|Back in our day . . .||
When we last visited young Master Jack, it was 1954. He was five years old, and living at his fourth address. There was one more of these transient addresses left for me to visit, but it was at this time that I would become aware of the condition of childhood, so I've put it together with my last more stable home, because that awareness generates a lot of the important background about the man that I became. It is best treated as a unified whole.
Sometime very early in 1954, we moved to a fourplex in North Park at 2548 Landis St. In the picture, the front of the building is facing the camera, and the four apartments were arranged in a square, two upstairs, and two down. Each apartment was long and narrow, running front to back, and was arranged as a long hallway with the rooms off to the side. We lived on the ground floor, street side, and above us lived a man named Mr. Hurey who my caregivers described as a troll who hated noise, so I'd better keep quiet! He gave me a plainly homemade toybox that was so well made that my twins had it for most of their childhood. Maybe it was them who hated noise...
This house was slightly less than two miles from the one on Fairmount, which means that the last four houses I had lived in were in easy walking distance from each other; that should bring home the humor in the "Gypsy" part of the title. Anyway, from this house, I attended Jefferson Elementary for the second semester of first grade, and all of second. My first grade teacher was Miss Cook, who was young and cute, and who took off for two weeks, and returned as Mrs. Weaver. She was still young and cute, I liked her a lot, and she participated in the event that formed the foundation of my view of the institution of public schools to this day.
Another boy went to her and told her that I had kicked him in the face. Not maliciously, mind you, I was just "kicking around," apparently doing chorus line kicks for no particular reason, and hit him through carelessness. Even though there wasn't a mark on him, she asked me what I was thinking to do something like that. Knowing full well that nothing of the sort had happened, I denied it. She decided that I was lying about the event, took me to the principal, and reported the incident as such. I was spanked by the principal, suspended for three days for lying, not for kicking, sent home with a letter, spanked by great-grandma, put on room restriction, and spanked again when grandma got home from work. I never trusted anyone from the school system again, from superintendent to assistant janitor.
Didn't much trust the grandparents after that, either, willing as they were to believe anything bad they were told about me, truthful or not. My best friend from my teenage years once told me that the strongest vibe he got from me was my powerful sense of justice. I made some joke about being a Libra (the scales, you know), and moved on, but it might be that this is where it began. If so, then this event gave me a lot more than it took away, but it's impossible to say that with any certainty.
In any case, it was here that I discovered the enchantment of having friends my own age. Halfway down that block on the right side of Arnold Street lived Johnny Wallace. He was half white, half Mexican, and 100% boy. In another time, he would have been Tom Sawyer, playing hooky as he ran from one adventure to the next. He turned me on to baseball in his backyard, and Monopoly (though I had no idea at that age what the symbolism meant). His mom was a sweet Mexican lady, always ready with the milk and cookies. Often joining us on our adventures was Paula Nellie, a tomboy who lived in the corner house out of the picture to the left. I liked Paula a lot, but didn't think of her as a girl, just a playmate. She was a chunky little thing with a round, cherubic face surrounded by short brown hair, and she had cap guns on the rack next to her dolls.
I did have some idea what girls were all about, though, because I had what passed for a girlfriend at school. Gail Garbus was her name, and she was a vision of loveliness. Petite, a pixie face in a halo of golden hair, and often wearing a white fur coat, we would walk around the schoolyard with our arms around each others' shoulders, blissfully unaware of what the gesture meant. The difference between then and now is that the school didn't have me arrested for molesting her. Those were simpler times...
Eventually, the time came to move. Every move before this had been a grand adventure, but this one was an unmitigated disaster. I had these three close friends who meant the world to me; they were my sanctuary from all the child-hating, strap-wielding adults I had to deal with, and I cried my eyes out over having to go. But go, we did...
