A One-Year Sooner “What If?”

June 18, 2011

Through The Wormhole, Star Trek DS9 Style, June 18, 2011. Donald Earl Collins

Today’s twenty-four years since I graduated from Mount Vernon High School in Mount Vernon, New York as part of the Class of ’87. I’ve talked about the events immediately before and after that milestone. I’ve spent a bit of time on the day of the ceremony itself, and will again when I hit the quarter-century anniversary mark next year. Today, though, I want to hypothesize about what would’ve happened if I had decided to graduate one year earlier. I can’t help it. I’m a historian and intellectual, and not just a scholar who cares about research, so I often speculate in order to find answers that are a little outside of the box.

Because of Humanities and AP, many of the best of the best and brightest had or nearly had enough credits to graduate by the end of our junior year, in June ’86. A dozen or more members of the projected Class of ’87 actually took the option of graduating without a senior year. I could’ve myself. I was a quarter-credit short of graduation, and could’ve gone to summer school to take PE or health class to graduate no later than August ’86.

Back To The Future Photo Clip, May 7, 2009. Source: http://gilka.co.uk

What would’ve happened or not happened isn’t all that easy to figure out with any degree of certainty. But I can make a few educated guesses based on the kind of person I was twenty-five years ago. I hadn’t made any definitive decisions about what college to go to because my plans by April ’86 were for the fall of ’87, and not sooner. I had taken the AP US History exam that May, and all but knew that I’d earned a “5” and six college credits because of my score. The thought of graduating early had crossed my mind in the weeks after the exam.

The reality of life at 616, meanwhile, would’ve been harder to manage. With me out of school in ’86 instead of ’87, I suddenly would’ve found myself with more time on my hands for resentment and anger than I had before. Especially once my Technisort job came to an end at the beginning of August of that year. Sure, I would’ve filled my afternoons with watching or listening to Mets games from August to the World Series win on October 27th, and my fall/winter Sundays with Giants games as they marched to their first Super Bowl. But in between, I would’ve been looking for work, or would’ve found part-time work.

I know for sure that I would’ve spent even more time watching over my younger siblings, washing clothes, running to the grocery store, cooking meals, and so many other things that I ended up doing during my summers at home from my studies at the University of Pittsburgh. That would’ve made me resentful, given the lack of emotional support I had from my Mom.

I would’ve had to endure more weekend searches for my alcoholic father Jimme in order to have enough money to get away from 616 while waiting to start college in ’87. I probably would’ve seen a bit more of my idiot (ex) stepfather between September and November ’86 and March through May ’87, not an easy task considering I sometimes imagined myself stabbing him in the neck.

Or would I? If I know anything about space, time and history, if you change one decision, no matter how small, you change almost everything that comes afterward, even if some events on the surface look the same. I would’ve thought about taking some college courses at Westchester Community College, Pace University, perhaps even Fordham or one of the CUNY schools, like Hunter College. I still would’ve explored applying for schools outside of the NYC area, including the University of Pittsburgh. A couple of extra months at home would’ve made me more weary of being at 616 and in Mount Vernon than I actually was at the beginning of my senior year at MVHS.

Still, there was so much I would’ve missed learning my senior year. About the pitfalls of liking a girl whose only goal in life besides pleasing her parents was in pulling away from them by being cool (read Crush #2 and cruel, actually). All of the friendships and relationships that failed to endure the year. The difference between a great teacher like the late Harold Meltzer and someone in need of a career change like an Estelle Abel or a David Wolf. And that taking three AP courses in one year with teachers of varying abilities and with senioritis in full bloom was a terrible idea.

Those lessons wouldn’t have been learned for at least a year, and made my transition to college harder. Without those bitter lessons, I probably wouldn’t be a historian and a writer. For all I know, I probably would’ve ended up a bartender making the best daiquiris in Westchester County.

