Thursday, June 21


Sharp words and bitter exchange, because
the world was arranged either Hawks or Doves.

Vietnam never seemed so far removed,
it was LIVE T.V., new and improved;

an anti-establishment, peace-symbol chic ~
battle-lines drawn between the strong and the weak,

patchwork jeans and bandanna ensigns,
matched against the suits and ties.

Back on the home front, I’ll tell you what ~
real issues revolved around my brother’s haircut.

* It was all-out war: the peace symbol sticker my older brother put on his bedroom window might as well been a call to arms at our house. An unused razor was his weapon of choice. In another year or two he would be almost six feet tall. He would present himself a hippie-classic by sporting wire-rimmed, John Lennonesque eye glasses, bushy, mutton-sideburns and long hair parted down the middle.

Papa rode him mercilessly for his new suede 'fruit boots', but was almost speechless with disgust when Danny purchased his knee-high fringed hippie moccasins. For now, he was longing to make the cross-country trek to something called “Woodstock” . Papa presented 225 lbs of raw, Dighton High line-backer conservative Establishment counter-persuasion. Danny would have to experience the music at home.

The Vietnam War (1945-1975) was destined to be one of our greatest national controversies. Never an officially declared war, America’s commitment to the conflict began in 1954. By 1965, 184,000 American young men were fighting in Vietnam. General Westmoreland requested an additional 200,000 troops in 1968. The peak level of American troops in Vietnam was 543,400.

Public opinion began to turn against American escalation in both moral and material terms. Across college campuses students objected to the war and made a public display of burning draft cards and American flags. Media coverage offered by newsmen in the line of fire equipped with unprecedented technology, entered millions of American living rooms with horrific images of carnage. Death was live and in color for the first time in the history of warfare. Political and moral values were deeply threatened no matter which side you were on. “The War” would not go away, and neither would its influence on our culture and way of life.


The striated images on our black & white T.V.
frighten me.
All the Negroes in the world have gone crazy!
They are pushing and screaming and burning cars -
what’s to stop them from getting into our yard?
Maybe I can see them coming before it’s too late,
spilling over the fence and up to our windows
hearing the glass break just before they get inside,
and we all die . . .

* People didn’t really take the time to explain current events to little kids. We were still close on the coat-tails of an era when ‘children should be seen and not heard’, so we weren’t asking many questions, either. The American Civil Rights movement was in full-swing; but Selma was a world removed from our 'Dick and Jane' San Fernando Valley.

The Watts Riots in Los Angeles entered our suburban living room like a ton of bricks. I was only eight years old the day before. I knew all the sidewalks said, “L.A. County”, so I figured Northridge had to be in L.A. I didn’t understand that Watts was at least an hour drive away from our house. I didn’t bother to ask my parents what was happening because anyone could see for themselves right there on T.V. It was war.

Violence is very frightening to children, regardless of who is doing it and for whatever reason. I was absolutely terrified - especially at night after the evening news had ended. This was my cue to run to the arcadia doors in the den and stare at the back fence (just past mama’s clothes line), my heart literally in my throat expectantly watching for the approach of mortal danger.

On August 11, 1965 a White police officer arrested two Blacks for a minor traffic violation in the Watts District of Los Angeles. Believing it was racially motivated; on-lookers threw rocks and bottles at back-up units arriving on the scene. The dispute quickly escalated into a riot with rampant looting and fire-bombing of local businesses.

The National Guard regained control on August 16th. Six days of riots resulted in 34 dead, 1,000 injured, 4,000 arrested and 209 buildings destroyed. Property damage was estimated at 40 million.
~ note: It was the cultural norm to refer to African-Americans as 'Negros'

Wednesday, June 20

June Bug

A June bug
is a wonderful thing,
flying in circles
at the end of a string.

*My own children sadly are products of urban limitations. Bugs are something to spray with a can of Raid. They think it was really gross that I used to play with bugs. Just as quickly as they ridicule my primitive past, they are anxious to point out it was bug abuse to tie a string to their legs for our own amusement. We were careful - it wasn’t like we were pulling their wings off or something like that....

What we called June Bugs in Southern California were large, hearty beetles about the size of extra large black olives, except they were a lovely, rich, velvet brown color with a fuzzy darker scruff across their shoulders. Mid-Summer nights were for collecting them by the handful as they flocked to our dining room windows and front door screens. If you petted them just right, they would raise up on their haunches and hiss pretty loud - good times!

The only abusive thing we did was to grab our grey Banty hen Susan and hold her up to the hapless June Bugs clinging to the screens. It was a sadistic joy to watch her gobble those enormous beetles without the benefit of teeth and chewing. Sweet little Susan was chillingly voracious; we lost count of her victims during our shrieks of "Ah, there's another one! Boss!" It’s a wonder we didn’t kill her - her bulging craw would literally be hissing and moving with live June Bugs ~ kind of like Peter and the Wolf, but different.


Eyes tightly shut
against the would-be flash,
we dutifully braced
for impact.

