if i knew then

March 23, 1973

March 23, 1973 Plan B

Leaving Melnitz Hall
Leaving Melnitz Hall

I knew what I did not want to do – don a cap and gown and endure an excruciating graduation ceremony. My own Jr. High and high school extravaganzas were torture. What about those magical moments, watching my own children graduate? Don’t you just want to smile all over? Uh, no.

S's High School Graduation
S’s High School Graduation

Slow-roasting in bleachers without shade, surrounded by delirious parents straining to spot their spawn in a sea of black-robes several zip codes to the south – made home schooling appear an attractive option. For the record, the only things I dread more than rituals like graduation are parades and colonoscopies.

A at his graduation
A at his college graduation

Flash forward to my son CD, valedictorian for his UCLA film and television class. Two surprises awaited me, one pleasant and one not so much. The good news was, only film and TV students participated, making it more like a party than spectacle. Lulled into a false sense of security, I thought, “this is almost a perfect day.”

CD's graduation UCLA
CD’s graduation UCLA

CD took the microphone. He singled out his wife and his father – 100% USC Trojan, undergrad and law school. He thanked them for their inspiration. No mention of his mother and fellow UCLA film and TV alum. You know, the one who introduced him to Melnitz hall and UCLA’s campus.

CD and classmates at UCLA graduation

Amazingly, I recovered from this ego-shattering blow as well as a carrot that caused me to barf at the reception. Something deep and primal superseded my lifelong distaste for graduations, parades and vomit.  So what if CD forgot to thank me? I could not have been any prouder of him. I still am.

March 8, 1973

March 8, 1973

All my dreams...What looked like my lucky break was actually a crash course in how quickly “All my dreams are coming true!” can dissolve into no one’s returning my phone calls. Sadly, this was far from my last experience with emotional whiplash, careers version.

My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug
My teacher and mentor, Bill Froug

Still, Froug was right when he advised me to celebrate. Why not bask in the potential something amazing just might happen? So what if it doesn’t, this time?  The near-miss zone is nothing to be ashamed of. Most people never get that close. Nobody gets there by accident. Somebody noticed you and said, “the kid’s got talent.” If they didn’t believe it, they wouldn’t waste their time. The least you can do is believe in yourself.

The least you can do is believe in yourself

Legend has it, the average overnight success endures twenty to fifty rejections before they’re rewarded with that first life-changing YES. What are you waiting for? The faster you rack up the no’s, the sooner your dreams come true.

What are you waiting for?

The script that earned me this near-miss – “Intimate Changes,” not the greatest title – never got produced, but it won me introductions to agents, producers and network execs, all pivotal in my later career.  What felt like loss was only life unfolding more slowly than I preferred.

 

December 11, 1967

December 11, 1967

 These conversations may not sound “deep” today (or was the word “heavy”?)  I’m glad I wrote them down – otherwise, I’d have no idea what my sisters and I talked about as kids. Do you remember childhood topics of conversation with your friends? Your siblings? Your parents? Do you ever wish you’d written it down?

Janet and I in 1967
Janet and I in 1967

I have zero independent recall of the vast majority of days described in my diary. They sound vaguely familiar – like something I might’ve overheard or said – but it’s my diary telling me what happened, not any real recollection.

Possibly our Christmas tree expedition - not sure
Possibly our Christmas tree expedition – not sure

Oddly, I do remember this conversation with my father – it started with my short story and evolved into a discussion of coming of age. I can see him on the floor, repairing that cupboard in our Del Monte kitchen. He made such an effort to meet me on my own turf. He listened to my Beatles records, listened to the Doors. Being young and selfish, I didn’t respond with reciprocal interest in his world. I wish I had; he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That said, his purpose was never to indoctrinate – he wanted to know me.

My Family
My Family

I should have written a lot more down.

 

November 7, 1972

November 7, 1972

1972 Campaign Buttons

I’m writing this on November 4, so I don’t know how yesterday’s midterms will end despite dawn-to-dusk polls on cable news.  Forty-six years ago, I was oblivious to any polls regarding the outcome of the ’72 election.  It was widely assumed Nixon would prevail, in part due to the perfectly timed Paris Peace Treaty and the fact many Democrats deemed McGovern too far left.

TIME OCTOBER 2, 1972
TIME OCTOBER 2, 1972

Although our country was polarized (two words – Viet Nam), it was still possible to disagree politically without rupturing relationships irreparably.  I pinballed from Republican to Democrat and back and none of my friendships died over those divides in the 70s, 80s or 90s. In fairness, I wasn’t all that passionate about politics. I liked to argue, play the devil’s advocate. Violence was never threatened. To my knowledge, no one considered me an enemy, let alone an enemy of the people. We could agree to disagree.

