Saturday, December 7, 2019

We Owe our Existence to H.M.S. Pinafore

My mom often told us about how she met my father.  They were both students at Mission High School in San Francisco.  He was Class of 1949, she was Class of '50.  Mission High had about 1,000 students, even back then, so it wasn't a given that they'd ever meet.



I guess I owe my existence to H.M.S. Pinafore, and the Mission High drama department, because that is where they met, in 1949.  Mom was playing the character of "Little Buttercup", and my father was "Dick Deadeye".  Good casting.  


Both parents also performed in other musical productions at Mission High.  For example, my father played one of the Guards in "The Mikado". 



Mom wasn't in that one, and she didn't perform with Louis Hagler in another play, so she may never had met our father but not for "Pinafore", as Lou was due to graduate soon after that production.  

Mom did get a nice mention in the S.F. Examiner about her role as "Little Buttercup".


This is one of those "what if?" moments.  Mom could have married this guy, George somebody(?) who she said was "very nice, a sweet boy, but dull as dishwater."  That's mom and George at the Polo Field in S.F., 1948.    And couldn't the photographer have left his shoes out of that shot?!?!? 


Thursday, December 5, 2019

Dog Gone Sad

I probably should preface this by saying that if you don't want to be sad, don't read this blog, and leave it at that. 

A friend had recently asked me what my most exciting Christmas gift as a child was.

That would have been in 1958. My sister, brother and I saw a large box by the tree. We went to the box, and saw a puppy. We were THRILLED. We had never had a pet before. We took him out of the box, and just played with the puppy - who we named "Chauncy" - all day. Had to go to mass, and were impatient to get back home to play with Chauncy. 3 months later, Chauncy was sick - apparently, he had distemper. My parents had bought him at a pet store in SF. He had to be put down, of course.  We were DEVASTATED!

Our next puppy was 6 years later - half chihuahua, half cocker spaniel. My father named her "Lisbeth Tailears." We had Lisbeth for 3 years. We ADORED her! 
My sister Susan holding Lisbeth Tailears.

But we stupid kids were walking her around Pacific Manor one day, and decided to take her off-leash (there were no leash laws then). We were blabbing away, crossing the overpass - that one that they just re-did in Sharp Park. We suddenly noticed that Lisbeth wasn't with us. We looked around, and saw that she was crossing the freeway, below us. She was afraid of heights, I guess. We looked down, saw her look up, and then saw her being hit by a car! We rushed down to where she lay. She was killed instantly. The driver stopped and apologized - he felt horrible. We reassured him it wasn't his fault, that our dog wasn't supposed to be on the road. My brother Arlo and I were just sobbing, almost hysterical. My sister Laurie picked up Lisbeth's body, and I ran to a pay phone to call our mom. Laurie told Arlo and I to stop crying - that Lisbeth was "just a dog".  I remembered Laurie's comment 5 years after that - 1969 - when she was killed in a car accident. More grief. 

We had other dogs - Laurie's dog Lucy was hit by a car and killed a month after Laurie died. Lucy was LAURIE'S dog, no other, and she grieved, that dog just mourned for my sister (as we all did). 

Around 1970, my brother had a dog named Nina that had puppies. We were excited about the pups. A couple of days after the pups were born, we looked everywhere for the, and couldn't find them. Our mom told us that they had all died. We were freaked out - a litter of 6 pups all died? Years later, my mom confessed (while drunk) that she had drowned them all in the tub. I guess she was feeling overwhelmed. I can't have pets - I'm bad luck for pets - they all die on me. 

The second most exciting Christmas gift was the Beatles Rubber Soul album. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Annual Renewal

Recently, I got a renewal notice for my annual contribution to KMUD radio station. This is something that I contribute to, every year....it was one of my brother Arlo's last requests of me.   Arlo passed away on October 5, 2002, at the age of 48, from stomach cancer. 

Arlo started KMUD radio in the mid-70s, as little hole-in-the-wall station, a dream of his since we were kids, building superheterodyne receivers from scratch, on breadboards (I can still smell the soldering fluid burning on the components), and then listening to XERB radio in Tijuana with Wolfman Jack's scream "XERB" in his gravelly delivery...but I digress. 

