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Alex Carnevale

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Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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I Became Most Powerful


People always forget about time capsules. When have you ever gone back and opened a time capsule? Time capsules are not a modern concept, because they are first and foremost evidence of an immature culture, one that believes its adolescence is far more important than it actually is. For a long time when I was very young I thought of the world itself as a kind of time capsule, until I went to summer camp and learned there were things it was better to forget.

My parents were never full of ideas for me, which does them credit, but also does me way too much credit. To gain admission to the Center for Talented Youth camps you had to take the SAT at the local high school, where I learned what real teens were like and how bad they were at test-taking. One gangly sixteen year old offered me a can of Coke and after I explained why that was a bad idea, he crossed himself. My score was sufficient to get me into the program, and it also made fantastic if slightly off-putting repartee at social gatherings. 

At the age of eleven I was still very much a child, but I thought of myself as a genetic cross between Little Man Tate and Zack Morris. I don't know what idea of camp I had generated in my head, but I was the youngest camper that summer at Hamilton, a place where every building seemed to glow with a disturbing yellow luminescence. One of my camp classmates had an idea about a story where the murder would take place, and then you would go back in time and see why the murder had occurred. I informed him that everything started that way. He told a girl named Helene that I had insulted him.

We spent most of the day in class, and the evenings in study hall. The first thing we learned how to write was memoir, presumably because our mid-20s instructor was planning his own three part memoir about his life growing up in upstate New York, which he planned to title Upstate. When he asked me if that was too literal, I told him that it wasn't literal enough. The fact that I hated eating with groups meant that I spent a lot of time reading The Philadelphia Inquirer, which perhaps gave me a distorted sense of how important newspapers were in the world.

My personal style didn't help me fit in. My dad basically dressed like he was homeless until 1994, and as the first child in my family, my mother viewed how I looked largely as a matter of amusement. I only recently even learned what a sarong is. In kindergarten I refused to wear glasses.

my younger brother DanielThe following summer I resolved to take a more important inventory of myself. The campus was Franklin & Marshall in Pennsylvania. In a class on writing and society we were taught Marx's Communist Manifesto, which was very easy to misunderstand. Little did I know that nine short years later I would be saying positive things about Whittaker Chambers in front of people.

Of things that I was the only of, I could count a few. I was the only person in my third grade class to say that I would vote for Bill Clinton; by virtue of my father, I was also the only Italian person in Connecticut before eyeball distance of the Verrazano Bridge. A couple of times before I turned ten, I tried to run away, but I was deterred by the knowledge it would be difficult to find a place to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on such short notice.

not a photo shoot for the sopranos comissioned by vanity fairWhen my mother came into my elementary school classes to teach the kids the glory of Hanukkah, a part of me died. It was a little too much many-sided dice. I did do the occasional public speaking about how brave and diverse I was, but after someone told me about Bobby Fischer I mostly lost interest in that. Camp was composed of differences, an Eden-esque place where you could go to meet more complicated women.

Many powerful people went to these camps. They were eugenic in nature, I believe, leading us to be accustomed to a certain kind of partnership, limiting our ability to connect with others unlike ourselves. That is why in 2005 I sued Kazuo Ishiguro on the grounds that Never Let Me Go too closely resembled my basic life story. (I also found parts of When We Were Orphans contrived.)

Sending children whose dominant virtue is that he or she is a good test-taker into a laboratory together and seeing how they deal with one another is pretty sick. The idea of a camp in general sounds sinister ("Work Is Free"), but I remember my camp friends writing to me afterwards. Efforts to stay in touch were largely futile, which also served as a template for life. It was better to experience things for a short period and then depart, richer for whatever you had gained but separate from what had come before.

The SAT, when it was administered to me, was the first test-taker's test. Antonyms were reduced to a minor part of the test; reading comprehension took on a more prominent role. It was certainly possible for a genius level mind to ace it completely, but the verbal skills of most people in my age group rendered a perfect score largely impossible. In essence verbal acuity wasn't being tested as much as reading the test. The type of person who could do that was a certain type of person, quite realistically many types of people, but perhaps only those types of people. I will never know except by what I felt to be around others. Later we all donated our organs to George W. Bush.

Ninety-five percent of my diet for the six weeks at Franklin and Marshall was Kudos bars, and it is close to the happiest I have ever been. At night if I was too excited to sleep I just thought about ways that Kevin Bacon connected to other actors and reviewed the events of the day. Sometimes I remember a subtle instruction here or there — when my mind allows me to revisit it, I wonder how much of what occurred was laid out by a sinister Jigsaw-esque taskmaster and how much of it was me doing it myself. Maybe that is just a confused person's idea of God, or what Al Gore believes is global warming.

When I was three, a doctor had informed my parents that I was gifted after watching me put together a puzzle of the Empire State building. Who was this "doctor"? How is that a scientific approach? Did he simply want to watch a little kid assemble a shining silver phallus? The mind reels at how much of what we experience is a lie we become complicit in without ever consciously agreeing to it. There is also a very good chance the legend of my doctor's visit was entirely a fable, judging by my winter outerwear.

As a child I promised myself I would never forget what it was like to be a child. This resolution became a kind of curse, since it ensured I would only remember the negative things about my childhood. But that is not quite true — children also know nothing of what it is like to be children. It is only adults who believe they know what it is like, or are too inured from what they were to remember the abject fear and nylon jackets.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He is a writer living in Manhattan. He last wrote in these pages about the letters of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He tumbls here and twitters here.

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Reader Comments (5)

can't wait for the theatrical version starring Chazz Palminteri directed by Julie Taymor

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly

Incroyable youth winter outerwear

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDanish

I think you forgot a picture

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKara

cognitive studies prove that people remember way more about their childhood and adolescence than any other parts of their lives. our memory then gets totally bored and jaded somewhere around the same time we do.

December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMolly


January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTito Fitzcollins

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