1971: Descendant of Beowulf

(I had to simplify things for the title to  this last peek at my upcoming book – I had so many friends, cousins and sons that I had to resort to sketching wiring diagrams before typing up the titles) 

It was a commercial made up of clones with Robert Redford’s doppelganger putting his best Sundance moves on Katherine Ross’ twin sister while a sound-alike band sang a jingle set to the tune of Santana’s “Evil Ways”:

You got a smoke that’s something else Win-chester.

A whole new taste and straight your way.

It’s something else Win-chester”.

Cigarette advertising on television was officially banned as of January 1,1971 but the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was pushing the issue with Winchester – a small cigarette-sized cigar that used a loophole in the new law to continue their on-air promotion of tobacco products. It was a maneuver that would become more common as we got deeper into the “Me Decade” of the 1970’s, a narcissistic side-step of accepted norms in an effort to increase profits.

Other developments in 1971 included:

  • Broadcast standards for language and subject matter were pushed further with the premiere of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking comedy/social commentary All In the Family.
  • Resistance to the Vietnam conflict increased to a 60% disapproval rating and triggered bombings in the US Capitol with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers, a government document that revealed that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied about the conduct and progress of the war.
  • The Uniform Holiday act put all federal holidays on Monday.
  • To the delight of young people all over the country the age to both vote AND drink was lowered from 21 to 18.

Events for the state of Alaska likewise ranged from the monumental to the trivial:

  • In December President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law.
  • Nuclear testing continued at Amchitka Island out at the end of the Aleutian chain.
  • Public television finally arrived in the state with the establishment of KUTV channel 9 at the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks.
  • …and a new shop building was opened at Kenai Central High School located across the parking lot to the south of the main building. In line with the trend at the time toward vocational education the new complex included an auto shop, a carpentry shop, a drafting classroom, and a student supply store.

1970: Or Classmate of Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

(carrying on with excerpts from my next book)

Can they do this?

Can they legally print a picture like this?

It was the LIFE magazine retrospective covering the previous decade and the image in question had been taken during the height of craziness surrounding the Democratic National Convention the previous year and in the middle of the crowd it depicted a shirtless young man “flipping off” the photographer/viewer. It was a photo that captured the essence of the times and while it seems a fairly tame image for current standards that conflict between content and reaction was a perfect metaphor for the era as the media had us all convinced that the freight train of societal change was threatening to derail at any time.

It definitely looked like things were changing, with some changes definitely on the plus side:

  • Earth Day was established on April 22d of that year.
  • The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
  • The federal government put an end to commercial whaling.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was signed into law.
  • We got Monday Night Football!

…while other changes were not all that great:

  • Both superpowers continued with above-ground nuclear tests with one of the main sites being (gulp) – the Aleutian Islands.
  • The space program stumbled with Apollo 13’s near disaster.
  • Militant groups including the SDS and the Weatherman Bomb were setting off explosions in cities and universities.
  • The invasion of Cambodia dramatically broadened the scope of the war in Southeast Asia.
  • At Kent State in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on student protestors with fatal results.

As for the Peninsula; without the influx of fire-fighting money like we had the previous summer, 1970 seemed economically stagnant – at least for young people. The school district was able to scrape together enough money for the high school to insure that the cafeteria where we’d been eating sack lunches for the past year was finally going to have a functioning kitchen, but other cost-cutting measures threatening to severely curtail operations and activities.

It was in response to a vote on proposed school appropriations that the four-page broadsheet dubbed “The Peninsula Clarion” started appearing in everyone’s mailbox. No one knew who was publishing it, but it was obvious that whoever they were, they really, really, really did not want the school bond to pass.

1969 – or Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

Continuing with the preview of my next book I am sharing the introduction of Chapter 1969:

There began to be an odd type of symmetry in current events:

 Spring brought a smile to young men all over the nation as President Nixon initiated “Vietnamization” of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Christmas brought mixed emotions to those same young men as the government replaced the draft with a Draft lottery eliminating deferments and spreading conscription on a more equitable basis across economic classes

  • New York teams managed to book-end the year by the Jets winning the Super Bowl and the Mets “losing last place” in the World Series
  • In July the crew of Apollo 11 rocketed to the Moon over the same weekend that Senator Kennedy dove back under the water three times to rescue Mary Jo Kopechne.
  • The following month the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate & friends at the direction of Charles Manson in August came close to overwhelming three days of “fun and music” at Woodstock barely a week later

 Even if there hadn’t have been 250,000 people marching on Washington DC it was obvious that Dissatisfaction with the Vietnam conflict was continuing to build…which made Richard Nixon’s secret plan to pull the nation out of the conflict a major factor in his electoral victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace in his election to president the previous fall.

 Local developments included:

  • A late-winter freak build-up of ice in the lower Kenai river caused flooding in lower-lying areas of Soldotna
  • The same dry conditions created Swanson River Kalifornsky beach road and several smaller fires along the highway to Anchorage. For the entire summer There was a yellow cast to the sunlight, and everyone smelled like bacon.
  • The Don’t Make Waves Committee (later Greenpeace) began protesting of nuclear testing in the Aleutian Islands
  • …and according to her account Hilary Clinton spent the summer in a fish cannery in Valdex

·       

 

 

My Personal Board of Directors: Charles R. Marriott

One of the best moves I made on the 17th of October 1972 – the day I decided to start keeping a journal, and though I’d had several false starts during high school I’ve been able to keep writing ever since that day forty-seven years ago. I started out using a blank book, then switched to typewritten pages during my bicycle penance and eventually made the jump to digital media in 1986. At one time I would write at least weekly but since I started blogging I add to my journal maybe once a quarter. I’ve never begrudged the time and effort in all that writing, my only regret being that I didn’t start and continue when I first got the idea in the fall of 1969; had I done so I would have had more information with which to write about Charles Rodney Marriott.

Thought I only knew him for nine months, Marriott definitely holds a seat in my personal Board of Directors, and by that I mean that group of adult men who advised and coached me through the rough spots and junctures in life and in general made up for the lack of guidance from my own family. I shy away from the word “mentor” as the only Mentor I knew of was a member of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents – a Tower Comics character of minor interest, being one of the second string of heroes ignored in favor of everyone’s favorite Dynamo. I learned the meaning of the word when I reached college but the definition was confusing – the idea of someone actually taking time with me was utterly foreign. It was also a word used overmuch and without a lot of real thought by people that I should have been able to trust, so I’ve adopted the “board of directors” to use instead.

Charles Rodney Marriott was a former Marine hired as an English instructor at Kenai Central High School in the fall of 1969, having served for thirty years and retiring as a warrant officer after having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a service brat I was happy to have him as an instructor but looking back it was an unusual choice on the part of the school district given the unrest over the war in Vietnam and changes in society in general.

It was a time for interesting changes in our own little academic world as well: that fall the English classes were radically re-organized for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that, students were free to put together their own program. Marriott was my instructor for two classes: Newspapers & Magazines during the second nine week grading period and Motion Pictures for the fourth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Newspapers & Magazines class other than we each would be getting copies of Time magazine and the New York Times national edition each week. I assumed that we’d just be reading articles and making reports on what we read so I was surprised when he showed up for the first class pushing a film projector into the classroom. We then spent the next week watching movies about the production and dissemination of propaganda. The films were ‘50s era productions made by the Department of Defense to counter Communist propaganda but despite the hyperbole they were effective in teaching us about propaganda techniques such as “Glittering Generalities”, “Jumping on The Bandwagon” and “Poisoning the Well” that are found in propaganda from both sides of the political spectrum – but I was truly baffled when the films stopped as I had no idea what we’d be doing for the other eight weeks of the grading period.

