Craig Podell, who lives with his ex-wife Lesly (they married in 1982, got divorced in 1993 and have reunited) in La Quinta, has two children, Scott and Jessica. Scott, 28, works in music management, production and promotion on both coasts. Jessica lives in the East Village and works with Steiner Sports Memorabilia in New Rochelle, New York.
Dear Scott and Jessica,
As a little boy, from the ages of 5 to 11, I walked to my elementary school, Radburn School, without fear of being abducted. We had no security issues. After school, I ran home to change into my “grubbies,” only to race off to a ballfield.
Every weekday from 3 to 6 in the afternoon, we chose up sides and got up a game, whether baseball, football or basketball. Playing sports — that’s what our gang always most looked forward to doing. So much so that in the winter we would shovel snow off the basketball court so we could play.
That’s how it was growing up in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. I had a childhood filled with such enjoyments. It also afforded me the opportunity to establish middle-class values.
On Saturday afternoons in autumn, the big feature in town was high school football. As you approached the field, you could smell the raked-up leaves burning. Somehow that fragrance always aroused my appetite for those 25-cent hot dogs boiled in steamy water on a fresh bun with lots of mustard.
Watching the Fair Lawn High football team play in 1966-67 turned out to be a real treat. Our star player and toast of the town was a highly recruited kid named Bruce Jankowski. Jano ended up going to Ohio State University to start for the legendary coach, Woody Hayes.
After 1967, my Mom and Dad moved away from Fair Lawn. Dad had a good measure of success in business. We moved to a nicer home in Wyckoff, 10 miles from Fair Lawn. Though my folks drove nicer cars and we were more financially secure, my sisters and I always maintained our middle-class values.
Fair Lawn was, and still is, very different from your hometown of Calabasas, California. You led a different life from mine. You grew up with Atari, PlayStation and a computer. Your high school classmates drove cars nicer than 90% of the faculty. That you grew up with such excess — well, let’s just say I never envied you.
As for me, I never rubbed shoulders with the elite. We had no paparazzi around at our local supermarkets, much less Kim Kardashian cropping up. We had a broomstick and a pink rubber ball. If we were lucky, we drove used cars, and that in and of itself was really cool. We parked on the street.
And competing in sports was ever so much fun. “Would I make the team?” I asked myself as a kid. “Or will I get cut and wind up an object of ridicule?” You see, back then only certain kids made the team, and only the champions received any trophies.
I still remember how it felt playing on those cold, long-ago days with my friends. “Gotta go now,” I would announce, knowing the street lights would be going on soon. “My Mom wants me home.”