This is one of those routine questions that a person shouldn’t stumble over attempting to reply. Yet I always do. It ends up being a drawn out, rambling mess of an answer that likely makes the acquaintance who asked it wished they’d mentioned the weather instead.
I was born in Manhattan, which isn’t really a city but a borough of New York City. Still, I think of it as “The City” and I believe I’m not alone in that respect. I recently found out that both the hospital where my mother spent an agonizing 18 hours in labor to produce the ugliest baby she’d ever seen, and the apartment where my parents lived at the time were on Amsterdam. I discovered this on my 48th birthday when my father called me.
My father is Cuban by birth, but a Spaniard by descent. His father had moved to Cuba to seek employment in the sugar industry and my father was a first generation Cuban. When he and my mother left Cuba upon the arrival of Fidel Castro in 1959, they took a circuitous route to reach the United Stares, living first in Venezuela. I was born on a November night in 1963, but somehow my mother still claims that I’m an American only by coincidence as they happened to be in the US at the time. I could accept this if they were on a holiday or visiting friends when I decided to exit the womb. But they were official Green Card carrying residents of the US and living and working in NY. In any case, on the evening of my 48th birthday my father called to wish me well, but fell into one of his regular rants about my mother, who divorced him some 36 years ago.
“Do you know who called me last night? Your son of a bitch uncle Daniel. Do you know why? Because your mother told him to call me and ask me if I remember where I was 48 years ago today.” I thought this was an odd way to start a Happy Birthday call, but knowing him as I do, I knew the tale would have to be completed. I inquired why it was last night that he received this call, since my birthday was in fact today. “Because your mother wanted to remind me that l left her at the hospital that night.” Curious now, I asked if he meant he literally left her there. In other words, did he not accompany his wife on the night she was to birth his first child? “Do you remember where the hospital is?” No dad, I was an infant. “It was on Amsterdam. We lived on Amsterdam, so it was only six blocks.” So in my father’s mind he was justified in dropping his expectant wife off at the hospital to deliver her first baby since it was only a few blocks from their apartment. This is how I came to learn that I was both born, and resided on Amsterdam in the borough of Manhattan. My mother disputes this information and says it was my sister who was born at St Luke’s on Amsterdam and that we lived in Astoria, borough of Queens, when I was born, but Manhattan Hospital hosted her miserable labor.
We moved away from The City when I was in the second grade, and one of my few memories of that era was riding my little bike around the block to say a tearful goodbye to a friend I cannot recall, yet he must have been somewhat dear to me as the memory persists. Staten Island would be my new home, and the place where my mother would wrap her car around a telephone pole and almost end her life, giving me a slightly scarred lip in the process. Not that my deformed upper lip in any way compares to the injuries she sustained, which were sufficient that a priest was called upon to administer Last Rites (she bravely told the priest that she had nothing to confess to anyone). The one thing I recall about our home in Staten Island were the stairs. A wooden staircase which either curved or angled its way upstairs, and which made an excellent place to play with GI Joe’s is my only recollection. I’m not even certain how long we lived there, but it was long enough for my mother to recover from her injuries and return home for the move to New Jersey.
We lived in Perth Amboy, NJ from the time I was in the fourth grade until I “graduated” from the Holy Trinity school after eighth grade. We had some family who also lived there and I played a lot of baseball, collected a lot of baseball cards, and spent some time hanging out by the railroad tracks collecting tadpoles and frogs. I had my first fist fight in Perth Amboy, found out that girls aren’t gross in Perth Amboy, and got checked in on a lot by my great aunt and great grandmother in Perth Amboy. My parents split up while we lived there–I was 10 and my sister was 5. My mother worked in The City–she commuted to the World Trade Center every day by train, which she’ll gladly tell you about to this day–so it was up to me to care for my sister until my mother came home each evening. The routine was consistent as I’d first get a phone call from my aunt to ask if I’d given the girl some milk. A short time later, my great grandmother would call to ask if I’d given the girl some milk. They lived together in the upstairs apartment in a house owned by my uncle. I never understood whey they didn’t just confirm with each other that I had in fact given the girl some milk.
We moved to Levittown, NY in the summer between eighth and ninth grades and though my mother wanted me to go to high school with my cousins, she bought a house on the wrong side of the street. Cotton Lane was literally the dividing line for the school districts and had we lived in 71 or 73 instead of 70, I would have gone to high school with my first cousin. Instead, I would go to Levittown Memorial, a school no longer in existence, where I knew absolutely no one. I wouldn’t graduate from Levittown Memorial though because we moved to Miami in October of my senior year.
After 6 years living in Miami, I joined the Army and spent the next 5 years in Kentucky, Alabama, Frankfurt, Alabama the Sequel and El Paso, TX (I also spent 6 months or so in the Middle East). After parting ways with Uncle Sam I returned to Miami, then moved to Miramar which is about an hour north in southern Broward county, then moved on to West Palm Beach where I’d spend the next 9 years. I’ve been just outside of Charleston, SC for the last 8 years and so when someone asks, “where are you from,” you can perhaps sense my difficulty in responding.
I had this discussion with a colleague whose opinion I respect and trust, and without hesitation they replied that I was from NY after hearing a shortened version of the above dissertation. That being settled in my mind, I started thinking about my childhood allegiance to a NY baseball team; the Metropolitans. After parting ways with the team of my recent Floridian residency, I have been floundering about like a ship without a rudder, or a dog who’s lost his bone. As luck would have it, I scanned my twitter stream to find a friend discussing the NY Yankees. We chatted briefly and she was very supportive of my returning to my roots and getting behind the NY teams, even if it was both the Mets and Yankees.
I don’t know if I can ever truly love the Yankees. I’ve always been attracted to the underdog, to the contrarian position, to the minority view. I think that’s probably how I chose the Mets as a boy, and as a reestablished New Yorker, I should be able to give my once beloved Mets another go. I can’t rest confidently on my decision right now as last year’s decision to become a Halos fan was a wretched failure, but I am suddenly hopeful that I will have a Major League Baseball season in 2013.