That’s when we went back to those issues of Time and the New York Times; we took the propaganda techniques we learned about in the films and tried to find examples in the news stories…and were collectively horrified to find those tricks and techniques in all the stories. We expanded our search to other publications and found that the pattern continued, and Mr. Marriott would have us discuss what we found while managing to stay fairly objective about what we found.

It was at this point in my life that I stopped taking news reports at face value and started to analyze each message as best I could as a sixteen year old from Sterling, Alaska. Even now I mentally filter every new story I watch or read through those analytical tools, tools that eventually got me starting to seriously think about intelligence and security careers in the military.

(OK, OK so it really all started with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriyakin from The Man from UNCLE but Marriott’s class was a BIG plus!.)

As he was one of a team teaching the Motions Pictures class took from him later in the spring he didn’t have quite the same impact but he still would take time to talk to me personally about my life and my future plans involving military service – I think my status as a Navy service brat made it a little easier for him to be candid with me. Unfortunately a low grade classroom scandal about R-rated cartoons a student drew on a chalkboard prevented him from gaining tenure and he left KCHS rather precipitously after just one year, not even leaving a photo in the yearbook at his departure.

I saw him just one more time when he stopped by the locker room during two-a-day football practice the following August and for the next almost-50 years I had no idea what happened to him until I started research for this post. It turned out that he married Ruth Kilcher (pop star Jewel’s grandmother) and ended up living less than twenty miles from me when we lived in Knoxville until he passed away in 2005. Finding that out was a little tough to deal with, knowing that as I was teaching my teen-age sons about analyzing news stories for propaganda techniques the guy that taught me literally lived just over the river and through the woods. I would have loved introducing my sons to him.

…and I hope that as he read those local newspapers, magazines and watched local TV coverage he may have seen the stories that were written about our “family of artists”. I hope he was able to connect the dots and figure out who I was, and able to feel a measure of pride and credit for the contribution he made in my life.

     (Special Thanks to Glenn Tauriainen for assistance in research for this story)

1970: A Non-combatant in The Sexual Revolution

I handed the magazine back to Wayne, then sat for a minute trying to gather my composure. I’d heard about Penthouse but hadn’t actually seen a copy until that morning on the bus. Playboy was one thing, but this new book was overwhelming; not only were the photos a bit more “European”1, a letters section titled “The Forum” described activities that I’d never heard of and probably transgressed criminal law as well as the law of gravity on occasion. To be honest I was feeling more queasy than turned-on and at that point tried to cleanse my visual palette with another recent literary discovery, National Lampoon.

A freshman sitting on the seat ahead of me clicked on a smuggled transistor radio which hissed out at low volume the 1968 party anthem “Bottle of Wine” by The Fireballs. Nothing could illustrate the change society was lumbering through than that song and the group that sang it. Five years earlier they had taken Billboard’s #1 spot with a very innocuous bouncy tune titled “Sugar Shack” which told the traditional boy-meets-girl/falls-in-love/marries-her story. In the midst of the sexual revolution seven years later things had changed. Really changed. Playboy was telling us that rather than holding out for marriage the girl next door wanted to be naughty.  Penthouse was telling us the girl next door wanted to be nasty.

… which other than providing eye-candy did me no good. Granted, from birth I had been a fifty-year-old man in a kid’s body, but I was subject to the same leaping libido that every other teenager had to deal with, and it didn’t help that in the midst of all these changes I lacked any kind of guidance. My parents gave the traditional “birds and the bees” talk a clean miss and the church wasn’t much better. Those lessons always got shoved to the back of the schedule and eventually forgotten. Leaders in the congregation were just as vague, limiting inquires to “Well, Dave, how are your morals?” Again, literal thinker that I was, I figured they were asking about my morale, so I’d respond, “Well, I’m feeling pretty positive about life, so I guess I’m OK”.

It was against this setting that I was faced with one of high school’s milestones – The Prom. I’d endured two and half years of lurid tales about activities during and more importantly after the prom, but for the moment the issue  was not “what to do” but “who to take”. For guys with on-going relationships, getting a prom date was a slam-dunk, but for unattached guys it was arduous task. This was supposed to be one of the major events of high school experience, a rite of passage to be shared with someone special, but at the time there was no one special in my life. Generally speaking my prospects weren’t bad – I wasn’t a nerd-boy outcast but I also wasn’t a sit-at-the-cool-table Big Man On Campus. I had plenty of friends who were girls, but none likely to make the flip from friend-is-a-girl to girlfriend – but as  fate would have it an answer fell into my lap – or rather, it bumped into me when I ran into Bachelorette 12 (hereafter referred to as B1) in the hallway one day. Conversation was not her strong suit and we hadn’t talked much since the Earth Science class we shared during our freshman year but somehow a game of verbal badminton started up as we lobbed the obligatory small-talk questions back and forth:

  • I asked her how school was going.
  • She asked me if I liked being a teacher’s aide in PE.
  • She said she liked my sideburns.
  • I weakly joked that I liked hers3 .

…then I heard a voice asking her if she wanted to go to the prom. I looked around wildly for the guy trying to cut in, then realized it had been my voice doing the asking. I was equally bewildered when she quietly said “yes”, and we suddenly became a semi-couple planning our big night at the prom.

It was also when I started getting a lot of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more” comments from friends, acquaintances, my charges in physical education, and even guys I normally never talked to. Did I mention that B1 was drop-dead gorgeous? She was like a scaled-up Barbie Doll with elfin features, cascading waist-long brown hair and a Coke bottle figure…and usually clad in skirts short enough to have been made in a belt factory. One buddy observed that she was so perfect “she should have “Mattel” stamped on her a** ” then laughed that I’d know if that was the case soon enough.

Sex. The topic that would just not die. I’d spent a lot of time in the boy’s locker room where a lot of talking had gone on. According to the other guys, KCHS was a hotbed of illicit sex, with most of the female students following the lead of the ladies gracing the magazine I’d been reading when the story opened, but there seemed to be little in the way of consequences. Birth control pills had only been in common use for about five years, and in those pre-AIDS days only truck drivers and sailors would admit to carrying condoms. Math was not my strongest subject but even when you factored in that one week out of the month that the young ladies were hors-de-combat it still seemed like KCHS should be awash in out-of-wedlock infants – to the point of requiring a day-care wing off of the cafeteria4.

All that receded into the background as preparations for the big night were being made: coordinating clothes, ordering a corsage, making dinner reservations and double-checking transportation. Finally Prom-day arrived and as was the case with all big events there were both good and not-so-good developments:

The good:

  • Instead of the rattletrap station wagon I would be using the good car.
  • Dad was going to fill the gas-tank for me.
  • My tax refund had arrived so money wouldn’t be a problem.
  • No zits!

The not-so-good:

  • I had a 12:00 midnight curfew.
  • Mom and Dad wanted to meet B1 and take pictures.
  • I’d finally figured out how far away B1 lived and how long I’d be driving that night.

At one fell swoop prom was transformed from a bacchanalian love fest to a road rally of grueling proportions. By the time I drove to pick her up, drove back home for pictures, drove to the Royal Redoubt in Kenai for dinner, drove to the school for the dance, drove her home, and then got back to my home (by curfew) I’d be putting over 150 miles on the odometer that night. I would be spending so much time behind the wheel that there’d be little time for any hanky panky…which had me thinking that my folks were not as clueless about the birds and the bees as they had seemed earlier.

