1. As a child, did you ever resent being last, or being in the back of a class because your last name began with a 'Z'?
Yes. I wanted to be an "A".
2. What were some of your hobbies as a kid?
Fishing, flying in airplanes, & swimming.
3. Do you think you had a good childhood?
Not really - though it was a good childhood to become a writer. I was forced to dream of worlds that could be, rather than the world that was for me. I was hardly miserable, however, and I had a lot of fun regardless of how much I complain.
4. What is the most dangerous thing you did when you were a teen?
The most dangerous thing I did was go up as a passenger in a lot of little airplanes doing loops, spins, barrel rolls, etc. with young, sometimes inexperienced pilots. I had an airport for a backyard (as described in THE PIGMAN & ME). It's a wonder I wasn't killed...The other crazy thing I did was go fishing with alligators in Florida, and swim across the Kill Van Kull river in NY which has terrible currents...I think I did about 2,467 other crazy things too. I hate to think of some of the thoughtless stuff I did when I thought I would live forever.
5. You often write about kids that don't fit into the cool crowd at school. Were you ever left out or felt you weren't popular?
Yes. I was left out of a lot. I wasn't good at playing sports and I used to hate it when I'd be the last one to be picked. I felt great pain at being left out.
Most of the times I was left out because I had no father or anyone to teach me the skills to be a winner, or even passable in a lot of areas. Of course, there were many activities where I was included, most of which had to do with schoolwork.
That's why school can be very important to a kid who grows up in a neighborhood where the kids are tough and enjoy trying to kill off the weak or naive. I know this is going to sound ridiculous, but one of the most painful moments of my teenage life happened when my own friends left me out.
I had called John K. to ask him if he felt like going to see a movie, and he said he couldn't because he was sick and had to stay in bed. An hour later I saw John K. zooming by a block from my house in a convertible with Andy R., Fred H. and somebody else.
I felt so hurt, as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I was particularly sensitive about being left out, when I should have liked myself better and known that sometimes everyone fibs and that everything is not a matter of life or death.
6. You write about kids being picked on. Were you ever bullied?
Yes. I describe this in my memoir THE PIGMAN & ME. My mother used to move a lot because she couldn't pay the rent -- so I was often the new kid in a town and the new kid at a school.
As you know, new kids often get picked on. That's the down side. On the plus side, getting picked on so much eventually led to learning to trust myself more and enjoying myself.
It probably led to my career of writing -- writers write to create worlds they want to live in or experience. It also ended up making me a bit of a tough cookie.
In order to protect myself I learned how to tell practically everyone off. I learned to like myself first, and then others. Those that don't like me, I now couldn't care less.
I finally learned that if everyone likes you, you are probably a really dumb, boring loser.
7. What was the world like when you were growing up?
When we first drove into Travis, the town I grew up on in Staten Island, I noticed a lot of plain wood houses, a Catholic church, a war memorial, three saloons with men sitting outside on chairs, seventeen women wearing kerchiefs on their heads, a one-engine firehouse, a big red-brick school building, a candy store, and a butcher shop with about 300 sausages hanging in the window. Travis looked like it was Kansas in 1920, and it still looks like that today.
The most rural I ever got was when I lived in Kingston, NY and went to a one room schoolhouse. That meant that grades K-12 met in a single classroom. The whole school was about eighteen kids!
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