When I was 17, I graduated from Manalapan High School in central New Jersey, where I had spent an eternity sitting in the halls, my back against lockers, writing poetry about despair. I also hung out with my friend Sherry at the little trailer in her parents’ backyard where we drank Boone’s Farm Applejack and ate lots of pizza. At graduation, my friend Lori yelled my name loud and later gave me a giant chocolate kiss.
When I was 17, I started Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, an especially progressive college where a student chose the grade she wished the received and simply did all required for that grade. If she failed a test, she could retake another version of it. If she got lower than Credit (which was a C), the course didn’t count or show up on her transcript. The new and beautiful wooded campus also had the most intuitive sidewalks linking buildings, always the shortest routes, because the builders first let students make their own trails, and then just paved those over. To get to Brookdale took me two hours each way although it was a 20-minute drive. I had to walk over a mile to Route 9 (as in “Sprung from cases out on Highway 9” — Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” — he was a local boy), catch a bus to Freehold, and wait an hour at the bus station there for another bus to Lincroft. Along the way I met Clarence, a tall Black man with an affinity for Karl Marx and the campus radio station.
At Brookdale, I studied poetry (my major), photography (learned how to develop film in a dark room), Russian history and human sexuality, taught by a fiery young woman who, on the last night of class, brought in a panel of gay and lesbian people. Our teacher joined the panel, announced she was a lesbian too, and afterward, we young-and-naive students hung out with the panel people, drinking screwdrivers and proclaiming to our new friends, “We love gays and lesbians!”
I started hanging out at the radio station, 90.5 FM, delivering news regularly that I would tear off from the UPI machine and lightly edit. Our radio station’s format was “progressive radio,” which mixed every genre of music: classical, jazz, rock, Armenian, be-bop, country, Broadway tunes, comedy, etc., often according to themes. For example, you might hear Don McLean’s “Starry, Starry Night” followed by Eric Satie’s “Claire de Lune” followed by Tony Bennett’s “Moon River.” I still think it’s the absolute best format for any radio station.
Guys started to be interested in me for the first time. I dates a quiet man who spent his days in prison and nights performing between studying guitar with Rich Julian. I was entranced by how he called me “Man,” as in “Great to see you, Man.” I hung out with Wulenze, an older guy (in his 30s, which was SO old), who only went by one name and dressed like a swashbuckler. We would scheme together about how we would strike it rich with his music and my poetry. I went to clubs to hear live music, and later, would share all the details of whoever I was with Eddie, my boss at Clothes Conscious, a small strip-mall store where we sold Faded Glory low-cut jeans. Although I never did more than actually kiss anyone that year, Eddie — who was married and a man of the world — told me a lot about men. One day I was locked in a small closet with a guy at the radio station, and he kissed me. I didn’t know that when I was 18, he would become my first real boyfriend, and an excellent boyfriend at that: kind, funny and generous.
When I was 17, I went from weird high school nerd to newscasting/poetry-writing/traveling-on-her-own woman. Like the college I attended, I started to make my own trails, which would later be made into sturdy walkways.