An earlier, shorter version of Part 1 appeared on npr.org.
In 1965, in a bookstore in my hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts, in the late afternoon of an ordinary school day, in the middle of winter, I discovered my inner nonconformist. Anyone who might have seen me standing before the tiny poetry section, turning the pages of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind, would have mistaken me for an unremarkable 13-year-old, in a winter coat, unbuckled galoshes, a book bag slung over his shoulder. And up to that moment that’s exactly who I was, a typical lower-class Jewish kid, whose parents worked long hours for little pay, with three kids and my mother’s mother to care for. Life in the household was always sulky at the best of times, and now and then explosive. Terrified of blowups, I did my best to fit in. I did my best to be the kind of kid my parents expected me to be. I kept my hair cut short, I dressed neatly, I worked hard in school. I seldom got into trouble. More angster than gangster, the only tough guys I ever dreamed of being were the Jets and Sharks in the film version of the musical West Side Story, which I had seen with a few friends the year before. When the movie let out, my friends and I went dancing down the street looking for Puerto Ricans to beat up. The gang dissolved later the same day when I picked a fight with Michael Lee, a bespectacled, diminutive Chinese boy, the closest thing my neighborhood had to a Puerto Rican. Unfortunately, Mike Lee fought like Bruce Lee’s little brother, and I was crying uncle after the first punch landed.
Read more of the essay here: https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/convention