James M. Flammang, author of 30 books (including
six for children), is at work on several more,
including the title described below.
An independent journalist since the 1980s, Flammang
specialized in the automobile business. During
2016, he turned away from cars and into more vital
topics: work/labor, consumer concerns, and especially,
the emerging outrages of the Trump administration. His
website, Tirekicking Today (tirekick.com) has been
online since 1995.
I’ve always been afraid. Since early childhood, for sure.
In a picture taken at age 3 – a studio photograph of myself, nattily dressed in a sailor suit – I looked so relaxed and carefree. But that ease with life wouldn’t last much longer.
An old black-and-white snapshot, obtained a few years ago, tells quite a different story. This one was shot in the backyard of a boy who lived across the street in my inner-city Chicago neighborhood. His mother took the photo, of the two of us.
As in the formal photograph, I was three years old. Yet, instead of the smiling, seemingly unworried child in that first photo, this one revealed a troubled, frightened youngster. Lost, anguished, out of place, I looked as if I were ready to be led to the gallows, rather than standing for a simple snapshot in a friend’s backyard.
During my first few years of grade school, the die was cast for a lifetime of fear and anxiety. Though I was considered a “smart kid,” in the eyes of most teachers and a fair number of classmates, by First Grade I was already showing signs of both significant introversion and general discomfort with the world around me.
Skipping three semesters in grade school, by way of what they used to call “double promotion,” didn’t help. Though I was enthused about racing through elementary school as swiftly as possible, that squeezing of time came at a price. With each double promotion, I wound up a little – or a lot – younger than nearly all my classmates. By graduation day from Eighth Grade, I was only 12 years old. Entering high school that fall, I was two months short of my 13th birthday.
Now, plenty of kids who’ve skipped grades, winding up younger than their mates, breeze through regardless. I was not part of that group.
A Fifth Grade teacher uncovered a simple explanation for my identity as an introvert and thereby for all that resulted from that status. She cited my left-handedness as a cause for introversion, and possibly for additional maladies, conveniently ignoring the fact that some 10 percent of people were left-handed. This was the late 1940s, and she recommended that I be forcibly retrained to become right-handed. My father had to come to school to protest against that effort. That was quite a surprise to me, as he was a strictly working-class man, who ordinarily would never be found in a classroom.
Whatever the cause, I was indisputably an introvert: shy, fearful, nervous. Uncomfortable with life, and with my surroundings, at every turn.... ....
Note: This chapter is intentionally incomplete at this point, intended to serve as a sample.