The Octogenarian: 3. The Outsider

Have I told you that his name was Wayne? No? Sorry about that. His name was Wayne. Or Alex. Depending on who you asked.

From the time he could first pronounce it, he didn’t like the name ‘Wayne.’ It didn’t sound right. From the time he could write it, he didn’t like the way it looked, with its two letters from the end of the alphabet and that silent ‘e’ at the end.

When he got to school, he realized he was the only one with that name. Lots of boys in his generation were named Jim, Tom, Jerry, Brian and the various forms of Richard, but he was the only Wayne. It didn’t make him feel special or unique. It only made him feel different, like an outsider. And that was before they started teasing him with ‘Wayne the Pain.’

Perhaps that was the very beginning of the outsider complex that he nurtured for the next thirty years. He was one of only 3 Jews in his class. He had dark wavy hair and a typical Jewish nose while his classmates were mostly blond Protestants with little pug noses and straight hair.

At Brown, he was a public school graduate while all the guys who seemed most at home there had gone to private schools. At his first job after graduation, in Newark, NJ, he was a white guy working in a Black administration. Everyone else on the staff had arrived with the mayor when he was first elected in 1970 while Wayne hadn’t shown up until two years later.

When he moved to rural, conservative Pennsylvania, he was a liberal newcomer from the city in a tiny farming village that measured change in generations, not years. That’s pretty much the definition of an outsider, isn’t it? He could hear them thinking ‘You’re not from around here’ even though they never said it out loud.

In graduate school, there was an assignment in his Family Systems class that required him to draw a picture of his family. He stared at a blank sheet for a long time before he could put pencil to paper. Bereft of any artistic talent, he drew stick figures. He placed himself in the lower left-hand corner of the page looking towards his family which was assembled in the center. Clearly, he felt himself an outsider even within his own family. Although that drawing was cause for considerable concern among several members of the faculty, he managed to ace the course and they granted him his Ph.D. anyway.

It didn’t matter where he went or how successful he was, in his eyes, he was an outsider, first, foremost, and forever.

Take a moment to imagine what it must have been like going through life feeling like you didn’t belong, no matter where that was and no matter who you were with, and you couldn’t fix it by going somewhere else.

In the early 90s, he tried to write a novel. The protagonist was an Englishman with a university education in an esoteric major that had left him to a great extent unemployable, who had moved to America because that is where his wife lived. You can guess the theme: an outsider’s attempt to fit into his new environment. Spoiler alert: he never made it. Surprised?

He was discussing his draft one night with friends who were visiting from the city and he opened up to them about his lifelong feelings of not belonging.

They were shocked because, from their perspective, he had been the ultimate insider in city government. 

Now it was his turn to be shocked! Was that even possible? They were both pretty high-ranking figures in the New Jersey arts community and he respected them both.  He had no reason to doubt them. He knew they weren’t just blowing smoke up his ass.

He thought long and hard about what they had said. He finally realized he had always focused on one aspect of his situation that separated him from others while ignoring all the commonalities. It hadn’t kept him from achieving his goals, but it had certainly sucked some of the joy out of it.

So he made a resolution never to do that again. From then on, he was going to walk into every room like he owned it. He would focus on the ties that bound him to others, not the forces that separated him.

And it worked.

Nonetheless, converting himself into a professional insider didn’t prevent him, 47 years later when he moved into The Community, from telling people there that he wanted them to call him ‘Alex.’ Oh, he didn’t deny that his name was really ‘Wayne.’ But he did inform them that as a child he was obsessed with Alexander the Great and so his older brother started calling him ‘Alex’ and it stuck. So he asked his new acquaintances to call him that as well. And they did.

It was a fine story except for two things: (1) he had never had any interest in Alexander the Great and (2) he didn’t have an older brother. But as they say on the playground, no blood no foul.

Interestingly, he noticed he stood a little taller and his steps were a little more purposeful and he was a little more steadfast as Alex than he ever had been as Wayne.

And his newfound confidence was justified. After all, who would you rather have a beer with? An 87-year old guy named Alex or one named Wayne?

Why, he wondered, hadn’t he done this decades ago?



  1. Zella+Felzenberg says:

    “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Speaking of smelling sweet, I think you’re going to enjoy next Friday’s blog!


      1. Zella+Felzenberg says:



  2. Bob George says:

    Please read and Finally by Marsh
    Thank you for the bio. Very moving. I didn’t cry as much as I did for the Judy Blume documentary on Netflix but the feeling of love for another JJ I’m an being was there. Challenge. Write a list of the people you should thank over your lifetime. I will show you mine if you show me yours. You didn’t make the cut but it was close. I think Miriam did. Being Jewish is a BFD.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the ‘And Finally’ recommendation…and for following the blog!


  3. Douglas Spencer says:

    We enjoy these, but please stop sending to this old email address: jdspencer484@verizon..netOur new address is jdspencer484@gmail.comThank you—Doug

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for following! I’ve made the address change, so next Friday you should start receiving posts in your gmail account.


      1. Douglas Spencer says:



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