1972 election

I don’t consider myself vitriolic, but I can be, when provoked. All my life, I’ve taken things too personally. Now I take politics too personally. In the interest of treating others like I want them to treat me, I try to dial down the judgments I lay on people because of their beliefs. It’s harder than it should be.

All my life I have taken things too personally
All my life I have taken things too personally

My three-year relationship with Luke had crashed months earlier but we weren’t through missing each other so we were trying to figure out how to be “friends.” That election night, we were the only two people in Dickson Hall, the Art building at UCLA (since remodeled).

Trying to put the pieces back together to be friends
Trying to put the pieces back together to be friends

He was a grad student. I was a self-centered 21-year-old who didn’t want to love anyone. I believed the person who loved the most, lost. As if love was a battle and what mattered was winning or losing.

Today, I know things like love and honor are far more important than victory or defeat. To win without honor is to lose everything that matters. To live without love isn’t living at all.  But I’m an aging baby boomer hippie. What do I know?

What do I know?
What do I know?

 

 

August 30, 1980

August 30, 1980

Sailing


Art, CD & J sailing
Thirty-eight years flew by and we never went sailing with Art – or anyone else – again. How do our good intentions – our genuine desires – get so easily buried under our daily routine?

Castaic Lake

Most people – myself included – have at least a vague idea about what might make us happy but most things I think I want – my fantasy about shopping for a medieval chateau in France, for example – rarely top my To Do list.

Skipper Art

Okay, that example is over-the-top, particularly since I don’t speak a word of French, so I’ll scale it down to “we should go sailing more often.”  Current reality suggests that goal is as impossible to realize as a castle in France.

J sailing

In part, that’s due to the Protestant work ethic – in the words of John Lennon, “a man must work to earn his day of leisure.” Until I make significant progress toward my grandiose goals, I don’t deserve to reward myself.

Kathleen enjoying sailing

My second handicap is the fact I’m spectacularly disorganized. Every weekend, I promise myself I’ll stay home and order my life so that next weekend I’ll have nothing but free time to do whatever I please. Unfortunately, like Gatsby’s green light, my dream of a perfectly organized life “year by year recedes before me. It eluded me then but that’s no matter. Tomorrow, I will run faster, stretch my arms farther, and one fine morning – so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Thank you, F. Scott Fitzgerald. I’m pretty sure I’d die happy if I wrote something that beautiful.)

Cd sailing

August 16, 1964

August 16, 1964

With K cousins circa '64
With K cousins circa ’64

 This crazy exploration was my first and only opportunity to do something like this – I wouldn’t consider it in Los Angeles but the risk seemed marginal in Graettinger, Iowa.

With O side of family, circa '64
With O side of family, circa ’64

This type of adventure holds enormous appeal for me. I’ve read novels based on groups of kids exploring abandoned buildings. That’s why it’s so disappointing I don’t recall a single thing we saw inside the Hawkeye Apartments (and naturally I didn’t make notes about that).  Let’s call this Missed Opportunity #1,

Lake Okoboji

Missed Opportunity #2 was not choosing to fly with my Uncle Gilford in his small crop-duster plane.

Missed Opportunity #3 was my total inability to water-ski. I think the problem was that even though I witnessed my sister Janet gliding across the surface of Lake Okoboji, deep down inside I did not believe it was physically possible for water to support my weight. It was my lack of faith, not my total lack of coordination, that doomed me to failure.

With Grandma O
With Grandma O

In keeping with my soon-to-be-standard practice of quitting any activity that I stunk at, I never attempted to water ski again.

 

May 26, 1966

May 26, 1966

I have no independent recall of being the tour guide for incoming students to Wilcox High. I’m not surprised I was easily thrown by a group of sarcastic kids, even those a full year younger than I was. In high school as in junior high I was painfully thin-skinned when it came to taking a joke, let alone criticism.

With my sisters in '66
With my sisters in ’66

Which brings me to the question raised in the second part of this entry – how much honesty is too much? When – if ever – is a white lie not a lie? Vania was a truth-teller, unafraid to say things like “Ugh, I hate your shoes. They’re so ugly!” Objectively, I can accept she acted in good faith in her mind, she saved me the mortification of being seen in such an unsightly pair of shoes. I took Vania’s fashion pronouncements very seriously.  By sundown, the offensive shoes would be halfway to the bargain bin at Goodwill, assuming Goodwill accepted hideous but otherwise functional shoes.

As this unfortunate photo makes clear, Vania did not have to look far to find fashion faux pas to criticize.
As this unfortunate photo makes clear, Vania did not have to look far to find fashion faux pas to criticize.

