Of the first three years of the 1950s, I remember little, but what I remember is telling. I lived with my parents in a one-bedroom apartment on San Vicente Blvd. in Santa Monica, two blocks from Palisades Park, which is as near to Heaven as one can get on a sunny day with a gentle breeze. The lovely trees, and the lovely grass, and the broad white beach and sparkling ocean below! My parents, from Minneapolis and Washington, DC, respectively, probably realized how glorious it all was. I, of course, took it for granted.
My mother was terrified of nearly everything, and I was my mother’s son. At night, I devised a special way of hooking my little finger into my pillowcase so that when The Unseen Evil she’d unconsciously taught me to dread lifted me from my bed as I slumbered, I would be awakened. I have, in other words, been neurotic pretty much as long as I’ve been self-conscious.
When we would drive east, toward Los Angeles, my parents would occasionally refer to an institution on the south side of San Vicente they called School. They made it sound a place of limitless enchantment, where children used a magic substance called Paste to make things, and I yearned to be enrolled there, though of course I didn't yet know the word, or of the beastliness of other children.
For reasons inadequately explained to me, if they were explained at all, we moved south and east, to Westchester, near what wasn’t yet known as LAX. It was there, in the living room of our little apartment, that I had, at five, my first experience of depression. Standing at the window watching the occasional car go by, I felt what I later learned to call boredom and despair. Everything seemed pointless. I began my formal education at the local elementary school, about which I remember nothing at all.
It may have been in Westchester that my mechanical ineptitude first surfaced. I was unable to master shoelace-tying, and my dad had to devise the klutz’s workaround that I used until approximately 2006. There are those close to me who believe that I still can’t do it properly, though I have no problem tying a necktie.
I’ve a lot more memories of my couple of years in the San Fernando Valley, to which we relocated when my dad realized he could parlay his mid-‘40s military service into a loan with which he and Mom could buy A House of Their Own, albeit in the utterly soulless new suburb of Reseda. Forty-eight hours before we moved in, I think, the whole neighborhood had been part of somebody’s farm. Our tract wasn’t famous for its lofty construction standards.
The Valley’s intemperate weather did nothing for my neuroses. Coming home for lunch from Melvin Avenue School, I would eat under the coffee table in the living room, thinking that the Unseen Evil might not see me under it. I had a classmate who believed that chocolate milk came from brown cows. After I suggested, probably in different words, that he was mistaken, we exchanged blows. "Fight!" some of our classmates yelped delightedly, rather than leaping to my defense.
I would never forgive them.