In 1st grade I won a statewide poetry contest with my poem “Flowers Have Powers.”
Flowers have powers to smell
I love them, I love them so much
I love to climb so high
I love to climb so high in the sky
My flowers and I
The judges were impressed with my grasp of the metaphor, I was later told by my Mom, the English teacher. Governor Bill Bradley sent me a letter. They gave me an award at the school assembly. They even took a picture of me with Mr. Sands, our principal, and put it in the newspaper. I was proud, and it made me even more confident with language.
In 2nd grade our teacher, Mrs. Lolk, read Charlotte’s Web to us. We absolutely loved it. She came across the word “manure” and asked if anyone knew what that was. Jacob Kono raised his hand and said, “A big pile of shit.” The class cracked up. Jacob turned bright red and may have shed a tear. He wasn’t trying to be a wiseass ─ he had liberal parents who thought nothing of their 8 year old swearing.
In 5th grade I made the boys’ traveling soccer team. They didn’t have a girls’ traveling team at that point, and all the coaches thought I needed to develop my talent. I didn’t get much playing time, but I got to hang out with a lot of boys I had huge crushes on.
In 6th grade I was named co-captain of the Safety Patrol. I wore a white belt while all the other patrollers wore an orange belt. My big leadership moment came during an early dismissal due to a snowstorm. Parents were coming to pick up their kids during lunch and the Patrol had to maintain order in the otherwise chaotic cafeteria of Ann Blanch Smith School.
In 7th grade I won a Memorial Day speechwriting contest and was invited to march in the parade and read my speech in the Hillsdale town center. Being 13, this was the uncoolest thing ever and I tried to get out of it. My Mom tricked me into it – she said I just had to read the speech and didn’t have to march. When I got there, I learned otherwise. I marched through the entire town with my Sun-ined hair, braces, and Keds, trying to look aloof.
In 9th grade I got my first job other than newspaper girl and babysitter (which I had started with around age 10) as a “phone girl” at Marcy’s Ristorante in Park Ridge, NJ. It was a highly trafficked family-style pizza place, restaurant and bar. The phones rang off the hook and I worked on the busiest night ─ Saturday as well as Tuesday and fill in. Several of my cool older cousins and their friends worked there. I smoked Parliament lights in the bathroom. I got paid five bucks and hour in cash, off the books, plus tips. I LOVED that job. It enabled me to buy my first television and my 1991 Ford Probe, also known as Probey-Wan Kenobi which carried me all the way through college and grad school and is the only car I’ve ever owned.