Happy happy childhood —- that’s me with a bowl of corned beef hash that I was fanatical about back then, my Mom would make it with a fried egg on top — Cucamonga, California 1957
Childhood is the domain of pure ecstasy. Look at all the photographs of children exploding with happiness. I don’t know if it’s connected but interesting that our memories don’t kick in till after age 4. O, there’s a few memories from way back there, but, you know what I mean. Here’s another far-fetched idea: Maybe memory is associated with learning strategies for protection/danger/safety, all that?
You know, that’s one of the tricks of the trade of public speakers: Is to tell a joke, because when someone is laughing they are not thinking past or future, they are in the Now, and that’s when you zing them with whatever baloney you want to get into their heads.
Way back there age 4 we lived in Fontana and I was probably trying to get out of another gawddamned boxing match in the living room with my brother Craig (who always won) and Dad, who was a boxer, the boxing gym was next door fergawdsakes, Dad says how he wanted us to learn how to protect ourselves, and here I am staring out the screen door, more used to the warm aromas coming off Mom’s oven full of muffins and biscuits and O boy, did I love pancakes back then, staring out the screen wondering to myself: Protect myself against what pray tell? Hey, Dad, maybe I’ll just stay in here with you and Mom if it’s so weird out there.
Another associated memory, age 4. I’m looking out the screen door watching the kids come home from grammar school and I say to Mom that I want to go say Hi and out the door I run and at the sidewalk the kids stop and look at me, and I look at them, and then one of them pushes me down. I was nonplussed. I didn’t cry or any of that, I just looked at this kid wondering Why did you do that?
I grew up 40 miles east of Los Angeles, born in 1953, living in the towns of Pomona, the unincorporated hill country outside Riverside, Fontana, and finally Cucamonga for most of my K-5th grade. And then we joined the middleclass and bought a nice suburban house in Upland in 1965 where we stayed put for the duration. I was the only one who left (1986) (when Chief Ed Gates’ jackbooted police “presence” became an occupying army). I was lucky, I had good parents, and a close family of aunts, uncles, grandparents, (no nephews or cousins), myself and two younger brothers, in neighborhoods teaming with kids (Baby Boomer generation), and now my brothers and I are the only ones left. It’s an odd reflection when it comes over me, that close family, all immigrants from Kansas, came to California in 1940 during that double-whammy: The Dust Bowl migration and the Great Depression. In 1950s America the pall of WW2 was still in the air (but, obviously not as prevalent as in Europe, but it was there, nevertheless). I purposefully made recordings of all my family know that someday I’d want to hear their voices, again.
Digging through my Mom’s collection of family photos I keep seeing such happiness. In this shot my Dad is dropping us off at Grandma’s for the weekend and Craig (blond) and I are beside ourselves that we’re going to get some coffee! O, we never drank much of it, it being mostly a curiosity to see what the big folks were so devoted to — Remember, back then it was percolated.
Myself w/ my brothers Brian & Craig – not sure where in California this is, possibly Cucamonga, maybe Long Beach? Note that Craig has Graham crackers in both hands —- Circa 1958
My Mom — Joy Weber with her son Mark behind her ladling a bowl of chili — Upland, California circa 1977
Irene Matthew, my paternal grandmother —- dated on back: Wichita, Kansas 1939
My Dad being taken to the burial ground —- Forest Lawn Cemetery, Covina Hills, California —- a U.S. Army service —- December 13, 2o12 – photo by his son Mark —- Dad was a jeep driver in the Korean War on the front lines of the 38th Parallel 1951 until evening of March 6, 1952 “in a chow line in a trench” when the Chinese lobbed a bomb over Hill 851 that killed most of the soldiers but my Dad was lucky only taking shrapnel in his knee (I still have the shrapnel, along with his Purple Heart, and his CIB Combat Infantry Badge, the most important distinction, really, as it denotes 90-straight days under fire) He recuperated in Tokyo.