The first leg of my trip went well enough as I drove to pick up flowers and then on to B1’s home. I was pleasantly surprised to see her clad head to toe in pink satin with her wavy brown hair held back in ringlets by a tiara. With her clothes, my fairly new suit, and flowers for both of us, we got some nice pictures after which we sped to the Royal Redoubt for dinner, then on to the school for the dance. As we walked in I was astounded how much a little crepe paper and colored lights could transform a cafeteria into a tropical island paradise, but then some evil person cued up “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on the sound system and my suppressed vomit reflex brought me back to reality.

Without further ado we went out on the floor and started to dance…while I may not have been much of an athlete at the time, my inner Celt definitely knew how to cut a rug. The cut of B1’s formal limited us to mostly slow songs and while I am not a “bear-hug” slow dancer I do snuggle up a bit, which in this case nearly caused an injury when her petite size put the spines of her tiara right at eye-level for me.

…then it all seemed to be over much too quickly, and it was time to go home. I stayed calm until we got into the car, at which point I started into my repertoire of obscure historical puns which meant I was extremely nervous. It was bad enough that delivering B1 to her house then getting home by curfew would require time travel, but I also had to contend with B1 herself sitting next to me and basically being stunning. The smell of her perfume, the rustle of satin and whissst as she adjusted her wrap – hell, even that damn tiara all conspired with her innate foxiness to turn my knees into rubber and made me oh-so- thankful I wasn’t driving a standard transmission that night.

Then as we pulled out on the highway and headed south she snuggled up against me kind of under my right arm. As we quietly talked about the dance she leaned her head on my shoulder (requiring yet another tiara dodge) and I could feel her breath on my neck all of which had my inner monologue cycling through, “What do I want? What does she want? WHAT DO I DO” ,when she abruptly  nodded to a road5 leading off the highway to the left and said “Hmm? I wonder where that goes to?”

BINGO!

By this time it was dark, and as I turned to B1 and strained to make out her expression in the dim light of the instrument panel I saw what seemed to be a beckoning smile, so I leaned in to kiss her…right on the bridge of her nose. I sat back, looked at the make-up smudge on my lapel then up at the wistful look in her face. She leaned in against my shoulder, reached up for my wide-as-a-glider lapel and simply said, “Oh Dave” in a way that made me know that for me those letters to Penthouse would continue to be fiction…and I was relieved. We talked for a while until a reference to the magazine slipped out, a slip that I feared would destroy the mood until B1 wrinkled her nose and said, “Tell me about it – my sisters are always shoving Cosmo6 in my face!”

We shared a quip or two on the subject as I pulled out of the subdivision and took her home, and I thought about it as I covered that last stretch to the ranch. By its very nature the whole boy/girl sex issue was perplexing, especially with all the social changes that had come about in the past five or six years but relying on the magazine’s “philosophy” would just confuse the issue even more.

Through it all I learned that:

  1. The development of any relationship can’t be rushed.
  2. Most stories are just that…stories.
  3. My best reality check ever is the thought of missing B1’s lips and kissing her nose.

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. Un-airbrushed photos taken “south of the equator” which at first glimpse destroyed my friend Mark’s dream of someday becoming a “lady’s (bleep) barber”.
  2. Bachelorette 1 introduced in 1971…and then Dave discovered girls.
  3. Wispy little locks of hair from roughly her temples to just short of her earrings. I loved them then and I still do now – check my sketch book and you’ll find them on every girl in the book.
  4. It was like the stories guys told about fighting – every guy that admitted to fighting also swore “he’d never started a fight but he’d never lost one.” Again, simple math meant (given our fairly small student body) if all these guys were winning all the time there must be one or two bandaged, scarred and toothless wretched young men who habitually lost to everyone else in the school.
  5. See 1969: Sisyphus and Light Tactical Vehicles. It was the road into the same subdivision Jim, and I pushed his jeep all over in.
  6. Cosmopolitan – a magazine wherein Helen Gurley Brown advocated an outlook for women that was basically a mirror-image to Hugh Hefner’s philosophy for men.

1971: Subterranean Plantation

There was no end to the surprises that came with a definitive diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis. I was fully aware of the chronic pain part and the chronic, progressive, irreversible parts weren’t all that surprising, but I was taken aback with the genetic aspects of the disease – that  over 90% of the people with A/S have the HLAB27 chromosome with evidence that the  condition dates back several thousand years. It was first described in the 1600’s but we know that a good number of the folks pushing stone blocks for the Pyramids also had the inflamed joints and fused vertebrae of the disease known as Bekhterev Disease, Bechterew’s Disease, or Marie–Strümpell Disease before the medical world settled on ankylosing spondylitis.

In addition to the physical discomfort another source of stress connected with A/S has been the large number of people anxious to share a ‘silver bullet’ for my condition; said silver bullets being one of any number of naturopathic remedies that would completely cure me and eliminate all my symptoms just as soon as I signed up as a distributor and joined someone’s ‘downline’ in one of many multilevel marketing plans. Unfortunately what most of these folks can’t seem to grasp is that with just two exceptions I have little use for alternative medicine, and that antipathy dates back over 50 years when my parents would regularly bypass needed medical solutions for alternative (read cheaper) cures.

I don’t think  mom totally distrusted modern medicine – she had been a U.S. Army nursing corps cadet during World War ll and missed deployment to the Pacific Theater only after the war was cut short after Little Boy and Fat Boy permanently altered the Japanese landscape. She worked as a registered nurse in a public hospital for ten years after the war and continued to stay certified through continuing education clear up into the late 1970s, but when we moved to Alaska she somehow became convinced that between the lack of sunlight, and the amount of preservatives in our food, her children were nutritionally short changed.

She started out modestly with bean sprouts and sun-lamps but by the time I hit high school she was in full alternative mode with a daily regime of “additions” to our diet that seemed to exceed our intake of regular food…but of all the additions she tried three stood head and shoulders about the rest:

  • Nutritional supplements in pill and capsule form
  • Vitamin B-rich yeast mixed with orange juice referred to as “dirt”
  • Almonds

The pills and capsules started out with just a One-A-Day® multiple vitamin but as time went by Mom followed classic addict behavior and began to increase our dosages by the odd pill or capsule, until  my third year in high school saw me knocking back  a small shot glass full of assorted pills, capsules and gel caps containing every vitamin in the alphabet.

‘Dirt’ was our term for a tumbler full of orange juice mixed with a powdered Vitamin B/ yeast compound. I had very serious issues with ‘dirt’ from the very beginning :

  1. The powder wasn’t mixed with real orange juice – it was mixed with Tang, and no matter how you mixed it or how many astronaut jingles  played on TV, Tang was just water flavored with equal parts Orange Pixie Stix and Alka-Seltzer.
  2. If you entertained any hopes for a social life you really, really did not want that stuff in your system as the day progressed. As a bullet-proof seventeen-year-old I could care less about any heretofore undetected problems with my nutrition, but I was extremely concerned with the rotten-egg burp and room-clearing killer farts the yeast brought on in a healthy digestive tract.

Almonds entered the equation at roughly the same point the pill count got out of hand. I never really knew why we were taking the almonds – something about cancer, but as a dyed in the wool cashew man the almonds grew old on the second day Mom dropped them in the shot glass. My normal response would have been to chuck it all in the trash, but Mom was as vigilant about monitoring our intake as she was in providing the stuff. Inmates entering prison for the first time were under a fraction of the surveillance Mom exercised when she issued the pills and dirt. She stopped short of a full body cavity search but once that stuff was ingested there was no opportunity for ejection short of an alien abduction.

