Saturday, November 3, 2007
Introspection or the Terrible Twenties
Charlie Hall and Yoe agree you didn’t “get” that way, you simply came that way!
As a boy of 20, I must say I possessed no special insight into my mother. She was no “stay at home” mother for obvious reasons. We could hardly survive without her income. Daddy’s insurance kept food on the table while she got her teaching credentials. Much of the time I was in the care of Grandma and Grandpa and their helper, Millie. By the time I was four, The university cut Grandpa’s teaching time in half and after casting about he was engaged for a consulting job in Hong Kong. He and Grandma were gone to the Far East for a couple of years. In the interim, I attended nursery school, then kindergarten while Mom continued her studies. Mom was very immersed in this evolving profession. In the years to come she enrolled in post-graduate studies at various universities around the country. These necessitated long term arrangements for my care and supervision.
In the early years we had a young black woman named Annie in for housework, but I don’t remember her being there for my care. After Mom and I started at Miles Elementary, I didn’t really witness any of her training and skills being put to use, even though I was attending the same school. Her classroom at Safford had a lot of training aids she had devised to help teach her pupils to get through their lives. I know there was never money for equipment aside for the most basic items like walkers. A lot of the equipment and training aids were made by herself and by people she cornered for their talents. She couldn’t take time to wheel the kids to the blackboard during class so she acquired walkers crafted from wood and tailored to fit, with rudimentary seats which gave the kids mobility.
Cerebral palsy affects people in different ways, some can speak but can’t walk, others can’t do either nor can they use their hands. Mom, being lame, could understand their problems to a greater extent than someone without any disabilities. She fostered self-reliance to the degree it was possible. Albert couldn’t walk but he could use his hands to great advantage, shooting apple seeds at his targets, sometimes me. Rosie Jacobs was a strapping horse of a girl afflicted with cerebral palsy, which affected her speech and cognitive abilities. Always cheerful, wide spread eyes and a spontaneous, toothy smile greeted our mother who would always take time to counsel her personally once her18th birthday mandated her departure from the school system. Her large, extended family whose various members were involved in the furniture business founded by the immigrant Jacobs. They had busy schedules to keep and kept Rosie bouncing from cousin to brother to sister, taking on whatever menial work they could think of. But she loved our mother, who never talked down to her and made her feel worthy.
Charlie Hall wrote me following a comment I had written about one of his charges, Stanley. Charlie had given Stanley a ’53 Lincoln Capri, a veteran of the Carerra Pan Americana road race, for his graduation from high school. Charlie had a bet on with the dean of boys that Stanley, not the shiniest nickel in your pocket, would make it out of high school with a diploma and Mom, at Charlie’s behest embarked on a program of tutelage that brought his grades up to par and ultimately him into a cap and gown. It was an act of love typical of her and of course Charlie, paying off handsomely for Stanley in the long run.
Mom wasn’t a “touchy-feely” person, and I don’t blame her lameness for that. She showed her affection differently, such as when she found something that would have been of interest to you, she would be sure to clip something from the newspaper, or open a page to a magazine to the article, or whatever she found. Other times she would make inquiries on your behalf, talking to someone who could be of help. If the internet had been available in her time, I can imagine all the help you would get if you dropped a hint. When our boys were little and they received a package of hand puppets made by Oma from Germany, Mom made sure a photographer from the Arizona Daily Star came to the house and covered the event. Clippings were sent to Oma who was amazed and gratified.
She had a lot of love for a lot of people and I was one of them.
Jimmy Walker and I swore the B-24 buzzing our part of Tucson was knocking bricks off the chimneys. My brother Jim suggested it was his buddy, Russ DeMont, at the controls. He was a bit wild in his youth and he had been assigned to ferry these bombers out of the modification plant south of town.
