Meandering for Twenty

by Rct

My life began in Albany, Georgia, when I was delivered by caesarian section at 10:00 am, March 4, 1955. My parents were doting, I was the son who followed their daughter, by seven years, one month's time. They would have no other children. My earliest memory is of springtime, riding in the rear of an old, crusty pick-up truck, down a warm, clay, pot-holed road. I gazed above me with a child's awe at huge willow trees, full of wind and color, meticulously abreast along the route. A green, brown, grey and even purple blanket enveloped the ceiling of our path. They held their side-line of pavement in an embrace of sinuous and overwhelming presence, as if they, and not the road, were the means of passage. The rays of the sun above them were incidental, frittering. Arboreal magnificence transfixed and delighted these tots of the south.

My driver was the father of Ricky Harter, my three year old contemporary. He placed these two young children, unencumbered with belt or restraint, to wander about in his mobile truck's vast spaces, as they saw fit. Perhaps he knew we would be mesmerized. Twelve or so years later I heard from Ricky, he was a \"Four-H\" authority, well-skilled in animal husbandry. I hope he is well.

My next recall is of El Paso, Texas. Sandstorms, tarantulas, tumbleweeds, rattlesnakes, suntans, heat. Thankfully I avoided experimentation with the local animals, reptiles and insects. I attended kindergarten and first grade. I was enlisted in the Spanish version, Los Tres Gochinikos, of the 3 little pigs, and sang for a television audience in the production. My mother cheerfully manufactured our costumes, including nylon stocking tails and paper mache snouts. I survived, unlike my screen persona. Another summer came, we left on holiday for the racetrack at Rhiadosa Downs, New Mexico, stopping off enroute at the \"Rocket Hotel\" to play in the swimming pool, and spending some time along the way at White Sands Missile Base, home of vast sand dunes a little boy could roll down forever. 1960, October, Eisenhower and Kennedy on the tube, JFK seems like a nice man. He has a warm smile. We were in the military, and orders came to go to Japan. Trouble was brewing in a place called Viet Nam, and my father would fly there. His plane, a KB-50, refueled the others in flight, and through the course of that war some of his squadron never returned to the states or their families. We arrived at Yokota Air Force Base in 1961. Life was no challenge for me. For a quarter I could buy a box of cracker balls, small little pieces of round and compressed paper filled with gunpowder. Leaving a few on the road in front of our house was hilarious for me, a bothersome nuisance, or worse, for the wayward automobile that drove over them. War for me was playing "army man" with the kids in the neighborhood, building forts or terrorizing plastic soldiers. However, an occasional grasp of reality was impressed upon me by my voluntary participation in territorial rock fights, after my two separate trips to the emergency room and the stitches to my bleeding head. I was eight years old, it was November, 1963, and I awoke one morning with the news from mom that John Kennedy was dead. Even then I had some sense of what a great man he had been and with a child's perceptions mourned his loss. I had an awareness of mortality from the family fears I sensed for my father's welfare.

We came home to the States in 1965, Dad retired the next year, with a 20 year veteran's pension, World War II, and two police actions thrown in for good measure. He had \"gone in\" in 1942, endured 92 combat missions in P-47's, came out in '45 and had returned in '48. My older sister's birth at Mercy Hospital had reminded him he needed to earn money. He wanted to fly. Considering how many people must have tried to kill him, his humor and relaxed nature belies his life experience. We lived for a year's time in a suburb of Sacramento, California, on the eve of the tumultuous 60's.

I found my surroundings, more often than not, very hot, very flat, and either boring or generally disagreeable. I was a military brat among children of a coming new age. Far too many were smug, arrogant, and pettily persuaded of their own inherent infallibility. As an outsider, their condemnation was eagerly visited upon me. My lack of sophistication, ignorance of trends, fashions and nomenclature, led to near-weekly fistfights or other unpleasantness with the \"love generation\" of the fifth grade at Fair Oaks, California. Having been raised to that point on several Air Force bases, where we had a sense of shared concern for our fellow child, as their parents were involved with surviving a tour of duty, my prior parental and environmental insulation broadcasted to my immediate schoolmates a badge of non-conformist hick-dom. Their perceptive antennae detected a small boy's manner and vulnerability. That time has taught me many lessons about we baby-boomers shortcomings. The current elder view of Generation X is one of an entire crop of the self-absorbed. Generations do not have a monopoly on selfishness, ignorance, or pomposity. I will never treat people that way. Real people of any age have virtue.

I came to San Diego in 1966. My parents arrived here in the 1930's, years younger then, than I was in '66, they met in grade school and became life-long mates. La Mesa Dale Elementary, La Mesa Middle, Grossmont High, class of 42. They are married and alive today. Remarkable persons, still very much in love.

