Chapter 2 - Coming Into My Own
I was close to flunking out of school in my sophomore year in High School. At the time, there were a number of us they thought had potential, but were not performing. However, on some aptitude test I had scored high in engineering skills. I always got the folding of flat objects into 3D shapes correct for some reason.
Anyway, the high school put this group together. It was one of the first team teaching programs. They called it Pre-Tech. It was going to take a practical engineering approach to education. I was curious.
Instead of the more abstract college preparatory classes, this was something I got. You worked on your writing skills creating proposals for a project and then writing up the results on completion. You worked on your math skills by doing the calculations you needed to make whatever it was. AND you actually got to work in the school shop to make the physical object. At the time "shop" was part of the “technical” high school and not something college prep kids got anywhere near.
I loved this approach. It made sense to my brain. It taught me my first useful skill… how to take something you imagined and manifest it in the world. Frankly, I think everyone should learn this early, but that’s just me. This revelation would set me on course to become a creative designer and producer of media. (my other love) I got mostly A’s and B’s in my junior and senior year and was accepted at Cal Poly University in San Luis Obispo. Had I seen the light? All I know is that it worked for me. It was the education system at its best. Configure a course of study for how and why a child learns. One size fits all leaves people out.
1st Congregational Church
My mother had tried to get us interested in church. She took us as kids to St. Johns on College Ave. I remember being overwhelmed by the hot packed room, feeling like I would pass out. The collective energy was just too much for me. I did however receive a Jesus certificate to prove I was there. My father at that point was not that interested in church. Later that would change when he became a Deacon at a church in Southern California. So, in high school I headed off on my own to the 1st Congregational church.
As I mentioned I had two close friends in our Alvarado neighborhood... Mark and Maury. Maury lived right across the street and his father was the pastor at 1st Congregational Church. The church was close to the UC campus. Maury’s father was a kind man and a great story teller. So, I don’t fully remember how it happened, but I ended up going to 1st Congo by myself. The other thing about 1st Congo is that it had a dynamic youth minister named Neil. He was a robust man with lots of energy, and there was something about him that I liked. Mark, Maury and I joined the youth group as well as other kids from my junior high school. My first girlfriend, Sharon Call, was part of that group. We did our teenage love thing there, making out in all parts of the church. Shameful, but stimulating.
One of the things that Neil stressed was that we were going to learn how to get along with the opposite sex. In seventh grade we were taught all the mechanics of sex, but nothing about relationships. When Neil first announced this topic, we all laughed nervously, but I have to tell you, it was the most useful information I had ever been given about how to be with girls.
My father and I also had a basic conversation about how babies were made, but no instructions on actually getting along with the opposite sex. It has always been a wonderment to me that relationship skills are not taught in schools. Boys got their information from older boys in gym class which was usually wrong and girls I guess talked among themselves. Neil taught us basic communication skills that I put to good use becoming a leader later on in high school.
The church also had a gymnasium that was home to our church basketball team. We were horrible, but I loved playing. As I got more involved, my brother Bruce joined as well. Eventually, we went to this church as a family. 1st Congo was a loving place, but certainly not deep in terms of spiritual practice with the exception of the music. Particularly on Christmas Eve, the music was uplifting, but there was no contemplative work at all. That would come later. For all it was and wasn’t, 1st Congo had a major influence on me that helped me come out socially. It would foreshadow my interest in Christian contemplative practice and the teachings of Jesus I got into much later on.
One of the down sides of having a big yard is that it had to be taken care of. There were no lawn folks you hired to do it in those days. My Dad had all the tools, lawn mower, rakes, clippers etc. He liked (I think) working outside and when we got old enough, he expected us to help.
It was a daunting task keeping up with it all. Particularly, the front lawn. It sloped down to the street, so you had to mow "across" the lawn in a pattern of cross passes. It also had obstacles you had to mow around like an old sundial. I never understood why that was there. When we were smaller, the weight of the mower would pull the mower down the hill as you went across. It was a race to see if you could make the other side before gravity did its thing.
Also, we had elm trees in the neighborhood. It was part of what made it attractive. However, in the fall, the leaves would turn and fall off. This left huge piles to rake up. I always thought it was stupid to begin this before all the leaves had fallen. If we didn’t, you would rake up what was there and then the wind would blow and make it look like you had done nothing.
The other big one was the hedges. We had these leafy hedges in front of the house and down the sides of the front yard. When they became overgrown Dad would rent electric shears and start cutting. When we were younger we were supposed to follow along behind and pick up the refuse. Later, as we got older, we were expected to do it all. It took forever. More than once I “accidentally” cut the electric cord with the clippers and work would have to stop. The tenants after us took out the lawn and the hedges. I thought that was smart.
I remember becoming convinced on some days that the only reason my Dad had us kids was to help him with the yard work. This experience would color my feelings about not wanting to take care of big yards in my adult life, with the exception of Whidbey Island where we had five acres to manage.
Troop 4 – From boys to young men.
Another major influence for me as a kid into my teens was Boy Scout Troop 4. The Troop was led by Julien Adams. He was about as close as I got to having a second father. The troop met at St. Johns Church, went on weekend camping trips and had an isolated summer camp on Spicer’s Reservoir in the Sierras.
Troop 4 was not your usual Boy Scout troop. It had a reputation as a “wild boy” troop that prided itself on being tough. We rarely wore scout uniforms. We prized huge bowie knifes and went rattlesnake hunting in the dark. The summer camp at Spicers didn’t have running water etc. Julien and his staff put a lot of emphasis on male development. The troop also had a secret Native American tribe that had four ranks. Brave, Warrior, Medicine Man, Chief. I grew from a boy to a young man during Troop 4 days.
The troop also had bullies. There was a lot of emphasis on self-sufficiency and that meant learning to stand up for yourself. That is a good thing to a point, but it sometimes got out of hand. Some were chosen for constant badgering. I think about it now and feel badly that I would join in sometimes. I was deathly afraid if I didn’t, they would turn on me. At that point I had not learned to fight. Boxing, marital arts etc. I was frightened by physical dust ups. I was big so that kept many from hassling me, but there was always that fear I would be next. This fear was somewhat lessened when I was assigned to the Mohawk patrol led by a boy three years older than me from our neighborhood named Sam Bryan.
I idolized Sam. He seemed so sure of himself, taught me about big Bowie knives and how to skin a rattlesnake. He was a larger than life presence to me at that point. And he pretty much protected us from the bullies from the other parts of the troop while I gained some self confidence.