It was a no-win situation until my senior year of high school when my mom cajoled the school board into allowing my younger sister to attend eighth grade at school in town. My sister was not a morning person and the resultant turbulence while loading up the car meant I now had time for diversion. Disposing of the dirt was easy enough – I’d grab the tumbler and mumble something about drinking it on the way out to the car when in fact I’d dump it as soon as I got out of the door, a scheme that worked until snowfall when the brown splotches that started to appear between the front door of the house jump-started maternal suspicion1..

The shot glass full of pills, capsules and almonds remained a problem – mom still shook us down before we left in the morning, so I finally came up with an avoidance method that relied on the location of my bedroom. Access to my attic was by a ladder through a hatch in the closet at the end of the hall – which was kind of cool because of the secret aspect of it all. In addition to the water heater the area behind the ladder served as a closet of sorts for clothing and other items I was unable to stow in the scant storage spaces in the loft itself. The space was a mixed blessing because in addition to providing access to the attic, the hall closet provided our only route to the crawl space under the house, and while the ladder was securely fastened in place I was none too sure about the trap door over the hole leading to the depths below.

As we bounced around the house early each morning I made sure to make one additional pass by the door to my ladder  where I’d empty the shot glass between the boxes on the closet floor. Each evening I would take a broom and sweep away the pills I tossed there earlier, either hiding them in the bottom of the kitchen trash or sweeping them through the gaps around the hatch to the crawlspace.

…and then suddenly it was the end of the semester, academic year, and high school. Work schedules didn’t mesh quite as smoothly as school schedules did and Mom’s program of vitamins and supplements dropped by the wayside. As I came and went on my travels as a student, missionary and soldier I eventually forgot about pills, “dirt” and almonds until one summer day several years later when my folks discovered a  noticeable dip that had developed in the middle of the house. My parents asked me to check on the cement  footings under the middle of the main floor, which would take me down into the crawlspace. No one had been down that closet hatchway in years and even though various sisters, nieces and nephews had used my old loft at one time or other, no one had settled in for the long haul, so my collection of stuff was still there.2

There were no permanent lights rigged behind the closet ladder so I had to work by touch, and after cleaning my stuff up it still took some time to clear out the old sheets of cardboard and scraps of carpet that insulated the hatchway. The cloud of musty mildew odor the “poofed” into existence after thirty  minutes of mucking about let me know when I’d made it to the dimly-lit crawlspace, and I was surprised to find that it was dimly lit as fingers of daylight pushed through the random gaps between cement block, poured cement footings, and leafy stalks.

Leafy stalks?

Years earlier in an effort to provide better access as well as elbow room, the area just below the hatch had been excavated an additional three feet. Growing out of the dirt just to the side of this excavation were a half-dozen twisting stalks, each with just a leave or two and looking like something grown in a zero-gravity environment. The leaves were not the healthiest looking I’d ever seen, their color that of Thanksgiving  found in the back of the oven a week after the event but  they were vaguely lanceolate in shape like those of a willow tree. I would have never suspected anything would sprout in the crawlspace but given the plants’ location between the hot-water line to the bathtub and one of the only places that sunlight reached into the crawlspace I wasn’t totally surprised.

…no, the surprise didn’t happen until several years later and several thousand miles away as I was preparing an assignment for a graphic design class I was teaching. The project entailed designing snack-sized packaging for various types of nuts, and as I was assembling reference materials and imagery I was stopped cold by the photos of almonds and almond trees.

Slender branches with long oval leaves that looked like the head of a lance? I shook my head – the time frame between ditching the almonds and finding the plants was much too long for any germination to be possible…but at the same time I remembered that it had been raw unprocessed uncooked almonds Mom had us gagging down. I’d also just read about a research project in the United Kingdom sprouting grain seeds found in one of the pyramids.

The clatter of pots and pans startled me back into coherent thought as my Beautiful Saxon Princess began preparing dinner, and as I gathered up my papers and gradebook I thought of  mom’s nutritional efforts all those years ago, I had cheekily dismissed all her efforts to improve my health with her pills and supplements …and almonds. There never seemed to be any connection, any measurable benefit to the stuff she had us choking down but here I was staring at a plant that was healthy enough to thrive in such adverse conditions – a plant displaying the rigorous health mom had sought for her children.

Clattering pans brought my attention back to dinner and when I confessed ignorance of the aroma my Beautiful Saxon Princess said: “It’s a vegetarian garlic almond quiche”

She went on breezily. “As I recall it’s not exactly your favorite, but it was one of your mom’s favorite recipes.”

“Dish me up a double helping….”

———————————————————————————————————————–



  1. I eventually convinced her the “splotches” were the result of an intestinal disease affecting peninsula moose that I’d heard about on the radio
  2. The stuff ranged from corduroy bell bottom pants to the missing lid of my FIREBALL XL5 lunchbox among other things, and most of the detritus that had to be cleaned up before opening the hatch dated from my tenure,

 

 

 

 

 

 

1970: Boy’s State

As a service brat one of the first lessons I learned was the transitory nature of my ‘stuff’. As much as I’d like to always keep a favorite possession, there was always a certain amount of attrition among my toys and books. The trend continued into my adult life and other than a couple of paperback books and the suit I was married in there’s not a lot of stuff around here that dates its existence further back than 1983 – with the exception of one small object I have held on to with a death grip for almost fifty years. It’s small, maybe an inch wide at its broadest point and is made of enameled brass, and even though the enamel is chipped it holds more value to me than just about any other tangible possession. It’s the pin given to me at the conclusion of Alaska Boy’s State in June of 1970.

Boy’s (and Girl’s) State is a summer citizenship training seminar held for high school juniors and has been conducted in each state of the Union by the American Legion starting in 1935. My selection to the program was a fluke – up until the year of my eligibility, Boy’s State delegates from KCHS were selected by the principal and faculty from our school’s upper crust: athletic team captains, student body officers, and National Honor Society members. The new principal assigned to our school in the fall of 1969 changed the selection process to one based on a competition in public speaking, which was my only asset other than a slim portfolio for my time as a teacher’s aide in Physical Education,

As expected, our Boy’s State would be held on a campus, but unlike Alaska Girl’s State and most of the other programs in the nation we would meeting not at a college campus but at a boarding school in Copper Center, located near Glenallen (AK) and absolutely nothing else. Getting there was an adventure in its own right as we flew via puddle-jumper commuter airline to Anchorage where (in a nice foreshadowing of my military service) we would bunk in the National Guard Armory along with delegations that had flown up from the Panhandle. The next day we were bussed to Copper Center.

CopperVallySchoolWinter

(School during Construction)

The school’s floor plan was based on an octagon with several wings radiating from the domed center structure each with a specific use such as:

  • Dormitories
  • Cafeteria
  • Classrooms
  • Offices
  • Gymnasium

CopperValleySchoolInterior

(center hub interior)

CopperValleySchoolFrontDoor

(The view that met us as we left the bus)

Our arrival was marginally less stressful than arriving at bootcamp; as soon as we grounded our luggage in the parking lot we were immediately lined up for assignments to a dorm room with each floor designated as a political subdivision or city. We were allowed to name our cities, a decision the staff debated when one group adopted Yakadang which they swore was the term for ‘rotten fish’ in some obscure native dialect. We were also assigned a political party (the Pioneer Party in my case) and assigned to one of four schools of instruction:

  • Government Executives
  • Judicial Law
  • Law Enforcement
  • Legislative

Half of each day was taken up with instruction in those schools while the balance was used for general assemblies, (including astronaut John Swigert in one of his earliest post-Apollo 13 appearances) athletics, and in my case, work on the newspaper and election material. Boy’s State kept us busy…and when the incredibly good chow was factored into the equation it was easy to see why didn’t have much of chance to get homesick.

