I’m Just a Lonely Boy

As is my wont, I tend to be dry in humor, and rapier thin in anger.
In a recent film discussion a friend brought up “Taxi Driver.” It is dark intense, and I have only seen it once. My friend commented on the tone of loneliness. That is often a starting point for discussion. However, as a film writer, I am well versed with the tropes that could inhabit our conversation, and I responded (to the loneliness) with (a coy and coded):

“You talkin’ to me?”

During and following the war, I was just as “lonely,” but not as sociopathically as this.

Even earlier, age 10, at the base theater at Ford Barracks, Ulm Germany, before the movies started, I would often hear the current hit, “I’m Just A Lonely Boy.”

Memories are significant.

I remember one of those movies was a full graphic detail documentary on the death camps. Still vivid images.

Age 10

“I’m Just A Lonely Boy”

Bunkers, Nuke Missiles, and Cub Scouts

In this title, I dropped in Cub Scouts to set the period. That would make me 9 years old at the time. We lived in Pacific Manor (now called Pacifica) south of Frisco on the coast, along State Highway 1 (with what was called the Devil’s Elbow as a notorious turn along the coast highway).

One summer, when many activities for children were run out of the school (closed, of course, but some things open on an informal basis), I had a dream. I had read in the back of a book (or comic) about the American Legion (or perhaps the Veterans of Foreign Wars) who set up drill teams for kids. Pacific Manor had no such group, but Sharp Park nearby did.

I set my mission to go there, and join one if they supported this activity. That was a walk of at least a mile. This was about the radius limit of my wanders then. I set out there, but I was distracted (as there were many distractions) along the way.

I hiked up a hill to cut over it to Sharp Park. I understood the lay of the land and how the highway would be the longer walk because it skirted around the hill I could walk over. Pretty good logic and planning at that age.

Experience proved painful as I wandered into thistles that grew in that rough patch of ground up behind our community. This caused me to readjust my plans, and path. This, in turn, led me to a curious construction that was clearly abandoned.

From a distance, it looked like a house sized lid for Mom’s pressure cooker. That is, it was a flat, metal dome set into concrete on the side of the hill overlooking the ocean. Smacking a rock against this lid revealed the metal was probably thicker than the rock in my hand. At the bottom of this great lid, there was a horizontal slit set into it half-way around its circumference.

Within that slit, was curved slab of metal, as thick as the lid, that moved up and down like an eyelid over an eye, or the visor of an ancient warrior’s helmet. However, moving that visor was not easy. But this didn’t stop me or my friends when I returned to present them with this new fort for our boy’s club. Our peeks through the slot revealed a cavernous circular room with a curious center post. However peeks were our limit of examination because that lid, if it closed with its great weight not properly balanced, would trap anyone who was inside at the time. (Same problem with discarded old refrigerators at the time.)

Together, we were able to block this lid open (it turned on pins just like that visor of the ancient helmet), crawl through the opening (roughly one foot high); and explore the barren interior. On the walls, there were ship silhouettes. Nothing dated those posters. There were no flags marking the nationality of any of the shapes (I was fairly well familiar with such things).

We didn’t hike any further up the hill because of fences put up for a military site set on Milagra Ridge. If we had, we would have found ourselves in one of the perimeter defenses for San Francisco, a Nike Missile site (nuclear armed by my 10th birthday) half a mile from my home’s back yard.

If I had been a few years older, I could have appreciated how that tied into the air raid siren test they held every month. This siren sat on its own high tower in the neighborhood. This was also a time in our history where jets still broke the sound barrier overhead (a daily to 4 times weekly occurrence). Coverage of Duck and Cover Drills at school might bear mention later.

First Field Trip

This was my first excursion that went further than within sight of home. I was accompanied by a friend who found opportunity in our visit to the nearby golf course.

I didn’t quite get what the game was all about. Men so far away hitting balls with their clubs. The openness of the greens and fairways was odd to me. They were no more vast than the huge field behind our house, but they were far more cultivated than that wasteland. I felt like walking out onto that green grass was taking a risk.