Arlo accomplished quite a lot in his 48 years, in spite of his beginnings, which were rough.  I won't go into details, as they were also my beginnings.  Suffice it to say, he overcame a great deal to realize his goals and his dreams, one of them being a little radio station of his own, which grew into what it is today.  He was instrumental in bringing many music acts into Humboldt County, and organizing events like the Kate Wolf Music Festival (now performed in part on the Arlo Hagler Memorial Stage - yes, my brother has a music stage named after him).
All of that is only an example of Arlo's contributions.  He was heavily involved in cleaning up the environment.  He worked for the Southern Humboldt Recycling Center, while hosting KMUD's Environment Show, with issues ranging from cleaning up our oceans, to forest destruction to be dealt with.  Saving the redwoods was one of his prime concerns, and he was instrumental in helping save the Sinkyone Wilderness from clear-cutting and development.  The the concept of clean energy was also a favorite topic.  It was on KMUD radio that Julia Butterfly's story first broke, the "girl in the tree" - who, for 738 days, lived in the canopy of an ancient redwood tree. She was called Luna, and wanted to help make the world aware of the plight of ancient forests.  She and Arlo were friends (I think he had a serious crush on her), and they shared a common mission.   So, there was more than entertainment in his programming - updates on community news, activities, environmental concerns and how his listeners could help, etc.   With his soothing deep voice, he kept his listeners tuned in.  My mom loved the show, never missed one. 



Arlo was the community's electrician, board certified, with his website "Watts Happening" to advertise his business (Arlo's Music website was called "Random Axxes", long before the television show "Random Axxes" came about).  The logo on his website was a dinosaur animated gif, with the line:"Dinosaurs Welcome". 

He was excited about the possibilities of the internet, especially for artists.  It was the most positive take on what was considered the new frontier, when he wrote:

"This site is a companion to my radio program, RANDOM AXXES, aired weekly on our local community radio station, KMUD. The idea behind this web site is a simple one: to put the listener directly in touch with the artist(s). If there's something you heard on my show, something you like from a band you've never heard of, you can visit this site, find the song list for the show in question, and follow the link to that band's web site, or one of the web sites dedicated to that band (Often a fan site will be better than the 'official' site). Whenever possible, I encourage you, the listener, to buy direct from the artist. An ever-increasing number of musicians are taking to the Web, releasing  albums old and new through their own independent labels, thus bypassing the corporate record companies, commercial hype, and other barriers.  I see this as one of the highest possible uses for the Internet; Grass-Roots Cyberdistribution. Music by, and for, the people. That's the idea. Or maybe it's only Rock And Roll...Arlo Hagler"

 There was music and the station - which didn't pay in money - and then, there was his "day job", as an electrician.   Below:  A screenshot of Arlo's "Watt's Happening" website, which he created himself, leading with a line by Hunter Thompson, "Electricity is neutral. It doesn't want to kill you, but it will if you give it the chance."





At his memorial, I actually heard one tearful mourner who was going to re-wire her house or repair her appliances, now that Arlo was gone? That memorial was huge, held at Mateel Center in Redway, truly a Celebration of Life that went on for two days, with music, tributes, festivities, along with clouds of the "good stuff" wafting about.
The memorial actually started out as a benefit for Arlo while he was still alive, to help make expenses - Arlo had no medical insurance, which is part of why he waited so long to see a doctor about his stomach pains.  Always stoic - something we were taught to be - he took Rolaids, hoping the pains would subside. After he died, we found Rolaids and other antacids lying around his home.

 


Poster for the benefit, which was to help Arlo pay his medical bills.

Just a few of the many atendees at Arlo's memorial, Mateel Center.
Arlo was a performer himself, starting out in grade school, doing a solo of "Blue Moon" in our elementary school auditorium...that took guts!  He was brave, and seemingly unconcerned with the snickering of some of the kids.   Eventually, his voice changed, he took up guitar, and did some performing that actually earned him some money.  Not an egotist, he invited others to participate, and was great at promoting the work of many other artists.  If artists were going to have a performance - music or otherwise - in Humboldt County in the 70s-2000, "Random Axxes" was one of the of ways to announce that show. He also interviewed many musicians and others in the business.

When Arlo started out, his Garberville studio was barely the size of a broom closet, filled to the max with cassette tapes and records.  I took a pic of him during his show, as we were already anticipating the move to a larger studio in Redway.