I was assigned to the House of Representative as part of the Legislative school and in yet another bit of foreshadowing I was designated as the house minutes clerk. During the day we’d conduct mock legislature, introducing and passing bills and making ersatz law in much the same manner as the ‘for real’ legislature did in Juneau. There was little spare time, but there were a few random holes open in the schedule when we could just hang out – and it was during those periods that I learned the most.

The first thing I learned was that there was a lot more divisiveness in the state than I had anticipated, beginning with the first session of the mock House of Representatives when a delegate from the Panhandle stood up and angrily urged all the delegates from outlying areas to band together against the Anchorage delegates as they “were all going to move the capital to Anchorage if it’s the last thing they do”. Guys from the larger metropolitan areas were much more politically minded in the Sixties sense of the word with much of their legislative efforts going towards condemning the war in Vietnam, condemning  anti-ballistic missile systems as destabilizing the Cold War standoff and instituting social measures like population control and decriminalization of ‘victimless’ vice offenses.

At the other end of the spectrum were the delegates from the outlying Bush areas who were primarily concerned with very basic issues like housing and infrastructure. Fishing regulation was their hot topic and one discussion over international relations dissolved into a near brawl over Russian proclivity towards cutting Native fishermen’s nets and floats. As a delegate from one of the ‘in-betweens’ like Kenai, Palmer and Haines, I was a little lost – not much in common with the smaller places but culturally lagging behind the urban group by about ten years and not really hip enough to mix with them.

There was also an interesting schism between the service brats and those from a purely civilian background. At the time there was a proportionally much larger military presence in the state with three major installations each for the Army, Navy and Air Force. My status as the dependent of a retired service member (and Pearl Harbor survivor) was the one arrow in my professional quiver and I made sure to network with every service brat I could identify.

There was the inevitable booze party planned, oddly enough by one of the local Glenallen delegates rather than one of the more sophisticated Anchorage guys. My one claim to Boy’s State fame came about because of that party: I’d been washing-up in the restroom during the party planning session but noticed a chaperone slip out after the discussion, having gone unnoticed while occupying one of the bathroom stalls. The heads-up I then gave the ringleaders earned me a bit of public ridicule, but each ringleader later thanked me for keeping them all out of trouble.

The week wound up with elections and selections: state officers from Governor on down were elected from the Boy’s State general population and the two delegates to Boy’s Nation in Washington DC were elected from a short list prepared by the program administrators. Out-processing and the backhaul home were a mirror image reversal of the trip to Glenallen eight days earlier and before I really knew it I was back sprawled on my bunk in my attic loft bedroom in Sterling listening to my stereo…but this time my biggest concern wasn’t whether the new Blood, Sweat and Tears album was as good as the previous one.

For the first time in my life I was seriously  concerned about my future.

My trip to Boy’s State had been based on wanting “something to do for summer vacation” and while I had a great time at Copper Center I was totally blown away by the manner in which my fellow delegates were preparing for their future, not just in terms of good grades but in real-life experience like internships and pursuit of appointments to West Point and Annapolis. They shared many of my values but were really doing something instead of just listening to music and drawing barbarians and superheroes.

That one real life-skill that got me into Boy’s State? I went into the experience thinking I was a pretty good speaker, but after listening to all the speeches given at Boy’s State I realized that I was in fact a shallow bulls**t artist that ran out of steam after three to five minutes – and while this might sound overly self-critical, thinking about it got me going in the right direction in life, though it was four more years before my change in course was complete.

Another benefit had to do with career choice: after wading through the complexities of the legislative process I became interested in the law and during my final year of high school and first year of college I was planning on a legal career. Obviously that wasn’t the path I took in life, but something must have taken root because both of my sons are practicing attorneys now.

Senior Picture 1970

(Senior portrait taken the following September)

1970: The Great Escape

1963

As much as I loved the sweeping epic motion pictures of the Fifties and Sixties I did not see “The Great Escape” when it first came out. Oh, I saw all the previews and was extremely interested in the subject matter but wasn’t able to actually see the movie because I was on the losing side of an ideological divide as vast as  Crown & Colonists or Union & Confederacy.

I was a Fourth Avenue theater kid and the “The Great Escape” was being shown at the Denali.

In those days before the Good Friday earthquake  there were just two movie theaters in Anchorage and they were located at the two ends of Fourth Avenue. Kids from the west side of town went to the Fourth Avenue theater while the kids from the east side went to the Denali….and never the twain did meet.

 1970

 “You’re welcome to finish out the year but I don’t see you accomplishing much other than developing good lab technique. Based on what you’ve done so far there’s no way you can get a passing grade.”

  I had to give Mrs. Denison credit; the executioner’s axe had cut quickly and cleanly, but as it swung three thoughts came to mind:

  • Shirley Denison and Mom were friends, so my folks probably knew about this already.
  • With the new English program1 I had a lot more options that I would have had the year before.
  • Given the axe-analogy I had to expand my leisure reading beyond John Carter of Mars and Conan the Barbarian.

The change to my class schedule was just as quick and clean; by the next day my newly-vacant third hour was filled with a brand-new journalism class to match my existing sixth hour debate class. I put up a token fuss about the move, but my protest was more of the “don’t throw me in that briar patch” variety. With a schedule made up of physical education (teacher’s aide!), history ( always a breeze!), geography (ditto), and two English classes I would have my first-ever “easy” semester.

…which would be finished off just as pleasantly by a sixth period motion picture class during the final nine week period.  Introduced as part of the new Literature & Communications curriculum, the Motion Pictures class had been the subject of some controversy until instructors demonstrated that the class entailed some academic rigor and was not just a “rocks for jocks” fluff course. We would start out with basic instruction on script-writing and cinematography, but the bulk of the class involved viewing/discussing two movies:

  • A Thousand Clowns: An Oscar-nominated MGM classic from 1965 starring Jason Robards as a nonconformist Madison Avenue drop-out forced to take conventional employment.
  • The Great Escape: The aforementioned United Artists epic concerning a mass POW escape in World War II Germany, also an Oscar nominee.

The class was possible only because of another recent change at KCHS – after eight years of unanticipated growth, an addition had been made to the building that included a cafeteria, a suite of business classrooms, and a little theater. Normally  partitioned off into three separate classrooms, the theater could be opened up into one large space for the motion picture class – or classes to be precise. Overwhelming demand meant that there were three sections scheduled for the one Motion Pictures class, which meant that in addition to regular classroom challenges the instructors had to:

  • Maintain order among a mob of 50+ students sitting in a dark room for fifty minutes at the end of a school day.
  • Keep students on task during a spring break-up  warmer and sunnier than usual, which should have posed no problems in a darkened classroom but fire laws required the rear exit doors to be open to a breathtaking view of the aforementioned glorious spring.
  • Complying with licensing and technical limitations which restricted students to viewing the films for less than half of the class period, including scenes from the previous day’s viewing repeated to maintain continuity.

