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Chapter 1 - Arriving

To Begin With...

Many spiritual traditions have teachings about how we arrive in the bodies that we will inhabit in this lifetime. One of the questions that comes to mind when you do spiritual work with your interior states is… "if everything is spirit as they claim, why don’t we remember that when we enter into this form." Why must we spend a lifetime chasing the truth that we are more than just this body/mind. What is the purpose of that design?"

My partial answer to that kosmic dilemma is... it would drive us crazy attempting to hold the totality of our connection with everything in the Kosmos. Given the physical, emotional and psychological limitations of a human body that "totality" would overwhelm our circuits. It would literally drive us mad. I had enough monkey mind going on in my life. I certainly didn’t need to add other lifetimes or the whole universe to it.


What I have discovered in traveling in the realms of spirit (subtle or causal (dream states) is that everything I enjoyed about my life, the fire of a creative moment, the quiet place at the end of the breath etc. are so much more powerful in the dream state than when I am awake in my walk around human life. I am capable of so much more. It still is amazing to me that in these human lives we spend a third of our time in another reality every night. That reality can have all kinds of qualities from joy to terror.


For example, a recurring dream I like involves me singing. I am standing on stage somewhere in front of a big crowd. I can sing anything I can imagine. In this life, I had a good voice but nothing like in the dream state. When I would wake from those dreams I would feel an immense sense of joy and happiness.


As I have grown older and have developed the practice of entering those realms more often, it has sometimes gotten harder and harder for me to come back to this life. It takes me longer to pull the pieces of David together each morning when I awake. I am much more aware of the limitations of what this human mind/body can process than when I was younger. And that is why I believe we don’t remember who we really are when we arrive. The form we take here cannot grok the totality of everything… so we go through this process of forgetting. One of the qualities of arriving.


So however we get here (some say we choose, some say we are assigned, some say it’s completely random) we arrive in human form, for the most part helpless and only aware of our basic needs. We haven’t even recognized our parents yet or that we are one of many in this world. All of that will come soon enough as we grow up as individuals.


That being said, there have been times when I seemed to have a memory enter my awareness that was not part of this life. Some folks claim they can remember their past lives. I am not sure what to make of that. I guess if all that humans create is stored in some kind of Kosmic record, then it’s possible we can access some of those energetic imprints. I'm just not sure it’s coming from a past life in the way some think about it in a linear fashion. Why is it in past life regressions, so many of us are famous people. Rarely are we a gardener or a stable hand. As I said I don’t know, and certainly when I arrived this time I simply entered into the lives of my parents Barbara and Barney, their first born son. From the pictures seemingly happy to be here.

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I have very few memories that I remember now of those early years. However, here are a few that were revealed to me in regressive-guided meditations.



I have no idea if this actually happened or not, but I have a strong memory of me at some young age looking at myself in the mirror for the first time. My thought was that I looked very different than I expected. I had always written this off as a young child’s self-discovery process, but as I have had more spiritual experiences, this event can be seen differently as looking out through my souls eyes to the physical body I am inhabiting in this life time for the first time.


First Interest

When I was born we lived in Park Merced in San Francisco. A new housing community that sprung up after the war for new families like ours.


My mother told me a story that I liked to get on my tricycle and ride down to the corner to watch the tall towers being built.

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She said I would stare for hours at the buildings going up. If this is true, it may have something to do with a pattern that developed, (or I was born with) that I like to make things. This interest would be nurtured in my grandfathers magical workshop where he could create anything. I would spend hours with him as a kid as he spun up toys from found materials or his version of a soap box derby racer.


So, the creative pattern shows up early. It was certainly supported during my in childhood by the adults in my life. I was lucky enough to make multiple careers and a life out it . Fitting existing pieces together into a new, novel story fascinated me.

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Clearly the stories that were the core of my creative life came from that place. I eventually learned when I finished a project to take a quiet moment and appreciate what I had brought into being (with friends and collaborators) from nothing. Whether it achieved worldly success or not, I saw these projects as my small contribution to human intelligence evolving.


Recurring Dream

I have a strong memory of a recurring dream. It takes place on Prince Street in Berkeley where our family lived when I was 3-8 years of age. In the dream I am walking up the sidewalk towards our house. I walk up the stairs and open the front door. Down the hallway, that ran from the back of the house, comes a skeleton moving quickly towards me. I feel extremely frightened. In the dream I fall down and wake myself up, but in the recurring times when I have this dream, I know I am going to open the door again so I wake myself up before I get there. Lots of people I have interviewed tell of dreams or strange experiences they had as young children. I never thought much about this one, but there it is.