As I look at KMUD's program line-up today, I see many changes from 12 years ago, only recognizing the "JoMama's Blues" slot.  The station has grown.  Arlo would be proud.  The last time I saw him - to say goodbye - he was concerned about the station, among other things.  He had so much left to do, he wasn’t finished, he told me.  Would KMUD survive?  Would his efforts towards improving our environment carry on?

Something I have never mentioned before, but appreciate as much a anything is Arlo's devotion to his family, in particular to our autistic brother Mark.  When everyone else was too busy or couldn't make it, Arlo visited Mark, took him out to eat, and met with Mark's caretakers.  He checked up on Mark regularly. He was there for my mom, who lived close by, and the rest of our family.  I'm sorry to say that we may have taken that for granted, as we never thought he would leave us.
My annual donation to KMUD is one of the small ways in which I contribute.  I think Arlo would be very happy that KMUD is thriving.  Arlo's dream lives on in the station that he started, through in the efforts of others who share that dream.

Christmas Temping

I was a Santa's Helper for Macy's, many years ago, where one of my jobs was to take the photos of children with Santa.   One requirement was to have the child AND Santa looking at the camera, simultaneously.   Eight times out of 10, as soon as the kid was put on Santa's lap, the crying ensued, and, in more than a few cases, this was accompanied by screaming.  The Santa that I worked with was a 21-year-old blonde surfer, who filled out the Santa suit in the shoulders, but had to wear padding over his belly to complete the effect. He was continually tugging on his beard and belly, as both kept shifting.  He was cheerful, though, and that disposition helped when he got peed on a few times by terrified toddlers. 
My duties included escorting the child to Santa’s lap, then taking the photos, processing the orders, and giving the child a candy cane on their way out.  The camera was located inside of a large candy cane enclosure, I guess to disguise it, but also made my job a bit clumsy. 
The photos were not the Polaroids that other malls used, but actual 35mm photos that the customers would receive later on.  Getting Santa and the child to look at the huge candy came was not always easy, but we survived it. 
  
My first husband Perry played Santa for the mall a week later, so when we got our paychecks, we found that Santas get paid a lot more than helpers, even though helpers actually did more of the work.  There’s a lesson in there, somewhere. One bonus was that I got a free photo session for my 4-year-old daughter Kelly, with the Surfer Santa.  She knew to smile, as Mom was behind the candy cane camera. 


 A postscript to this story is that "Surfer Santa" was fired, because he was found emerging from the restroom in his costume, sans beard, smoking a cigarette.  The supervisor was none too pleased, as this cast a bad light on their reputation. Not sure what the big deal was...didn't Santa smoke a pipe? In any event, he didn't seem unhappy about being let go. 
 Another Christmas, I lit and decorated Christmas trees for Macy's. Sounds fun, huh?  I had to take a class in lighting the tree, the “Sylvestri Way”, wound from the base, and around from the back of each and every branch. 
 

 
All of the trees were artificial, which helped, and I did a decent job of it on the first tree, following the directions of our instructor. But when I returned to work, I was given 3 flocked trees to work with, where visibility of the branches was obscured, and everything had to be done by touch.   There were several other "stringers" who got the standard tree. One had objected to doing the flocked trees, as she was "allergic to the flocking". 
  
Making a difficult situation worse was that if the string of lights went out, everything had to be unwrapped and removed, replaced by a new string.  After three days of clumsily struggling to decorate these trees, my belief in miracles was assured, because those trees actually wound up looking pretty good!  
 I, on the other hand, had looked as though I had been pooped on by a snowman, and as I walked through the mall at the end of the day, just wanted to get the flock out of there!

Christmas Surprise

My baby was not expected to be born until January 11, so it was quite a surprise when my water broke during Christmas Day gift-opening at my in-laws' home. Six hours after the floodgates opened, my daughter Kelly was born, at 6:49 PM.  During my labor, Kelly's father, Perry, was being treated to a complete turkey dinner in the hospital's cafeteria.  Back in 1971, fathers rarely joined in with the birth process, and in fact, Perry was ushered out of the labor room while I was rushed to the delivery room. There were no other babies being born at Sequoia Hospital in Redwood City that night.  Slow night, slow period for births, in general.

The process went so fast, that it even took the nurses by surprise. My doctor arrived just in the nick of time, interrupted during a holiday gathering, dressed up with Christmas tie, to help escort Kelly into the world. The best gift ever!