The Lake from the top of Mohawk hill
Looking down into a patrol camp
At summer camp we sometimes were sent out on survival hikes. They would come get us with no warning. You could take a knife and a jacket. No matches. Three or four of us would hike out into the wilderness and have to find food, shelter, warmth and "survive" for three days. These adventures were always led by an older guy who had some skills. Mostly we didn’t starve eating frogs, rattlesnakes and ferns. Except for the three outlined below.
1, We ate trout caught at twilight with a hook and line found in an old log. Hook with grub bait was laid on the water. When the fish hit it, line was yanked, flopping fish on to bank. Had to catch it before it got back to water. Slept between three fires.
2. We tracked and caught a beaver. Plan was for one of us to hold it by neck, the other hit it with a tree limp. When beaver was grabbed it almost took the boys hand off. We let it go. We were not that hungry.
3. We camped in a meadow. A group of adult butchers arrived on early four wheels late in the afternoon. They brought ice chests of steaks, sausage and pork chops. We smelled it cooking across the meadow as we ate stale saltine crackers we had found in an old cabin at the edge of the meadow. When the butchers left they gave us the meat they didn't eat. We feasted. Did not save any to take back. No one believed us.
At Spicers there was another camp across the lake that was styled as a Native American village. It was centered around a large Tipi. This is where we conducted “tribal” activities. We would stay overnight, learned native dances, wore native clothing etc. I look back on this now and realize what a gift it was that Julian created this. As you advanced in rank from brave to chief, each had its own initiation ceremony. The final one for chief was a solo night spent blindfolded out in the forest. During the night, elders would sneak up behind you and just start talking. Elder advice etc. At age 14 this was an life shifting experience. It introduced me to the importance of rituals of passage that were so missing from white society. Later as I worked with tribes in the Southwest I engaged in their real rituals, but the appreciation for this form of sacred reflection was introduced to me by the Troop 4 experience.
As I grew older I did my duty as a senior member of the tribe. These were trusted positions that basically ran things. It was the first time that I could remember feeling somewhat like a leader. That's me mostly grown up below with my mother.
My memory of Troop 4 ultimately was impacted by troubling news much later in my life. While at summer camp we were so out in the middle of nowhere we didn’t wear clothes when swimming or doing other beach activities. Julian and the other adult George Dealey would roughhouse with kids sometimes on the beach by picking them up and inevitably that meant the touching of genitals. It was all in good fun it seemed, but It always made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.
Julian also was my counselor separate from the Troop when I was having trouble in school. In a sense he was like a wise father figure I thought I could trust. He had a cabin in the hills that sometimes he would take 3-4 boys to. I have memory of being there at least once. Many years later it was revealed that Julian and George Dealey had been abusing boys for years. You can imagine the shock I felt as an adult. Some of the incidents took place at that cabin. For years I wondered if I had suppressed some memory of abuse there. I did a lot of visualization work around it in therapy and eventually we came to the conclusion that nothing happened to me. Knowing how insecure and vulnerable I was around him I don’t know if Julian chose not to abuse me. For such a positive influence Troop 4 was in my life, it also contained this darkness that to this day makes me feel very sad.
The Television Room
My Dad was a tech junkie for his day. We had a TV set very early on compared to other families. My Mother said they got it to watch the Big Game between Cal and Stanford. She told me that it was a novelty in their building. Neighbors would pop in to watch.
Later when we moved to the Alvarado house, the TV was located in the room right next to mine. I was in there as much as they would let me. There was something about this device that I could not look away from. The worlds it showed were fascinating to me. Particularly old movies from the 30's-40’s. At the time it may have seemed like just a diversion, but later I would claim it laid a foundation of stories that would come alive in my creative life. TV grew up into color sets with Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color. We got a glimpse of Disneyland in Southern California through that show. As a result we bugged our father to take us. That happened very soon after it opened.
We would watch at night as a family sometimes. And when it came time for Jane to go to bed as the youngest, she thought it was totally unfair. She would pretend to be in her room, but then move a stool out in the hallway outside the TV room and watch through the crack in the door. Most times she got caught and was ushered back to bed.
1962 – Cuban Missile Crisis
One of those televised events we watched as a family on TV was the Cuban Missile Crisis, It was a confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which escalated into an international crisis when American deployments of missiles in Italy and Turkey were matched by Soviet deployments of similar ballistic missiles in Cuba. Despite the short time frame, the Cuban Missile Crisis remains a defining moment in American national security and nuclear war preparation. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale conflict, nuclear war
It was the first time I can remember as a kid being aware that something bad could happen to my little peaceful world. I certainly didn't understand all the ins and outs of the crisis, but I could feel the fear in my parents and teachers. We had "bomb" drills at school where we would get under ours desks when the siren went off. While that might have been effective in a conventional war, we had already watched the explosion of A bombs on TV. Its blast disintegrated all in its drop zone. It was a very tense 13 days as the Russian ships steamed towards our naval blockade. When the Russian ships carrying their missiles to Cuba turned around at the very last minute and the crisis resolved, I felt the adults relax.
My Portal to a Larger World
Lots of my early knowing of the world came through that box which featured 3 basic national networks and PBS. I had a story from those times that I told when I was later teaching Interactive Entertainment at UCLA and USC. When the new game machines and early computers showed up in the early eighties they seemed like magic to those of us that had not grown up with them. But to kids born after they came on the scene, they were just game machines and computers.
My story about this phenomena involved the day my mother pulled me into the TV room to see a tennis tournament in England. She exclaimed the picture was coming “live” from England. First time ever. I remember looking at her and thinking, well it’s just TV. We expected it to do all those things. For her, being raised in the age of radio it was still magic.
Each generation seems to be born with the knowledge of the technology that preceded their birth. There are some explanations for that having to do with intelligence being passed on in our DNA to the next generation. One example is rats in a maze. As the story goes, the first generation of rats is put into a maze. They have to learn to navigate the maze to get the cheese at the other end. It takes the first group a while to figure this out. Their offspring however seem born with the knowledge and got to the cheese in a few minutes. As I said, a mystery that we will figure out some day.
One of the family activities I liked the most was when we went camping. In those days you could load up the car, head out and find an open spot in a National Forest or by a lake. Nothing like now, where you need a reservation a year in advance. For us it was a time to relax, particularly Dad. The stresses of his life would fall away for a while and he seemed happier.
Our camping vehicle of choice was a 56 Ford Station Wagon. This was no ordinary family mobile. This one was a two tone, flesh and white conveyance with cowboy brand seat covers.