Hands clasped behind our necks,
noses inches above the floor -
huddled like that, as we had
a hundred times before
for what seemed like hours,
until the teacher said,

“All clear,”
and we got up again,
sprouting above our desks
like so many flowers.

* Beginning in the 1950’s, “Cold War” era instructional films were shown to American school children to teach the finer points of surviving a nuclear attack from Russia or Red China. These propaganda films also featured basic hygiene procedures to follow after the bomb hit, such as shampooing your hair and sponging your clothes free of unsightly nuclear fall-out particles, etc.

“Duck & Cover” drills were designed to keep citizens safe by assuming the position under a desk or table whether in the classroom, work place or even outdoors on a family picnic. Drills were conducted at schools across the nation with the regularity of a common fire drill.

Now there has been much talk about the ‘paralyzing fear’ cold-war children suffered under the ‘constant threat of a nuclear holocaust’and how it emotionally disfigured us for life . . . well, I have yet to meet anyone who felt so tortured. We performed our bomb survival rituals with the same acceptance as any other hum-drum school routine.

Bomb drills were discontinued with the end of the Cold War in the 70’s, only to eventually be replaced by “Lock-Down” drills during the 90’s in response to the uniquely domestic phenomenon of school shootings.

Tuesday, June 19

Apollo 1

It’s rainy season
about the end of January.
Long, cold, soggy mornings enveloped in fog until noon.
We needed a reason to stay home from school!
But then, we heard the news
about NASA’s race for the moon -
it was bad . . .
how all three died on the launch pad
tied to their seats
in their astronaut suits
going nowhere.
The worst part, was knowing there was nothing
anyone could do - we were scared,
who to blame?
While they screamed and screamed
inside the flames.

* Especially after successful deployment of the Russian satellite “Sputnik” in 1957, the American “Race for Space” was in fierce competition with the Soviet Space program. More than a matter of national pride, the glaring lack of technical and possibly military superiority suggested by Sputnik’s orbit deeply alarmed millions of Americans. JFK had himself proclaimed our national quest to place a man on the moon before the end of the decade, and NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) was dedicated to the task.

Our fascination with the triumph and the glory of Space exploration was as yet untainted by failure. Every school yard seemed a-buzz with little boys who wanted to grow up to be an astronaut, and little girls who wished they could be boys.

On January 27, 1967, during a pre-flight test for what was to be the first manned Apollo mission, a fire claimed the lives of three U.S. astronauts; Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Any American kid was familiar with most of the basics of spaceman stuff; we knew that spacesuits were wired for radio communication, and that NASA technicians monitored everything from a control room. The Apollo 1 tragedy was extremely graphic to our minds-eye, however uninformed we might have been of details (such as they weren’t really on a launch pad, etc.) The concept of burning alive - and someone having to listen to it - was enough to upset our playground talk for weeks.

The fairy tale of space had been altered forever.

Monday, June 18

Excerpt from "Station Wagon Wars"

King-Size Bed
Mama’s KING-SIZE bed is “off-limits”.
Well, it’s supposed to be.
So, we should never go in there and jump on it’s ‘kingness’ . . . but
we do -
That’s an awful lot of surface area to deny a kid -
(so we did).
The springs are like new and the bounce’ll have ya
right up there near the ceiling,
feeling the moonscape
of the gold-glitter acoustic plaster with our finger-tips.
She was always afraid of some disaster;
“Consider this - you’re going to break that bed!”
she said.
She’d threaten, she’d reason, she’d nearly burst ~
it was jumping season:
she’d have to catch us first.

* After the house was remodeled in 1962, our unsuspecting parents were slow to realize how convenient their new floor plan was for our clandestine operations. The traffic pattern from the hall to the master bedroom and bath to the hall again and finally to the den was a circle, not unlike a race track. Their brand new bed regularly served as a literal spring board for our indoor activities.

Things forbidden always taste sweeter, and avoiding detection required excellent listening skills while mid-air between jumps on the oh-so accommodating box springs. We listened for mama’s shoelaces on her tennis shoes clicking as she came down the hall. Once we heard that, we knew we were good for only one more jump before flying out to safety into the new master bathroom. From there we listened, breathless, for her footsteps on the pink shag carpet to stop at the edge of the bed where she always stood for a second, eying the disheveled bed spread. Finally we could slip out of the bathroom and plop ourselves innocently in front of the t.v. without even looking winded.
~ By CTanner: The Jellico Project/Memoirs of growing up in the '60's

Thursday, June 14

Chameleon Man

The first generation of the Nazi legacy is dying out. However, what they did and why they did it may be a 'secret combination' that continues on in spite of the grave ignominiously welcoming them.

Former U.N. Secretary Kurt Waldheim (center in photo) died quietly at home with his family at his bedside. That is not the story, most of us would like to go like that. Austrian Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer said, "We have lost a great Austrian,"; I guess that depends on your point of view.

