The Black Hole of My Understanding

Near Lisbon, OhioBefore my family left the state to escape mob reprisals, I spent the first of my Wonder Bread Years in a small, river valley town called East Liverpool, on the easternmost edge of Ohio, right where Pennsylvania and West Virginia bump up against it. Baby boomers like me easily forget how childhood in those days offered far less access to information, especially when the nearest city of any size was Youngstown; and hardly anyone reading this would understand what it means to stare expectantly at a test pattern. Add to that an almost universal tendency to romanticize our early years and wallpaper over much of the angst with artificially glossy memories, or to generalize that children have it easy. They don’t. For quite a stretch everything is new in the worst possible way, I mean Robert-Hughes-Shock-of-the-New new. I’ve come to believe one reason most children reject unfamiliar foods is a survival instinct: they’re programmed to assume any bite hoisted on them by some adult is a lethal poison. And whenever I forget what it feels like to live with that constant background hum of disorientation, I dredge up the confusion I experienced in elementary school, reading of places like Lisbon, Palestine, and Calcutta. According to my Geography texts, these were located in distant and exotic lands. But I knew for a fact they all lay within a half-hour’s drive of our home. (Shown here, Countryside in western Center Township, Columbiana County, near Lisbon, Ohio.)