My parents are actually from Wisconsin, but my Dad was a meteorologist employed by the Air Force in the early 60′s, so that’s where we lived. I remember a few things about my birthplace, Oxnard. There were many Hispanic people and lettuce fields and boxy cement buildings on the beach and the waves rolled up into the sky and became heaven. That picture of me up above was taken on Christmas Eve after receiving my first bicycle.
Let me say up front that I’ve never been involved in psychotherapy to figure out who I am, but I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my childhood. By the time I arrived at my teens my parents were having a fair amount of marital problems, but I don’t think I noticed anything until then. I am a daydreamer. At least that was my “official” diagnosis when I had to go back to 1st grade a couple months into 2nd grade…and I recall I was having some problems making it to the bathroom on time.
My most vivid memories of living in my Oxnard house are of playing with our portable record player. It was located on the floor in the living room surrounded by well-worn records that my sisters and I played and danced to daily. We had all the Tijuana Brass albums, some Scottish jig 78s, tons of Disney story 45s, and my personal favorite – The Sound of Jazz from 1957, featuring the haunting near death duo of Lester Young and Billie Holiday. We didn’t have a piano at this time, but the music on this record was my inner fantasy world.
Moving East To the Old West
Around 1965 my Dad was hired to teach meteorology and finish his masters at the same time at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City. The Mayflower van took away all our things and we loaded up the Dodge station wagon and headed east through Death Valley at night. My family had already made a few trips to Wisconsin during the summers so I had a general sense of what this trip would be like, but being five I was suddenly vividly aware of so many more things. My domain was the “way-back” of the car where I gazed out the windows at the unearthly environments we passed through – Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and finally the Black Hills of South Dakota. That was the first place I remember seeing children again.
I’ve been told Rapid City was a great place to grow up and go to school with its wonderful education system. Truthfully, I loved everything that wasn’t school. I literally ran wild on foot, bicycle, and later, car. The Black Hills were the most wonderful place in the universe to me and I explored every bit of it I could. Thinking about it afterwards I realize that most of my friendships were of the parallel type – other kids, boys and girls, who were also exploring and we just happened to come in contact with each other for a period of time. I’m not sure why I’m like this, in fact I still am. It makes for a lonely life sometimes, but only when I focus on it. Most of the time I focus on everything else around me, not people. Their inner workings and the relationships that are attempted have always been confusing and painful to me.
When I didn’t make it through 2nd grade the first time around my parents gave me a consolation gift, at least that’s the way I like think about it. A very old upright piano suddenly appeared in our basement. My parents’ real motivation was probably to get my sisters and I started with piano lessons, but to me this instrument was a wonderland of sounds. I would spend hours sitting on the tall bench playing the same “chords” (not in my vocabulary yet) over and over again, swinging my legs back and forth keeping time by banging my feet against the piano. I don’t know how anyone felt about my hobby, but no one stopped me. Piano lessons were exciting at first – my teacher had an antique pump organ, a full-size harp in her living room and a talking parrot. Over the next 6 years I remember having four different piano teachers. Apparently, though I was often playing the piano, there was very little practicing going on. As I got older I quit altogether, but had enough knowledge to teach myself how to play the songs I loved by Elton John and John Denver. I had one real cool piano book called Big Easy Pop Hits! It had all kinds of songs from Broadway, television, and the movies, and along with the melodies were skeletal harmonic left had rhythms. It was perfect for me! There were also chord symbols, but I had no idea what those were for.
We had a really good music program in high school and a band director with a reputation that scared us clear down into grade school. When the Stage Band played for us at Pinedale Elementary when I was in 4th grade there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I must become the person who plays the drum set. In 5th and 6th grades I took weekly drum lessons at school. It seemed easy and I loved it, but wasn’t quite sure why the teacher was mostly irritated with me. Oh well. In 7th grade Band at West Jr. High I was ready to play great music! My dreams came to a screeching halt when I found myself day after day at the back of the room, practically able to touch the top of the room from the elevated built-in riser reserved for the percussion “section”. I absent-mindedly gazed at decades of spit wads on the ceiling, not even trying to listen to the drone of the Mr. Mettler’s yelling. I seemed to be assigned to the bass drum on every song. I’m not sure if that meant that I was a good 7th grade drummer or something else, but after our fateful first concert in December of 1972 where Mr. Mettler and I (on the instrument I hated – the one he referred to as the heart beat of the band) exchanged wordless death stares with each other for most of “Jingle Bells,” I decided band probably wasn’t for me.