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I'm Outta Here

Cartoon sketch of a man in glasses hanging by a rope in front of a wall. He's looking down, with one arm blocking his face. He's gripping the rope tightly. Illustration by Earle Levenstein.

From the very beginning—purely personal; no offense meant to patient, loving, totally committed teachers all over the world—but for me, school was a lost cause.

Nothing worked.

The only memory I have, happy or otherwise—most likely from the first few days of kindergarten—a colored-crayon drawing of a field of flowers. Period. That's it, folks. No joke.

The rest, a series of images of me, home in bed, surrounded by blankets and toy soldiers and pads of paper and crayons and maybe some pages of comics from the Sunday newspaper.

As for school: nothing.

Except for a flash of me, heart beating wildly, running up the block from school to the alley adjoining my home, up the back stairs and in through the kitchen door. To find what? Who knows?

Delightful memory of a small movie projector, on the floor of the bedroom I shared with my brother, watching a Mickey Mouse cartoon, holding the film up to the light to see each drawing, or looking through a Christmas catalog of Lionel Trains, our radio on: an episode of Lone Ranger.

A gap in time; I'm on the trolley on my way to school, sheets of lined paper, my handwriting, in pencil. No idea what I'd written.

No teachers in my collection until junior high school: two teachers. One, Latin—don't ask me how I got into a class in Latin—the teacher writing in my autograph book—again; don't ask—"Bona fortuna." I must have been graduating, moving on to high school.

The second teacher, also junior high school and a note she had made in a report sheet: "Talented." Reflecting; she was an art teacher: clay modeling, an oven; I remember making Lincoln in that familiar Lincoln Memorial setting; it exploded in the oven.

On to the High School of Music and Art. So emotionally screwed up by then, I have close to zero recollections of any teacher in any class, least of all a studio class. Absolutely not a drawing of any kind, and given the fact that I was an art major, that's astonishing.

College was a total zip minus whatever fragments of me were left to float around: a few ashes after the fire. It's no joke when I wrote "Bowling" as my major in my FB account.

Two positive recollections of college: one, my first visit to a therapist's office, finally acknowledging my aimless, free-floating drift through the years. Clear to me that I was really in major-league-level trouble.

Second recollection: a friend, on his way out of the picture—Hodgkin's Lymphoma, incurable then—hand on my shoulder, telling me to quit college and start all over again in the School of Fine Arts.

For me, the Army: then out and off on a bumpy road; impulsive choices, detours, ups and downs and sideways, here and there, creeping on, slow by slow, therapy, following my trail, back to the beginning.

On the way, pursued by hounds; cartooning, freelance, and a fast shuffle into advertising, the so-called creative part; it was oddly satisfying for the most part; a parallel universe, where my creative self was finally given an outlet.


School just didn't have a chance with me; buried as I was in issues revolving around survival as priority number one on the Get Through Childhood Alive road, with psychotherapy lighting the way down a long, long road.

Long shot? What if, from the beginning, I'd identified school as an escape, a hideout, by burying myself in classes, notes, bringing schoolbags filled with work home, setting up a parallel universe by studying my brains out, day and night, total immersion?

Then what?

As the saying goes, you can run, but you can't hide.

Bottom line?

You play the hand you're dealt.



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