First Scar

My parents were headed out for a second honeymoon to Hawaii. My guess is that this was the first time both of them were leaving me. They were driving a 1949 blue Ford coupe in those early days.


I don’t remember being upset about them going away, but as I ran down the front stairs and approached the car I tripped and smashed my face into the running board. It opened a nasty cut next to my right eye. I still have the scar. Blood goes everywhere. I heard my Dad sigh and as I remember they had to delay their trip while I got stitched up. When I was younger I always felt I was a bit uncoordinated and awkward. These clumsy moments happened a lot. Big body no grace. Getting into sports changed some of that. Eventually, my martial arts training would ground me in my body for good.


Setting Out  

The years of my life in San Francisco and then Prince Street in Berkeley were pleasant as much as I can recall. Certainly the pictures show us happy and engaged.

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I don’t remember my brother Bruce arriving a year and half after me, but there are certainly lots of pictures of the two of us playing together. This was a pattern that continued all our lives to my great enrichment. I do remember my sister Jane arriving five years later. There is a classic family photo of Bruce and I staring into Jane’s bassinet. The look of wonder and confusion on our faces is worth the price of admission. It was sort of like…”what are we going to do with this.”


We had other kids on our block we played with, so we got some sense of how others lived. And we would walk over to the Star Grocery or Elmwood Avenue for shopping trips that were filled with exotic sights and smells. I remember looking in the windows of all those houses and the big church on the corner of Prince and College Ave and wondering what went on in there.  


So, when it came time for me to go to school I can’t remember feeling inadequate, just a bit uneasy about the change. Later in my life I would learn that I was what some call a “sensitive child.” I picked up lots of energy around me that wasn’t mine and had no way to filter it. It could be very disconcerting at times. However, I don’t remember anything that my parents did that would have made me feel stupid or slow. But there was that feeling as I ventured out that I was less than.

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The family photos from the first six years of my life shows us all looking cheerful, me looking contented etc. My mother said I was an easy baby that did not fuss much. In these photos I just looked like I was happy to be here. I had no way of knowing that was about to change, but that’s a story for much later.


Brother Bruce and Sister Jane

In addition to my mother and father I was lucky enough to have two siblings. Our lives intermingled like siblings do on a mutual journey together, but relating to it from different perspectives. I have found that talking with them as adults has helped me fill in the blanks about what was going on in our family unit that I have little recollection of.

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I was the oldest and that had its advantages and disadvantages, but I never felt much like the older brother. Part of that I think was my own uncertainty. Bruce and I were close enough in age that we really went through most of our growing up experiences at the same time.  Jane was almost six years younger and female, so things were naturally different for us.


As I have always said, I have a period of my early life, ages 8-12, where they both remember much more about me than I do. I look at it now and see the classic signs of depression. Bruce at that age was much more outgoing. He seemed to make friends easily and was good in school. Jane always seemed generally happy. She and my mother had a good relationship. Jane tells stories that when I asked her to do something, she was shocked. I do apologize Jane. I was doing the best I could. Bruce and I naturally competed as brothers do as well as spending lots of time together playing basketball and roaming the neighborhood, but as school got tougher for me I sense that I withdrew. I will never forget them having to sit through the grillings my father would give me about another failed report card. 


Not to say we did not have fun as a family as well. Camping trips, Hawaii, going to the Zoo in San Francisco, Or to the mysterious fun house at the beach called Playland, and the train in Tilden Park.

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I did come out more and show more interest in both of them as I started to find myself later in High School. As adults they have created lives that I greatly admire. Both in their chosen careers and in the ways they have raised their children. Both are much better parents than I was in my two attempts.


But there is one thing I want to say here. In spite of the stress we had in our family dynamics, I never felt I got the message from either Mother or Father NOT to pursue what interested me. Music obviously was first for me, radio DJ, transportation/climate change for Bruce, Jane starting her own clothing store and then the amazing winery with all her "foodie" expertise attached. For me there was never that kind of shaming or heavy handed meddling from my parents that I heard about in others families. Even my friend Marks family that I so wanted to be a part of growing up had a version of this. Later Mark, in spite of his huge talent, could never get out of his father’s shadow. I believe it is one of the greatest gifts that parents can give a child. Let them find their own way. And if our three lives are not proof of that, then I don’t know what is.


Off to John Muir.

