Sunday, February 15, 2015

All About Me! (Part 2): The Toddlerancy of Hank Vegas

 (Go see how I was borned!)

Let us consider the world I was born into. 1965. The
earth was cooling, and the gigantic landmass called PanGaia was breaking up into the continents that we know today. It was a dark time. In fact it was SO DARK - (How dark was it?) the World Series that year was won by the Dodgers.

The first successful mini-computer was put on sale (with 4K of memory!), for only $140,000 in todays money. "Mini" meaning it was not the size of a room, but only the size of refrigerator.

The landmark Voting Rights Act was signed in August of '65, and you could go celebrate this at the most popular restaurant chain in Southern California: Little Black Sambos. Mmm-mmm. Lawdy!

But I can find no more illustrative example of how Medieval my birth year was than my own birth certificate. There are many boxes for me and my parents. Three boxes for my name, even though with "Junior" I technically had four. One box to indicate if I was part of a twin or triplet. One for "other" meaning, I guess, if I had a cyst on my back with teeth and hair, or something.

At the bottom right, my Dad gets to be a "buyer" in "aviation".
In the middle right my Mother can have no occupation, other
than occupant of a house. 
My Father has three boxes for his name, one for his color (and they didn't mean sunburn), his age, his birth state, and his occupation. My Mothers boxes were the same, race card included, but where "Occupation" was for my Dad, my Mom's equivalent box just says "Address".

Think about that. The state is literally saying that there is no space in this Society for women to have their own jobs, or income, or Security. Boxed IN. Their job was to stay at home and generate official forms like this.

You've come a long way, Baby. I mean in California as of January 1st, 2015, you don't even have to identify yourself as a Mother or Father on your kids birth certificate. Progress so manifest, its.......Apparent.

Naming the Boy
Two weeks old. Note ever present ashtray.

But I digress. Let us return to St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, future home to both Snoop Dogg and Weird Al.

I was born on Wednesday, June 9th, (Which as Admiral Karen will gladly point out to complete strangers is also Johnny Depp's birthday). Two days later was a Friday and hence, Clear the Decks day. I've worked in a couple of hospitals, and it is amazing how suddenly well Doctors think you are when the weekend is at hand. Out! Out! You, out! You, you are hereby cured - beat cheeks.

1st birthday, under the watchful eye of Pooch.
Anyhoo, as my parents are packing up a nurse comes in frantically waving a blank form. Apparently it is some sort of law that you have to name your child before you get to take it home.

Now remember at home was a lace canopy bed and a pink christening gown all waiting the arrival of "Kathleen Margaret". So my Dad called me "X" for those 2 days, while my Mother stuck to " The-missed-trip-to-the-drug-store".

But under the stern gaze of the Nurse they panicked and named me the first thing that they could think of: They named me Robert, because it was my Dad's name.

Which, of course, made me {wait for it} Bobby. Or worse, "Junior". Or worst of all, My dad I and I were both known as Robert, Bob or Bobby depending on who was calling us. And we both would answer hourly, daily, constantly and it was all very confusing and annoying and so very, very pre-vent-able.

It is no wonder that I jumped at the first opportunity to change my name, so people I telephoned at work could then call me:
Easter outfit, 1967. Check out the dumpster
dive bookshelf behind me. And yes, this is
one of the days I ALMOST DIED.
  • Heingus 
  • English 
  • Ingus 
  • Injus 
  • Hank 
  • Aegis 
  • Hankus 
  • Vegas 
  • Ingas 
  • Agnes 
  • Pinkus 
  • Fangus 
  • Magnus 
  • Ekess 
  • and, Inga.