In the beginning we borrowed old army tents from Papa, but as time went along, my father’s and mother’s organizational skills kicked in. Dad made a special roof rack that would hold a lot of stuff.
His genius however, was the camping boxes. My mother helped him design a four box system that would hold all the cooking stuff, plates, glasses. It was designed to pack right into the back of the Ford. These four boxes would always remain packed. We would get to a campsite and in a few minutes the four boxes would be stacked with a counter on top. Mother was set for cooking up those meals in no time.
We frequented most of the parks in Northern California. Many in those days were at isolated locations located down bumpy dusty roads. The Ford had no air conditioning so I remember driving across the central valley in the summer to get to these parks where it was so hot, things would melt.
My Dad loved to get going before the sun came up. As younger kids, we would wake up to the sounds of packing at some ungodly hour, and then they would come for us. Half the time we went back to sleep in the car and would only wake up when he stopped for breakfast at some road side diner. It was a special treat ordering out from the breakfast menu of pancakes, waffles etc. As we headed toward the Sierras, we would cross the great California central valley. One of the richest agriculture areas in the world. Hwy 80 at that point heading towards Sacramento was dotted with road side drive ins. Two I particularly remember were the Giant Orange and the Nut Tree.
The Giant Orange was literally a giant orange drive up booth where food and drinks were prepared and served. Their claim to fame was their fresh squeezed orange juice. They were sitting in the middle of an area with orange groves so I suspect it was super fresh. I loved the orange juice. Growing up I was not a Coke kid. For some reason I didn’t like the carbonation. When given a chance I always picked non-carbonated orange drinks.
The Nut Tree was the other diner of note. It also had some history in our family. Our great Aunts would sometimes travel on Hwy 80 and stop there. It had started as a small farm stand and grown into an institution over the years. Among other things, they baked their on mini-loafs of bread. Honie and Dodo would bring us each one. The bread was decent, but what I really remember was what it felt like to have my own loaf. Bread was one of my favorite food groups growing up, along with cheese and mayo, so this was heaven.
How our parents put up with three growing children on a bench seat right behind them I will never know. As the drives got long, we got antsy, and would poke, tease or giggle until told to stop. Later with my own kids I would thank god for mini-vans with more space.
When we would arrive, I loved exploring the camp ground and the surrounding area. If there was water, I was in it and more times than not I built something. A fort, a raft or something out of found materials. I liked building things obviously and it gave me something to do. Nights around casual or organized campfires were classic Americana.
As I got older the idea of camping with my family got less and less attractive. If forced to go I would try to find some girl in the campground to hang out with. All in all a good time for us as a family.
Working for a Living
For some reason I liked working early in my life. It got me out of the house and I made a little money. My first “job” was as a paper boy for the Berkeley Gazette. My route ran the length of our neighborhood. The papers would be delivered right in front of our house. We would fold them into sort of a odd triangle shape that made them easy to throw. You could break a window with one of them so you had to be careful where you slung them. After folding we would then load them into this bag that had pockets front and back and trudge off down the street. We hated the shopping days when the papers were much heavier because of all the advertising.
The other part of the job was collecting the money from customers. There was no Internet or even credit cards in those days. Once a month we would go up to the front door and ask for the money. Most of it went to the paper. What was left came to us, which wasn’t much. The neighborhood was filled with all kinds of homes, some of them in decline. Those were always the mystery houses. You would never know who would open the door or what was going on in those darkened environs.
My second real job was working for Merit Cycle and Toy on College Avenue. Roger ran the place and John, another older Troop 4 guy, was his assistant. The shop offered many types of bikes, tricycles and all kinds of toys. The bikes would arrive in cardboard boxes and we would have to put them together. Back then they even had these little push pedal metal cars that were a pain to assemble.
I started working part time subbing for a kid that was at camp. I thought when he came back I would be done, but Roger decided to keep me. I remember feeling bad for him, but for the first time, someone actually thought I did a good job.
Roger was a very kind man and when I was old enough to drive, he would let me take the panel truck to go pick things up. I loved driving that truck. The other thing that was hot were “slot” cars.
For those of you that don't know, these were model cars that ran on special tracks. The tracks had slots in them that the cars steering rod would ride in holding the car on the track and in its own lane. The players "drove" these race cars with hand controllers. They were really fast. Fast enough to come off the track and go flying. Merit Cycle developed an entire department for slot cars and parts. At some point Roger let me do all the ordering for the department.
At Christmas all the dads would come into buy bikes for their kids. You could buy the bike assembled or in a box. They could save $5 if they bought UN-assembled. When they did that, we all knew they would be back. These things were hard to put together until you knew the secrets. We all had a laugh on that one. The back room where we put the bikes together smelled of oil and rubber. Behind the bike shop was Dream Fluff donuts (still there) and the combination of the oil, rubber and sugar was something I have never forgotten.
I am not going to say that working early is a good idea for everybody, but it taught me a lot about how to how to handle money and help customers find what they want. It was one of the things that helped me build confidence as a person. And you got to engage with all kinds of people to boot. In between all the big jobs I’ve had, there were lots of these seemingly menial jobs, but each one was interesting in its own way and I would suggest to you a great way to learn about the world and people.
The Sporting Life
Growing up a boy in America, one important way you learn about who and what you are is through sports. First, just playground stuff and then more organized teams for me at school and church. It is where a kind of pecking order was established. The classic moment of not being picked for a team is a story I heard from many I interviewed later. Good coaches can also make a difference. The notion of coming together with others to play a game is a classic human activity. And the competition it offers is certainly better for men than going off to war. Some kids were naturally gifted, but most of us had to work at it. The whole notion of practicing to get better was the key. Like learning anything, it’s good to have someone show you how and then you can spend hours perfecting what you have learned.
As I mentioned before, my brother and our friends would spend hours after school on the courts at John Muir. They were friendly pickup games, but they made us better players. The first organized league I played in was Little League baseball. Berkeley had a league that was sponsored by companies in town. It wasn’t official little league, but it was almost the same. It was for ages 10, 11, and 12 and you tried out with lots of other boys. They would pick five of each age group and some alternates.
My brother Bruce was a much better baseball player than I was and made the team every time. I was an alternate mostly. That meant you subbed for kids that were out of town. My one claim to fame came about that way. I was called at the last moment to fill in for a kid that was sick. I remember pulling my uniform on in the car and arriving after the game started. I was inserted into the lineup at first base batting eighth in the order. The game was close and it came down to the last inning. The kid before me hit a triple and was standing 90 feet away from home with the winning run. I was not a great hitter, but I managed to connect with the ball just enough to drive it between first and second base into right field. I think I was so surprised I hit it that it seemed like I was running to first base in slow motion. The next day the local paper ran a short blurb about me being the hero of the game. I know it’s not much, but anything at that point was alright with me.
