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Dreaming of Columbus: A Boyhood in the Bronx


In the summertime the Bronx was filled with dreams. The days flowed indiscernibly, a sluggish stream, one day moving unnoticed into the next, all part of the long, lazy drift of time. The apartment buildings, rectangles of frozen brick in the winter, seemed to thaw and then sway in the shimmering summer heat. Faces softened, people slowed their gaits, and children sat in slivers of shade on the stoops, imagining their golden futures. Even the sweat-soaked adults who plodded back across the Grand Concourse in the early evening after exiting the trains had a look of dreamy contemplation. Everyone appeared to be thinking of another place, another time.

We were fourteen years old and uncertain what our dreams should be, what dreams were any longer possible, but we roamed in packs like wild-eyed wolves, at turns loping and lethargic, needing each other’s company, but never sure why.

It was a June day in 1964, seven months after the murder of John F. Kennedy, and the sun burned down on the Bronx. The air turned thick and sullen, workers slumped resignedly in their subway seats, and playgrounds looked bleached and useless. The atmosphere was so heavy that it seemed opaque and the future impossibly distant.

On that day, Thomas Slater lost his name and found a new one.