...to 982 Manor Way in Point Loma. You'll recall my great uncle Bill, the Air Force officer. He had joined the Army Air Corps before WWII to get flying lessons. Came the Great War, he was recalled to serve as one of the pilots of Axis Ass Ache, a B-17 flying out of North Africa to strike targets in Southern Europe. Following the war, he tried civilian life again, only to be recalled again for Korea, where he flew F-86 Sabres. This time, he took the position that, "You aren't going to let me get a civilian career off the ground, so you're stuck with me," and the Air Force became his career. In the summer of 1955, he had a vision, I suppose, of where the housing market was about to go, so he bought his retirement home in the very affluent neighborhood of Point Loma, and installed his mother, rent free, as caretaker. Since his mother was my great-grandmother, I came with the package. The garage in the picture had been converted to a bedroom, with windows across the front as wide as the garage door, and that became mine. Very nice! The little window to the left of the door was the kitchen, and the bay window to the right was the living room. The other bedrooms were in the back.
We moved in during the summer before third grade, and the second morning, about a dozen kids arrived at the front door, introduced themselves, and invited me out to play. Included in that group were two of the three Horton brothers, Todd and Tim. If you want to know the significance of that, do a Wikipedia search for Alonzo Horton... And Horton Plaza while you're in there. They, and presumably some of the dads, had built a soap-box car that had a fully enclosed body, and I got several turns to drive it as some of the other kids rode hanging on the sides and so on. The great feature of this car was that the steering was roped backward; turn left, go right. That made for some excitement, let me tell you!
This little development was a square block of houses, both sides of the street, with one bare street where Talbot climbed up to the crest. It's still that way, as you can see if you Google a map of the area. There were probably 30 houses around those three streets, and a quick calculation tells me there were over twenty kids of roughly equivalent age in those houses. We could field two full baseball teams at the drop of a hat, and our hide-and-seek games were epic! Westerns were all the rage during my childhood, and we all, boys and girls alike, strapped on guns, chaps, and ten-gallon hats, and turned the block into an old-west town every Saturday morning.
From third grade, when I turned seven a month into the school year (and had my only kids-invited birthday party), through sixth, when I turned ten, everything went along just fine. I was part of this great Spanky-and-Our-Gang scufflin' crew that did fun stuff, got into mischief, had each others' backs, and just generally treated life as our personal playground. Despite my cold and austere home environment, it was a wonderful childhood, and I feel profoundly sorry for today's kids who can't go down to the mailbox unless a parent is standing in the door with a shotgun, and who can expect to be thrown out of school for pointing a finger and saying "bang" to a playmate. I've heard many in my generation say that today's kids are dolts who can't do anything but push buttons. I don't buy into that myself, but if it does turn out to be true, all they will have done is to live down to the expectations of the jackasses who pass themselves off as educators these days. But that's another post (and don't think I won't revisit it!).
Beginning with seventh grade, which was the beginning of Junior High School back then, kids began socializing with the opposite sex, and they became aware of money. This process took the form of a sort of gradual, building culture shock. I was in a neighborhood I didn't belong in, financially. I went to school with the children of moguls in the clothing industry, defense contractors, medical suppliers, founding fathers of San Diego, and because of the way we came into the neighborhood, being what would have been the servants had the homeowners lived in our house, my education was about to begin.
We did a lot of our shopping at Goodwill and Salvation Army stores. The clothes I wore to school were last year's model, and these kids were well aware of it. Kids I was in class with would buy their lunches with $20.00 bills. That was the equivalent of about $150.00 today. I know; I looked it up. Once, and sometimes twice a month, my aunt would come over and give me a dime. That's what passed for an allowance. These kids were aware of that, too. From being a popular member of that Little Rascals crew, I went almost overnight to being a castigated outcast, someone who was the butt of jokes and ridicule from every quarter. This is how I can tell you that if you don't have an experience like this in your personal background, you seriously cannot imagine in your wildest dreams the contempt that these people hold you in, simply because you aren't sitting on more money than anyone could possibly need. Look at your politicians. Do you know one that isn't rich? Well, if you do, that is the only one who doesn't believe in his heart of hearts that you are lower than whale poop at the bottom of the ocean.