As we got to Junior High, basketball particularly got more important. We would play for hours in pickup games with all the team players from the school, but for some reason I was afraid to try out.
Even though I was a pretty good player being tall and all, I would freeze up at team practices. This was all part of the pattern where my monkey mind got in my way and literally limited my physical performance.
In my junior year of high school all that changed. As a part of me was feeling like I was coming into myself, I tried out for the Berkeley High swim team and the water polo team. I had always been a good swimmer so I thought why not. Berkeley High was a well-regarded swim team and we would practice two hours before school and three after. Got me in shape for the first time.
The pool however was what they called a "recreational" pool that was used by everyone. As a result they dumped tons of chlorine into it. The sixties were a pre-swim googles era so we would go to class with this blurry look. I did okay in competition and in my senior year was elected Captain of the team. Three years earlier I would have never dreamed that could happen.
What I excelled at was water polo. I had a knack of finding the goal and because I was big and in good shape I became one of the best players. As I was mucking around at the end of High School and trying to get to college, San Jose State University sent me an invitation to apply for a water polo scholarship. For reasons I will explain later I went to Cal Poly University instead. I never visited SJ State, but it felt good someone had noticed. At the end of high school I was also tired of the water. When I arrived at Cal Poly I went out for varsity basketball, but music was about to intervene in a big way and I never played organized school sports again. I still enjoyed playing intermural pickup games for fun, but that also ended when my ankles would not hold up anymore under the strain.
In my adult life I was always a big sports fan. Something I shared with my brother and sister. We were lucky enough to have some Bay Area teams, both college and professional, go on some amazing success runs. The 49ers, the Giants and the Warriors all gave us many memorable moments over the years. Classic games that are now included in the history of sports in America.
I found games with everything on the line exciting to watch. I had a total appreciation for the players in those make or break moment for what they went through to get that good. The fickleness of who became the hero and who became the goat played out in weird ways. It has been said that we are obsessed with sports, (certainly gambling is a part of that) but my belief is that it is better to have these competitions on the sports fields rather than going to war. The other big activity men seemed to be fatally attracted to.
Later on in my life, I found running. (inspired by the original Rocky film) I remember putting on a pair of old tennis shoes one day as there were no "running" shoes yet and tried to run around the block. I got about half way around and collapsed panting. It would be a while before I learned how to train.
I eventually did half marathons, 10K’s and fun races like the Bay to Breakers with Bruce.
Then in Southern Cal in the late eighties, I toke on triathlons. I trained like a maniac for three years, swimming, biking and running. Got down to 6 percent body fat. What I learned was that if you took it in steps you could gradually become fit enough to do it well. I did the Olympic distance triathlons. 1 mile swim (usually in ocean) 26 miles biking and 10K running.
Somehow I held down a job and family life, but I was mostly training every minute I could. I ended up doing 5 of them in 3 years. I performed well in my age class and I really liked the people that showed up to compete. Except for the elite athletes it was not about winning, it was about performing better than you did last time. It became a full time obsession for me but after 3 years I tired of training at that level and wanted to do more normal things with family and friends. Besides, everyone I trained with on the bike got hit by a car at some point. Some of them serious accidents. A couple of times I came close, so when I stopped training I didn't miss having to ride in traffic. The cars always win.
The other athletic passion I had as a adult was martial arts.
All my life I felt like this big out of body goof ball. Not a lot of physical embodiment. In the middle nineties I found a dojo I liked and a sensei named Bill Poet. I trained for three years and completed my black belt certification at the end of it. I really learned how to be in tune with the different energies in my body. Fire, water, earth and wind. I really sunk into my physical being and became more adapt in moving in coordinated ways. I felt for the time in my life IN my body instead of just a head on top of this meat puppet. We trained at the dojo and the field. The tradition was Sung To Do, a mixed form of hands, feet and weapons. We did lots of simulation drills of knife and gun attacks. We learned how to neutralize a dangerous situation and most importantly, how to be aware enough not to put yourself in a dangerous situation in the first place. It was great a physical/mental confidence builder for me that still lingers into old age.
The Music Begins…
I mentioned earlier, music saved my life in my teens. That may be just a little dramatic, but not that much. In spite of me feeling insecure and depressed some of the time, my childhood was also filled with many good memories. I was blessed to grow up pretty much away from the ugliness, violence and real suffering in the world. I never wondered where my next meal would come from. I never worried if someone would show up to take me away. I grew up in a permissive culture that offered all kinds of possibilities, freedom and abundance. Of course, I didn't appreciate it at the time, but as you get out into the world and particularly as you travel to developing countries, you see the “other” reality that is to be lived out there.
All that being said, music was the thing that showed up early. I took trumpet lessons in Junior High School and played in the marching band. I know, such a geek. At that point I could read music and was not a bad trumpet player, but I gave it up after two years. Just not a cool thing to do I thought at the time. My mother had tried to get me interested in playing a musical instrument and one time bought me a ukulele. A little four string job like you see in Hawaii. My grandfather actually made a case for it from spare parts, wood and cloth. Typical of him.
There was a story I heard from him about the Pinger/Blacker clan having musical ability. He wondered whether it would show up in the next generation. I don’t remember any strong pull towards playing music until I met my friend Mark. Mark’s dad was a big advertising executive and played the trombone. It seemed that everyone in their family played something. Mark played the banjo and the piano. I really don’t know when it started, but I do remember asking my mother if I could buy a guitar. I had learned some basic music cords on the ukulele, but it seemed like a toy. She took me to a pawn shop and I saw a big F hole guitar sitting in the window. I think it cost $35. It may not seem like much, but my mother was paying attention and jumped in to help at the first sign of my getting interested in something.
The first thing I did was take the two lower strings off the guitar so I could play ukulele chords, but that seemed dumb after a while. I added the two lower strings back and learned full chords from Mark. Pop and folk music is mostly constructed from a 12 chord set. Four basic keys and some minor transitional chords. We used to say you could play most rock and roll songs with four chords. (all that would change with the Beatles) We were in the age of middle sixties folk music, represented by songs like “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore” and other classics. We listened to the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul and Mary and Joan Biaz. Berkeley was one of the centers of this movement and Hootenannies (folk concerts mostly in the round) took place all the time.
