Saturday, February 14, 2015

All About Me! (part 1): My Life Up Until My Birth

Let's begin the epic saga of ME at the beginning: With the reason why one of my nicknames was: "The missed trip to the drugstore."
Carolyn (Left) with
a friend - early 60's.

It was the summer of 1964 in Los Angeles. After a few false starts it looked like the 60's were going to be cool after all.

My Mother, Carolyn, was the single mother of my 4 year old Sister, Joni. The sole alimony payment she received from her 1st husband was a 3 foot high Easter basket for my sister, which prompted my Mother to take a bus across L.A. to proclaim to him: "We don't need chocolate - we need food" before throwing the thing in his face.

Food money was hard to come by, until Mom landed an accounting job with Oscar Mayer..........where she quickly arranged that if certain folks on the factory floor got their checks on Thursday afternoon instead of Friday morning, well then the small trunk of her Austin Healey would mysteriously fill up with hot dogs, bacon, cold cuts and smokey links.

62 'Healey - plenty of room for hot dogs
(Courtesy of
The 'Healey was Mom's one extravagance. She liked to recite that it would do 0-60mph in 8 seconds and had a top speed of 130mph, "But really you need to be on the road to Vegas to do that." 

She also said the hardest thing about owning a tiny, low-slung two-seater sports car in the mid-60's was exiting the damned thing in a mini-skirt.

She met Bob, My father, on a car rally. The 4-Cylinder Club of America was screaming up the switchbacks of the back road to Big Bear. Dad, driving his 1954 MGTD thought he was in the lead until he pealed around one corner and saw Mom's Austin Healey stopped in a turnout. She was underneath it, frantically attempting to put her rear axle back into place. So all he saw was the miniskirt and points South.
A '54 MGTD like my Father's.

Said points were quite lovely. A few years earlier Mom had spent a summer as a maid in Yellowstone National Park, where among other adventures she competed in a beauty pageant and was voted 1st runner up "Miss Old Faithful".

Did my Dad stop and help her? Hell No, because now he really DID have the lead. But he want back later and picked her up. So, win-win, as they say now-a-days.


One thing lead to the only other thing and on Thursday, October 29th, 1964, Carolyn walked into the living room, waited for a commercial, and calmly announced that she was pregnant. "WHAT?" Bob replied, "How did THAT happen?"

My Dad, 1964, age 34
The halo fuzz would not last long.
And so, two days later they were on the road to Vegas, as my Mother said: "Not really looking at each other much." Dad hit the blackjack tables while my Mother got the Marriage License downtown and scanned the yellow pages in a phone booth to find a chapel.

She decided on the Cupid Wedding Chapel, right on the Strip, because it was only 11 bucks, and included a free "Marriage Starter gift box" which consisted of aspirin, antacids, various soaps and detergents, an apron, a carton of cigarettes, and - in what can only be described as 'closing the barn door after the horse has gone' - a box of condoms.

She then went to retrieve Bob, but he was winning big and couldn't be bothered. So she did what she should have done with her first husband: She took most of his money. Now back in the day Las Vegas was a much more insular place, and casino chips were good in any casino, or anywhere else in town, for that matter.

Image from 1991. (courtesy of
So, as the sun set, she went to the Woolworths. And she bought a canopy bed, toys, baby clothes, and a lovely lacy pink christening gown for me. Had it all shipped back to L.A.

She then went back to the casino to get Dad, but he was still winning. So she played Keno for awhile and was winning big at that. So she shrugged, grabbed her chips and went back to Woolworths and bought a pallet of diapers.

Finally, late in the evening she grabs my Dad and says: "Are we gonna do this thing or not?"

No reservations needed!
Photo courtesy of
Luckily the Cupid Wedding Chapel was open 24/7 and reservations were not necessary. They waited in line for their turn, stepped inside, said the vows in front of an incredibly bored pastor, had ONE picture taken, stepped out, had their license witnessed by the next couple in line, picked up their "Marriage Starter gift box" and hit the road back to L.A.