Not to be out-done I had my own personal list of bullet-points to contend with:

  • I was concerned about my current girlfriend2. Our schedules were such that we  saw each other at most twice a day, which didn’t include Motion Pictures class. It might not have been quite so worrisome if there had been any depth developing in the relationship3.
  • I was quickly getting bored with the class. I’d been a movie buff since fourth grade making me better prepared than my peers. Repeated reviewing of very basic principles quickly became boring.
  • I was developing junior-osis. While it’s common knowledge that accumulated fatigue, boredom, and arrogance can lull fourth year students into an end-of-the-year malaise called senioritis,  junior-osis is a similar ailment that strikes at end of the third year of school as well. Year three involves minimal pressure – no letters to write, plenty of time left to clean up your GPA, and the closest you get to any sort of crunch point is the pre-SAT, which is just a warm-up for college placement tests the following autumn. It’s another example of a valuable lesson I learned later in the army: “Morale is lowest when the duty is easiest”.

…all of which conspired to rob me of any sense of urgency or dedication for that sixth and last hour of the school day. Snoozing in class was quickly ruled out by the clackety-clack and warbling sound track coming from the projector, and in 1970 I could draw in a darkened room about as well as I can now (I can’t). The semester was shaping up to be just one step up from Chinese water torture when fate smiled on me in the form of Mike Cole.

Mike was a service brat living on Wildwood Air Force Station, and in addition to the motion pictures class he was also in that first hour PE class. Our common service brat heritage and similar sense of humor made for an instant buddyship, and as he was equally bored with the motion pictures class we’d entertain ourselves by quietly chatting during the movies. It was during one of those conversations that he literally dropped a bomb shell: my former chemistry class had covered the required material a little early so Mrs. Denison was filling the final two weeks with for-real “BWAH-HA-HA” Mad Scientist projects that involved mixing chemicals, heating test-tubes and extracting the results with filter paper, said results subsequently given nonsense names like “flaming yekk” and “booming yakk”. It was obvious that the yekk and yakk were in fact  weak versions of flash paper and contact explosive, and at first the idea of supplying teenagers with such materials had me wondering if Shirley had been huffing some of the chemicals herself …but when I discovered the process required an eight-hour drying time, it didn’t seem quite as worrisome.

That all seemed to have no bearing as the class limped along the final week of school  – but then the perfect storm hit. We were on the last reel of the The Great Escape and collectively chewing the armrests while nervously watching  Steve McQueen’s attempts to jump a motor cycle over barbed wire when the power went out, halting the movie and extinguishing the aisle lights. The room was pitch dark and totally silent for several seconds, then there was a creak-CLUNK and a waft of fresh air when one of the instructors opened the exit doors.

Have you ever been on a horse that smells water after a long ride? They are uncontrollable – you may think you’re going to the house, but the horse is heading for the barn and the water trough whether you want to or not. That’s what was happening in that darkened room: students surged en masse towards the sun-lit exits like a 1950’s movie monster but hesitated momentarily at a brief flash of light and a low pop from the center of the student-blob.

Mike quietly dropped the “F-bomb”.

It turned out end-of-the-year indifference hadn’t existed in just the motion pictures class. Chemistry students had been a bit casual with measurements for the latest batch of yekk and yakk which halved the expected cure time, which in turn meant that today’s output was fully weaponized four hours early. The first few explosions had been purely by accident, but as I looked around, students were gently touching fingertips to the chemical-laden filter paper giving them a magic finger tip that either flashed or popped when touching a surface of any kind.

As a mature young man of seventeen  I took the proper course of action and acted in a responsible manner –  I reached down to Mike’s chemistry book and loaded up both sets of fingers with yekk and yakk, then started finger-popping everyone around me.  After initially resisting the impulse Mike reacted in kind and we were having a great time until we noticed three instructors methodically moving toward us through the darkened student mass, checking for the yekk and yakk. We figured we had time for just one more round but as we both reached down to “reload” there was a blinding flash of light that left me temporarily daze /visually impaired and within grabbing range of at least two of the instructors.

I would still be serving detention KCHS to this day if the end-of-class bell hadn’t gone off at that moment, followed seconds later by the power coming back on. Between the blinding glare of restored classroom lighting and the collective surge toward the exits I was forgotten by the patrolling instructors and eventually made my way out to the bus. The trip home was uneventful other than slight bewilderment when I spied Mike wearing a polka-dot shirt as his bus pulled past mine and out to the highway.

The next day was Friday and the end of both the school week and the academic year, a half-day with time for little other than signing yearbooks and settling out financial obligations. In my case, that meant paying Mike ten bucks for my share of the damages inflicted during the motion picture melee:

  • The polka dot shirt Mike was wearing on the bus home was in fact the same light blue garment he’d worn during the day – what I had mistaken for dots were little burnt marks left from me tapping him with the yekk.
  • That last big flash? In our scuffling Mike ended up dropping his chemistry text book from about knee height, which wouldn’t have been a problem had he not stashed three additional sheets of yakk, inside the front cover, which together contained enough potential energy to blow the cover off the book as it hit the ground.

With my debts paid I blithely went on to a wonderful summer filled with Boy’s State, Youth Conference, a summer job in Seward and football,  and when I came back in the fall it was to a kinder, gentler chemistry class – a special section Mrs. Denison had formed for math-impaired students like me.

The lab component was different too. No more flaming yekk or booming yakk.


 

Notes:­­­­­­­­­­­

  1. In the fall of 1969 English classes were radically changed for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that students were free to put together their own program.
  2. Bachelorette #1 from: 1971: “…then Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls…”
  3. The unsettled nature of my relationship with Bachelorette #1 didn’t stay that way for long and I soon learned why she’d been evasive whenever I’d talked about dating over summer vacation. In a note delivered by her half-sister she explained that she’d be working on a set-net fishing site during most of the summer break and didn’t think she’d be able to get back up the bluff at the end of a day and get cleaned up in time for a date. There is definitely an air of finality when you get brushed off by someone  who has to “wash her hair”  for three months.

 

1969: With a Little Luck

“Hey Dave – what did that new guy have to say about moving to the Peninsula?”

 “New guy? Hey Pat – I wasn’t talking to a guy – I was talking to Rhonda the girl who just moved up from somewhere in Texas.”

 “You need to clean the wax out of your ears – and maybe get some glasses too. The name is Ron and he’s most definitely a guy. I’m pretty sure because he’s in my gym class and unlike you I don’t need glasses”

 “What?”

 “Hey – it was probably his long hair that threw you off. Well, gotta run!”

 I stood at my locker long enough to jump when the tardy bell rang. Well this was a first – I had notoriously bad luck with girls, but never had I been desperate enough to mistake a slim long-haired guy for a chick.

 “I ought to have my head examined…”

…a sentiment that came up again when I walked into the pep rally later that afternoon to see Pat Malone sitting up at the top row of the bleachers, arm-in-arm with the new girl Rhonda whose tailored blouse firmly established her gender once she’d removed her parka.

He’d done it again. Not only was Patrick light years ahead of me in drawing skills, he was ahead of me in fox-hunting as well. It didn’t matter if I’d set my sights on Joan, Jeanne, Joni or Pam – Pat Malone was always one step ahead of me with one arm around the young lady in question. I couldn’t fault him for taste, but just once …

“Pretty slick, isn’t he?”

I jumped just a bit at the unexpected comment – I hadn’t noticed anyone behind me. Doing my best to channel all the class of Sean Connery I turned and replied

HUH?”