MRS CURRAN AND THE ALBATROSS
If I had to do it all over again I’d be an artist. My friend Travis Parkin says it’s never too late (after a lifetime of dabbling in graphics – he ran a print shop – recently at age 69 has gone full-on into painting).
However, it was writing that captured me in this life. Books and things said with words. (And then, these last ten or so years a deep dive into words themselves, trigger’d by re-visiting JRR Tolkien, a philologist word guy.)(I was one of the founding members of the Tolkien club in high school.)
I started out as a painter, I drew obsessively, Grandma Irene would bring home the end roll of paper from the newspaper where she worked, 5-foot wide and with maybe 20-feet of paper left, I’d cut it up into squares and commence drawing – kids are nutty that way, natural-born eccentrics. My first day of kindergarten I brought a Band-aids tin full of string I had color’d with crayons, I guess I had a thing for showing off back then. I have a complete memory of standing up in class and showing everybody these strings, and Mrs Curran thinking to herself: This guy is a nut! Certifiable.
But, she must have liked nuts as she watched over me for years, keeping in touch by correspondence, visited now & again, I wish I had those letters, both hers and mine, she had the wanderlust and left teaching to travel. I eventually got my own easel. I vaguely remember raising a ruckus when some jerk (yes, that characteristic and type shows up early) messed up one of my masterpieces at the communal easels. Mrs Curran must have projected on to me that I was a young Cezanne (I was doing landscapes). So, for the most of that school year at Oleander Elementary, Fontana, I had my own easel, and sometimes continued (obsessively) painting while the other kids were on their mats for nap time. I remember one painting was of a red firetruck that had two front ends, which probably reflects my misinterpretation of a hook-and-ladder I had seen in a parade. I wish I had that painting, I can see it in my mind, my parents saved nothing (but, my Grandma Swart did save quite a lot but on one of their many moves back & forth across the country while they slept in a Motel 6 in Tulsa – c.1988 – their U-Haul truck was stolen, all gone, never recover’d, pure slime the people who do these things).
And with doodling you have to know when to stop, takes practice, of course there are no rules, but I’ve found brevity, especially in poetry, to be the trick: Don’t spill the beans, not everything need be in your poem, short poems are best, same with doodles. That’s one of the things art teachers probably find difficult to convey: To not over-do it. Learn when to stop. Experiment with it. Next time you’re doodling just stop at an odd juncture and see if it works for you. No rules, just a suggestion.
Teachers are so mysteriously important, even to someone as willful as an artist-type, who insist on being left alone to figure it out for themselves. My Dad had enough sense not to tell me until I was 26 that Mrs Curran thought I was a genius. She told my parents that I picked out melodies on the piano. Well, I don’t remember a piano in kindergarten and by age 26 it was fairly apparent that I was most decidedly not a genius. Dad had never dropped that piece of information because who needs another “genius” around? Remember in the 1950s “genius” was one of the cultural memes, like monsters in monster movies. Everybody was searching for geniuses. They had these tests (kindergarten) where you’d put a round block into a round hole and a square block into a square hole —- if you can’t do that then there’s something seriously wrong with you my friend. But, apparently I performed within the parameters and was allotted a high I.Q., of which, became an albatross around my neck all my subsequent years & days at the public brainwashing emporium.
It might be a stretch, but drawing doodles is a form of meditation. I’ve learned not to squiggle but to do them slowly, meditatively. Try it, it’s easy. They’re connected to writing, inasmuch as they are “non-verbal” they are symbolic language, they speak. And are relaxing. Janet came home one evening and said, “Tony Hillerman likes to play Solitaire, too!” She heard him say that on the radio, that he likes several rounds of solitaire in the morning before he hits his study (I prefer it late in the afternoon – it’s mysterious, really). All the years she’s known me she’s watched me play Old Sol (6-card display, 3-card turn over). It’s the same as doodling.