It was only then that my Mother glanced at the marriage license and noted the dates and times of the ceremony. They were sure that after all the delay it must have been Sunday morning, November 1st.

But no, this future pagans parents were married on Halloween. Happy Anniversary Honey - your turn to take the kids trick-or-treating.


And so I was on my way, more or less legitimately. My Mother followed the advice of all the experts of the time, meaning she smoked and drank for all three trimesters. She did have urgent and repeated cravings all through the Spring, and always for the same thing. She would wake my dad up in the middle of the night and make him go out and buy more  - cantaloupe slices thickly smeared with liverwurst.
Their one, off-center, badly composed
Wedding Photo.
Thanks a lot, next couple in line.

No, really. I'm just relating the facts. Did the combination of Nicotine, Kahlua, Smokey Links, cantaloupe and liverwurst have any bearing on my development? For better or worse? I'll leave that for the experts to decide, but I will raise my tankard to what must have been a very hard working placenta.

My Mother knew two things for certain during her pregnancy:
  1. I was going to be a drummer (and/or a soccer player), because I kicked along in time to the radio (Which, I think, makes Ringo my Godfather).
  2. And according to all of the technology of the time I was supposed to be.....a girl.

Kathleen Margaret, Pleased to meet'cha.

In the family photo album
this was captioned: "Bob,
Carolyn - and Bobby!"
I was due in late May, but this future witch decided to wait until Mary Poppins was #1 at the box office before emerging. So I was two weeks late. This was rough on my Mother of course, but as she pointed out to me much later it was also a blessing: Married in October (barely), and me born early June, made the math much more socially palatable.

Anyhoo, by the morning of Wednesday, June 9th she was OVER IT. After my dad left for work, my Mom got down to business.

First, she moved every stick of furniture in the house to random locations. When that didn't do the trick, she then took a shovel and removed our entire lawn. I got the hint and began the contractual negotiations.

But Mom did not want a repeat of my sisters long, drawn out birth, so she just sat on the news for several hours.

At that time my dad was a buyer for North American, meaning he was buying items for the astronauts. At noon, in the middle of the biggest meeting of his life (Gemini 5 had just landed two days before), he gets a call from my Mother telling him that the contractions were only 5 minutes apart.
St. Francis Hospital, 1965, which, two months
after my birth, hosted Ray Charles on one of
his heroin rehab stints. Pic and odd factoid
courtesy of:


Luckily my Dad was an expert driver. He alternated between 95 mph and 15 mph across Long Beach, depending on whether Carolyn was having a contraction or not.

I was born at 1:10pm, approximately 2 minutes after entering the hospital. A nurse informed my Dad that he had a son. His reply: "I can't have a son - I haven't finished the paperwork yet!"

Mom barely had time for the shot of Demerol before I made my grand entrance. I was a breech birth, feet first, so the first thing the doctor noted was that I was not going to be Kathleen Margaret, after all.
The-missed-trip-to-the-drugstore, at 2 days.
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight
on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the
fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the
hills; we shall never surrender!"

My Mother's reply: "Oh.......shiiit."

The doctor then was busy unwrapping the umbilical cord from around my neck, but mentioned in passing that I had a full head of bright red hair.

Mom, deep in the embrace of Morpheus by then: "Okay. I'll keep him then."

Amazingly, given all the hurried marriages at the Cupid Wedding Chapel the previous Halloween, there was only one other birth that day at St. Francis Hospital. So my parents got to know Leroy's parents pretty good over the next couple of days.

I was 22 inches and 8lbs, with a full head of safety orange hair. Leroy, by contrast, looked like a Twix bar.

Leroy's Father thought the juxtaposition was hilarious and kept proposing to my Dad that they switch kids.

So, there's one of those "road not taken" scenarios, eh?

Angus McMahan

On to Part 2!

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