First day of school is a big deal for most folks. So many of the interviews I did with people later in my career reinforced how their first day of school evoked strong memories. I remember feeling really uneasy yet curious. What do they do there? I could only imagine. What would they think of me? Couldn’t I just stay home where I felt safe and secure? The adjustment came quickly as it turned out there were lots of activities and toys to play with. Its funny how out of all the things I can remember about kindergarten, one memory that has stuck with me is that my rug number was “36”. These were sleeping rugs for our afternoon nap and were stored in their cubicles. I remember being concerned I would forget my number. This was a precursor to my experience of school in general, but more on that later.


Kindergarten – Queen Elizabeth Coronation Story (1953)

There is a story that my mother told me about something that happened to me in kindergarten. Looking back, it foreshadowed what would interest me later in my creative life. In 1953 Queen Elizabeth had her coronation as the new monarch of England. I must have seen the story about it or maybe my kindergarten teacher Ms. Saum told us about it but, apparently it set my creative mind in motion.


We had a huge set of wooden blocks in the kindergarten playroom. Some of them were quite big or so it seemed to us at the time. For some reason unexplained I decided to organize our own coronation. I directed everyone to build the ornate coach the queen rode in out of the wooden blocks. I picked one of the girls to play the queen with her court. Apparently it was good enough because the older grades were brought in to see it. I look back on it as my first movie set. Telling stories would become what most of my creative life would entail, so this may have just been an early indicator. I do remember feeling good (seen) that everyone liked it.


My Experience with School

As I progressed through the primary grades something began to happen. I did not seem to understand what was expected of me. I liked to read, but could remember very little of it afterwards. I was much better at putting things together where I understood the goal. Abstract outcomes were not my strong suit at that point. I came from a smart, academic family and I am sure even at this early stage there were expectations that I would grasp the basic subjects, even though it was never explained to me why we were learning these things. Looking back on it I may have had a learning disability. As far as I know I was never tested for it.


Also on the social front boys and girls started to develop a sort of pecking order. Who was popular and who wasn’t. For us boys sports was where this was mostly worked out. If you were good at sports, you would be picked first etc. Bullies had already emerged as well and even though I didn’t suffer from them too much, I felt like I was on the edge of the crowd. Sort of in and sort of out. I had a few friends, but started keeping to myself a lot.


One thing I did in elementary school was join the John Muir traffic patrol. For some reason they advanced me to captain and I commanded the troops at field gatherings. B&W photo on the right that my career army Grandfather took is me commanding the troops. He was very proud of that achievement. Officer material. This would come up later when the Viet Nam war came into my life. Bruce is in the video below carrying out the duties that were required of us. Amazing this video survived.

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That’s me above in the middle of the front row for our 6th grade graduation picture with the burr haircut. The day before this picture was taken my mother sent me to our cut rate barber. I wore my hair in crew cut in those days, but on this day he decided to take it down to the scalp. I walked home looking in store windows trying to convince myself that it was OK, but when I walked in the door, my mother exclaimed “OMG”. And we have the picture to prove it for all time.


So it was not all challenging. I have many wonderful memories of John Muir elementary school even after we moved on. We lived and played on the upper yard basketball courts until it got hard to see. We roamed ever larger upscale neighborhoods around the school... got into some trouble etc. But I had this nagging feeling that I was different in a way I could not explain at the time and that brought on the beginnings of feeling inadequate.


Alvarado House.

When I was around 8 years of age we moved to the Alvarado area of Berkeley behind the Claremont hotel.


My mother told me that we would not have been able to afford this neighborhood without help from her father and mother. They lived about ten minutes away so it worked out for everyone. I do remember that I realized that some of the families in this neighborhood had much more money than us. Significantly so in some cases. But in one of the magical hat tricks that my parents pulled off during our childhood I never felt wanting. Sure there were things we couldn’t buy in the moment, but there was no feeling of lack. Quite an accomplishment for my parents based on how much money they were making at the time.


The houses in Alvarado area had been built in the early 20’s/30’s/40’s and were a mix of well-kept homes and huge white elephants that had seen better days. The aging ones seemed dark and mysterious, particularly when I was collecting money from the people who lived in them for my newspaper route. The neighborhood was filled with kids of all ages and we roamed through the joined backyards and along Sunset trail until it got dark.


I always felt safe there as there were lots of eyes on us. Couldn’t get away with much, but I liked being outdoors, weather permitting. The irony about the safeness of the neighborhood is that one of my friend’s older sisters was kidnaped and ultimately killed along the route that we all took through the Claremont hotel grounds to get home from school. I remember the police and the grownups looking very tense, but I don’t remember being told not to walk home that way, Strange really.