It was rampant and life-changing. A few girls took a liking to the way I looked and treated me as potential boyfriend material... Until their parents looked us up in Dunn & Bradstreet, and couldn't find us there. I could always tell the day that this had happened, as they had been directed (I like to think) to avoid me like I was a diseased dog. The only thing that kept me from turning out a much darker person was Chip.
Walter David Hanika, son of Roy A. Hanika, owner of Burlingame Surgical Supply, the largest supplier to doctors and hospitals on the west coast, approached me at lunch within the first couple of days at Richard Henry Dana Junior High School. He had attended a different elementary school, and didn't know me from Adam, yet he walked up to me with that long, narrow horse face of his, the black-rimmed glasses, and that infectious smile, loudly calling, "Helloooooooo, Tyler!" Whereupon he sat down beside me, carefully examined his cafeteria hot dog to determine whether it was right- or left-handed, and proceeded to eat it with his left hand. This magnificent show about tired, capable heroes called Combat! had just started, and along with one of my friends from Sunset View Elementary, Craig Burke (great-nephew of Admiral Arleigh Burke; see what I mean?), we discussed what we had seen in the last episode.
Thus began a friendship that lasted well beyond high school, through his college days and my military service, until we finally drifted apart because recreational drugs came between us. But that, too, is a story for another post. We stayed in that house until 1974, when my uncle retired and came to take over his property. He did right by his mom and sister, getting them a house in Lemon Grove; that was my cue to take control of my own life. I had served in the navy from 1965 to 1969, came back to the old homestead, and began looking for the job that could parlay my navy experience into a civilian career. Within a couple of months, my great-grandmother fell and broke her hip, and basically never walked again. There was no question of grandma being able to afford a nurse, so I put my life on hold and assumed that role for the next four years. Chip brought a walker-chair from the store that she used free of charge until she passed on in 1975 at the age of 87. During that time, I walked the neighbors' dogs, cut grass at the local Little League field, and held a menial job behind the counter of a dry cleaning store in the little center across Talbot Street, bringing in a little money, but always close at hand.
At the age of 12, I had spent two weeks during the summer living with my mom in a Monterey hotel, and returned again at 14, staying to spend the first semester of 10th grade attending Monterey Union High School. That was when one of those contrived emergencies came up, and I was sent back to San Diego to resume life with my grandparents. Ironically, I was good with that. At Monterey High, I was almost a celebrity, as I was from the big city, where all those kids were trying to escape to. I was accepted by popular cliques, had girlfriends, was friends with seniors, and through them, college kids. I would walk down the street with my sophomore friends, and cheerleaders from Monterey Peninsula College would pull over to the curb, call me by name, and offer us rides; I was viewed by my friends as a minor god. Stupid as only a young teenager can be, I couldn't wait to get back to San Diego.
So it transpired, and I suffered through another year of condescension, and mental and physical abuse until during the summer following 11th grade, I was sent back to Monterey to try it again. About a month before school started, I was told I would be attending 12th grade there. I still didn't get it, and announced, "Over my dead body!" Mom and I worked out an agreement by which I could join the navy on a minority enlistment if I could pass my G.E.D.s. That was the navy's requirement; mom couldn't care less where I was, as long as it was somewhere else. Long story short, I took a week's worth of tests in a single day, passed them all with flying colors, and was given a report date of October 12th, 1965. Columbus Day, five days after my 17th birthday. Thus was I ushered into adulthood, at an unexpected time by unexpected means. I have made it my personal philosophy, and tried to teach my own children, to always be ready to turn on a dime, thrive in the chaos, and make the surprises work for you. I guess this is where it started, and it makes a fitting end point for this phase of the journey. There are a million stories tied up with this address, and I'll probably get to all of them, but not today. I'll see you again in a week or so, when I'll talk about my aunt Marie. Until then, get out there and live life like you mean it!
All the best,
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??