Growing up in New York City, I was removed from my midwestern family: I was different. I asked my mother about this, and she said, We are different. We are intellectuals.
I didn’t really know what that meant, and I think she may have been using a non-standard definition of the word intellectual. I base this conclusion on one thing: her choice of daily newspaper. Rather than read the New York Times, home of news analysis and opinion pages, my mother read the New York Daily News – home of great sports reporting and the funnies.
I will concede she usually bought both newspapers on Sunday, which I liked because when I was done with the funnies, I could look for the Ninas in the Hirschfeld drawing.
This was a good arrangement until I was in fifth or maybe sixth grade, when my elementary school class did a stock market project. Our first assignment was to bring in the stock page from the newspaper, and on the day our homework was due, I was the only student who did not have several pages of stock quotes torn from the Times. My meager offering, from the Daily News, was titled “Stocks in Brief,” and listed barely 50 stocks.
The teacher seemed confused and suggested I borrow from another student. I said, no, it’s okay.
He persisted. We’re all going to be picking stocks to invest in. You don’t have much to pick from.
I clutched my snippet of newsprint, my homework that seemed right when I did it. I didn’t know it was supposed to be bigger, that there was supposed to be more.
The whole class waited while the teacher explained that, for this project, we were supposed to bring the stock pages in once a week for the rest of the school year. He didn’t seem to be angry with me, and while he talked, I thought about asking my mother to get the Times, like everyone else.
She would tell me all the reasons why the Daily News was just as good. Tell him I said that, she’d say. Stand up for yourself.
I looked away from the teacher, at my meager stock section, and recognized one company name. Howard Johnson! I said. I had picked my stock, I had done my homework, and I could keep doing the assignment with my mother’s choice of newspaper. Even though we’d only eaten at a Howard Johnson once, I knew what it was: a restaurant.
The teacher moved on, and though I peeked at my neighbor’s stock listings during class, I could do my homework each week with no trouble.
It is fortunate that the assignment was simply to choose a stock and keep track of how it did; if it mattered how the stock actually performed, I would have failed. The stock spent the school year plummeting, and the company was sold by the founder’s son around that end of the school year.