The actual house itself had four bedrooms. My parents always said it was important to them that each child have their own room. This was an early blessing for me who wanted to be left alone at that point. My brother Bruce’s room was in the front and very sunny and bright. My sister was across the hall in the back next to my parents’ bedroom. My room was in the back in the darkened corner of the house. Suited me.


When I was growing up I always wanted my door to the hall open. I felt scared if it was closed. It was just the opposite when I got older. I learned to like the confines of smaller spaces. But back then my mother and I would play a game about closing it for their privacy and then me opening it. The old house creaked and I could convince myself that something was walking down the hall towards me. Keeping the door open helped me when I would wake up at night feeling alone.


I do remember having fever dreams in the upstairs of that house. Usually caused by a high temperature, I would sleep walk to my parent’s room and tell them some crazy tale of rocks chasing me or an airplane crashing in the front yard. My father would roll over with a sigh and my mother would wake me up and put me back in bed, but it still felt very real.


The house was in need of repair, but it had this wonderfully big dark basement. At first I felt uneasy to enter alone, but eventually it became a play space for many activities. My dad had his shop there. There was also an old pin ball machine my Dad got from somewhere, the washer/dryer, some storage areas. a huge old furnace and a separate room and bathroom that had been the maid’s quarters when the house was originally built. That room became the location of our complex model train layout our Father created with some help from us. That is another story I will get into later. The backyard was also unfinished. My Dad labored with my grandfather to put in a brick patio which also doubled as our basketball court.

As a result of the patios narrow, horizontal shape, my brother and I got really good at shooting from the corners of the court. There was no room for a traditional free throw line or key. They also constructed two other grass levels above the patio that required a massive engineering project just to hold the dirt in place.

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Sunset Trail was behind the house. You had to walk up the stairs and through the fence to get to it. Here I am with my childhood friends Mark and Maury and brother Bruce  exploring it many years later on the occasion of our 50th high school reunion.

My room many years later. Mine was darker

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Our kitchen not much changed many years later.

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The house was sold many years later and we got to go inside. The image on the left is my old room, although it is quite a bit brighter than when I lived in it. The image on the right is the kitchen, home to many family engagements.

At the top of the lot hanging over my sister’s club house that was built by our Papa was a big pine tree where I built my tree fort. I think about carrying the material up that big tree now and realize how worried my parents were about me doing it. I didn’t think anything of it. Never fell etc. Kid’s naiveté protected me I suppose. In the big Berkeley fire of 1994 the flames burned down to the top of our yard and took the pine tree. Everything else is still there.


As I said earlier the top of our backyard bordered on Sunset Trail. When they had built the Alvarado neighborhood they put trails between the houses on the first three levels. These trails became our adventure domain. We built forts in the vacant lot at one end and had the run of the back of the neighborhood without going out on the street. The view of the Bay Area and San Francisco from Sunset Trail was spectacular. Particularly at night when “the city” was all lit up.

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One night in particular we all went up on the trail to watch this point of light move across the sky. That light was the Russian Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the planet. In some ways I always felt it was better as a kid to live across the bay from San Francisco rather than in it. (I would later) You could always go into the city and experience its magic, but then you could come home where it was quiet.


What I learned from living in that house is that it matters where you grow up. I was lucky. Mother and Dad made it a priority that we were raised in a great neighborhood with nice people, relatively safe. My brother Bruce and sister Jane made this a priority with their kids as well.  I know it was a struggle for our parents at times, but I have much appreciation for their effort that made it possible for us to live there. It made a real difference.


We remained in the Alvarado house until I graduated from High School. Many wonderful Christmases, family barbecues, basketball games and family road trips etc.  Why we moved was a story that is still up ahead.


The Magic Kingdom.

One of those memorable road trips was going to Disneyland for the first time. Walt Disney had been making award winning movies and cartoon shorts forever. We grew up on them starring Mickey, Goofy and Donald. His next genius move was to completely re-invent the concept of an amusement park. Before Disneyland, amusement parks were sort of carny affairs left over from the depression days of the 30's. Kind of spooky and dark. Playland at the Beach that we went to as kids in San Francisco was one of the last. I always liked the weirdness of it, but Disney had other ideas for a “family” park. A Magical Kingdom.

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Everyone told him it was a big risk and he put a lot of his fortune on the line to build the first one in Anaheim CA. He promoted the building of the park and the opening on his Disney TV show. That’s where we saw it and begged our parents to take us. One of the good things about my Dad being a travel agent at the time was that he could get passes early. Disneyland opened in 1955 and we were there in 1956. I was nine.