Subjectively, every time Vania blasted me, it hurt. She didn’t sugarcoat her message and I didn’t challenge her opinions.  I usually agreed with her despite the fact I failed to spot these flaws myself until she pointed them out. I’m not the most observant of people.

Vania Brown
Vania Brown

I’ve never been so truthful or blunt, depending on your point of view. It would take something far out of the ordinary for me to volunteer a scathing critique of anyone’s clothing or hairstyle. Even when asked for my “honest opinion”, I usually dissemble and say something nice or innocuous. Is this the kindest course in the long run? Would I be a better friend if I braved a friend’s reaction and shared my unvarnished brutal truth?

Vania Brown again
Vania Brown again

Maybe. To this day, I’m not sure.

 

May 24, 1980

May 24, 1980 These notes on a Hollywood party were accurate for a newcomer/outsider in 1980 and I suspect they hold true today. It was thrilling to scan the room and recognize famous people even though I understood the unspoken rule to act as if I didn’t.

J and I circa 1980 - at a wedding.
J and I circa 1980 – at a wedding.

Even now, I’m not sure I understand the rationale for why, particularly if you’re a fan as was the case for me with Claudia Weill’s movie. I can’t imagine there are very many people – even celebrities – who don’t enjoy hearing that someone loves their work, thinks they’re a genius. I know I wouldn’t mind being interrupted by someone who wanted to rave about my writing. It’s never happened and probably never will but I’m reasonably confident I’d enjoy the hell out of it.

J and I dancing at a wedding_edited-1

Our aging green Plymouth Satellite car – unmistakable in a sea of Mercedes, BMWs, and Porsches -– outed us to the parking valets if no one else – as people who didn’t really belong in this rarefied atmosphere. That’s never a comfortable feeling, but I’d endure it any time for the fun of watching a party like this unfold.

Cheers

May 13, 1964

May 13, 1964

 

My family back during those darn times
My family back during those darn times

There was nothing remotely amusing about this entry on May 13, 1964. I was so beside myself with rage I wrote the word “darn” four times, However, reading it – and similar entries– today makes me smile. Why? Because the fears, feuds, worries and daily mortifications that tortured me when I was twelve and thirteen – traumas I believed I’d never recover from – are so awesomely trivial today.

With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.
With our grandparents during one of their visits. Notice my enthusiasm.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I stayed incensed for very long. I never reference my rage about the injustice of those dance and piano lessons again. Perhaps that’s not surprising, considering who I really am – a klutz with no interest in or aptitude for piano or dance. Obviously, when I wrote this entry, I confused myself with someone else.

At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.
At least trying to look happy. Getting all 3 of us to look at the camera at the same time was like herding cats.

My sisters claim that as the oldest I was actually the spoiled, indulged child. As evidence, they cite roughly five thousand more photos of me than the two of them. (Baby pictures only – the photo ops dried up once adolescence arrived). However, facts are facts. My mother’s cold smack-down – “your father and I will decide, not you” – says it all. I rest my case.
3K Sisters

 

April 30, 1976

April 30, 1976

George Sontag & Ed Morrell
George Sontag & Ed Morrell

Back in 1976, when I was immersed in research for what I hoped would be a non-fiction book on central California train-robbers Sontag and Evens, I knew their story down to the tiniest details. (Link to previous blog) Driving through the central Valley to interview another old-timer, I mused about the true nature of these dead people I read about in the history books. They were as real to me as most of my friends.

John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters
John Sontag, the wounded outlaw and the successful manhunters

It’s disheartening to read this entry today and realize I have no idea who “George” was. The name Ed Morrell sounds familiar but I’ve forgotten the part he played in the story. All those facts I thought were hard-wired into my brain lasted about as long as the Southern Pacific ruled the central Valley (not very).

animated-train-image-0031

There’s a box in my garage full of cassette tapes of interviews, notes from old newspaper articles, dusty books with yellowed pages. I never consciously abandoned the project; I told myself I was taking a break to unmoor myself from the trivial literal details that paralyzed my efforts to tell the story.

Research notes and letters - all hand typed - no spellcheck back then
Research notes and letters – all hand typed – no spellcheck back then

To pick it up again, I’d need to start over and the process would be different. An hour on the internet probably equals weeks of pound-the-pavement research. The downside is that all of their contemporaries are dead. I probably have some of their last interviews, although I can’t vouch for their accuracy. For all I know, someone else wrote the book I intended to write.

Official photographs of Chris Evans
Official photographs of Chris Evans

But if they haven’t – there’s a box in my garage that awaits my attention.  Maybe the time has finally come.