While I was not a totally out of control kid doing drugs or getting adorned with tattoos, my friends and I managed to get into the usual lower level mischief, with the exception of the brief shoplifting episode with Jimmy Walker when I was about 11. Yoe and I were fooling around in a sewer excavation across from neighbor Nellie Kemp one night and started bombarding her front porch, scaring the bejeezus out of the old dear. That was the only time we had the cops called on us. Mom was there to get the message from the police and grounded me for a week. Mostly, my punishment was to go apologize to Miss Kemp, which was just as awkward for her and I know for Mom as well.
During the war, Mom had a victory garden in which she planted anything that would grow. Aside from tomatoes, the only success we had was summer squash, my favorite fruit. We had bushels of the tasteless vegetable and we had little success in sharing our harvest. By the end of our agricultural endeavor, the only thing we had to show was a four foot by thirty foot depression in the back yard.
Other bounty included figs and pomegranates, but the figs were a favorite of june bugs and pomegranates were too difficult to peel to be enjoyable. Once sugar became available again, Mom had success with our sour oranges, which came from a tree shielding our bathroom window. Tucson had streets lined with these bitter but ornamental oranges, providing great ammunition for noontime fruit fights at the high school. Every year the canning jars would come down from the shelves in the storage cabinet by the back door. She would cut the oranges into thin slices, leaving a portion of the rind and boil them in a slurry of as much sugar as she could round up, fill a collection of saved jars and place them in a large aluminum canning pot over a low heat. There were four equally spaced toggle clamps to secure the lid and a little round vent button that rattled gently while the mixture simmered. The resultant marmalade was much anticipated, particularly if the right amount of pectin were present and it jelled to the proper consistency, not spilling from the bread when applied. It was then that the small bits of rind added a pleasant chewy component to the spread. What marmalade that wasn’t given away to family and a few close friends, we ate all year long, on toast, biscuits and waffles.
The roomers she took in, occupying the front bedroom and a portioned off section of the back bedroom, never intruded in our lives to any extent. Just like most families, dealing with the wartime shortages and sacrifices, we took it in stride. Doing one’s bit for the war effort took a little proactive effort and we let the YWCA across the street know that we had some space. Before long, a woman in her late fifties appeared at our front door with a slip of YWCA notepaper with our address written on it. Mrs. Murdoch was assigned the bedroom overlooking the front porch. A couple of months later arrived Mrs. Miller, for whom we improvised a bit of privacy in the back bedroom by arranging furniture and screens to leave access to the bathroom for the family. Much of this took place while Alice was off in Florida with Loren, Jim and Jeanne and their new baby. We had a corrugated galvanized steel garage in back, sheltering the blue 1941 Ford sedan of our neighbor up the street, Mr. Burger. He came by one day to see whether we could find a place for his niece to rest her bones. Bea was a woman in her indeterminate twenties, from my point of view older than Alice but not so old as our other ladies. She was put up in the back porch opposite us. It wouldn’t be for long, we were assured. That meant when Alice returned, Bea would have to find other accommodations. There was always the living room.
Jim and Loren had received their overseas orders, piloting B-17G heavy bombers out of England, an occasion I had to celebrate because finally we had a couple of heros in the family to brag about to my buddies. Mom’s mind was more and more on the well being of her young men and was glued constantly to all the news that was broadcast over our two stations. I would get bored with them and insisted in changing the station to play music, not all of which was soothing. “Turn off that blatt!” she shouted at me. The threshold of wartime nerves had been crossed.
Mom was not big on discipline. It was the big picture she was concerned about. She held on to the hope that whatever worked on the older children would work on me. On rare occasions she’d threaten to “get the stick”, a threat I could easily outrun, but playing that card left me with a pang of guilt. In the company of my friends I was not developing good study habits. This slippery slope led predictably to poor performance in the classroom. As the homework assignments became more and more frequent, I fell inevitably behind the curve, little could prevent failure lacking a strong hand extended to this floundering student. Mom did her best to get me to knuckle down, but she couldn’t very well chase me all over town to do it. Influences by my smarter peers did have some positive effect but not enough to keep me from dropping out of my junior year at Tucson High.