Now, the other thing that made it interesting is that Mark had a very early Sony reel to reel tape recorder. We could actually record what we were playing.
About the same time my Dad, who was always interested in the latest technology, set up a whole wall in our den with amps and a Sony recorder with which you could overdub yourself. That meant you could add harmonies etc. So, very early, it wasn’t just the playing, it was recording.
Mark and I got better and were trotted out at family gatherings and church camp bond fires. We played a lot of folk music wearing matching shirts and pants. This was the way the professionals did it we thought. I also took my guitar to Scout camp as I got older and I played with Donny at our campfires and for the parents when we came out of camp.
Donny was a natural musician like Mark. What I learned is that playing with someone that is that good makes you better. As you struggle to keep up, you actually get better. They can also show you tricks that make it easier to play well.
Mark and I played at high school talent shows, at church programs etc. Maury, our other friend, would roam the audience and pick up on the young women. As much as I liked playing (writing would come later) I also became more popular and that helped me come out of my shell. About half way through High School the Beatles happened and everything changed again.
In Berkeley there was a really strong black blues scene. We were used to listening to boot legged 45’s of Bo Diddle, Chuck Berry, Otis Reading and many others. We also listened to the 50’s white artists like Elvis, but I was drawn to the “soul” of the black musicians. It turns out so were the Beatles. In a weird turn around, these British white groups were recording black blues songs and getting them played on white radio. This crossover had never happened before. There was white music and there was Negro music. Rock and roll was invented from this strange mix of all of it, rhythm and blues, folk music and electric surf music.
I know surf music in Berkeley? Sounds odd doesn't it but Berkeley had this community parade called the Parade of Lights. I think it was in the fall. As high school kids we would roam the streets during the parade looking for trouble. One night, we heard something surprizing. It was the sound of instrumental surf music. We had seen groups on television and heard some hits on the radio, but this was different because it was live. Suddenly, three guys on the back of flatbed truck appeared out of nowhere. They were really playing. They weren’t all that much older than us. They had solid body guitars plugged into little amps. I was dumb struck that they were playing electric music right in front of us. Although it would be a few years, the seed was planted. I wanted to do that.
From 1964 on (my junior year in high school) the Beatles dominated white music. Folk music didn’t go away immediately, but something new was happening. I remember two reactions from those around me. The first from my Dad who loved folk music and had really supported Mark and I performing. However, he appeared appalled by my attraction to the Beatles. The loud music, the long hair, the girls going crazy... he thought we had lost our minds. The other reaction came from my black friends. In Berkeley we were very much influenced by black music, mostly Motown, but independent R&B artists as well. This was our black friend’s music and you could really dance to it. What they said about the Beatles was that you couldn’t dance to it. As much as I wanted to appear cool and stay in the black music stream, there was something about the Beatles and this new white music that called to me. It was the beginning of a dream you could say.
Illudians – A study in thinking outside of the box.
Since 1920 Berkeley High had “social clubs." These were white, exclusive high school fraternities and sister sororities. The high school did not recognize them, but tolerated them. Each club has their own jacket (colors) that were not supposed to be worn at school. When you were an 11th grader some would get invitations to “rush” different clubs. Each had its own personality including ones of elite jocks, others more thuggish, biker guys, still others A group popular guys.
My friends and I went to a couple of these rushes and were not impressed. They were scenes right out of Animal House at the straight frats in the movie. Now, for those of us that had come from an integrated Junior High, we were used to hanging out with our black, brown, white, and Asian friends. At the time, that didn't happen in a lot of these clubs. I can’t remember how the conversation started, but a small group of us had this idea we would start the first integrated social club. This was conjured up by us against the background of civil rights demonstrations at UC Berkeley. Kids not that much older than us were saying NO to the University in terms of business as usual. They wanted a say in the their education and one of the things they were saying was... "end your support for the Vietnam war" Change was... blowing in the wind as Dylan would say
The idea took hold. All the black athletes, student leaders etc. said yes and they were complimented by a group of us eclectic white guys. Some of the craziest at the school. We called ourselves " Illudians." I don’t know where that Greek name came from, but we had brown sweatshirts made that said "Slauson" on the front. Some reference by the black members to the angry streets of Compton in L.A. This was our code.
The other clubs weren’t happy about it, but we had some of the biggest guys in the school, so they didn’t mess with us much. We became a thing. For me it was another exercise in confidence building. In addition to athletes and student leaders we also had the best artists. Actors, musicians, writers etc. We would stage impromptu events at lunch time like Shakespearean sword fights. We would be gone before the authorities showed up. We would cruise Berkeley with the top down singing at the top of our lungs and throw the most popular parties.
One "beer" story from that time. We would decide to hold a "kegger" on Friday afternoons. Somebodies older brother would buy the keg. We would hold these things in remote areas behind the Cal Berkeley campus. One time, as we are just drinking away two motorcycle cops come riding up the hill out of nowhere. We tried to scatter but the jig was up. They ended up being cool about it and just made us pour the beer out. A different era indeed. Here's a "bid" (ticket) to one of our infamous "Quiet Village" parties we held in Tilden Park at the infamous Brazilian Room.
Another interesting thing that happened to us is that we sort of became the un-official refs between the races at school. There was still real racial tensions between blacks and whites and the hot heads on both sides would get into fights. We were the ones that sometimes broke them up and cooled tempers. The black guys handled the blacks and we handled the whites. It was a weird sort of authority role for this thing we had started for fun.
Early on we were having a “function” at someone’s house and one of the white thug clubs showed up and threw rocks at the house yelling things like “nigger lovers.” Just a slice of what was going on everywhere. We also didn't have a sister club, so any girl could become one of our companions. To show you the naivety of the late 60’s, we actually had early Sunday morning events called "Shanghai's." We would call up the parents of the girls and say we were going to kidnap them early Sunday morning and take them to breakfast. They would leave the door open for us and made sure their daughters were in baggy pajamas. Those “breakfasts” were wild for the time. The parents thought it was funny. If they only knew. I never asked our parents what they thought as we would go out the door at 6am on Sunday morning to party.
When I went to my 50th high school reunion some Illudians were there. I asked them if they remembered that experience being as important as I did. To a man they did. It was a new kind of connection between the races and what I learned is to never be satisfied with the status quo. If you don’t like something, do something else. Create something new. Out of the box. This would influence me in my life many times in the years ahead.
Running for Student Body Office.
Here’s the crazy thing about my senior year at Berkeley High. For someone like me that for the longest time had no self-confidence, I decided to run for student body vice-president.
