US Mail

I ordered an auto part online and it took a month to arrive.

 When I go into the post office I get all confused what with the two day mail, and the express mail, and the overnight mail, and the regular first class mail, and certified mail  At the risk of making crazy with all the options, I would like to introduce the revolutionary, new “Whenever Mail,” as in “When will it get there?”

“Like Whenever.”

It would be like a lottery.  Sometimes “whenever mail” would be put in the overnight bag, and other times it would be sent by slow train to Nebraska, where it is discovered to have been sent to the wrong place, and then it would sent by slow train back to where it came from.

 “Whenever Mail!  For when you just don’t care anymore!”

National Geographic

pop mechanics

My mother subscribed to Time and National Geography, not for herself–mind you–but for us, the boys, me and my two and then three younger brothers.  They also bought the World Book Encyclopedia.  Neither of my parents had been graduated from college, though both had gone a year or less.  My father wasn’t graduated from high school till he was 21. 

But my mother wanted us to be educated, maybe to fulfill her own unfulfilled dreams and maybe because she was an immigrant.  She had the immigrant mentality when it came to education–Get One, Goddamn it, as the most practicable way to move up.  Actually, she was not just an immigrant but an illegal alien from Canada.  She looked just like any other American but she didn’t have the documentation to prove she had been born in the U.SA.  So she never voted in her whole damn life or got a driver’s license because she was afraid that if she did these things the government might detect her illegal presence.  She never did jury duty either. 

In the closet next to my bed, in the room I shared with my brother, the shelves were stacked high with National Geographic and Time magazines.  I read Time each week when I hit high school, and took it pretty seriously as my "eye-on-the-world" since I didn’t have any other, not knowing it then for the bourgeois organ than it was and still is. Also it seemed like every week, they would use some strange word that I didn’t know.  I would look those up to expand my vocabulary.

My parents got Reader’s Digest.  After my father read it, he would go around saying, “Did you know there are X number of fish in the Greenland Sound?”  And did you know this? And did you know that?  Like trying to be funny or maybe just irritating. But by the next morning he would have forgotten what he knew.

My mother read Reader’s Digest and the paper everyday from back to front, excepting Sports and with special attention to the Society Page as a way of updating her intimate relationship with the high and mighty of San Diego Society.  She had grown up in San Diego, when it was like a small town, and she knew every high and mighty person there was.  Like, “Oh yes, I knew so and so’s son when he was living in blank.”

And my father got Popular Mechanics mostly I think for the “centerfold” of some blond babe posed provocatively by some farm machine or manhandling a power saw.

Bay of Pigs

Back in the early sixties I thought a great deal about the a-bomb.  We had an a-bomb scare going back then.  I was looking at a “Life” or “Look” magazine and found a picture of Steve McQueen’s bomb shelter.  It was really impressive, multi-leveled, and it had a pool table.  I was a bit pissed off.  The bomb shelters for the average person—one I saw not in a picture—looked a lot like a septic tank.  You dug a hole in your back lawn and dropped a concrete box down into the hole and bthen covered the whole thing—except the part where you crawled in—with dirt. 

Really, these weren’t bomb shelters.  If a bomb hit your shelter you would be mincemeat; they were, more properly speaking, fall out shelters designed to afford protection against fires, high winds, and lethal fallout.

 One day the San Diego Union—long know as the Daily Nixon—published right on the front page a fallout map.  They projected that if the Reds sent a bomb our way that they would aim at the military bases out on Coronado Island.  And outward from that point they drew concentric circles.  In the first concentric circle, for example, you would just be vaporized.  The map was not very detailed, but the best I could figure where we lived way inland in East County a person might be blinded from looking directly at the blast, most certainly we would experience high winds and then, of course, fallout.

 I had heard about the a-bomb before I read the paper or the magazine.  Every Monday at noon, they tested the a-bomb siren, and at school, we did the getting under the desk business.  Maybe it was puberty, but reading that paper I began to realize this whole business was serious.  Like they weren’t kidding; there really was an a-bomb.  