My kindergarten teacher Mrs Helen Curran in Alaska – November 1968 – (I was in her kindergarten at Oleander Elementary School, Fontana, California in 1959)
“As If ” collage by MW —- March 29, 1994
Line drawings (doodles) by MW —- July 4, 2o15
Line drawing with clarinets by MW —- August 17, 2o19
Look at that Southern California smog — ugh
The whole thing with pigeons started when my brothers and I trapped a common pigeon —- As boys do we had learned the trick of balancing a wooden box on a stick with a string attached and when the bird follows the trail of seeds to the box, it is so focused on these easy pickings that it casts suspicion to the wind and steps under and bang we pull the string. Easy peasy. Then we get the bird and tie up its legs and chop off its wings, poke it with sticks then strangle it (I’M JOKING!) pour battery acid on it, all the things boys are no longer allowed to do, being watched like hawks, light it on fire, tie two of them together and watch them try to fly off (STILL JOKING!) We didn’t do any of that stuff, no sir, as I adjust the pinpoint beam of the magnifying glass on the ant hill. (There’s a reason why some of us guys liked Eddie Haskell, or even Lumpy Rutherford, there is no way we could rise to the heights of goodness the Cleavers had going —- Mayfield was too weird for us) as I, surreptitiously, under cover of night attach bumpersticker onto the police car, as per directions from MAD magazine (came with that issue) that says THIS IS A MAD BUMPERSTICKER, which was the height of humor for ten-year-old boys, I now confess, Lo, these many years hence.
Well, that pigeon was a dud. Not much going on upstairs as far as we could tell. But, Dad told us about homing pigeons and how he had raised homing pigeons back in Wichita when he was a kid. We had build a rickety enclosure for that clueless pigeon. Dad suggested we tear that down and build a real pigeon coop and turn that pedestrian bird loose and get some homing pigeons. (My Dad always claimed he could tell the quality of a homing pigeon by the shape of the upper beak.) We learned to be skeptical and put on airs regarding beaks. You start off by keeping the flock locked up for 3 or 4 weeks, with very specific feeding times, late afternoon, then one day you let them out, and they circle in a group completely happy to be free and flying, until they get hungry. That’s when they return to the coop, one by one entering via the one-way bars you’ve made from coat hangers (see drawing). Then after a couple weeks of this, we’d drive to the end of our street, only about a half mile, and turn a dozen loose and see if they’d do the homing thing. They did, no prob. So, over time, we’d drive further and further away and yes we’d lose a few now and again but eventually we mustered a team of super pigeons.
There was a truck that met at a shopping center that had maybe a hundred cages for individual birds. You’d pay 50-cents for each bird and onto the outside of the cage the driver would write the name of the town you wanted the bird turned loose. He drove up Hwy 99 (the Okie Highway) and would let our birds go at increasingly more distant cities like Bakersfield, Tulare, Fresno, Merced, and finally Redding, nearly 600 miles away. I cry right now to even think about her, but that’s when we lost one of our most amazing birds: Mrs White (she was white). She’d been knocking those distances off with alacrity, so, we surmised a hawk got her, something. She never came back.
This photo of me with a weird pigeon is not our homing pigeon coop. I tossed that jumble together (actually re-purposed a fort) and for a little while I was keeping what they call “fancy pigeons,” odd ducks like pigeons with huge puffy chests, or extra long legs, or looked like owls, I should google the types, but the most ridiculous of these pigeons were the rollers and tumblers. They had an element of homing pigeon in them as they’d always return to the coop for feeding. You turn them out and the tumblers would fly in a straight line and then flip over (tumble) and while projected forward in air would do this 4 or 5 times! The rollers would fly straight up and then free fall downwards while flipping for 30 or 40 feet. Purely amazing, and how someone trained birds to do this and have it be selective behavior is beyond comprehension. But, I saw it with my own eyes.
MW with pigeon — November 1963 —- backyard of 8142 Via Carrillo, Cucamonga, California —– photo by Grandma Matthew ———– Just behind that back fence is freight train tracks and us kids had a lot of fun with that — another story.