The strong hand extended by Jack and Gerry got me over the hump at high school and filled a void in my life at a time when Mom had despaired of finding any solution to my delinquency. It was really good to have them as proxy parents. I wish it could have gone on longer, but they were young, newly married and certainly needed to have the privacy they deserved.
College, the Next Course, or Where I Found God
The decision to enter the University of Arizona was not accompanied by a clear career direction. Jim had recommended journalism with an art minor, but Art Center was where I wanted to go. With the obstacle of substantial tuition there and the U of A essentially free, the choice was made. Most of my friends from Tucson High were enrolling there, anyway. If it hadn’t been for a couple of classes, “Classicsm” which was based on etymology and “Logic”, I think the time spent there would have been a total waste of time. Cohen and Nagel’s “Logic and the Scientific Method” was the text and Matthew Schneck (one of Mom’s professors) was the instructor. Dr. Schneck liked to get the freshman students while they were still malleable, then not have much to do with them till they were in post graduate studies. Frank Keating provided the picture, commenting that the young lady was wearing a look of adulation expected by him. Mother took a course in psychology from him and from Dr. Simley, father of one of my high school classmates, Ann with whom I was slightly acquainted.
As is evident, my cartoons for the Kitty Kat showed a New Yorker influence.
Frank Keating and I attended those two and possibly other classes that were otherwise required of freshman students. I
didn’t take any art classes at that time but I discovered that the campus humor magazine provide an outlet for my creative proclivities. My iconoclastic cartoons were welcomed by the young editor Pete Kesling, himself a cartoonist. (He was recently featured in a Ken Burns documentary about the transcontinental adventure of Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, his bulldog Bud and bicycle-turned-car mechanic Sewall K. Crocker in the 1903 Winton touring car and Kesling’s attempt to replicate the journey in his own restored Winton.)
The old student union (under a cloud, prophetically!) It had just opened when I was a freshman and became a popular hangout. The Co-Op, or "Coop" as it was known, had a juke box fountain, grill, booths and pool tables. The bell tower had the bell from the U.S.S. Arizona and an abstract sculpture adorning the front facade called the "Bird of Peace" in which the bird had its head tucked into its upraised wing. Kitty Kat editor, Pete Kesling, thought it was hilarious and featured it satirically in several of his cartoons. All the available pics show the new student union, opened in 2000.
The classrooms were located in the new Liberal Arts building that housed the Philosophy and Psychology department—three days a week with Cohen & Nagel and two with Classics learning Latin and Greek word derivations. It was the former that provided Frank and me with the fodder for our witticisms, which we chalked on the sidewalk to share with everyone who cared to read them. Some of them we kept as our own, e. g. “TING-LLID” “There Is No God—Long Live Isadora Duncan” and “John Stuart Mills needs canon fodder!” a reference to Mills’ Canons. We thought we were being very original, but later found out that such activity was popular among college students more into philosophy than football at better universities. Fortunately, the chalk washed off when they turned on the sprinklers.If it walks like a duck. . .
In taking this class, I knew pretty soon that I was in over my head, but somehow the lessons learned helped me to recognize the everyday arguments we are all subjected to and to make sense (or not) out of them and has given me reliable service all my adult life. This is not to say that I am never fooled by the sales pitch whether of a pyramid scheme or pronouncements coming out of the White House, but if I stop long enough and subject their statements to the Cohen & Nagel test, well, I rest my case. The text, published in 1934, attempted to answer the question “What is logic?” and to carve a path through what had become a jungle of Babel confusing psychology, mathematics, science and pedagogical order, while addressing the role each of these disciplines played. In my case, “a little bit of knowledge” has proved to be my navigational beacon to a rational life.
