Sunday, January 20, 2008

Playground-Citizen Wesley

Soon after we moved in to the garage in Seattle my Father came back from a day at Fort Lewis to tell us his orders. He would be sent overseas, to Taiwan, AKA Formosa, Nationalist China, The Republic of China. He would administer some Army program there. He wouldn't say what the program would involve, except to say he didn't expect war to break out at any time, and that probably he would only be gone for 6 to 8 months.

That seemed like a long time to me and the thought of not seeing him for so long stirred anxiety in me without my knowing why. It wasn't until I was in my 40s that I realized that as ineffective as my Father had been at protecting me from my Mother, I persisted in feeling that he was a protector, simply because he was my Father. It was an irrational hope that, once believed, rationally might be lost.

The anxiety amplified my native caution. I became fearful of anything uncertain. I was already religiously skeptical. Now I began to question everything. I questioned gravity, 2 + 2 = 4, the dark of night, and every single word my teacher said.

A milepost in technology occurred. Sputnik was launched into orbit on Oct 4, 1957. We watched what we all were told at the time was the flashing satellite orbiting over Seattle that evening. Recently I read that it was actually the final booster stage. The papers carrying the news dredged up a 1920 New York Times editorial that scoffed at Robert Goddard's dream of sending rockets into space, saying Goddard ""does not know of the relation of action to reaction, and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react." The newspapers had fun with this new and most dramatic proof that the editors of the New York Times had been full of it. The lesson I took from it was, everything has to be tested and proved. Nothing can be taken for granted.

My Father thought my Mother and I would remain in Seattle the whole time he was in Taiwan. But a week or two before he left for the Far East in mid-October he learned that the Army would send us a month later on a slow boat to [Nationalist] China.

I was taken to Fort Lewis and given half a dozen vaccinations for diseases I never heard of.

I don't recall any more than the low level sexual abuse that month, just fondling every few days. Maybe my Mother was too preoccupied with thoughts of the overseas adventure ahead.

While we waited for our turn to cross the ocean, Halloween happened, and I had a Seattle-style trauma.

Seattle was much less uptight in 1957 than it is today, fifty years later. But there were signs of things to come. One of the signs was a city-wide ban on children's masks at Halloween. It had been decided that masks with eye-holes obstructed vision too much. Children could be hit with cars.

OK, so I would not wear my cool Zorro costume on the sidewalks. I would only wear it on the school grounds, WHERE THERE ARE NO CARS, during the MANDATORY (for the sake of our "HEALTHY SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT") school Halloween march.

Well, guess what the teachers said? The LAW is the LAW. No masks. But it's a Zorro costume, there has to be a mask. "No problem, the march isn't for a couple of hours, WE'LL MAKE YOU A COMPLETELY NEW COSTUME THAT WILL BE LEGAL AND YOU'LL LOVE IT."

They made me a slapped-together paper and cloth clown costume. They wouldn't stop at that, they made me submit to grease-paint. "You'll see, it will be great!"

It was horrible. I was transformed against my will into a stupid clown. The other kids made cruel jokes about it throughout. At home it took two hours to wash the grease-paint off. Wherever it had been my skin was red and sore for days. Turned out I was allergic to grease-paint. All to avoid getting hit by non-existent cars. Thank you uptight, we-know-best-what's-good-for-you-Seattle!

And then, a couple of weeks later, my Mother and I were riding a train to San Francisco where we would catch a Merchant Marine ship to the Orient.

Before we left I got a report card with no grades. It was called a "progress report". I was in a fucking grade-free experimental "progressive" program, it so happened. Since I'd only attended 9 weeks of school the only content of the report was the following paragraph:

"Wesley is a conscientious student, does his best at all times. He is a shy child, but is much more willing to participate in games, etc., than he was the first of the year. He reads with the high group, with good understanding of subject matter. His written work is neatly done. Wesley is a fine citizen on the playground, well liked by his classmates. We will all miss him."

Isn't it wonderful that just then, in those two months of 3rd grade I happened to start getting over my shyness?

Every damn school I went to I was "shy" when I got there, and I "started to get over it" after two or three months of brilliant teaching designed to foster good healthy extroversion.

Total crock.

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