(better make that George Lazenby)

Sitting next to the exit was the merriest pair of brown eyes ever. Attached to those brown eyes was Jeanne Lyddel, one of those near-miss-to-Pat-Malone young ladies that I had been just thinking about.  I had a weakness for brown-eyed blondes and had noticed her during registration the previous fall, but then Pat magically appeared next to her sitting in the bleachers that day as well, her hand in his while they compared class schedules.

“What is it about Malone and the bleachers in the gym? I thought “The guy can do magic in here. I cannot believe his luck! It’s like he drew a perpetual cow tag during moose season and dropped one in his back yard on opening day!”  Nevertheless, I had to admit he was good. I walked out of the gym murmuring “…since day one of our freshman year he’s never failed to shoot me out of the saddle…”

“Shoot you out of the saddle?” Jeanne had overheard my murmuring….

“It’s just an expression. When another guy manages to hustle-away a girl just before you get a chance to ask her out.”

She sat up and interrupted “You mean you -? Did you know that Pat and I…?”

>URK<

I looked away blushing, my face as scarlet as the KCHS Kardinal mascot and casually changed the subject “Hey – why do you th>INK< its spelled with a “K” instead of a “C?” my voice cracking with sheer terror mid-dodge.

“What?”

 “The ‘K’ in Kardinals. Kenai Kardinals.  Why isn’t it a C? Oops – gotta go now!”.

I narrowly avoided running over my friend Jim on the way out and he smirked in my general direction, launching a “I’ve-seen-you-do-better-Rave!” rocket at me as I shot past to a blush-free sanctuary outside the gymnasium door. My goal for the 1968-69 academic year had nothing to do with grade point averages; my goal was to be able to stand near a girl I liked and not become terminally twitter-pated. To be able to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone I was interested in, to somehow escape the nerd boy inside that could dissolve into “homina-homina-homina -duuuhhhh – drool. Me like pretty girl”. Judging from my trip-hammer pulse I wasn’t quite there yet – so it was no wonder it took an exit from the gymnasium at a dead run to achieve some semblance of cool.

I was semi-surprised the next day to see Jeanne sitting in the same set of bleachers during lunch, but the surprise became total when she looked over, made eye-contact and smiled. I walked over and sat down, and when I managed to not spontaneously burst into flames we were able to have a nice conversation. At that point we started to became friends, which slowly began to morph into a pattern of stealth-dating which was the only way for me to see  someone given my age and situation.1 Something like a “Boy’s Night Out” with Jim and Jesse would be the plan presented when getting permission to go to the show or a dance but in reality, once I was dropped off I’d link up with Jeanne who’d pursued much the same tactics in getting out of her own home for the evening.

The relationship was very low-key, but spring2 was in the air and I was quite taken with the novelty, the magic of a girl who ACTUALLY LIKED ME AT THE SAME TIME I LIKED HER!. Signs of serious twitter-pation began to appear:

  • Absently mindedly writing her name over and over on my notebook.
  • Saving pencils she’d chewed on.
  • My heart skipping a beat whenever I’d hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.

Most importantly I was learning to relax, enjoy her company and be myself.

It was all developing nicely until our abnormally spring weather turned chilly and the high school’s water pipes broke one early morning just before the busses started dropping off students. Citing health hazard brought about by the lack of water fountains, showers and toilets, the administration (eventually) decided to cancel classes for the day. Unfortunately, at that point every bus was either back in the garage or moving elementary school students, so we were all left to mill about for a couple of hours…or in my case cruise around Kenai with my friend Gary. Given the state of the Kenai Peninsula’s infrastructure in 1969 we quickly ran out of road for cruising and that’s when I got the bright idea to go find where Jeanne lived and pay a visit.

I knew that she lived somewhere in Woodland Subdivision, so we drove over, parked the truck and started walking up and down the streets looking for her home.  We been afoot for just five minutes when we noticed residents of the subdivision watching us carefully out of their windows, understandably concerned to see teenage boys wandering around during the middle of a school day. By the time I found Jeanne’s house, word of our presence had preceded us, and she was not happy to see me. For the first time those brown eyes were definitely not merry and when my every effort to draw out a laugh from her failed, I elbowed Gary and we left.  On the long drive home, I kept telling myself that everything would work out OK, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something major had happened that I just wasn’t getting.

Again, there was no “happy” in her eyes when we met up the next morning at school. She quietly told me that she was disappointed and felt I had been too forward in showing up at her house the day before. While she didn’t specifically hand me my walking papers I took the hint and from then on avoided our spot on the bleachers during lunchtime. We spoke only intermittently during the rest of the school year as I assumed any relationship that may have existed between us was rapidly fading away if not already gone.

There have been times in life when I have been lost to epic proportions, but whether we’re talking about flying to a stage field at FT Rucker, running an orienteering course at FT Lewis or searching for bogus referrals in Rhode Island, I have never been as lost as I was at that point. I was feeling some pretty complex emotions and could not figure out what was going on.

  • I could tell when someone disliked me.
  • I could tell when someone was angry with me.
  • I could tell when someone thought I was a total dork.

…but the idea of simple conflict resolution in a relationship was utterly foreign. I had no previous experience with the situation due to the dynamics of a bi-polar family, especially a bi-polar family of Celtic extraction, which did not foster belief in happy endings.  All I could tell was that there was a new kind of hurt going on. I didn’t feel like hitting anything, I didn’t feel like crying, but I did have a kind of sick, hollow feeling that had all the indications of sticking around the long haul.

That all-or-nothing mindset persisted, and I missed several shots at resolution:

  • My best friend Jim ran into Jeanne at the mall and later reported that the conversation was basically “please tell David to call me!”
  • During my own mall run-in her next-door neighbor said the same thing and pointedly told me several times in the conversation that Jeanne still liked me.
  • When her father was transferred to Kansas a third friend passed on Jeanne’s new address, urging me to write.

…all of which I failed to act on.

In retrospect the experience was a bit more than just six lost weeks during the spring of 1969. I really did learn some important lessons.

  • I discovered that there was a depth and complexity to relationships that I hadn’t realized before. Love wasn’t just a matter of people liking each other.
  • I got a brief look at how truly functional families interacted – caring, responsible parents and responsible teenagers. The day I showed up at Jeanne’s house her mom had been present in the background doing some nondescript chore and while she didn’t actively participate in the conversation it was plain she was aware of what was going on. I was more accustomed to kids just being yelled at or totally ignored.

Because the whole thing covered such a brief time span and happened so long ago I hesitate to say I was in love with Jeanne Lyddel, but I do know that it was the first time that my attraction for a young lady had any measure of complexity… so the odds are she was in fact my first love.

… and my heart still skips a beat when I hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.

 

 


 

  1. See 1971: “…then Dave discovered girls…:
  2. More like the musty smell of Break-up

 

1969: “Party Hearty…hardly”

One of the first things you learn when starting a running program is this:  The best runners don’t compete with other people – they compete with themselves. Rather than trying to best another person, they try to beat their own time. It’s a good idea in general to set personal standards to measure success. I’ve applied the concept several times in my life, but the most useful personal benchmark has to do with “getting in trouble” and by that I don’t mean life-altering hardship, setbacks or personal challenges – “trouble” as in “Awwwmmmm – you’re in trouble. Mrs. Blinzler wants to see you after recess.”1

In early 1969 I helped organize a party that got me into so much trouble I’ve used it as a gauge for the rest of my life. How did it come about? The same way normally rational people get in unforeseen trouble: Life became too comfortable. Whether you’re reading academic records, scriptural accounts or even bardic oral tradition, one lesson humanity has had to learn over and over is that any time life gets too comfortable we get into mischief. Such self-inflicted shots in the foot can take many forms, but in my case my it wasn’t a golden calf, it my part in planning a beer bust at Jim Kluting’s house on the last night of February 1969.

