Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do!
I was born on September 17, 1951, at Mercy Hospital in San Diego, California. I lived the first five years of my life in an area known to native San Diegans as shell town. Early childhood was pretty eventful. I went to St. Jude’s Catholic School for first grade and was a pretty mischievous boy. I used to steal matches from the pews at the church. I’d hide till the priest walked by and then grab the box of stick matches that sat by the devotional candles. I used to play around by lighting them and making little fires. Well, one day I got a hair up my ass and did something unadvisable. I walked over to an old model-A pickup, opened up the gas tank lid, and lit a match to look into the tank. The vapors ignited, and a flash of flames shot out and burnt off all my eye lashes and eyebrows! I ran home in horror and thought the truck was going to blow. Of course, I now know that if it was going to explode, it would have happened right then and there.
I had a good friend by the name of Albert Lee in those early days. He lived across the street and had a sister named Elsie. Their father was a doctor. Our neighborhood was a mix of Chinese, Filipino, Native American, black and white people. It was a diverse neighborhood ethnically, but I never heard a prejudice word. I never knew what a nigger, speck, or wetback was and never heard those terms used.
I had five sisters and one more, I was told—one my mother had from another life. My father was a hardworking man who spent four years fighting the Japanese with the 161 Infantry 25 Division Army. He was at Schofield barracks in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. My father was a Pearl Harbor survivor. My mom was younger than him by thirteen years. We were a typical Native American, Hispanic mixed family. My pops was born in San Diego on April 4, 1918. My grandfather was born there as well in 1886, and my whole family has been there since.
My pops went to a local school about one block away from where we lived. It was called Emerson Elementary. He was a young Indian boy who never wore shoes to school until he got into high school. Life was rough for my parents, growing up in the depression and having to fight WW II and the Korean War. My father went to Korea and was sent home because my grandma was sick. Weeks later, his whole outfit was killed. He had acquired enough points, and the army asked him if he wanted to be reassigned or retire. It was a no-brainer; he quit.
He told me once when he was a bit drunk about how he was brought up for a field commission in Guadalcanal; the captain wanted to raise him up to a major. He went before his commander by the captain’s recommendation. The commander told him, “We don’t give darkies that rate,” and he was turned down. He was a tough man and had two brothers, Trini and Uncle Babe. Trini died when I was eight years old. My uncle Baby was a professional boxer who was well-known in California and Mexico. Trini was the oldest, and my father was second oldest.
One day when I was four years old, my mom dressed me up in my suit. My pops called me outside, and we walked to this big black car that was waiting out in front of our house. He opened the back door and told me to get in. As I sat down, I noticed this pretty white box next to me. My father got into the front seat, turned around, and said, “Look in the box.” I opened the box and saw this pretty little doll dressed up in a little outfit. He then said, “That’s your brother.” I closed the lid after a few minutes and tried to process what was going on. I don’t remember my mom being pregnant, or I didn’t understand what it was, anyway. I think I was told we were going to have an addition to our family, but I don’t really recall. All I know is that I felt death. I think what took place plays a part in my life, and I believe it might have to do with some kind of fear. My family told me later that my baby brother’s name would have been Victor. The story also tells how my father’s younger brother Babe talked my grandfather into kicking us out of our house, which, in fact, was his to do with as he pleased. It made my mother so upset that he would do that. The strain from that issue, she claims, killed my brother. Well one thing was for sure; we had to move out. I can still see this beautiful white satin box and how precious he looked lying there.
I was pretty hardheaded when I was five. I was so early on my first day of school that the school room was completely empty. I just picked out a seat and sat for a while. It seemed like forever, so I stepped outside. When I came back in, all the seats were taken. I was very shy and had felt humiliated, so I just went home. My mom asked me why I was home so early, and I told her that there was no school. She called up the school and asked the nuns to get me to go back. I held out until they bribed me with candy. The first thing I remember from school was the nuns showing us posters hanging on an easel—one was the devil, which appeared ugly and hideous; the other was Jesus. Those were my first moments in a Catholic school.
I didn’t always realize it, but I now feel that my mother was too young to have so many children. They didn’t know about postnatal syndrome back in 1956, but she must have had it. I remember, in the early years before I was school age, sitting in a high chair that was placed by a window sill. I remember eating a dead fly. I can still taste that bitter taste today, and I’m fifty-six years old! I also remember my older sister being thrown to the wall when she was four or five years old. She was a few years older than me, and I just remember seeing her mouth bleeding. These images would haunt me for a lifetime. The anger and frustration I felt, or whatever it was, would, in the years to come, raise its ugly head many times.