That’s suppose to represent the one-way entrance that homing pigeons use to re-enter their home coop after their afternoon fly-around ———- Line drawing my MW August 2o19
Before & After
Who knows what compels one to have the hair cut? With guys it’s only partly vanity, mostly it’s utilitarian. Long hair gets in the way when I’m trying to screw down a widget on the Time Transport Machine, gets in the way when I’m doing plumbing or changing the spark plugs on my Chevy. Back in Cucamonga I more or less took over the hair cutting in our family, we didn’t really have money for barbers, so my Dad would butcher us out by the pigeon coop. My Dad was a great guy but cutting hair was not his strong suit, and along about age 10 (4th grade) I was courting Francis DeJoseph (what a cutie) and therefore becoming a little more self-conscious about clothes & hair, so, my Dad didn’t care one way or the other, I took over that scene.
By age 12 when we moved the next city over – Upland, CA – my friend Ric said I looked like I came from Alabama, my hair was side-parted and long and loaded with Brylcreem and feather’d back along the sides, and my shoes were black leather side-ties made by Hardy (super-slick! I’d wear them to this day if they were still around), the other kids were wearing shirts with the single strip across the middle which was a signifier of surfing, and I was more into Elvis Presley. I was somewhat of a duck-out-of-water among these upper middle-class kids in their white tennis shoes (Cucamonga was upper poverty, a great place for boys to grow up), but I don’t remember it being an issue, other than I was discluded in the choosing of sides for team sports, which sorta hurt my feelings, but by then I wasn’t all that interested in sports (which has persisted to this day) and so, at lunch recess I’d squeeze through the hole in the chain-link fence and wander around the surrounding fields in the savannah that John Muir wrote about in “The Bee Fields of Southern California.” When the bell rang I’d head back. I was still cutting hair then – Ric’s parents would give him $2 to get a haircut and I’d do the deed and we’d take the money and go sit outside Thrifty’s and eat ice cream. Two dollars bought about an hour’s worth of ice cream. Augmented with Pepsi, on the side.
Jr High School I started growing my hair long and the school started kicking me out till I cut it. That happen’d about half dozen times. Didn’t make sense. My parents didn’t care if my hair was long, so why did they? Did I already tell that story? of how the redneck vice principle (a recent émigré from Texas where they know what to do with longhairs) he came to our house all nervous because after kicking me out I hadn’t come back. Again, my parents knew to leave me alone, that I’d figure it out on my own. So, there’s fatso Mr Barton knocking on our door, my bedroom window is right next to the front door, I can hear him remonstrating with my Dad, “kids these days . . . you know? They need discipline . . . “ Just a bunch of Texas flap conservatism, and now, my Dad was a conservative, too, but also knew when to mind his own business, he tells Mr Barton, “Well, I think you better talk to Mark about this,” and went back to reading the editorial page of the Daily Report (I delivered those newspapers for 3 or 4 years) and so I was alerted that there was a nervous redneck on the porch and I had to go talk with him. This is 1967-1968.
By the time I got to Upland High School long hair wasn’t an issue, although most kids were not growing their hair. At home I was listening to KPPC radio and finding my way into the subcultures and “counter cultures” of America, so, it grew.
Long story short, in the mid-70s to avoid the smog of Southern California my wife & I moved to San Francisco, and it was there, that Jimmy Marco, a hairdresser taught me the rudiments of hair cutting, of which I am grateful, Jimmy really taught me some great tricks, but still, it’s mostly an eyeball sort of procedure. You have to know what you’re looking at.
Before —– September 7, 2o19
After —- September 7, 2o19
Looking at these old photos, am I the same person as the kid in those shots? In Buddhism the I/me Self shifts and adapts to every situation and is unstable, therefore, the Self is not something you want to rely upon. The Self is a construction, an over-lay over consciousness. On some level it would be kind of nice to have retained some of that innocence. But, maybe not. The world forces you to live in it.
