1981 Excerpt - Autobiography - My Life in Context [1980-2020]

1981

From all accounts that I’ve received from family and friends and through going through old photos, I was apparently a fairly happy-go-lucky baby. I always felt special and well-loved as a child. Perhaps I received some extra attention since I was the first grandchild on both my mother and father’s side of the family which may have endeared me to some for that reason. I don’t know.  

In the cold winter month of January 1981, I began to live my life as this human being who would be called John Henry Sheridan. As Americans were being introduced to the exciting new television soap opera Dynasty on the evening of Monday, January 12, my family was getting used to life as a new trio. We were living in a 2nd floor apartment on Bedford Avenue between Avenue U and T in the neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, NY. I can vaguely recall the wood and the carpet in this apartment as well as the little front yard with the many green plants and concrete walkway. The two-way street lying before our home that is Bedford Avenue seemed enormous. Just a walk down the block and many wonderful stores and surprises awaited us. 

From my earliest memories I was surrounded by warm and friendly grown-ups.  There are various photos of myself being held by a smiling family member or friend of the family. I felt as if I was always surrounded by love as well as lots of books, television, toys and even friends of a similar age. One of my very first friends was a boy named Donny. He had strong red hair and a friendly demeanor. Donny and I have kept in touch much like cousins our entire lives.  

While my rock n’ roll dreams were still nearly a decade away at this time, it is interesting to note that in 1981 during the Killers tour, some of the members of the legendary heavy metal band Iron Maiden visited a music shop called Zig Zag Records just two blocks from where I lived at around this time[1]. Iron Maiden would become one of the first bands I fell in love with and one of the few bands I continue to love throughout adulthood. And Zig Zag Records would become a staple location for my friends and I to purchase our less common heavy metal cassettes, CD’s and paraphernalia. 

As I was developing from a newborn into an infant the world at large was going through some growing pains of its own. On March 30, 1981 the new president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, was shot and wounded during an assassination attempt on his life in Washington D.C. Less than 2 months later, on Wednesday May 13th an assassination attempt was made on the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. As Pope John Paul II was walking onto St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, he was shot 4 times and suffered severe blood loss. As if the aforementioned events did not rock the world enough, in a report dated June 5, 1981 the CDC reported the first cases of what would soon come to be known as the AIDS virus. 

In June of 1981 my father’s sister Dolly married her soulmate James. Aunt Dolly and Uncle James were two jolly souls who were regular faces throughout my childhood and into my early teens. They have since passed on. I am grateful and happy to have had a chance to know them. 

From June 16th – June 21st, 1981 the president of the SGI[2], Daisaku Ikeda[3] visited NYC and surrounding areas. There were various struggles occurring in our country and the world at that time which Mr. Ikeda was well aware. Inspired by various factors including his deeply felt buddhist mission as a peace builder, the state of the world, and New York’s own poet Walt Whitman, Mr. Ikeda felt moved to pen a poem of encouragement during his brief stay entitled “To My Beloved Young American Friends – Youthful Boddhisattvas of the Earth”. This has become a deeply significant poem for the members of the SGI-USA and especially for members in NYC. As this historically significant poem was penned just shortly after I was born it has an extra layer of significance for me. It is also a beautiful and inspired piece of writing which I would recommend anyone to read for some encouragement and an inspired vision of the role that the United States can play in achieving real and lasting peace. Here is an excerpt: 

The world today is ailing. 
This continental land, America, 
is also faltering, about to succumb  
to the same illness. 

In the past, the land of America was a symbol of freedom and democracy –  
fresh new focus of the world’s hopes. 

Chanting the Mystic Law 
with resonant, resounding voices, 
plant your feet on the earth of society; 
sink in your roots, 
bring forth flowers and blossoms, 
as you continue to speak, 
to converse, to call from your heart, 
to move and meet –  
for this friend here 
for that friend there 
for the people of this city, 
for friends far away. 

In the early summer of 1981, my Nana[4] and Bampa[5] visited Norway and I went along as far as the airport this time. It wouldn’t be long before I’d also hop on the plane and go along with them all the to Norway. More on that later. 

Among other things, activities that summer included visiting visiting Nana’s house in Marine Park. 

As well as Grandma Loretta’s house in Flatlands.  

One of the aspects of my father’s character that stands out to me was his determination to not only be the best father that he could be, but to also be the best uncle-figure that he could be as well. From what I’ve gathered, it seems that my father felt as a child he would have liked to have more of an older male presence who could have afforded him many desirable childhood memories or desires fulfilled. I sense that he felt disappointed in his own experience of lacking a fun male role model who he could enjoy fun activities with. So, this being the case, he made efforts to involve his cousin’s children as well as my youthful best buddy Donny in fun activities. Uncle Johnny as he may have been known to some, would provide an atmosphere of the safe and reliable adult male who could make fun things possible in their lives. In the summer of 1981, while I was still unable to walk, he took little Donny to the batting cage as well as to Nelly Bly Amusement Park to ride the kiddie rides.  