Time, as a five-year-old, had no meaning or dimension. We had a dog named Blackie. I played with him and fed him. I always ate half of the Skippy dog food before giving it to him. I played with him for hours on end. One day I remember playing with him by throwing water on him and watching him run away. I did it one time, and he ran out into the street and was hit by a car. I kept the guilt for killing him for the years to come.
Time might have had no dimension, but my imagination was very good at that age. I would eat spinach after watching Popeye and try to do superhuman things, only to fail. I would see the commercials for PF Flyers tennis shoes and think I was five times faster when I ran. TV played a big roll in my life, and it still does. I loved watching Rin Tin Tin, Circus Boy, Sky King, Hopalong Cassidy, Let’s Pretend with Uncle Russ and The Johnny Downs Show. The last two were local TV shows aired in San Diego in the 50s and 60s.
It was mid-1956 when we had to move out of our home because of what Uncle Babe did. My father found a group of track homes in an all white new housing area, and we all went to go see it one day. All we saw was an empty lot with a few new homes built next to it. New homes in the late fifties and early sixties cost $14,500. Sounds inexpensive, but it was big money considering my father brought home $67 a week. He had to work two jobs to afford our living costs.
The day came when we finally moved into our new home located in Paradise Hills. It was a beautiful name, but we were soon to find out that the name didn’t fit. Two weeks after we moved in, three of our neighbors decided that they didn’t want to live by an Indian and moved out. Welcome to our new world; it’s called racism. Kids and adults alike spray painted the side walks, writing things like “leave wetbacks,” “taco benders,” “chili chokers” and a lot of other racial slogans. I didn’t understand what was going on because I was so young. I didn’t understand why they hated us so much.
My mom and a woman by the name of ‘Winnie’ soon went to war. Every day, they’d step outside and call each other a bitch before giving each other the finger and slamming their doors. I saw this ritual go on for years. My old man had the balls to invite Winnie over to our house for New Year’s Eve, and man, did the fur fly! I fought many battles with the kids on the block and in surrounding areas. They would stand in front of our house and call my mom racial names and demand that we leave the neighborhood. I’d get so mad that I would charge right into them, swinging at them like a windmill. Of course, it upset the hell out of my mom. I didn’t fear anyone yet, but in a few years, that would change.
At five years old, I used to walk home a good three miles from school with my sisters. We all went to Paradise Hills Elementary School, where Mr. Oliver Cline was the principle. It was a pretty good school. I finished my first year and moved into the first grade. It was about that time that the doctors noticed that I had a heart murmur. It scared my mom to death; one son was dead already, and another would be if it got worse. I didn’t give a shit. I played hard, and nothing would have changed that. I found out later in life that my father was told, not asked, by my mom not to encourage me to play sports because of the murmur.
My father’s way of discouragement was not verbal. I knew that he kept a baseball glove in the closet that looked like an old Babe Ruth glove. It had a baseball in it, so I asked if he wanted to play catch. He said, “Sure, meet me out front.” Remember, I was just six years old. He gave me the glove and told me to stand down a ways. He threw it pretty hard and hit me right in the fucking chest. I cried, and he yelled out, “Fuckin’ pussy!” That was the first and last time I ever asked my father to do something with me.
If I wasn’t working with him in the yard, I was out playing Army. I had a couple of friends named Howard Keithly and Chuck Hertwig who were my Army buddies. We’d play Army till the sun went down. I loved being Audrey Murphy and Sergeant Saunders, a.k.a. Vic Marrow. Chuck had a big brother named “Billy” Hertwig. What an asshole! This guy was pure evil. He talked us young boys and girls into going to a newly built house’s garage. He shut the door and told us to pull our pants down. He was nine, and we were six. He called it the nasty club. We all fell for it so we dropped our draws and danced around a big pile of sawdust in the middle of the garage. He didn’t drop his draws. All of a sudden he started heaving large amounts of sawdust at our private parts and opened the garage door real fast. He was laughing like Satan all the while. We all tried to put our pants on, but he just kept throwing sawdust in our faces. I remember not being able to breath! I ran home and kept silent. Can you imagine telling your parents you were in the “Nasty Club?” This guy would grow up to be a real asshole and, later on, become a heroin addict and a navy drop out. His dad was a master chief in the navy stationed on the Kitty Hawk.
One day, Billy shot arrows through my friend Howard’s prize watermelon and it rotted. My buddy Howard was really upset, poor kid. Howard told on Billy,