As you know, seeing my childhood home in Mount Vernon, New York last December sent me on another memory tour. Last month, we talked about my attic and my basement. Well, there's one more area we need to address.
The trilogy of my childhood play areas concludes with a visit to my room for almost twenty years, save for two that were spent in a Fordham University dorm apartment.
Take a gander at this vintage toy chest. It wasn't mine. The one that occupied my room had the Three Little Pigs on it. Now imagine that in the room of a high school senior.
Yep, that was my room on South Fifteenth Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York. Decorated with a five-year-old in mind and it never deviated away from that age. Hopelessly trapped in time.
While my neighborhood and school chums visited, we played, of course, in the basement or the cellar. They never saw my room. The pre-school decor had something to do with it. I may have been closing in on puberty, but my bedroom was trapped somewhere around the years of my baby teeth. How could I possibly put up an adult front with that confounded toy chest? And the chest of drawers that also screamed "don't wake the baby."
The other reason why I accepted no visitors was equally as simple. There was no room. Because, as childhood bedrooms go, mine was more like a walk-in closet. These days, a condo owner might crave a room of this size. Ideal for clothes storage right off the master suite. For me, this pinhole of a room was where I slept, did my homework, watched TV, and played my record player. Anne Frank had more space in that Amsterdam attic.
I guess I should have figured that I would always be an only child. There was absolutely no place else to house another kid. Once my room was loaded with the bed, the chest of drawers, the toy chest, the little table and chair, and ultimately the portable TV, I could barely get in there without moving sideways. Realistically, I should have upgraded to larger quarters by the time I was ten. But, go where?
I had a brilliant idea. Have Dad finally finish off the walls in the attic and I could set up my own apartment up there.
"There's no insulation or heat. You'll freeze to death."
Oh. As opposed to be mortified on a daily basis as my first sight on a waking high school morning was the Three Little Pigs cavorting on my toy chest? I'll take the slow route to eternal reward, thank you very much.
For a few early years, the tall chest of drawers held on top my first ever pet. A goldfish bowl which was the home of, you guessed it, Goldie the goldfish. Cleverness, like puberty, had still not arrived in my home. But Goldie had and he/she swam happily around every day. My job, of course, was to to feed him/her. One day, I accidentally dumped a whole container of fish food into the bowl. It wasn't long before Goldie resembled Jackie Gleason. This was not a viable option. In my room, there was clearly no way something could grow any bigger.
One morning, I woke up with a sore throat and a raspy voice. Your typical childhood cold. But, wait. As she was taking the requisite temperature, Mom noticed that Goldie was not in the bowl.
My mother looked at me. I obviously had something in my throat. For a brief moment, she considered the almost impossible. Had Goldie somehow jumped out of the bowl and dive bombed into my mouth while I was asleep?
Implausible? Well, in my room, that would not have been such a tough distance for the goldfish to travel.
The mystery was solved about a week later. Mom was dusting in my room. She rolled away the chest of drawer and found Goldie, stiff as a board, stuck on the baseboard. Dead. So, the fish had tried to make an escape.
If only I could...
It wasn't long before I had even less space in the room. Toys and games needed to be stored someplace. Luckily, I had a nifty closet which wound up as the recipient of Chutes N' Ladders, Easy Money, Art Linkletter's Game of Life, and my Jerry Mahoney dummy. As years went by and I needed the closet space for, gasp, clothes, everything was crammed so tightly in there that I didn't dare to try and remove a thing. Fibber McGee had nothing on my closet.
My bed was nestled next to the wall and, as I grew taller, my feet got further and further off the edge of the mattress. Over my headboard was a picture of Jesus. Even he couldn't overlook the absurdity of this cubbyhole. And they thought Harry Potter had it bad under the stairs.
Inside the toy chest, I kept endless supplies of every Colorforms play set ever created. Eventually, even that was full. When I finally scored my own portable television, the toy chest was almost permanently closed for business as it needed to act as my TV stand. It was important that the chest not be moved one inch. I had, in pretty short order, busted off the portable TV's antenna and it had to be propped up against the closet door jamb so I could watch Get Smart without a blizzard of snow around it.
One common ritual in my room was the closing of the door, so I could have some private time with my record player. Along with the usual Beatles albums of the day, I played to death both the soundtracks of "Bye, Bye Birdie" as well as "The Music Man." Even with very little room to move, I could still perfectly act out every gesture and note of "Ya Got Trouble." In my River City, the town square was no larger than about twelve square feet.
Another daily event during the school year was my own personal alarm clock. No, not the traditional kind. My mother would kept up and walk into the kitchen down the hall. She would unchain my dog, Tuffy, who would probably scamper down to my room, jump on my bed, and then promptly leave.
Good morning, world. Even the dog didn't want to spend too much time in my crawlspace.
My parents finally were convinced of my age and realized that I needed a more "adult" place to do homework. They got me a "space saving" and allegedly modern metal desk that was held up by two poles that stretched from floor to ceiling. It also had some extra shelves that could be attached between the two poles. It wasn't long before I had overloaded them as well. And, frankly, the desk was so cramped that I continued to do my homework on the kitchen table.
The desk and shelves never looked particularly sturdy and I always eyed it suspiciously from my bed. One morning, my thoughts of caution were validated.
Around 630AM, I was awakened by a creak. Where had this come from?
Huh? I looked up.
Creak, creak, creak....
And, suddenly, the desk, shelves, and all of its contents keeled over as the two metal poles gave way. It all tilted forward.
Onto my bed. With me in it.
It gave me the perfect excuse to clean my room. That would be the only way I could get out of bed.
Dinner last night: BLT sandwich at Blue Plate.