I had no chance of winning, but as I opened up and stretched out I wanted to know what was possible. I printed up flyers, spoke at the political rallies. Things I would have never dreamed of doing before. I got 900 votes. The winner got 1,300. I remember thinking,.. a lot of people I did not know voted for me. That was a new experience.
The Opposite Sex.
As I came into the age when boys start noticing girls, I remember thinking I had no idea what to do with them, although I liked to hang out with them more that groups of guys. We had all gotten the standard 7th grade sex education about how it worked, but when the hormones came raging we were literally groping in the dark.
My friend Maury had a big downstairs basement room that his parents had turned over to him. We would gather up the girls and boys, turn the lights down, play Johnny Mathis records and make out until our mouths didn’t work. Very innocent. There were other kinds of touching as well, but this was all before birth control and we had it drummed into us not to get your girlfriend pregnant. That was fine in theory, but in the heated moments, it was hard not to do it all.
Girlfriends became part of my norm. Coupling up was so expected. Lots of high school drama in the breakups and the betrayals. I had two "serious" girlfriends in high school, Sharon and Nancy. Sharon was very adventurous. We ended up making out in hidden places at church, parking on Grizzly Peak until the cops came and sometimes at her house or mine when our parents weren’t home. Nancy was more of a girl that would have been out of my league before my transformation started and was my one flirtation with the IN group in senior year..
One particular memory, as it relates to high school love affairs, has stuck with me in my old age. My parents went out of town and Bruce and Jane were somewhere else. That meant poker party with alcohol at my house of course. I was generally a good kid, afraid of getting caught, a bad liar etc. but for some reason I organized this. Go figure. To top it off I was the one guy who brought his girlfriend. The thought that my parents’ bedroom with a king sized bed was available was exciting. We left the guys downstairs drinking and playing cards and proceeded upstairs. Now we were used to cramped spaces like my car, the closet at church etc. so the King sized bed seemed huge. We started making out when something strange happened. I envisioned my parents coming home early and I just couldn’t do it. Sharon had a lot to drink and was wobbling, so I decided to take her home. About a 20 minute drive. I remember her being really drunk, so I just pointed her at her front door and took off. Nice…
When I got back to my house the poker table in the dining room was empty. I had this bad feeling. I walked through the living room towards the back of the house and saw the beginnings of a vomit trail that was all over the back door. I found the guys outside passed out in the ivy. What a scene. They stumbled home and I was left to clean up the mess.
The vomit was everywhere. I took the back room bamboo rug out in the back and tried to hose it off. I had 24 hours to fix it before my parents came home. I thought I did a pretty good job, but when they walked in the door I knew they knew. For some strange reason they didn’t say anything and I walked around for a week dreading the “conversation”. As I see it this was the downside of my new found confidence. What made me think this was a good idea was lost in some 17 year old logic. It also points out the naivety of the sixties. As much as free love would come later, we were really very innocent compared to today’s culture.
I was always attracted to crazy friends both male and female. I loved their confidence. They were not afraid to take a risk. I was still pretty cautious at that point so I hoped some of their ways would rub off on me. One thing that meant was that I auditioned for school plays. The one I remember was Romeo and Juliet. It caused a bit of stir because our Juliet was black and Romeo was white. I played a guard. I had one line in the final death scene. That’s me in the front row far left. I think we had a saying..."guards rule!"
Sometimes these explorations were a bit "sketchy", so that would get us into trouble, but I loved their bigger than life demeanor. This would influence me to take more chances and be less afraid.
My First Car…
In western US culture, particularly on the west coast of America, cars were the thing. And what a revolutionizing concept they were. Overnight it seems, America went mobile. So, instead of just the the limited places you could go on a horse or train, you suddenly could go anywhere the road went. And they went everywhere.
Against that historic backdrop, one sign of coming of age in the 1960’s was learning how to drive a car and getting your license. In Berkeley, that started at age 15 ½ with a full license at 16. I remember wanting it so badly. Can you imagine how embarrassing it was to be still driven around by your parents at age 15? We had two cars as I hit 16. A big green Oldsmobile station wagon.
This had replaced the classic 1956 Ford station wagon with the cowboy seat covers of my youth. This car was huge and mostly my mother drove it or we took it on trips.
The other “second” car we had was a Ford Angelia.
This was a British import that was this little, very common looking yellow car. If a child drew a picture of a car, the Angelia was it. My Dad had gotten this car so that he could drive independently without hindering Mother doing what she needed to do. At this time in America, the second car was something that was growing in popularity as the middle class had more financial resources, but it was still somewhat a luxury.
One story. (Image above) We had taken both cars on a family vacation. I was riding with my Dad in the Angelia. Coming down a mountain pass, the gearbox suddenly locked up. That took us from 50 miles an hour into a full skid on a narrow road.. It was a miracle we didn't flip. It all happened so fast there wasn't time to be afraid. My Dad wrestled the car to a stop after crossing over the center line into the other lane. We both just sat there quietly. Sometimes shit happens... hopefully the angels are watching over as they were that day.
Now, in Berkeley at the time, being the capital of communist pinkos, the second car of choice was a Volkswagen sedan or soft top. VW vans would come latter as the hippy mobiles of choice. The VW bug was similarly ugly, but it had a clutch you could pop (manual transmissions were still in vogue) and go. The Angelia on the other hand being British had a really sensitive clutch that you had to let out very carefully or the car started jerking and bucking. For some reason, my Dad chose the Angelia to teach me how to drive. We started off in big parking lots and then graduated to the streets. I remember being at intersections and trying to let the clutch out carefully. The car would jerk and jump if I didn’t do it right.
My friend’s families all had VW's so they didn’t have this issue. In due time I got used to it and on one magic afternoon after getting my license, I remember taking the Angelia out for a spin for no reason. I sat at the intersection of our street and Tunnel Road. You could turn right into Berkeley or left towards Orinda and Walnut Creek. I turned away from Berkeley completely excited I could go anywhere. What a feeling of freedom. That began my romance with road trips. All my life I loved to drive to new places. Something about the road stimulated my creativity and I loved the beauty and the romance of the American West which I traveled extensively. Nothing better than cruising the old route 66 with my music turned up loud.
One last note on the Angelia. It was tiny by American standards so the front (bucket) seats pivoted forward to get in the tiny back seat. When I went out on dates, this was handy for going up on the view in Tilden Park. My girlfriend at the time and I would push the front seats forward and get in the backseat to make out. The windows of that Angelia were covered in stream from the cold night air many times during high school.