A Musical Mirror in Time

November 13, 2010

My iPod, November 13, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

A side benefit to working on Boy @ The Window has been walking down memory lane in describing the music of those times. The music I listened to for inspiration, out of love, rage or goofiness. Or music that provided my means of escape from the drudgery of poverty at 616, the organized chaos that was Humanities and Mount Vernon public schools. Music that I stumbled upon, or deliberately discovered or discounted.

I’ve wondered off and on what the tunes in my ear and head would’ve been like if all the music that I’ve been exposed to since the end of the ’80s had all been at my fingertips in ’81 and ’82. I know one thing for sure. Had I the ability to send my eleven or twelve-year-old self my iPod from ’10, weird or not, Hebrew-Israelite or not, I’d been one of the coolest kids in school. Assuming that I wouldn’t have had to defend my improbable toy against bullies and muggers, that is.

So, now that I have access to music from any time and any year up to 2010, what would I’ve listened to

My iPod, Sting's "Desert Rose", November 13, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

during the Boy @ The Window years? Thinking about Crush #1, the music I had available in mind and in ear was Stevie Wonder’s “As” and “That Girl,” and The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” between March and June ’82.

Fully acknowledging that I was in some sort of love then, gee, what would’ve fit my mood? What would’ve been appropriate to the chaos in the rest of my life? U2’s “Beautiful Day” — where “you’ve been all over, and it’s been all over you?” Or Coldplay’s “Clocks,” Sting’s “Desert Rose,” Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk,” and Celine Dion’s “That’s The Way It Is,” all songs of shyness and unrequited love? Talk about framing a mood!

Well, what about Crush #2, my obsession with her, and the pain she helped cause? What could complement music like Richard Marx’s “Should’ve Known Better,” Paul Carrack’s “Don’t Shed A Tear,” or Geto Boys’ “My Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me”? Going back to January ’88, Live’s “White, Discussion” would’ve been a place to start. White male angst about race and possibly love — “Look what all this talking got us, baby” screamed at maximum lung-ness by lead singer Ed Kowalczyk — could’ve just as easily been my sarcastic and rage-laced refrain regarding Crush #2.

Other, more goofy and less epic tunes to lay out my anger and disappointment — or to get over it — hmm. Probably something like Michael Bolton’s “Time, Love & Tenderness,” Mariah Carey’s “Can’t Let Go,” or Annie Lennox’s “Walking On Broken Glass.” Music from the ’90s. So much better for coping with crushes and trifling people.

On a more serious tip, what from my present would’ve soothed my constantly worried mind back in the days when mp3 would’ve been thought of as a kind of motor oil? My faves of the ’80s were Mr. Mister’s “Kyrie” and “Broken Wings,” because the songs met me where I was, a teenager struggling to find his true self, to succeed in school, to survive life at 616. Other than some social justice-lite songs like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On,” Sting’s “They Dance Alone,” or Peter Gabriel’s “Don’t Give Up,” there wasn’t much of a message in most of the music from the mid- to late-80s — at least related to my life.

My iPod, Nickelback's "If Today Was Your Last Day," November 13, 2010. Donald Earl Collins.

But bringing music back from the future would’ve helped. Like Anthony Hamilton’s “Comin’ From Where I’m From,” Creed’s “Higher,” Sounds of Blackness’ “Optimistic,” even Nickelback’s “If Today Was Your Last Day.” The line of lines — “Against the grain should be a way of life” — has been when I’ve gotten the most out of myself, my God and my life.

I can only imagine what life would’ve been like with a piece of second-decade, twenty-first century

My iPod w/ U2, November 13, 2010. Donald Earl Collins

technology in the early ’80s. It made have made most of my embarrassing, disheartening and sorrowful moments easier to bear. But without those moments, I certainly wouldn’t have as full an appreciation of the music I listen to now and the blessings that have occurred in my life in the three decades since. As Anthony Hamilton would say, “Sometimes you gotta walk alone,” although with music, not completely alone.


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