I had horrible fantasies about it.  I would sit in school and wonder if the a-bomb went off should I run back to my house or run towards the mountains—because running towards my house would mean running towards the blast.  As usual, I sent through this emotional crisis on my own.  Teachers didn’t talk about the a-bomb, and my parents did even seem to notice that there was an a-bomb crisis.  No way, at dinner, could I casually say, “And what do you think about this a-bomb crisis?” 

Besides, my father was an idiot.  He probably didn’t know anything about the a-bomb crisis.  One day, he was talking about something and I realized he couldn’t point to where Germany was on a map.

God’s Frozen People


I became a Presbyterian, one of God’s frozen people, before I was two years old. I went every Sunday to the little ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian) Church; until I was five maybe I went to the basement where Sunday school was.  But after that I had to go upstairs and sit with the adults through the service.  About the only thing to look forward to was the singing.  So as soon as I sat down I would check the page numbers up on the bulletin board sort of thing and see what songs were on for that day.

When we got to California my parents decided I should go to catechism class. I had no idea what that was for, except that it had something to do with being a Presbyterian.  My parents never bothered to explain a damn thing to me, and I had learned long before that asking them to explain an order was a sure fire way to get into hot water.  And I didn’t mind all that much.  It was on a Saturday morning, the walk there was about a mile and a mile back, and plus the class.  So if I fudged a little I could stay out of that stinking house for about two hours.  Not bad.

I was worried though that I would have to sit down in front of that red-faced Minister and answer tough questions like why do you want to be a Presbyterian, or what does it mean to be a Presbyterian, or how is a Presbyterian different from a Baptist.  I didn’t have answers to any of those questions, so when I got there I was relieved to see (of course, why didn’t I think of that) at least a half dozen other boys and girls were there and the class wasn’t run by the minister but some pimply faced high school kid.

All that was involved really was reading and a little memorizing, and on the last day we met, the minister would come and talk to us a bit and we would be catechized, or whatever it was.  I figured I would pass catechism class hands down.

One Saturday some women came.  One of them was wearing a red dress.  I don’t remember that sort of thing, so they must have really impressed me.  They started talking about these other people who said they were Christians but really weren’t.  These people were like sheep and when they went into the Church they would actually get on their knees before the top dog, and say the same words he did like they were robots.  And when it came to communion, this top dog would drink actual wine, an alcoholic beverage, and moreover he would drink all the wine for all the people and after two or three services this guy would be drop dead drunk, rolling around and braying like an ass.

I had no idea what these ladies were talking about.  But I figured I would look up the word, papist, when I got home

[catlist name=”adolescence”]

I was a teenage existentialist

This was a while ago.  Back in 1963 or so in East County, San Diego. I found Dostoevsky in the public library.  Notes from the underground esp. confused me, and somehow I must have stumbled on the word existentialism because I started reading Nietzsche (though I didn’t understand him at that time; I was a sophomore in high school).  Also Sartre, Nausea, and some other stuff, and I tried to read Kierkegaard.  When I couldn’t understand it, I started reading commentary by a Hazel Barnes and Walter Kaufman.  My parents drove me to college with me clutching Kaufman’s from Shakespeare to Sartre in my sweaty hand.

There’s nobody in my high school to whom I could talk about being a teenage existentialist.  It was a working class high school.  We didn’t read any of that stuff.  And I wouldn’t have talked with my parents even if they had been interested in my emotional states, which they weren’t being utterly self involved in their own emotional imbalances.  One guy I knew had read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, and sort of knew what I was into, though he was into transcendental philosophy and wanted to go to India to see people levitate.

I was told one day that I have selected by somebody to participate in a national writing contest for high school seniors.  Big deal.  I would have to stay after class all alone in a classroom and write a time essay.  So I did.  The question was really abstract maybe about humanities relation to nature or something; I remember thinking, hey, I can write about this!  And started pouring out existentialism.  About how human beings were unnatural creatures, a sort of overflow, or excess, a kind of fungus spreading without control over the face of the earth to eventually destroy it.

I thought a lot about the a-bomb back then.

Anyhow I was in the top 25 for the whole country.  Big deal.  I wonder what impressed them–maybe references to people like Sartre, cause if I had been reading them, I would have thought, “Hmmm. A teenage existentialist in California.  The poor kid must need some psychiatric help.”

But I was an existentialist for a long time.  Life I thought was an extreme situation.