As I progressed through high school I started thinking about buying my own car. I had an older friend that loved to get old Morris Mini’s and adopt them for driving in the US. He would also alter the engine so they went like a bat of hell. I wanted one in the worst way and presented my case to my father. He (rightly) turned me down, concerned about the high performance of the Mini. When I went off to college, he gave me the Angelia to take with me. Until I bought my first car it was mine. It’s interesting to me that Mini’s have made a big comeback. First retro versions and now a whole line of Mini models painted in competition colors. They drive like a high power go-cart, so much fun!
Berkeley High Talent Shows.
Every now and then, Berkeley High had talent shows instead of regular assemblies. Berkeley High was lucky to share the school grounds with the Berkeley Community Theater.
This was a real theater with a big stage, lighting, a big curtain and seats for the whole student body. These talent shows were organized by the drama department and you had to audition. Mark and I (as the folk singing duo) tried out early and Berkeley being as racially mixed as it was, were often times the only white act. We were sandwiched in between black groups lip syncing to popular black music like “Duke of Earle”. So, you can imagine the courage it took to get up in front of the whole student body. The first time I was so nervous I dropped my flat pick on the stage and couldn’t get my shaking hand to pick it up. Mark and I did a bunch of these shows. It was the first time playing in front of a big audience. As nervous as I was, I loved it and it set the stage (no pun intended) for what was to come later.
When you are a child in a safe culture like Berkeley you don’t have much thought about death. It just doesn’t seem like it applies to you. What could happen? As I mentioned earlier, we had a brush with it when one of my friend’s older sisters was kidnapped and later killed right on the trail we all walked home from school on. I remember my parents being very upset, but it still didn’t register with me that death was always a life possibility.
Death came to me in two ways during high school. The first was the assassination of the President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a very popular/inspiring young man who set us on a path towards the moon and kept us out of WW3 nuclear war during the Cuban Missile crisis. Every one of my generation remembers where they were when the news came from Dallas. I was in English class just before lunch when our teacher walked in looking very shaken. He announced to us that the president had been assassinated. You could hear a pin drop. This did not happen in America. Little did we know that Kennedy was just the first of many in the Sixties.
I remember getting out for lunch and sitting very quietly with my friends trying to comprehend what had happened. These days violence and mass shootings are so common place, but in 1963, it was new and a sign that the times were changing.
The second incident was even more shocking because it was close and personal. One of my Illudian brothers at Berkeley High was a guy named Jim Shobring. Jim was a natural born leader, super smart and wildly popular. He wasn’t flashy, but very steady or so it seemed. I remember his welcome counsel one time when some girl broke up with me. He just seemed older and wiser than most of us. One day just 6 weeks before we were going to graduate, Jim didn’t come to school. This wasn’t that unusual. We all cut class or a whole day of school with faked notes in our senior year (I always got caught) so no one thought much about it in the beginning. We all laughed that Jim was with some girl on a beach in Marin.
As time went by and no there was no news of his re-appearance we started to take it more seriously. Had he run away? We formed teams and searched all the secret spots he might be. Nothing. I finally went home and over the radio came the news Jim had killed himself, a suicide. I remember half collapsing into the shelf the radio was on. My mother came running and put her arms around me while I started crying uncontrollably. This was not supposed to happen.
Soon after, I took the car (over my mother’s objections) and met up with my Illudian brothers. It was real quiet and awkward as no one knew what to say. Then something strange happened, the grief turned into nervous laughter as we began telling stories about him. Just a release really.
Jim’s death put quite a pall over graduation. Although you can never know why someone does anything, stories surfaced of trouble at home. Jim had been accepted at all the big colleges and there were some stories he felt pressure to make a decision. We all realized we had never been in his house or met his parents. Something indeed had darkened. The last thing I will say about this is the place he chose to take the overdose of pills was the big C, a big concrete letter located above UC Berkeley. It was a place we went sometimes, but it was not a place we searched. I guess we were sparred the trauma of finding his body. Things like this happen every day, but that first one you never forget. The fact that it was so unexpected was what made it so memorable. A first lesson in ‘shit” happens.
The last notable death during high school was the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965. Malcolm was a American Muslim minister and human rights activist that was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement. A spokesman for the Nation of Islam until 1964, he was a vocal advocate for Black empowerment and the promotion of Islam within the Black community. In our little white lives he always was portrayed as the more "radical" black man that wanted to kill all of us. White fear. Later, I would come to understand that he was a very original thinker who had a particular perspective on what it meant to be black in America. He was not afraid to live his life that way. In the months before his death at the hands of a rival faction he had softened his radical views after a life altering trip to Mecca. He and Martin Luther King began finding some common ground. As I got ready to graduate, little did I know these assassinations of political leaders were only beginning.
Normally, in the last six months of high school in a place like Berkeley, everyone starts talking about where they are going to college. However, with my checkered academic career this wasn’t a given. I had gotten decent grades the last two years, but my SAT scores were average (I didn’t test well) and there was no point applying to any of the big schools. And even if I could have gotten into Cal Berkeley I wanted out of town as quickly as possible. I had already spent a lot of time on that campus.
One day my councilor called me in and asked me, “so what do you want to do with your life?” Even though I loved playing music, the thought of being a professional musician had not arrived yet. She asked me what I liked… and I said something about planes. My Dad had worked for Pan American and when I was younger I loved going behind the scenes at the airport.
I also loved the 30’s movies about flying in the time before the Second World War. There was something romantic about it that was attractive to me.
Could It Be?
Later on I would have an experience that possibly shed some light on this attraction I had to that era. In the late seventies, I had gone to the theater to see “Midway”, a movie about the naval/air battle in the Pacific War in World War 2. The theater was experimenting with a new version of surround sound and it was so loud that it literally shook the seats in the scenes when the airplanes were warming up on the decks of the carriers.
I had a moment… suddenly I could literally smell the air on the deck of the carrier. The sea, the aviation fuel, the leather jacket I had on. It shocked me, but it was seemingly a memory that was very real. Later on I did a session of past life regression. They claim to take you back to some past life(s). As I closed my eyes and wandered back, an image of a clear bubble over a plane cockpit came into view. I was flying through some clouds. Here’s the weird part, I was not American, I was Japanese. On the other side of the Battle of Midway.
It felt like I had been shot down and killed climbing to meet the Americans. That was 1942, so I would have been a young man in Japan in the period I was so attracted to. In this life I have also had a real issue with the "collective" mind of Japanese culture. Later, when I worked in Tokyo on a project it was very uncomfortable for me. The "hive" mind could really get people to do violent things. It was equally weird that I would be born again in 1947 on the victor’s side. Not sure any of this is real, but sometimes you just can’t explain what comes to you.
