Years of Preparation

I started out in San Diego right after the war. I didn’t realize it at the time but my father and mother were not even out of their teens so I suppose we all sort of grew up together. Throughout grade school I was smart enough but had to work hard and would regularly throw up on the way to a tough spelling test or beg my mother to let me stay home when I had to do a book report. Somewhere toward the end of Junior High I realized in a fit of anxiety that the results of some test or the grade on some paper was not going to cause me serious damage, or as I posited, it wasn’t going to be as bad as being killed. So I started taking on the “if it doesn’t kill me it’s okay” attitude, stopped throwing up or skipping school, and my grades actually improved, with far less effort and worry.

By High School I was clearly a top student but I prided myself in not letting it be common knowledge. As such I was able to move around in several social groups at the school. I had friends who would show up with both hands in casts from a weekend fight in the liquor store parking lot, and other friends who invited me over to make flower arrangements for the class dinner-dance. Some of my friends were very smart, others had to repeat typing and hoped to get a job with the phone company that was above ground. High School was a good time:  studying, surfing, girl friends, folk music, poetry, and a 1951 Chevy with a necking-knob.

Yes, I had a steady girlfriend and a reasonably serious relationship even when I went away to college. Sometimes it was rough but I have to admit that even today I often think of her several times a week. What they say about first loves might be true.

After graduating from High School, I moved up to Los Angeles to attend the University. I literally had all of my belongings—clothing, books, typewriter—in three sturdy orange crates and a suitcase my father probably had when he joined the Army in the mid-forties. My first year was a struggle:  no free time, constant studying, dormitory food, and a sense of loneliness that the occasional trip to San Diego on the Greyhound Bus didn’t help. I seriously considered transferring from the University to the State College in San Diego where so many of my friends attended, especially my girlfriend, but I didn’t. When I went back to the University for my second year I met a cute little girl from The Bronx and my whole life was to change, although I really didn’t know it at the time.

Two things happened that year:  First, I began to take more serious courses in my major since I had somehow gotten through most of the required courses in science, art, history, etc.; and second, I spent most of every day with my new squeeze. The results were that I was getting accustomed to the academic life and over the next summer I went back to New York to get married.

Married life was tough. I worked during the day at the Vivarium caring for three-thousand white rats. During breaks I would rush over to the other side of campus to attend a course or two (I was carrying a full schedule, mostly in my major: English or as I preferred to call it, EngLangLit). My wife contracted a medical condition and was out of school for so long that it made sense for her to work full-time and for me to finish my degree. Money was tight, I was losing a lot of weight, but my studies were actually improving and by my last quarter at the University, I surprisingly made the Deans list. It’s an old story but no matter how great you were in High School, college smacks you down. But after four years I had crawled back up to a level of academic respectability that got me into a graduate school in the mid-west with all school expenses paid.

My trip to St.Louis became an adventure when I burned up the engine of my father’s old station wagon in the Arizona desert. I ended up flying from Phoenix and having all those boxes expressed to me at the rooming house I moved into in one of those old gated neighborhoods straight out of the movies. Of course now the stately old houses had been converted into multiple occupancy efficiencies and walking down the street at night was a lot scarier than a Margaret O’Brien Halloween. In graduate school I was rather rough-hewn:  I rolled my own cigarettes, constantly wore a smelly old Army coat with pockets big enough to hold all my daily books and provisions, and I developed a spot-on William F. Buckley sneer. I also got drafted, several times. It seems I wasn’t considered permanently unfit for duty but every time they drafted me, I washed out for one of several physical problems that both AFIPS and I knew about in advance. It all got a little too stressful to me; my thesis was wiggling around on the page; I began to lose interest in going to class; so I packed up and joined my wife in New Jersey where I used some computer knowledge from graduate school to get a good job with TPC.

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