In September I was walking around the living room of my family’s apartment in my baby walker drinking from my milk bottle and motioning for my mother to throw me a small, soft ballie. Perhaps it was in some such circumstance that I first felt my eyes magnetized to the television screen by small blue humanoid creatures living in mushrooms. On Saturday, September 12, 1981 The Smurfs animated television show first aired on American TV. While they would never become my favorite characters, they would certainly be a staple of the lives of most American children, including myself, who grew up through the 1980’s. 

            Later this month, on Wednesday September 30, my father turned 31 years old. My father, in a manner similar to myself though less drastic, went through various phases of physical appearance as evidenced by the body of family archive photos that have been left behind. Around the time of his 31stbirthday, he was on the slimmer side of his various body shapes. He had a thin moustache and a full head of somewhat curly and disheveled dirty blonde hair. He was working the night shift as a pressman at The Daily News. While he was making “good money” he did not love the job, even disliked it. I can only imagine how the topsy turvy schedules of my mother and father may have created tension in their relationship. At the time however and in the paradigm and age that they lived in, it was not uncommon at all to believe that working long hours in a job you’d rather not be doing was worthwhile so that you and your family could “move up” in the world. I do not say any of this with a sense of ingratitude or a delusion that things would have been better if they had lived their lives differently. I deeply appreciate my parents for who they are nothing more nor less. As their child I merely have the benefit of learning from their lives what I might.  

[1] I discovered this via a photo circulating on Facebook that clearly showed some members of Iron Maiden on Ave. U and E. 24th St. circa 1981-1982. From personal conversations with the long-time store clerk (before they closed) he informed me about the time Iron Maiden played L’amour in 198- and did an in-store signing at Zig Zag Records that same day. It must have been very early 80’s as he mentioned that Paul D’ianno was singing for them and he left the band in 198-. 

[2] SGI, Soka Gakkai International, is a lay buddhist organization dedicated to spreading the humanistic ideals of Nichiren buddhism for the sake of human happiness and world peace. I would later become a member on May 3rd, 2009. 

[3] Daisaku Ikeda is the 3rd president of the SGI. A prolific author, poet and speaker, he has dedicated his life to the spread of Nichiren Buddhism which advocates a philosophy of peace and human equality which emphasizes personal responsibility guided by a process known as human revolution. Over my years of buddhist practice since spring 2009, I have come to regard him as a mentor in my life and is thus why I will refer to him on occasion in my autobiography when our timeline parallels seem to be of interest to me. 

[4] I use the name Nana to refer to my maternal grandmother. 

[5] I use the name Bampa to refer to my mother’s Uncle John with whom she grew up with in the same household. While not actually a blood relation to me, he came to be my maternal grandfather figure in effect as my mother’s biological father was not in the picture. Apparently the term “Bampa” came from my youthful mispronunciation of the word “grandpa”.

3 comments

  • Marla Nissinboim
    Marla Nissinboim Brooklyn
    John, I love this!!!! I love the way you include historical events...and talk about what was happening in your life during those events. It’s so touching! Also, although this might seem silly, I loved how you mentioned that your dad’s sister Dolly married her soulmate. How wonderful when a couple are soulmates. I’m glad they were in your life and you were in theirs. The smurf part! Loved it. The way you introduced it! Also, I can relate to so much since my children were growing up during that time as well. I look forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing this. :)

    John, I love this!!!! I love the way you include historical events...and talk about what was happening in your life during those events. It’s so touching! Also, although this might seem silly, I loved how you mentioned that your dad’s sister Dolly married her soulmate. How wonderful when a couple are soulmates. I’m glad they were in your life and you were in theirs. The smurf part! Loved it. The way you introduced it! Also, I can relate to so much since my children were growing up during that time as well. I look forward to reading more. Thank you for sharing this. smile

  • Nick Edelman
    Nick Edelman Brooklyn
    "I began to live my life as this human being who would be called John Henry Sheridan" haha, love it! So who are you really? :)

    "I began to live my life as this human being who would be called John Henry Sheridan" haha, love it!
    So who are you really? smile

  • Alan
    Alan Brooklyn
    Hey John, This is very impressive. It takes a lot to make sense of your life and put it in context to the larger world. I have an image of a map and the points you traversed to and with other people, the other points. It's a nice image for me: a point on a map and all the other points on it, all connected with our oneness, both individualized and related all at once. Cheers!

    Hey John,

    This is very impressive. It takes a lot to make sense of your life and put it in context to the larger world. I have an image of a map and the points you traversed to and with other people, the other points. It's a nice image for me: a point on a map and all the other points on it, all connected with our oneness, both individualized and related all at once. Cheers!

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