As we know from observing babies, disposition is inherent and various characteristics, also. Although, much of temperament is learned strategies (the child next door has figured out that screaming is how to get her way). A mixture of nature and nurture, always. At the risk of sounding obvious: You are taking on an avalanche of information while “growing up” and somewhere along the way the Self is formulating itself (There’s a thought: “the Self is formulating itself”?) Things like meanness and aggression are sort of obvious where they come from, but I am not tipping toward psychology, I’m a Buddhist, we don’t go there. With Buddhism the Self is something we put on the shelf and look at. Contemplate it if you wish, but practice forbearance in its shadow.
So, who is it in those photos? I know my dear yoga teacher Supriti wishes I was more joyous like in those photos, but, I’m not, anymore. Certainly not to that crazed degree. Too much water under the bridge, as we say.
Is the kid in those photos a Buddhist? Am I really a Buddhist? Not really. My Buddhism is a hodgepodge. I’m an ice cube sliding across a hot stove top. I’m even suspicious of intelligence, it itself is also part of the illusion. Bukowski said he had six little figurines, mendicants, sitting on his windowsill next to his typewriter. I can get with that.
Awareness is the ticket. For the most part, who I am is not a big concern, I don’t really think about it. (When I ponder who is this personage “Mostly” in the JAZZ FOR MOSTLY, it being a spontaneous invention, maybe Mostly is The Watcher? (The Watcher being somebody you meet in meditation practice.)
There but for the grace of God go I.
There but for Wyrd go all of us ——– (Wyrd is an ancient Anglo-Saxon construct: a giant web, that is fate and not fate, that is life)
Mark, Brian, & Craig Weber on Mom’s new vinyl couch & modern light stand – Cucamonga 1958
Untitled action painting by MW – October 5, 1975 —- this painting hung at The Little Big Horn (Bobby Bradford’s jazz club January 1977 thru August 1978) —- It now hangs in Janet’s office her at 725
Poster I designed for the Little Big Horn – October 1976
Those of us of a certain age know who Jack LaLanne was. Back then on daytime TV you maybe 2 choices:
As the World Turns or the Jack LaLanne Show. Jack would be bounding around on screen full of vitality trying to get lazy people into physical fitness, showing us his electric power juicer, doing jumping jacks, looking straight at the camera and excoriating us, “Eat an apple EVERY day! Eat two!!” energetically punching his fist into the air —- I liked him, inasmuch as I watched much TV back then. As the World Turns I only remember because the lady who watched us while my Mom & Dad were at work, Mrs Tate, she watched it, so I saw it some. You got to remember TV in the 1950s was new.
Mrs Tate was the nicest person, with two lovely daughters, Joanne and Julie. Joanne was older than me and Julie was younger.
I wonder where they are today?
Mrs Tate was fairly large and stayed in the living room in front of the TV with one of those tiny dogs in her lap. I was age 6, 7, 8 in those years on Via Carrillo in Cucamonga. This was neighborhood with a million kids, proof that the Baby Boom had boomed. So, there was too much to do outside to be spending much time in front of the boob tube. I do remember an evening show back then called Davey Crockett, and we all had to get coonskin caps. And with a dearth of available things to put on TV I saw Godzilla about a dozen times, there’s probably some psychological after-effects from seeing that, that I might consider getting on the couch and exorcising. Remember the end of the movie when Godzilla goes to sleep in the sea off the coast of Japan and the scientists dive down with a device that emits bubbles that kills Godzilla?
Grandpa Harry Matthew & MW w/ guitars in my Mom’s kitchen while Dick Trumbull watched with is Polaroid camera – Dick is family visiting from Wichita, Kansas, circa 1973
Don & Joy Weber, my Dad & Mom —- 1970 Upland, California – photo by their son Mark —- I took this photo specifically when they had both just gotten home from work in the early evening, around 5 or 6, my Dad with is USPS postal shirt and my Mom in her Alpha Beta uniform (Alpha Beta was a supermarket, where she was a meat wrapper) My Dad was a walking mailman for something like 28 years