I completed grade school at John Muir Elementary. I was sufficiently guarded by then to fit in less obtrusively. My next task was to begin 7th grade at Horace Mann Junior High. Interesting place. Middle school in southeast San Diego can be a little hazardous for the uninitiated. Knife fights, gang activity, racial unrest, narcotics for narcissists, adolescent behavior and the peculiar rites of passage ultimately "educated" my persona. My eighth grade English teacher, Robert Squire, keeps a skull on his desk. I think he's cool. Some of my class mates never make it to High School. 'Ninth grade, nearly won the all-school spelling bee, my friend Roy takes the crown. I could have been the winner, if I'd spelled "idiosyncrasy" when they asked it. Roy had misspelled "chartreuse". Then I falter on some word I can't remember, he gets that word right, then he gets "coordinate" to spell correctly. Oh well.

1970. I'm fifteen, in tenth grade at Will C. Crawford High School. They don't have a ninth grade, 'cause I'm told ninth graders might not survive around here. Actually everyone is very pleasant, the higher grade kids seem so suave, calm, grown-up, older. Not like junior high at all! I hear my latest English teacher was a playboy playmate twenty years earlier, but I'm not sure the magazine was around back then. She asked me what my sign was, I didn't know it, but told her my birth date, she said "Pisces, I thought so". Not sure what she meant by that, but she was smiling. She is still quite "stimulating". On the other hand, my World history instructor is sooooo boring but the topic isn't, at least not to me. Football season. We are playing Lincoln High School, our guy Mike Oliver is going to run through the Hornets. Well, we hope so anyway. I play with the guys on weekends, we call it "no rules slobberball". A few times we played in the rain, with a few "liberated from adult captivity" six packs. The mud, the blood and the beer. One time Larry broke his collarbone, otherwise a few skinned knees and sprained ankles, but no other personal injuries to speak of. I sack Bill R. three times in the backfield when they have the audacity to keep running the same play on my side of the line. The third time big Bill is pissed! I just laugh, but don't turn my back.

1971. Eleventh grade, I am madly in love with Cindy, have been for some time, since she was nice to me in Mr. Squire's class. She knows it, but is otherwise involved elsewhere. I feel the ache of that unrequited experience even today. When I finish the school year my parents take off for a little time together, and leave me with my best friends Dennis and Kent to throw a little party. I don't recall them giving me permission, but Kegger! What a great evening, the next day we have some beer left over, fill balloons with it and have a beer balloon fight in the back yard. Sticky and silly. Some of my friends can't handle alcohol too well, but thankfully no repercussions. Poor Terry spent most of the party hugging the toilet, his brother Steve becomes a good friend to me later in life. 'Enjoyed playing spin the bottle outside with Margaret and other inebriated post pubescent participants.

1972. September, a Senior! I see a movie, "To Kill A Mockingbird". Gregory Peck at his finest. So incredibly inspiring. When the kindly, serene black folks stand up for Atticus, I knew then I had to be a lawyer. Never any question. I want respect and love like that from people I care about. People who struggle and yet keep their peace with this world are worthwhile. My US History teacher is Morley Tadman. Bright man, a liberal to my republicanism, but honorable, fair, humorous and a wonderful teacher. I relish that experience, as he knew what he was doing. His travails with us went beyond the subject matter and dealt with life, something we students knew so little about at the time.

We have to take the SAT to go to college, and should take advanced placement tests if we qualify. I just want to go to San Diego State, get my degree, and get on to law school. Our friend Leon, in the rain, drove close friend Kent's yellow "tunaboat", a Plymouth I think, almost off a cliff in Allied Gardens. Leon was frantically late, trying to get to Patrick Henry High to take the test. He purportedly tells Kent, "sorry but I fucked up man". (Yeah, no shit!) Kent handles it well, I'm told. I would have been far more upset. We are all longtime friends by now though. I'm writing for the Crawford Pacer, dealing with school term papers, debate team, in my fourth year of French class and playing racquetball two-three times a week. Nathan East takes pictures for me for the front page- Nathan turned out quite well. Scuba diving and listening to Who's Next. "Won't Get Fooled Again" should be the anthem for us all. Buying kegs of Coors on a fake id, moving through life with a semi-sense of purpose. Class of 73 will rule! Jazz musicians, soon to be lawyers, and business administration majors on the rise. Dennis is going to be a tree raper, Kent wants an MBA. We are tight.

1973. I do the last six months of high school, register for the draft (1-A Holding, thanks Nixon!) graduate, screw around for the summer then prepare to start my collegiate experience at San Diego State University. In September (or so) I find out Francis G, a girl I sat next to in Morley's class, was murdered by her husband. Francis was so full of life, taking her away from us at this age was such a glaring wake up. She had been a budding actress in school stage comedies. She was warm, playful and happy. A tremendous flirt, her hand grazed my lower regions once by accident (maybe). The word "putz" was a favorite of hers. Upon her "innocent" fleeting touch mine had engorged immediately. While contemplating SDSU, in a fit of missing simpler times, I had wanted to check out Crawford's 74 team. I ran into an old friend, Dominic G., himself a member of the Italian community known for hot blooded action. Dominic told me of Francis' death. Her estranged husband is sitting in a jail cell. "That's just the way those Italians are" is Dominic's utterance, given knowing the pain his words would cause, as though to soften their blow. I react to the news with a loud expletive. The adults sitting in front of us turn around, to admonish my public use of the "f" word. Their condemnation is my first real validation of appropriate behavior around ignorance. I repeat the word without explanation. They readily infer it is more than childish indiscretion. I attended a service for Francis a few days later. God bless Francis, we miss you. As for us, Welcome To Adulthood. Good luck.