Then a ball bounced into the scene before us, and it dribbled across to us. My buddy’s first instinct was to pick it up. That brought a yell in protest. Then a man began to run towards us. That was enough for my buddy to hold onto the ball as a prize–and run in his own right. I followed, but soon I figured if I went my own way, the man behind would have to choose between the two of us.

Beyond that choice, I know not how things turned out; except my story ended without being caught. It would be another 10 years before I was on the links again, hitting balls with a long club (I could Bogie the course).

Man In The Mountain

My first exposure to Television came at about the age of 4, before it slipped into the mist of memory with our move to Japan soon after.

TV was at my friend’s home down the block. All limits of range during the early 50s was defined by the admonition “You can go to ___, but do not cross the street.” I honored that (for the time being, Japan would raise the stakes).

Timing was all, it seemed, when it came to watching TV. One benchmark was when would my friend be home from Kindergarten so that we could start? He arrived, now was time for warming up the TV.

As it brightened, on the hour, I saw a spectacular sight of an antenna sitting on top of a mountain. I knew mountains. Denver has lots of them nearby. As the TV came into focus, the antenna began to throw off sparks.

Wow! I was ready for anything that TV would offer. Then amazement compounded with a sudden scene change to a man sitting at a desk, speaking into the camera. He was important, I could tell, because he was talking about adult things happening in the world.

He was in charge, he lived in a mountain (really in charge), and sent sparks into the sky (there were no more superlatives for in charge).

Wood Shop

No, not high school Wood Shop, but close.

Dad was off in Korea for my third summer. Mom was busy with my sisters. The call of the open road (alley, actually) came to me, and I answered it as an intrepid 3 year-old explorer.

I recall it as a warm, comfortable day. The neighborhood seemed dusty and brown, whereas the sky was uniformly blue. The alley ran both ways, but some of it seemed to drift up a slight slope that I chose to climb.

It was probably a weekend day. I am fairly sure of this because of my visit to one of the garages along that alley. There, I investigated a strange, loud noise. It was a power saw with a ringing circular blade that a man, a father, was using on his wood working project.

Did he notice me standing in the doorway? We did not interact, I stood there and watched before the sense of I should go home took me away.

This Isn’t The Way I Was Brought Up

This is the initial post of my biography, done in vignettes.

I am an Army/Navy Brat. This is an unusual distinction. Normally, Brats align themselves to only one of the services, the one of their father’s time in the armed forces. I draw on both my parents’ service, where I grew up in an Army culture with Navy influences. I volunteered for the Navy in 1968.

Put another way, I am the fifth to serve in three generations. One grandfather was a war ship carpenter during WW1, while my other grandfather served in the Army in France at the same time. My mother volunteered for the WAVES during WW2, where my father was in the Army for a year before WW2 began and remained in service until the late 60s.

So, what is the idea behind the evocative title of This Isn’t The Way I Was Brought Up? Today (the This of the title) has far less options for childhood adventure and conduct of life. I am prepared to illustrate why I have made that central distinction through my assorted reminiscences in posts to follow.

This Isn’t The Way I Was Brought Up is also meaningful in regard to the degradation of norms that have descended upon American ideals.

What is Normal?

What is normal to a Brat? It isn’t normal for middle class America, certainly. There are overlaps of experience, of course, but I am here for the divergences, the points of departure. the exceptions, and the aberrations.

Yeah, heady remarks that seem suited for marketing (and for which I have yet to be able to bottle and sell as an elixir). I lay the evidence before my readers to judge for themselves.

The difficulty in teasing out what makes something normal for me came as something of a shock. After all, what I do and what I’ve done feels perfectly normal to me. Some of the incidents that I will relate here have been met with incredulity. I can understand some of this jaw-dropping response. That I am still alive is astonishing in the face of my activities.

Frequently I heard the comment Where were the adults when you were doing this?

Ah! They were at home; at work. They were where they were supposed to be. On the other hand, I was roaming the open range. As this started for me at the age of 3, then you might begin to understand how normal concerns today don’t match those of decades ago.

Follow those stories here.