How I Arrived At Spare Change News (Part One)

Marc D. Goldfinger
Spare Change News

In our lives there are always beginnings and endings. When one door opens, sometimes you step through and find yourself in a hallway littered with debris, and all the way down the hall there are doors on both sides. Some of them are open and various figures stand in the doorways, beckoning, whispering words of enticement as you walk past in a dilemma, trying to figure out which entryway is the right one for you.

At the end of the hall there is a cloud crackling with thunder and lightening bolts. It appears so far away but the longer you stay in the hallway; the closer it comes, even if you stand still. The inevitable waits, but only for so long, then it is upon you whether you like it or not.

I was born in a city that is alien to me called Hackensack, New Jersey. I don’t remember ever being there, yet my birth certificate says I was there. The first town I remember was North Arlington, New Jersey but events are blurry to me. Torn by anxiety and unhappiness, I ventured forth into what seemed to be a hard world. My first real experience with the police was when I was in second grade.

The schools were crowded and we went for split sessions. My session was from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon so my mornings were free. Adventurous child that I was, my friend and I went exploring along the banks of a large stream that no longer exists. They were doing construction there and it had just rained for a few days and the bank of the stream was high and muddy.

We went to the edge and slipped down to the edge of the water. It was so slippery that we could not climb back up. We started calling for help and, hours later, someone heard our cries and the police came and took us out of the stream. It was after 1:00 p.m. and we should have been in school.

The police took us to the stationhouse and laughed at our dismay, and said we bad boys were put in the police station basement with rats and snakes and that they wouldn’t let us go to the bathroom. I was frightened and wet my pants and then they made fun of me. After what seemed like an eternity, my parents came and picked me up and brought me home, scolding me for my foolishness. Needless to say, from that day forward I knew that “the police were not my friends.” It’s hard to remember but I think I was about nine years old.

The world seemed strange and forbidding to me. Because of my fear, I struck out at the world. When I was in fourth grade, a group of us broke into a school that was nearing completion right near my house. Cork bulletin boards were stacked up in one of the rooms and we began to play with them, breaking them over each other’s heads.

Suddenly the police came and again I had an unpleasant experience but there were eight of us, safety in numbers, and we swore epithets at them and they spoke sharply to us. I knew I was in trouble but I didn’t care anymore. Life was trouble to me and I knew that my road was marked for destruction. I didn’t care if I lived or died.

When I was nine years old, ready to enter sixth grade, my parents moved to a suburban town named Livingston, New Jersey, practically rural, the town was surrounded by farmland. I had been seeing a Social Worker and a Psychiatrist since I was seven years old and they recommended moving out of the factory town I lived in so I could make better friends and not get in trouble.

But the trouble was in my head. It would be easy now to say that my parents lacked the skills they needed to bring me up properly and that it was their fault I was troubled. There are facts, which should be revealed about my father and mother. Both of them had tough upbringings and they were hurt badly by things that happened to them.

One fact is that they were damaged; hurt people. Another fact is that hurt people hurt people. God only knows how their parents were brought up. My mother came from a family of nine children and both her parents were dead by the time she was thirteen. My father came from a broken home and, when he visited his mother, who lived away from him, he was beaten badly by his father. He was eight years old at the time. Then she died when he was ten years old, so you could say he lost his mother twice.

But I was just a child myself and this was information I could not process at the time so I struck out at the world and myself. I began drinking and smoking at the age of eleven and I was constantly in trouble with the police. I knew the police were my enemy. As a matter of fact, anyone who was in a position of authority was my enemy.

My mind told me what to do and it was a broken instrument. The only thing that saved me was my love of reading. I lost myself in storybooks and I had a gift. Words came to me easily. I learned later that my mother had taught me how to read even before I started school. She was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family and education was stressed as the key to success. My father was raised in a different type of home.

I read Moby Dick when I was in 6th grade and loved it. I read comics and books all the time and the kids I hung out with teased me and called me the ‘professor’ in a derisive tone. But when they needed help in school, they came to me — even though my grades were not that good.

How could that be? Well, I read what I wanted to read, never did my homework because I didn’t like being told what to do. My guidance counselor told me I was wasting my mind and I told him I was learning what I wanted; not what they wanted me to learn.

I began getting suspended from school for smoking in the boy’s room and swearing at teachers if they gave me a hard time. But what did I know? One counselor, when I was thirteen, recommended that I go to a military school.

I don’t think it would have saved me from what was coming. It was not the doorway I entered. I started dating a girl in tenth grade whose older sister was a junkie. I had read the book “Junky” by William Burroughs and was fascinated by it. When I read the book I was in 8th grade.

Then I read “Confessions of An English Opium Eater” by De Quincy shortly before dating Judy. Judy and I were going to the movies and I was complaining about not having anything to drink. She said, “I’ve got something you’ll love,” and ran back into her house.

When she came out she showed me a bottle of cough syrup — Robitussin A-C — it was called. I laughed at her and said, “That’s only cough syrup.”

Judy said she stole it from her sister who drank it when she got sick from not having dope. Judy said, “This is narcotics.” We sat in the movie and split the bottle in half. Within a half-an-hour I was sitting in the movies dreaming. I knew that I had found paradise. I said to myself, “I’m going to do this the rest of my life.”

I liked Judy. I loved the cough syrup. I had just turned 16 years old and walked into a doorway where the hall was over 30 years long.

Click here for Part II of How I Arrived At Spare Change News

Marc D. Goldfinger is a formerly homeless vendor who is now housed. He can be reached at junkietroll@yahoo.com and via his web page Marc D. Goldfinger. Marc also has books on www.smashwords.net that can be downloaded for $2.99.

Marc D. Goldfinger is a member of the board of directors of the Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change news. Formerly homeless, he serves as the paper's poetry editor.

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