As I have written elsewhere, my sophomore year in high school was much better than my freshman year and in some ways it was the most enjoyable of my entire high school experience. I was doing well in my studies, I was part of a tight circle of friends and involved in an after-hours judo program. There was a happy balance in my life – for example while it looked like Star Trek was going to be cancelled in the spring, the Beatles graced us with the White Album just after Christmas.

It was also just after the Christmas break2 we started planning a party. Looking around It seemed like everyone in the school was going out on weekends and getting tanked/smashed/blitzed/blotto/feeling no pain while we just shared Playboy party jokes at lunch time. Even I could see we were missing out on something, so we arranged our own “event” for the last Saturday in February – which took some careful coordination as our average age was fifteen and only a couple guys could drive. Through a bit of low-grade subterfuge and careful planning we ended up with three different sleepovers scheduled for the weekend; the sleepovers serving as marshalling areas for the party supplies which we would then amass at Jim Kluting’s house for the event.

My base of operations would be Spike’s house where  we made liberal use of his father’s liquor cabinet in our preparation, carefully stowing the bottles in my old seventh grade book bag. Our friend Louie had somehow convinced his dad to drive him (and his beer) to the party but the white-hot rumor of all rumors involved the Holland sisters who were reportedly coming with beer of their own as well.

The weekend finally arrived, and the various teams started their preparations. I was a little concerned – Spike and I had jumped the gun by knocking back a beer apiece, but most of mine ended up on my coat and the alcohol that did make it into my system was apparently having no effect. I was beginning to wonder if the party was going to be as “off the hook” as we had hoped.

I started into an emotional yo-yo:

  • YO-YO UP: We got out of Spike’s house with the alcohol undetected.
  • YO-YO DOWN: At the last-minute Louie’s dad backed out on giving him beer.
  • YO-YO UP: The Holland sisters showed up for the party.
  • YO-YO DOWN: They weren’t able sneak any of their dad’s beer out of the house.

Undeterred and primed for a raucous, wild night of hedonistic depravity we showed up at the appointed hour at Jim’s door, which I proceeded to pound on wildly with my fist.

Quiet.

“Did we get the date wrong?”

The door opened to a scene of sedate activity. Jim and a half-dozen early arrivals were sitting at card tables playing various games. Jim’s mom had some Jiffy-Pop on the stove and the tables were laden with such exotic and forbidden beverages as Shasta Orange Soda, Seven-up and for those with even more sophisticated taste there was Coca-Cola. Once again, my literal sense of perception had blinded me to the fact that most of the talk about the “off-the-hook” party had been just that: talk  and that only a few of us really did come prepared for a blow-out.

Spike and I were shortly joined by a few other true believers and our party-within-a-party retired out to the driveway to salvage the night. I ended up with one of the Holland sisters in Greg Matranga’s El Camino where nothing more noteworthy than a little snuggling went on. Oh, we did have a Mason jar full of a screwdriverish mix of Shasta Orange Cola and vodka but drinking it made my lip curl and I gave up when more of the hideous concoction ended up on my coat than down my gullet. I went back in the house, apologized to Jim and his mom, and then Spike and I caught a ride back to his house, a little embarrassed but glad everything had been tied up nicely by the end of the evening.

It was early the next week that I found out I was mistaken when I encountered one of the greatest dangers of the Last Frontier; something infinitely more dangerous than bears, wolves, moose, earthquakes, avalanches, ravenous clouds of mosquitos or plane crashes.

A threat to life and limb that made all of these perils fade next to nothing.

An angry mom with high standards for her kids.

Evidently the Holland sister I had been cuddled up had spilled a single drop of our pseudo-screwdriver on her polka-dot slacks – which was enough to wake her mom up from a sound sleep in the master bedroom on the other side of their home. After grilling her daughters most of the night for information, she started tracking down other party participants to their homes, met with parents and started a cascade of parental discipline that had a significant percentage of the sophomore class grounded within 48 hours of the party.

For some reason she didn’t get my name, but Spike’s mom did call my folks and warn them that a crazy lady from North Kenai had started a witch-hunt. As soon as the call was over Mom and Dad started grilling me about the weekend, but I managed to avoid any real punishment by deflecting my parent’s inquiries in a masterpiece of verbal legerdemain:3

  • “Mom, where would I get money to buy beer?”
  • “Who would buy it for me?”
  • “Do you really think I would do something like that?”

For the next two weeks Spike and I lived like escaped POWs trying to blend in with the general German population while Mrs. Holland kept up the witch-hunt for other party-goers. I was so spooked at the prospect of Serious Trouble my stomach was constantly upset but eventually life settled back down to normal and I no longer jumped whenever our phone unexpectedly rang in the evening.

I laid low and rode out the clock, spending two weeks holed up in my room entranced by the White Album, then losing six weeks when I fell in then out of love4.  By that time the academic year was coming to a close; final exams and starting a new job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps absorbed all my spare time and thought, but it was our big pointedly non-alcoholic group date/end of school party that painted over the February debacle for good.

In my best neurotic fashion, I over-analyzed the issue in my mind several times over the summer break and came up with the following conclusions:

  • Alcohol was definitely not my friend. The drunken pleasure or “buzz” that classmates were always talking about just didn’t happen for me.
  • Nothing in life was pleasant enough for me to deal with that much trouble again.

Two Years Later

Debbie and I were cuddled up on the bleachers at a wrestling match, the action on the mat taking second place to the simple pleasure of each other’s company. We were also having a good time with other friends sitting in the general area, one of them being the younger of the two Holland sisters who had been at Jim’s party. Pam was now a varsity cheerleader and we were laughing and responding to her routine, and in general having a good time.  During a break she came over to talk but as she ran back out she waved to a middle-aged woman sitting just to the side and said, “Love you Mom!”

URK!

I was sitting within slapping range of the Witch Hunter from 1969!  My distress must have shown because Debbie started asking if I was feeling OK and when my Dad unexpectedly showed up (he didn’t know about Debbie5) I didn’t blink an eye. That familiar yet unwelcome churning in my stomach started up again and I began mentally calculating how quickly I could get to the exit, but then there was another break in the action and Pam showed up at the side of the bleachers.

Again, my distress must have been very obvious because she leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, she forgot about the party a long time ago”. All the tension left my body and I settled back down on the bleachers in relief – and thankful that my resolution to stay out of trouble had also kept me out of Mrs. Holland’s radar long enough for the trouble to go away.

…. now I just had to figure out what to tell my Dad about Debbie.

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  1. Why do little kids all instinctly say “Ahhhmmm – you’re in trouble” Why that particular phoneme? Why don’t they say “Ah-oogah – you’re in trouble”?
  2. Most of the dumber stunts I’ve witnessed in myself and friends happened deep in the winter. I think the lack of sunlight has something to do with it. The lack of daylight is supposed to bring on SAD (Seasonal Adjustive Disorder) but I’ve also though it was more accurately expressed as Seasonal Adjustive Dumba**)
  3. It was only later that I realized I probably hadn’t been as clever as I figured. Dad was standing a step behind Mom as they were grilling me, and she couldn’t see him roll his eyes at that last response.
  4. See blog post 1969: With a Little Luck (to be published).
  5. See blog post 1971: …then Dave discovered girls.