Through the years, there were the usual comments about how babies born on December 25 get short-changed in the gift and attention department.  Either that, or the gifts were piled on, two-fold.

When Kelly was 7, she wanted her birthday to be celebrated in June.  Honoring her wishes, we did so, but by Christmas, she changed her mind, so we celebrated again.

There are several December birthdays in my family. My mother, 2 brothers, sister-in-law, and I were all born in the 12th month, so have been used to having our birthdays overshadowed by the biggest holiday of the year. 
But each December 25, before I wish my daughter a "Merry Christmas", I wish her a "Happy Birthday" -  Kelly's birthday, and the best day of my life.

Pardon My Origami

I read somewhere that it helps to learn new skills, to ward off Alzheimer's and dementia, through neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections. 

Using an opportunity to put this into practice, I set out to learn how to create origami figures out of dollar bills.

My sister had given me a heart-shaped bill a few years ago, which I used as my inspiration.
Going online, I found an "Origami Made Simple" website, so sat down with my dollar bill, and followed the directions for making such a heart. After several hours of folding, creasing, unfolding, making "mountains", and folding again, etc., the result was a reasonable facsimile of a heart. 

I also had sore fingers, sweat on my brow, and wondering what steps I missed?  Not giving up, I decided to try something else.  I saw a cool swan design from one of the sites:




 Step-by-step, fold by fold, my swan was complete!  But something went horribly wrong....my swan looked like an under-baked Franken-chicken!
After a hearty lunch and a nap, I attempted a few more folded money sculptures.  My next project, an elf shoe, actually came out o.k., and it only took 6 hours to do!  Maybe I was learning, after all!   Neuroplasticity, do your stuff!

I decided that my abstract money sculptures would be given to our grandson in a piggy bank that we were giving him for Christmas (I didn't want to put coins in there, as he is still at the age of putting everything in his mouth).   By week's end, I had 12 dollars worth of Origami dollars for our grandson's bank, and maybe a little added to my memory bank, as well.....either that, or I was ready for the looney-bin!





Run-Away Summer of 68

All Gone to Look for America

 

On Saturday, June 29, 1968, Perry & I decided to run away from home.   He was 18, I was 16.   It wasn't a random decision, so much as a desperate act, seemingly the only solution to my problem, at the time.  Perry and I were in love, had been going together for a few months, and he wanted to protect me from the physical and sexual abuses I had been subject to, throughout my childhood. He didn't know any other way to do it than to remove me from the situation.  Back then, there wasn't the awareness of abuse that there is now. I had gone through my childhood knowing that if I told anyone about what was going on, my father would kill me - as he threatened to do many times. Even with that threat, I had tried to tell a few adults through the years, but no one believed me.  
 Perry and I had about $30.00 on us, pooled from my babysitting money, and money that Perry had.  At first, we just walked from Inverness drive, where I lived, out to Skyline Boulevard, where we tried to hitch a ride to San Francisco.  After about 30 minutes of no takers, we walked through Serramonte, and Colma, CA. (Land of the Dead), and on to Daly City, where we hopped on a bus to San Francisco.  We wandered around the City for awhile, before boarding a bus to Berkeley.  It was in a women's bathroom in Berkeley where we spent the night, sleeping on the floor, hoping that no one would try to use the restroom. I plugged up the hole in the door - there was no knob, just a hole - with my nail polish bottle. 

The next morning, we went back to S.F., looking for cheap eats - a couple of bananas and Hostess cupcakes, washed down with a shared Coca-Cola (Perry's drink of choice). We each wrote a short letter to our parents, to tell them that we were o.k., that we left voluntarily, and mailed the letters.  Those letters were received the next day, after my mom had the police combing the beaches, looking for my body.  Of course, I didn't know that then.

Perry kept mentioning that we couldn't get far without finding jobs and a place to stay.  We were obviously not thinking too far ahead! We went to the Greyhound bus depot on 7th street, and saw a map of destinations on the Greyhound route
 
 Perry said: "Pick a place!", and I closed my eyes, and pointed to a spot. When I opened my eyes, it said: "Fresno".  So, that is where we went - it took most of the rest of our money. 





Riding the bus, we somehow had faith that we could find employment - I am not sure how - and would make it on our own.  We thought of Simon & Garfunkle's "America" - which became "our" song - I think the part about riding the bus clinched it.   