My comprehension of this body of knowledge in class was simplistic, but no more so than the faithful get from attending church. What I had not gotten out of my exposure to the Episcopal Church was faith, something to fall back on in lieu of reasoning things out when pondering the wisdom of my next act. Sure, the ceremony I could follow and Christian ethics made sense, (note I didn’t say Christian politics), but when it came to “faith”, I floundered on the shoals of logic. The best I could come up with for the existence of God was the inference that lacking empirical evidence of the existence of God, God must exist to explain where everything that exists came from, a logical fallacy. Was it that alternate religions were tempting? That answer has to be “No.” Presbyterians didn’t have to kneel, but that advantage wasn’t worth learning a whole new litany of moves. Judaism featured a lot of music in a minor key, but things like phylacteries and
Matthew M. R. Schneck PhD. Professor Emeritus Philosophy and Psychology, University of Arizona (World’s 7th smartest person, so it was rumored.) Can't say who the lady is-some sycophant, I suppose.
yarmulkes seemed so—Jewish. Catholicism was out—that much was impressed on me when I started dating Monica Shea. (“You don’t want to get too serious about this Catholic girl or her mother will want you to take instruction!”) But Schneck, in his arrogant way, inculcated logic into those of his flock who were open to it, namely me, by default and my close friend Frank Keating, whose new cry was “There is no God!” (. . . but Aristotle and Schneck is his prophet?) I would never place Schneck on the same level as a Messiah or even a prophet—more of a guru.
The difference between Frank and myself in our syllogistic revelation was that he was reacting to a Catholic environment and I was merely ambivalent about my Episcopal upbringing. We both became devotees to Aristotelian argument as it provided a cupboard full of logical fallacies. Every question was put to a litmus test, using these fallacies to analyze its legitimacy. How was it presented? Was it an “argumentum ad hominem? (the abuse of the one advancing the argument. “I knew John F. Kennedy and you’re no John F. Kennedy!” Benson to Quayle, vice- presidential debates) an argumentum ad populum?(the appeal to the prejudices of the people) Does it beg the question? Post hoc, ergo propter hoc? (after this, therefore because of this).This is still the kind of analysis my mind goes through when I hear some politician or snake oil salesman get started and it usually saves me from knee-jerk reactionism so much in evidence today.
What I think was missing in all this was any meaningful social development. Adherence to the values any group larger than my immediate circle of friends was still somewhat alien to me. If I didn’t recognize the social hierarchy it was rooted in the largely feral character of my somewhat freeform existence. In this, I differed from, say, an engineering geek who, when confronted by the technically challenged, could take comfort in the knowledge that there existed support in substantial communities of geekdom, even if he was a misfit in the wider population.
Less popular groups, like the few atheists around, would be better off keeping a low profile, as their position, however well protected under the Constitution, is considered counter to mainstream tenets. But even atheism has its doctrine. Atheists know what they are against and what they are for. It has been spelled out for them in many writings.
Whose side are you on, anyway?
In the search for something to become a part of, be it religious, philosophical, scientific, whatever, I couldn’t avoid one of the obligations facing fit young men of that time—the draft. Spring of 1953 found the Korean conflict, war, police action—call it what you will, in its third year, definitely not on my radar. I didn’t even know anyone who had been sent to Korea and with the draft, one might have expected to know someone. All my friends, as it happened, were 4-F thanks to health issues that had brought them to Arizona in the first place, whereas I happened to be born there. I was classified 1-A now that my short-lived college career was on a sidetrack. I had taken training and went on to become an electrician’s helper on the B-47 modification line at Grand Central Aircraft, the former Consolidated plant that had employed Mom ten years earlier.
The inevitable letter from Draft Board 13, ordering me to report in. climb on board a bus and be taken to Phoenix for a pre-induction physical. The date was April 1. April Fool!
In the free time available while there, I walked over to a nearby record store and purchased E. Power Biggs’ recording of Bach’s Trio Sonatas for Organ, Vol. II. Why should I have taken on such a momentous work to absorb when there was so little time before I would be put on a bus for Fort Ord, CA to start my basic training? Well, denial. What else?