I remember driving down the LA freeway thinking we were going to see the Disneyland Matterhorn rising majestically over the land. It looked so big on TV. When we finally saw the tip of it poking through the smog filled sky, it didn’t seem like much. Whatever disappointment I felt however quickly disappeared as we entered the park.


There were so many things to do it was hard to know where to start. And it was safe allowing us kids to roam freely. We bought books of tickets to go on the rides. (This is where the E ticket meme came from later on. It was the major attraction ticket as opposed to lesser rides) There were restaurants all over the place and different lands patterned after Disney television shows we loved like Davy Crockett.

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That first time we went we stayed at the Disneyland hotel because of our Dad. It was connected to the park by a monorail. It was part of Disney’s imagining what the future might bring. The park was kid sized built at ¾ scale. My second wife Joyce was a tour guide there in her younger days and knew all the secrets of the kingdom like the apartment that Walt Disney kept above the train station.


When Disneyland was built in Anaheim it was located in the middle of orange groves. As the popularity of the park took off the area around Disneyland, which Disney didn’t own, turned into a motel nightmare. When Walt built the next one in Florida, he did not make that mistake again. He bought large tracts of land so that when you went to the Florida park you would be driving for a ½ hour on Disney property before you ever got to the center. The Disney characters and vibe sunk in and later on I was lucky enough to shoot a TV show at Disney studios in Florida and run a division for Disney Interactive where I got to play with all the stuff of my childhood. It still takes me back to the first time. No matter how many times we went afterwards and took our kids as well, it was truly a magical place.


Playing in My Room

The old adage “go to your room” was not a punishment to me. My room, particularly through those dark days was my refuge. I created imaginary worlds that I inhabited and could spend hours just playing by myself. My sister Jane remarked later that during that period my room was off limits. It was dark and smelled like athletic socks, and had an imaginary “not welcome” sign on the door.


However, our Dad made one little addition to our rooms. He put an audio speaker in every bedroom including mine. Little did we know that his plan was to use it as a PA system. He had a microphone down stairs and would make “announcements.” The one I dreaded the most was on the weekends when I wanted to sleep in. I would hear the click of the speaker turning on and cringe. Usually some summons to do yard work.


American Flyer

As I mentioned before, our basement had a room that had been the servant quarters in old days. This was where our model train layout was built. I would like to take credit for it, but it was really my Father that made it his hobby. From an early age on Prince Street we have a couple of pictures of a small circular track with an American Flyer train on it. In those days there were three different gauges/companies that made trains. The big one, Lionel ran on a triple track, the in-between American Flyer ran on two tracks like a real train and HO that was the little hobby choice of realism enthusiasts. American Flyer and Lionel were really toys, but later we converted the American Flyer toy units to authentic looking train cars and buildings. Berkeley Hardware in the downtown district was the big train store where you could buy these books that showed you how to build a big layout.

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I never got to ask my Dad why he picked this hobby up, but he was all in. In no time he built a giant table in the basement bedroom. It was so big that it filled the room. We had to use crawl spaces to get to the back areas. We bought more engines, and cars and things like switches and tunnels and buildings over time. My Dad wired the buttons on the control console so that you could run everything from there.


As a younger boy I remember him going down to the basement after dinner. I would find him lying under the table wiring something. Occasionally, he would come get us to show up something new. As younger kids we goofed around a lot when he wasn’t there. We would run the engines off the tracks in spectacular crashes. Boys just want to blow things up I guess.


As I grew older I got interested in the hobby of it. I spent lots of time at Berkeley Hardware picking up parts and getting advice on how to build my own railroad cars and buildings. It was a truly a family hobby and the weird thing is we have NO pictures of that room and all the trains. That wasn't so unusual in those days. You took pictures with bulky cameras and then had to have them developed. No I-Phones. Still my Dad was a photographer, but for whatever reason he never took a picture of us with the train sets. It remains in my memory as another exercise in building something novel with him.


School Daze Continues

I was a classic underachiever in school. It started in the last grades of elementary school and then exploded in Junior High. My mother said I had the usual trepidation about the first day of school, but where the fuzziness came from and the lack of interest or performance in school, I am not sure. When I read back through my report cards from the time before high school, it simply stated that I looked out the window a lot.

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A thought that I was not able to express at the time was that I was bored. I came from a college educated family, I seemed reasonably smart, although I didn’t test well, and I was expected to follow the college prep track. In Junior High that became a real problem. I had a few good teachers’ particularly in history and cultural stuff (to this day my love) but for the most part I didn’t get what was expected of me. It didn’t make any sense to me to do all this theoretical stuff without knowing why. The classic family story was that I would do my homework and not turn it in.