The World Jewish Congress no doubt has a different perspective, as would perhaps 68,000 (including 23,000 children) silent victims of what is known as 'The Mount Kozara Operation' in 1947 Yugoslavia. Waldheim's signature appeared on various documents which verified that his unit killed civilians and partisans. His commander, General Alexander Loehr, was later executed for war crimes. Yet Waldheim went to his grave today denying he did anything more than what was "necessary" to survive the war. He was just following orders. Orders which he wanted others to believe had nothing to do with atrocities; he claimed no knowledge of mass human transport to death camps and the like.

The story is Technicolor Hollywood for sure; intrigue, crimes against humanity and a spectacularly successful effort to hide one's black past to rise to positions of power and prestige. Specifically, chief of the world's only international peace-keeping body, the United Nations. He not only achieved this post, but served admirably from 1972-81. There's a nice photo of him meeting with Golda Meir at her home in Jerusalem.

His Nazi former-life didn't catch up to him until he was exposed during a 1986 run for the Austrian Presidency. Even then, he denied all. Eventually he revised his resume to acknowledge being places in uniform, but never admitted wrongdoing. The United States responded by banning him from ever stepping foot on American soil again.

Did I miss the movie? Where's Clint Eastwood? Did this guy have charisma, or what? How did he do this? How did he get away with murder and preside successfully over something hugely ironic like the U.N.? More importantly, what are the possibilities that a former war criminal actually regretted his participation in evil, and resolved to do everything in his power to not only hide this sin, but attempt restitution? Waldheim was either appallingly arrogant, or desperately determined to be a different man. The Story here is which was which. Glaringly evident against a 'born-again' transformation is one thing: a confession.

He could have simply coasted along as a normal person, or accomplished much good in the past 60 years very quietly, without seeking public office and increasing risk of exposure. Was he just rubbing it in our faces? Or did he really hope to wash the blood from his hands through service to world peace? Maybe he was just forgetful about his nondescript Nazi duties - y'know, many jobs take on the numbing lull of routine after a while...

Monday, June 11

Healing Green Balloon

Home again briefly for Asia's graduation, Robin wanted to see her Granny and Grandpa before returning to Seattle. The grandparents are both in advanced stages of Alzheimer's and Dementia. They live in a care home that is very nice, one of many beautiful family homes in a Mesa residential area. You would never know that inside one of the high curb-appeal models live 5 or 6 elderly people who cannot care for themselves.

A heaviness lingers in the air when she voices her desire to "stop by" and see the folks. Visits are - well, gloomy. They do not recognize family more often than not. Their vacant stares and withered, shell-like selves are painfully at odds with the active, vibrant lives they used to share. Granny read a lot of murder mysteries as a hobby over the years, and the little she manages to form into words usually sounds like a bizarre, dis-jointed excerpt from one of those cloak and dagger plots. It can be frightening. At Christmas time Asia bent down to give her a kiss and Granny grabbed her hair on both sides of her face and threatened her fiercely, hissing through clenched teeth. It took a few minutes for one of the staff to extract Asia from the older woman's claw-like grasp.

The last time we visited Asia was so shocked by Grandpa's deteriorated condition that she hid in a bathroom for half an hour, sobbing. This time, the girls proposed waiting in the car while Robin went in to see the parents. Instead, we all dutifully abandoned the car and went inside.

They were seated side by side at the kitchen table having just finished a late lunch...or having attempted to eat. They looked at us with blank confusion and even fear. It was like a vacuum of emotion, sucking into their pale, empty eyes. Then her son stepped into view. His mother gasped as a sudden, bright recognition lit her face with an intense brilliance. Raising two quaking little hands she exclaimed, "Oh! There's my little guy!"

Once we were all seated together in the family room, there was nothing to say. Grandpa needed an occasional propping up to keep him from sliding off the leather couch or tipping over on his side. He was non-responsive. Granny seemed happy and attempted to speak to us, but very little was coherent. Asia began to cry again. Our visit was looking pretty doomed, as expected.

Then an ordinary 11" balloon appeared. The staff said the folks really enjoy batting at a balloon. We didn't know what to think of this. It seemed almost insulting. We were reluctant to do anything with the balloon; the folks did not seem to notice it - until it drifted into their range....

Lightening quick Granny's tiny, stick arm shot out and batted the balloon with surgical precision directly into Rachel's face. We were stunned! Another gentle set of the balloon produced an even more bullet spike from our fragile, 80 lb. Granny. She didn't even appear to watch the balloon or anticipate its approach in the slightest; but once it drifted into range she assaulted it with a viper-like strike. Not one of her hits went wild, either, which was not something we could say for ourselves. Grandpa likewise seemed oblivious to the commotion, that is, until the balloon appeared directly in front of him. He did not have the same reaction speed as Granny, but the effort was a full-body response; he did the electric worm trying to bat the balloon, jerking a knee or popping out his chest, and kicking at it with surprising strength. We were amazed. It was hilarious. It was fun. It was finally something we could do to really interact with them. For two little people who are too weak to open an envelope or grasp a spoon, they were absolutely tireless in executing killer shots with that balloon.

It was hard to leave.