Basic training consisted of eight weeks of infantry training, marching, rifle range, calisthenics (Army "daily dozen"), more marching, K.P., "G.I.-ing the barracks, inspections-usual thing. Once that was over, you were assigned to advanced infantry training, artillery training, wheeled vehicle mechanics school or some other specialty. Luckily, I got the grease monkey training and the term couldn't have been more accurate. I couldn't believe how much grease was contained inside the CV joints on the front axle of a 2-1/2 ton truck. We took classroom instructions on how the internal combustion engine works, how to perform various routine minor and major maintenance proceedures and shop instruction on how to change spark plugs (not an easy task) replace filters, fluids etc.
I was envious of our theory instructor, a corporal who had an M.G. TC and really had it made. "Had it made"-that was what everyone else had going for them as far as all G.I.s were concerned. This guy lived off post somewhere in Monterey and never got his hands greasy because his part in our training was strictly classroom. I hoped that somehow I could swing an assignment like that when I got out of training. What a dreamer!
Yours truly over on the left side of the group (purple caption). We shortly after got our orders and I was soon headed for Germany, but first, two weeks leave and home for the first time in a long time.
I didn't fully appreciate my good fortune during those second eight weeks. Somehow, my name didn't make it to the duty roster. The result was that I never had to pull KP and had every weekend off. Just a clerical error, I suppose. Out of the whole class of us, half were given orders to head to Far East-meaning the mud of Korea-and the other half were heading to USAEUR, which likely meant Germany. During those eight weeks, I had been hitch-hiking up to Berkeley where I had friends, including a girl I had become infatuated with. It soon became apparent that our romance was to be a long distance one because I was definitely going somewhere, far away.
My financial picture was slightly above penniless when I set out, but in those days, a guy in uniform had pretty good luck hitching rides. I first headed for Berkeley to break the news that I would be gone to Germany for the duration of my service-news that obviously didn't go well with my girlfriend. She didn't have a picture and I didn't have a camera, but she promised to send me one as soon as I got overseas. Then I was on the road again, heading down the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 99. A big rig gave me a lift and we motored off into the night. Not the powerhouses of today, the truck labored up the Grapevine at walking speed, if that fast. We pulled into Los Angeles where I snoozed the rest of the night in the lobby of the bus station. I stopped in Riverside overnight, staying with Jim and Jeanne before heading across the desert.
My first ride was a long one, taking me as far as Indio. The Coachella farmland was blistering hot and I was dressed for the foggy and cold Monterey peninsula. As I was dragging everything I owned in my duffel bag, I knew there were khakis stuffed in there somewhere, but it was late and I didn't want to chance missing a lift. There I sat, on my bag by the side of the road. There was the unmistakable fragrance of greasewood shrubs wet from an afternoon thunder shower and it filled me with such a longing to be back in Arizona. After maybe three hours, a family in a Nash stopped and asked me where I was headed. Tucson was on their way, so we became a party of five, taking up room for six with my duffel bag jammed in beside me.
My arrival was tearful and joyous for both Mom and myself. There was much to talk about, for me having undergone a transformation from a 20 year old adolescent into a 21 year old man. There were friends to visit, catching up to do, fences to mend and less than two weeks before I would be on my way. I had sold my Lincoln to my friend Yoe and he had finished it up instead of sitting beside it like me in the picture. Mom was still getting around in her '50 Stude Champion. I think it was at this time that I cashed in some of my savings bonds to get her a new refrigerator, replacing the one we had from the beginning and which had finally become prone to breaking fan belts.
Returning to camp, I joined the rest of my half of the class and a couple of plane loads of other recent trainees on a chartered DC-4 heading for Camp Kilmer, N.J. to be processed for shipping out on a World War II troop ship for Bremmerhaven, Germany, the port of entry on the Baltic Sea. A couple days and we were headed up the gangplank on what would have little resemblance to a cruise ship-or I learned about vomit from that!