As the case built for my non-performance, depression set in. This is a longer missive than I will go into here, but when I hear stories from others in my family of certain times in my childhood, the darkened room, keeping to myself, messy habits, I get the depression/anxiety that I would later discover ran in our family. I was also a good con artist. My parents would send me to a variety of councilors and they would report that I had seen the light, but I hadn’t. I just knew what to say so as to not upset anyone.


Dinner table conversations on report card day during this time were not pleasant. I do apologize to my brother Bruce and sister Jane for having to sit through my father’s interrogations. I understand now he was mostly frustrated, and didn’t know what to do. And his parenting skills sometimes were not the best. He could be demanding and shaming. An emotional experience for me. I remember him saying that I better learn how to play the guitar because it was the only thing I could do well. Of course, this challenge was in some ways ironic in that my first successful career was in music/making records. And it resulted in a healing with my Dad, but that was all still to come.


In spite of all of this trouble there were moments in Junior High that I enjoyed. One was working on the AV team. This newspaper clipping is the first image of me recording something. Little did I know then this would become a career later on.


Growing Up Berkeley.

In spite of my challenges in school, the rest of my life was interesting. I developed two very close friends in the neighborhood... Mark Fulmer and Maury Barr. We got into all kinds of minor trouble together, as we dreamed up our next adventure. I couldn’t wait to get out of the house and go do something with them. And Mark introduced me to playing music. My mother had tried to get me interested in piano lessons earlier, but it didn’t take. But Mark and his family were natural musicians and he taught me to play the guitar. We began singing folk songs at family gatherings and church functions. It was the first time I felt I was sort of good at something. And the positive attention that came from others brought me out of my social shell and helped me gain confidence that I was ok.  


Most kids think that the town in which they grow up in is like everywhere else until they start traveling. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized Berkeley was hardly a normal place to grow up. Founded in the shadow of the University of California, the town always had a different/edgy feel to it. When I would tell people later that I grew up in Berkeley, they would say, “people grew up in Berkeley?” Its reputation as a town of rebels would eventually be known worldwide.  What I learned from growing up there was how to appreciate and engage with a wide diversity of different people and cultures. Berkeley was wildly eclectic, always trying new things, (many of them silly) but it gave me a strong initial experience of what it meant to take chances, and push the envelope of normal.


The Alvarado district behind the Claremont Hotel on the south side of town was pretty much a white neighborhood with an occasional person of color that worked at the University. John Muir elementary school was 15 minutes down the hill from our house and was also mostly white. Desegregation of the Berkeley Schools would come later. By the time Bruce's sons Neal and Louis went to school it was very different. 


My frame of reference as a kid was pretty much middle class white culture. I think that is why I would be drawn later to all kinds of people from different backgrounds. In my younger years the only time I saw anyone different from me was when we would ride in the car to the north end of town or drive down into the flats headed to the Bay Shore freeway. Telegraph Avenue, which would later become well known for its hippie orientation, was the home of the beat generation in the 50’s. I would see them on the sidewalk with their bongo drums, guitars and berets. As I pressed my face up against the car window looking at them, I remember thinking there is something much more interesting out there than my world. I was right of course. The late sixties would bring alternative lifestyles into the mainstream. Something I would dive into fully as I came of age.


A Boys Best Friend

We had a lot of animals growing up. Everything from cats to guinea pigs. However, my loyal canine friend was Sam. He was a many breed creature that we got at the Berkeley animal pound. Dogs are insanely loyal and although the entire family enjoyed his presence, in special moments, particularly on dark days, he was my understanding friend. My dad tried to train him, but he flunked out of doggy school. (I could relate) He roamed freely in the neighborhood and would sometimes go in other people homes, if they had left the door open. Many people had their stories of the adventures of Sam. He stayed with the Alvarado house when it was sold. I was already off at college and my mother, although pleased the new owners wanted him, told the story of closing the door to the basement where he slept one last time. It broke her heart. These “pets” become part of the family. He is forever linked to my memories of childhood in Berkeley.