We were in love, and on a great adventure!  I felt freer than I had ever felt, away from the pain and threats of abuse.  Once we arrived in Fresno, however, we looked around, reality hit, and we knew that we didn't want to stay there.  It was hot, and I remember a large insect crawling around in front of the bus depot, larger than any in our area.  After checking out the local park, and buying a snack with our pooled change, we got back on the bus with our used tickets, winding up in the back.    We thought that if we faked being asleep, we wouldn't be noticed - and we weren't - all the way to downtown L.A.  
 
While this was happening, my sister Laurie wrote in her diary: "Sunday - Debbie ran away from home or something. She hasn't been home since yesterday. She is with Perry. I'm very worried, and I hope she gets home soon.  I'm so mad at Debbie right now. They had $26.00, and can't go far on that. But how can they be so inconsiderate of the feelings of others?"  
 
There wasn't much in downtown L.A. around the bus depot.  It was a pretty depressed area.  We scoped out an old wrecked car yard, looking for some sort of shelter.  It was hot, and we were tired & hungry.  We noticed a police car slowing down, and then following us.  We tried to ignore it until a half-siren went off, with flashing lights.  Two officers got out of the car and asked us what we were doing. I don't recall what we said, but whatever it was was enough for them to have us put our hands on the squad car, as we were frisked.  Handcuffs were then put on us, as we were told to "...get in the car".  Perry asked what the charges were, and one of the officers replied that we were loitering, which was against the law.  We were scared, and in shock, I think. 
  
 Once we arrived at the police station, we were separated and questioned.  A female officer dumped my purse out onto a desk, looking through it (for drugs, presumably). She found a packet of love letters from Perry that I kept with me, and started to read them aloud, laughing. After everything was put back in my purse, and using the restroom (where I toyed with the idea of escaping - but couldn't),  I was then put in another squad car, where I was taken to L.A. County Juvenile Hall.  I asked about Perry, where was he going?  The officer said that since he was 18, he was not a minor, so he was let go, with a ticket for loitering.  I later learned that Perry had been told to leave town, and not look back, and that if he tried to contact me, they would slap a statutory rape charge on him.   While he was hitch-hiking home - a process that took a few days - I was kept in Juvenile Hall.  After a couple of hours sitting in a waiting area - I tried to use a key to pry the window mesh apart, with no success - I was frisked and searched, then told to strip & shower.  I was then put in a room with about 20 other girls, where we slept on mattresses on the floor. I cried all night, wondering and worrying about Perry.   Even though I had not eaten much for 2 days, I had no appetite for the dinner served that night.

Laurie's diary entry that day: 

 
The next day, I had to attend classes for awhile, until being called to the matron's office.     I needed to get home, find out what was going on with Perry.  I was afraid for him, so had finally given the matron my family's contact information..  The matron called me to her office, and said that my mother had bought a plane ticket, and that I was to be transported to LAX. I was so happy, and the matron was happy for me.  They gave me a dress and a half-slip to wear - I am not sure what happened to my original clothes.  I still have the half slip: 
 Laurie wrote in her diary:"I had fun getting Debbie's ticket at the airport", the day before I arrived home.  The next day, I had my first on an airline. Arriving at SFO, my mom found me, and brought me to the airport's diner, where she bought me a hamburger and milkshake.  She wondered why I left, and I just mumbled something about needing to "get away".  I asked her about Perry, and she said that no one had heard from him. I was worried and scared, feeling helpless.   Laurie wrote: "Tuesday, Debbie came home on the jet, and Perry wasn't home yet. I was worried about him." 

Two days later she wrote: "Perry hitchiked home. Debbie's happy".   I went to see him, and he had lost a bit of weight, and was badly sunburned.  He held my hand, and quietly said: "We won't be doing that again, will we?" 

 A few months later, Perry and I broke up for the first time in our relationship, reuniting again in 1970.  That little episode would become a part of our story.  We would have other adventures, marry and have a daughter, then divorce after 30 years of marriage.  We remained friends for 15 more years, until Perry died, on June 5, 2016.  We often reminisced about the crazy things we did when we were young, including our running away, that summer of 1968.

My father's abuses continued into 1969, until I finally told my mother the truth about what had been going on all those years Though that didn't stop him from raping my younger sister once, or the physical abuses, the rapes for me ended in 1969.  

Unfortunately, Laurie's life ended that year, as well....but that is a story for another blog.