My first day at State. Huge school, amorphous masses of people, 'commuters for a piece of paper and hopefully a better standard of living. The average age is 26. Most people go to the JC first, get Gen. Ed. requirements out of the way, then come here for their major. Some of these guys have come back from Viet Nam. The Back Door, a little student non-bar, has Marx Brothers movies on Friday nights where you can drink a hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks. The projector clicks and ticks along, you bring your own pillows and sit on the floor. Groucho is cool, but I prefer Harpo, he is the most natural of the brothers, without saying a word. Spiritual, funny, overtly human, innately good. God bless Harpo.

The classes are a bitch, so this is college level! But if you put your time in, high school prep classes were just as demanding. No one is watching you, there are no hall monitors, although occasionally I see someone that somebody should be watching... wow I didn't know anyone could act that way out in public. The university is quite, ummm, adult. I also feel alone in the crowd, this definitely is not high school. Where is the fairness, the humanity, this is all so impersonal. You have to crash classes to go through the system. They can change the rules. A massive machine, you are a little tooth in a small cog in a reel someone put away and ultimately abandoned. Ok, I'm reading "Catch 22", best novel I've ever... (still is). I know what Joseph Heller meant! It would be nice to write like that.

1974. Nineteen. Hmm, will this be the year I finally... I meet Kent's girlfriend's sister on a double date, takes me two minutes to fall madly in love. Nancy is soft, friendly, supportive, makes me feel easy and alive. She is incredibly sexy to me, she is successful and bright but I don't feel intimidated, just happy to be around her. She's a senior at Clairemont High. She could be my first. June, She graduates high school and after a summer break has the audacity to get on with her dreams and leaves me for dance school in the Big Apple. We write long letters to each other, draw faces with trails of tears on the front of the envelopes. I send her some sand from Mission Beach so she can have a piece of home with her. There is a mutual thing here. Three months, her letters are less warm, she starts to withdraw, has met somebody there. She asked Kent and Dennis to have a little talk with me, I need to accept she is there, I am here, and you should "love the one you're with" per Steven Stills. I find out she has her first time with some guy in New York, not me. Damn, it hurt. Nancy finally came back for the holidays, we spent some time together, including in bed (no more inner debate about time and place and right person). While I lost my cherry, I mourned losing her. It was over. It hurt more when my friends told me to cool it then it hurt now though. She did care about me, called me once a couple of months later, just to check on me. Cool. She really was a nice person. I heard not too long ago she had passed away. Feels weird to care so much about somebody and know they're gone, even if over thirty years went by in the meantime.

1975. My second year at State. My class in Philosophy is taught by an old guy that has an ego, it arrives in the classroom about ten minutes before he does. He makes it a "first day point" to scribble on the chalk board "Sopho-more" as "wise fool". I don't care for the information or the inference. I revel in torturing the man with his own assignments for the entire semester, looking for ways to impeach him using his arrogance and reveal the fallacies of his trite tutelage. I learn the material and spend extra time than prescribed by this boor, finding error in his perceptions that are gleefully orally explored in full classroom debates. Socrates, Plato, Thoreau, name your poison and let's play. The nascent lawyer in me has become to develop. The same year, next semester, I have yet another professor, this time in History class. He is so insulting, condescending, boorish and "legend in his own mind" self-assured, after ten minutes of a particularly offensive session I had to stand up from my desk, gather my books and make my way from the room. My stirrings distracted his less than scholastic, overly bombastic deliveries. He sternly indicted my decision, as to why I had bothered to come after such a short stay. Confronted, my angst erupted. I told him, very clearly, in the company of the entire class, that his attitude was wasting my time. I detailed that I had come to learn, but had been de-personalized, patronized, and alienated to such a point that it was no longer tenable for either of us to remain in each other's company. The class of about twenty was generally in quiet repose to my startling pronouncements, although one worshipful student as (house) nigger snickered. I considered asking him if the apple he no doubt held for this pedantic could be firmly inserted up our professor's ass for something his nose and lips could caress. That was the last time I conspicuously vented like that, to anyone, but it was right at the time, and it remains imbued within me as the correct choice today. If I learned anything from him, it is not to suffer fools without reward or recourse. There was another professor co-teaching the subject, who emphatically understood his predecessor's predilections for disdaining college kids didn't sit well with all students, particularly ones with any sense of self-worth. I finished with a C... Oh well.

Soo, you want to see another twenty years worth? J

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