Growing up our family ate in the formal dining room every night. It was a very fifties thing to do. We all had our prescribed places. Father at the head, me opposite him at the other end of the table, mother to my left, Jane closet to Dad on the right and Bruce next to me. In all the years we did this, we never switched places. This ritual had its high and low moments. It certainly made for conversation between our family unit except for the times my Dad would go into interrogator mode, picking one of us to prosecute. I certainly had my moments on report card days. Jane, who sat closest to him, could also sometimes be the subject of his inquiry, sometimes bringing her to tears. We learned when we were teenagers if he asked how our day was, to simply say “fine”. There was a political bent sometimes to his questioning. Berkeley was a very progressive place and teachers from junior high on, would stimulate our imaginations. My Dad was a conservative in those days and I think he felt he had to counter the stuff we were learning from left leaning instructors.


Later on when the family moved to Orange County, at the time a bastion of conservative thought, my Dad came across as much more liberal. Particularly when he partially joined the Cultural Revolution we were all going through in his own way. It is all relative I guess.


Now eating was another matter. When I was younger I was a very picky. I hated casseroles because all kinds of bad things could be hidden in them. I also didn’t want my food to touch. Meat, vegetables, potatoes  etc. all in their own place. In the fifties in particular, vegetables usually meant the first generation of frozen food. I remember my mother pealing the card board off frozen block of peas, string beans etc. and dropping the colored chunk into boiling water. I don’t think I really knew what real fresh vegetables tasted like until much later. I asked my mother about this when I was older and she wondered why she had done it. Fresh produce was around, but these frozen blocks were considered modern, convenience foods and moms everywhere went along.


So, we had the clean your plate rule. That meant some nights it was a waiting game. You would not be excused until you had eaten everything. This was particularly tough on nights when there were problem foods on the plate. My brother and sister and I loved bake potato nights. You could hide the offending vegetable under the potato skin and if you could make it to the kitchen door before being caught, you could quickly dispose of the offending item in the garbage.

Papa and Grandma

My grandmother and grandfather were major influences in our lives. We called them Papa and Grandma. Or if we were being formal, Papa was the “Colonel.” He had been a career army officer with all the swords, uniforms and field tents to prove it. Grandma was a classic warm presence in our lives.


Arriving in her kitchen was always met with the smell of something  baking. She had jars of homemade cookies that we dived into. Everything made from scratch. And cabinets of strange candy that I didn’t particular care for.


Papa was a dynamo that rarely stopped moving. He had a shop out back of the main house and could make anything including his own power tools. As a boy who liked to make things, so his shop was heaven for me. Later as things became more difficult at home, their love was most comforting to me. I always felt encouraged by them even when I wasn't performing well in school.


Papa, as I would learn later, was a very tough father. When he wrote the family books with his own recollections, they were passages that were entirely racist or talked down certain classes of people. Part of it was the ignorance of his times, but it played out in our family in that he always felt my mother had married "beneath" her class by picking Dad. This was a source of frustration over the years for him, as the Pinger men had this way of making him feel like an outsider. As much as I loved all the big Pinger family gatherings with all the crazy uncles and aunts, there was for him always a sense he didn’t belong. My mother fought for him against her father. And later it would be one reason why they moved away from Berkeley to Southern California.


I also had grandparents on my Father’s side. They lived in Virginia so we only saw them once in a while. The were both Irish and had run away together to get married. Ah, the rebel family gene we all played with so much. I loved her energy. She was full of life. When I visited her later on as a young man she would tell me a story about my father that helped me understand him more. His father was also career army. According to Grandmother Riordan my Dad was expected to be a "little man" by his father when he was twelve. He had very little time to actually be a child. That helped explain some of why he could be so tough on me. In some ways, he really didn't have a role model in his father that would help him parent.


In my life I have learned our families are the best and the toughest relationships we have. We know too much about each other. We have too much history together. We had a saying in spiritual communities “if you feeling enlightened, go home for the holidays”. In spite of the challenges we experienced in our family system over the years, we still enjoy each others company and are supportive of each other all these years later. When I hear stories from others about their family experiences, ours was tame in comparison.


Aunts a Lot

We were also blessed with two great aunts. Dodo (Dorothy) and Honi (Helen) Blacker. They were our grandmothers sisters. Both were school teachers who never married and lived together until their deaths. They both were wonderfully kind interesting women. We got to see another slice of our genetic influences through them.

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The other big influence on me growing up was obviously the University of California. The town was built around it and our family had a direct relationship to it while I was growing up.


Our grandfather was a professor in the engineering department and our Mother had graduated valedictorian. She was the only female speaker at her graduation. Something she always said was nothing. Hardly nothing we would respond. Our Papa would take us for visits to the engineering department at Cal. I remember being fascinated by the big polished wood and brass models there of bridges and industrial machines. I felt energy in that building that was all about building things. This would greatly influence me.


