-rated, but those were naked women all right. I remember wondering why my mom had these cards and thinking that maybe they belonged to my dad.
My Ivy League sweatshirts.
When I was in the third, fourth and maybe even the fifth grade, my goal was to go to Harvard or Yale. I told my mom about this – or was she the one who actually convinced me that I wanted to go to an Ivy League school? – and she subsequently bought me several Ivy League sweatshirts. I remember I would wear these Ivy League sweatshirts to school very often. I had Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Brown.
The swings at my old schoolyard.
Almost every day after elementary school, I would go down to the schoolyard that was behind the school and spend a couple hours there playing with my friends. We would usually play touch football or basketball, but sometimes we would just go down to the swings and hang out on them. I loved these swings because the seats were flat boards made of sturdy rubber, which meant you could stand and pump, too. I remember standing on one of these swings and pumping so hard and getting so high that my body was almost parallel to the ground.
My aviator sunglasses with the red frames.
One day when I was about 8 years old, I got it in my head that I was seeing “colors in front of my eyes.” Was I really seeing colors in front of my eyes? I’m not sure. What I think I might have been seeing were those color-fringed black spots that one seems to see after looking away from a bright light. Whatever the case, I thought sunglasses might make the color spots go away, so I asked my mom to buy me a pair of aviators -- these cool ones with red frames. I think I started to realize that maybe I was just being a little crazy after I went into class one day wearing these glasses and my teacher and classmates were like, “Uh...why are you wearing sunglasses inside?”
My boom box.
For my 7th birthday, I received the coolest present ever: A Panasonic boom box. Believe it or not, but right after I received the boom box, I walked around my neighborhood with it, blasting “La Bamba.” (I think I might have even worn cut-off L.A. Gear gloves while doing this.) Some other tunes that this stereo went on to play: “Ice Ice Baby” and “Hungry Eyes.”
The seats at the Baskin Robbins.
The seats at the Baskin Robbins.
A main drag for shopping in Forest Hills, the Queens neighborhood I grew up in, was 108th Street between 63rd Road and 65th Ave. Among the supermarkets, fruit stores, drug stores, dry cleaners, pizza places and other establishments on this strip was a Baskin Robbins ice cream shop. I used to go to this Baskin Robbins often and I remember the seats that were inside the shop. The seats looked like something you might find in a classroom, as they had arm desks.