There's a scene in Bobby in Naziland that describes how my mother took the photo that many decades later ended up on the book's cover. "Smile naturally!" she yelled at me in exasperation as she aimed the camera. "You always photograph horribly!"
I was four years old.
In the above photo, taken in March 1962, I was nine and a half—old enough that I can now see the first hints of the adult I turned into. I also seem to finally have learned to smile naturally—at least this once.
What I'm doing at mid-afternoon (judging by the shadow), posing for a picture at the edge of Prospect Park, across the street from 121 Parkside Avenue, between Parade Place and St. Paul's Place (here's the 1940 tax photo of the street and here's a recent shot from Google maps), I've no idea. Nor do I know why I'm wearing my gray blazer and dress pants rather than "dungarees," or why I'm crouching rather than standing up. My best guess is that it's the weekend and I was on my way to a family gathering that required me to wear nice clothes. The only other time I got dressed up was for Friday assembly at school, but if that had been where I was coming from, I'd have been wearing a white shirt and tie, and it would have been later in the afternoon.
The real mystery of the photo is how I'd managed to make myself smile naturally. Perhaps it was my innate method-acting abilities. I don't remember this as an especially happy time—just another ordinary school year in early-1960s Flatbush. I was in fourth grade, and to set the photo in a historical context, the previous month, as I describe in Bobby in Naziland, John Glenn had become the first American astronaut to orbit the earth; I'd stayed home from school to watch it on TV.
But I doubt that's what I was thinking about here. Somehow, I was able to move the correct facial muscles, and my mother clicked the shutter at just the right moment, thereby creating the illusion of long-ago happiness.