Go Bears

Another part of my Berkeley experience was going to Cal Bear football games. This started very early in my life. Memorial stadium was a classic gridiron palace. It had been built in the twenties as a memorial to war dead. Just above the stadium was “tightwad hill” where people could look down into the stadium and watch games for free. As a kid I sold programs at the games. We didn’t make much money, but we got into the games without having to pay.

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We spent hours as kids playing a form of tackle football on the practice fields around the stadium. And if someone left the gate open, we would go in and play on the stadium field itself until we were thrown out. I remember as a young boy attempting to run from one end of the field to the other. About the 50 yard line (half way) I dropped exhausted. Real football was harder than it looked.


The BIG game against Stanford was always the best. The fraternities would deck out their houses in Cal colors and there were lots of raids on the Stanford campus to steal enemy keepsakes. The stadium for the "big game" was full no matter how good the teams were. As kids we would walk home down fraternity row where the drunken parties were just starting up. I remember wanting to hang out on campus during high school, but my Dad would say, there would be plenty of time for that  later when I went to college. Of course everything changed and frat life was not something to be into by the time I went off to Cal Poly.


The Play

We watched a lot of Cal football games and suffered through the bad years and remained hopeful in the occasional good one. Out of all those games one was memorable. It was the 1982 big game against Stanford. That year Cal was just OK, coached by a hard headed, old school ex-Cal quarterback named Joe Kapp.

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We were sitting in the south end of the stadium. The game went back and forth until Cal was ahead by two points near the end. However, Stanford got the ball back with a couple of minutes to go. Stanford’s quarterback was John Elway who would later go on to star in the NFL. Stanford began their drive towards us in the South end converting play after play including a huge fourth down. Like so many times before we had this sickening feeling that they were going to kick a field goal with just seconds left and Cal would lose again. Sure enough they did leaving 4 seconds  on the clock. We were all packing up as Stanford kicked off.


It should have been a routine stop, but the Cal players started lateraling the ball to each other just as they were about to be tackled. We were still packing up as we watched this happen. All of a sudden the fifth Cal player to get the ball broke free and headed directly into the Stanford band that was coming on the field thinking the game was over. We saw the Cal player with the ball disappear into band and then into the end zone. I remember feeling, that didn’t just happen. That can’t count.


The officials conferenced and then signaled touchdown and the stadium went nuts. We had been witness to one of the most famous plays in college football history. It would later be simply called “the play.” And we have the ticket stub and video above to prove it.

Cal never went to the Rose Bowl championship game after 1954 although they came close a couple of times. My brother Bruce and I always joked that on the day Cal clinched the Rose Bowl there would be a big earthquake on the fault that runs under the stadium and that would be that. It never happened and although Cal was the one Bay Area team that did not have championship runs in our lifetimes, the memories of all those games shared with my family was still worth the price of admission.


The E Train – Adventure on Tracks.

The Bay Area was also home to a transit system that involved electrified trolley trains. This was way before the current BART system. The “E” train came right up to the Claremont Avenue to the Claremont hotel. We could jump on the train and go all the way across the Bay Bridge to the downtown terminal in San Francisco. From there you could take an electrified bus anywhere in the city or walk to downtown.


As a kid these trips were always great adventures. I can still remember the smell of coffee from the Folgers coffee plant in SF (Now Google SF Headquarters) and the Hamm’s brewery sign that filled up with beer.


What could have been?

As you get a bit older you realize that every moment of every day something unexpected can occur. It’s just life. Shit happens. As a kid this never occurs to you. However, one time as we headed out for a family camping trip at 4am in the morning we were stopped waiting for a light to change. There was one car in front of us. The light turned green and the car ahead of us started into the intersection. Out of nowhere another car broadsided the vehicle in front of us. It exploded into pieces with the crumbled mess ending up down the street. People came running and for whatever reason my Dad decided to continue wanting to spare us the gore I suspect. As we drove away I realized that could have been us. Sometimes you just have to be lucky.


Here’s another one. When I was twelve my Dad got an offer to open a travel agency in Florida. It was apparently a good opportunity and we all flew down there to check out houses. It was the first time I saw “colored” bathrooms and drinking fountains. Racism was still very much in the open in those days in the south. The deal fell through and we stayed in Berkeley, but that was one of those fork in the road moments that could have made my teens very different. I was already used to the variety of races living/working/playing together. It would have been hard of me to go white "southern". Fortunately we stayed in Berkeley and I completed my progressive upbringing. Our Dads travel agency on Domingo Avenue is below.

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