So, I said to my councilor… “planes." She responded "aeronautical engineering" because I had this engineering profile from the Pre-Tech program. I said so what... She said there were two top schools with aeronautical engineering programs. MIT in Boston and Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. I would end up at MIT later in life, but at that moment there was no hope of going there, so the seed was planted for Cal Poly.
At the time Cal Poly was a State University with 8,000 students on the Central Coast of California. It is now a major university with 25,000 students and entrance requirements I never could have passed. It specialized in architecture, engineering, early computer science and most of all agriculture. If you were a famers kid this is where you went to learn about animals and feed crops. No kidding. About as opposite to growing up in Berkeley as you could get.
So, Cal Poly came into the conversation. I was close to having the entry requirements, but just short. My grandfather wrote a long letter to the University pleading on my behalf and a plan did emerge. If I went to summer school (6 weeks at the end of summer) and got B’s or A’s in two classes I could get in. As I mentioned before I had this sports letter from San Jose State to play water polo, but I was tired of swimming and this seemed like something I could do.
At the time I had no appreciation for how lucky I was.
If Cal Poly had not worked out I probably would have gone to a local city college and would have been right in the middle of the Sixties revolution in the Bay Area. Sex, drugs and rock and roll would have been the play. Most of my friends that went that route dropped out and joined the movement for better or worse. I am sure if I had been there I would have done the same.
Graduation from Berkeley High came and went. It was the end of a long chapter. One, that in the last two years as a junior and senior, I began to find myself.
In 6 weeks I was going to be headed south to Cal Poly to attend summer school. A definite fork in the road that had many consequences going forward. One issue would come up on the drive with my Father to San Luis Obispo. I will talk about that later.
A More Perfect Union
Since the country was founded it had represented more of an ideal than an actual inclusive democracy. In the beginning, only white men who owned property could vote. The founders really did not trust the masses to make decisions. Eventually, more white men got added to the voter rolls and following the Civil War, former slaves received the right to vote. For about 30 years following the war, politics in the Southern states included black folks. However, the darkness of the Confederacy remained, and as soon as Federal troops were pulled out around 1900, white southern gentlemen passed "Jim Crow" laws that made it virtually impossible for black people to vote.
Cut to the late 1950's and early sixties. An elderly black woman decides she is tired of sitting in the back of the bus and challenges the Jim Crow laws that had been in effect for 50 years. The change did not come easy. The Civil Rights movement stirred a lot of deep emotions. Black people and their supporters were killed by the KKK. Demonstrators were beaten by police. However, the tide of history began to change and ultimately, the 1965 Voting Act was passed and signed into law by a Texas born president, Lyndon Johnson.
Not that I was paying that much attention as I got ready to finish school, but as high school students we had watched the free speech and civil rights movements change things in Berkeley. Some of my best friends were black. It seemed natural to me to include everyone, but that was not the way of much of the world at that point. The 1965 Voting Act did not change things overnight, but it did finally extend voting rights to all citizens. As I headed to college, little did I know that everything else would also be on the table as I came of age.
The Summer In-between
In some ways the summer in-between graduation from high school and going off to college is lost time. You feel like you are no longer a kid in your parents world, but you really haven’t defined your independent self yet. It was also an ending to friendships that had been around since grade school. Mark and I had finished out the year playing a lot of folk gigs including the BHS graduation party, but there was definitely this elephant in the room for us. I don’t know if I really had any fantasy about us going off to college together and continuing to play, but if I did that ended when Mark announced he was going to Pacific College in Stockton and I was headed to Cal Poly if I could make summer school work. We would however have on last rave before we moved on.
The City of Berkeley in those days operated family summer camps near Yosemite.
In all our family camping adventures I had not been to one. They mostly consisted of tent cabins built around a dining hall. Later I would haunt many of these camps in the back country of Yosemite but that was a long ways in the future.
This particular family camp at Tuolumne had this long tradition that they picked musicians, actors and singers to be bus boys/girls and worker bees around the camp. At night you were expected to entertain. I went to a gathering where this was being organized. The only problem was that I didn’t have all summer. I was off to summer school in six weeks. Our reputation as a singing group may have had something to do with it, but they figured out a way I could work at the camp for six weeks and then go off to summer school. For me, it put off saying goodbye to Mark so I was pleased.
The gang of us that arrived was an eccentric bunch. They gave us two multi-bunked cabins by the stream away from the main camp. Good thing, because we were about to celebrate our freedom, very loudly. It was the summer of 65 and music was the soundtrack for these changing times. We were of course into the Beatles, but one of the other staff members turned us on to the Rolling Stones. The bad boys. Paul Farso was a brilliant jazz pianist and he introduced us to all kinds of new music that summer and yes, we were getting stoned as we listened. Those six weeks were spent in a kind of wonderful haze. Paul would later go on to found the Loading Zone, one of the first generation San Francisco rock bands. Mark and I jammed with him some, but our chops were really not up to rock and roll yet.
A couple of other things did happen at that camp that were interesting. I was life guarding at the swimming hole one day. It was really a pool dammed up in the river. My vantage point was on top of a rock in the middle of the pool. One afternoon I watched a young mother bring her very young child down to the water. The child went into the water as the mother turned her back. The young child immediately got lifted off the sandy bottom and swept into the rapidly moving stream. I don’t know how it happened, but I came off the rock and got to the child quickly and pulled her to safety. The mother recovered and rushed us almost knocking the child out of my arms. I went to sleep that night wondering if I had saved a life. Pretty grown up stuff all of a sudden.
The other thing that happened that summer was that the forest service organized some of us into a fire fighting team as an auxiliary to the real smoke eaters. We got some basic instruction (I mean very basic) and then we watched one night as a big fire erupted in the forest north of the camp. We were not asked to fight it, but I remember looking at the wall of fire and then looking at the puny shovel in my hands and feeling in awe of the power of nature when she gets going.
The six weeks at camp screamed by. A couple of quick summer romances etc. and suddenly it was time to go. The gang walked me out to where the Greyhound bus stopped. I was to take the bus to Berkeley and then drive to Cal Poly with my father. As we said our good byes, it was hardest with Mark. We had grown up a lot together. I found my seat in the back of the bus as they waved goodby. My life was about to enter a new chapter. I sighed as I looked forward to whatever was in store. Little did I know that unexpected changes were literally a car ride away.