Because of this, and my keeping a visible, ongoing list of these names, (Virgo rising!) my co-workers called me “Hank Vegas”.
First Houses Memories
My parents took me home to a grim and tension-filled house. Mom and Dad had left my 12 year old brother Michael and 5 year old sister Joni in the care of Grandma Margaret. My siblings had used this downtime to engage in an epic bet: 5 whole dollars on whether they were getting a little brother or sister.
X - 2, Joni - 7, Michael - 12, lamp - hideous.
The wagering was along their own genders, of course. My brother was as dumb as my sister was smart, and she knew of the Doctors assurance that I was to be Kathleen Margaret. Plus, Joni was astute enough to note the lacy canopy bed and pink christening gown, clues that my clueless brother entirely missed.
So when my Mom presented little Bobby to her, Joni was apocalyptic. Such a betrayal among the Sisterhood! She did not speak to my Mother for 3 days, until anatomy was sufficiently explained, and my crowing brother was discreetly paid off.
But there was a bigger shadow looming over our house in Lynwood. A literal shadow. We lived in the path of a freeway that was under construction. No, really! Our house at the time was in the right-of-way of the unfinished 105 Freeway, which had run out of funds and Political Will, again.
The making of the Century Freeway almost lived up to its name. It took 30 years to go 18 miles, from LAX to Norwalk, which is about average for an L.A. commute. Living in the shadow of a massive freeway construction project was by definition a "month-to-month" existence, but a cheap one.
On the left, the Watts Towers. On the right, St. Francis
hospital. Somewhere in the middle, in that little bump of the
freeway, was the site of the house I lived in.
And the Latham family was fully prepared to cheap it out as long as they could. But other events were about to overtake them that were even bigger than the projecting girders and rebar that cast a towering shadow over our house.
I was born in June of 1965. When I entered my third trimester in April Malcolm X was assassinated. And in August, to celebrate my two month birthday the Watts riots burned down the neighborhood about a mile away from us. ULP.
By the end of '65 we had taken White Flight Airlines to Long Beach, where we moved onto a frontage road next to a major thoroughfare. We lived on an ugly, noisy street with exactly one tree on it - and a pretty name: Los Coyotes Diagonal West, Which my Mother pointed out was almost impossible to write on a personal check.

Misnamed, thanks Google! The big, lighter street is actually
Studebaker Road. The darker frontage street below it is
Los Coyotes. Inbetween, faintly visible - grass!
I only have one memory of this street, and its an important one, because its my first memory of anything. Between Los Coyotes Diagonal and the main drag (Studebaker road, how '60's!) was a median strip.

Of GRASS. And so the internal wetware of this future pagan switched on while I was sitting in what passed for Nature in Long Beach. My memory is simply sitting there on the grass, placidly looking at our pathetic house and watching my entire family frantically running around our lot looking for me, because I was only 3 and we lived right next to a big street. Which of course was right where I was - about 4 feet from high speed traffic.

I think I got in trouble for that.

My second memory was a year later, on Wednesday July 16th, 1969 at 6:30 in
My eternal battle with headphones.
the morning. My family was enraptured, watching our brand-new color console TV, which weighed 4 billion pounds. I was bored and tired, because whatever they wanted me to see was being repeatedly delayed and I wanted to go back to bed. 

They kept nudging me, I watched the static image for a minute, and then Walter Cronkite's velvety voice put me right back to sleep.

And then, in living color, Apollo 11 exploded off the launch pad and suddenly every part of my existence was open for business.

My third memory was 4 days later, outside in our driveway, squinting up at the Moon, trying to see the astronauts up there.

Little Drummer Boy

Christmas, 1970. Please note: Paneling, hideous
lamp, decoupaged 3 wise men on TV, Dad
smoking at me, and my groooovy pants.
The third-trimester-kicking-along-in-time-to-the-radio-thing never really stopped. From my very first moments of consciousness I was whapping on stuff. Anything. Everything. My metronomes were kitchen clocks and turn signals, my instruments were wooden spoons and overturned colanders.

Before I understood anything I knew I needed to see other drummers. When I was 4 I would click around on the TV in the hopes of finding Doug Clifford of Creedence Clearwater Revival playing something. It was long odds, but sometimes I scored. When I finally saw Doug I would run to the kitchen and grab some pots and some spoons and set them up in front of the TV and play along.

When I was a little older and could read the TV guide I found my real mentors: Micky Dolenz and Chris Partridge - they both made it look so easy!
Xmas, 1972. Different drumset,
same hideous painting.

When I turned 4 and a half in 1970 my parents relented and bought me a kids drum set for Christmas. I also got one in 1971 and 1972. There is only one picture of each, on Christmas morning, because I destroyed each one by New Years. I wanted to be Doug Clifford, but acted more like Keith Moon.

Finally for my 7th birthday my extremely tolerant parents bought me a used full size kit. It was covered in radioactive K-mart bluegreen glitter flake and I loved it with all my heart. I never took any lessons or had any guide books or anything and I was about two feet too short to play it properly, but I learned the basics anyway (and a lot of bad habits), through sheer stupid repetition and Force of Will.

When I was 10 I had my debut. My friend Johnny Martin and I played "Joy to the World" for a talent show held by my cub scout troop. First prize was 50 bucks and a gold cup! keep in mind that this was 1975, and 50 bucks back then could buy you Bolivia. Johnny and I practiced every afternoon for months, and to this day I have zero desire to ever hear that song again.

"Jeremiah was a bullfrog." Finally, a REAL kit!
Long story short, we won, and when the applause ended Johnny and I were handed Ken Jorgensen’s bowling trophy and currency from a Monopoly game. And when all the grown-ups finished laughing at us they took these items away from us.

And sadly that fleeting brush with 25 hypothetical bucks still counts as one of the largest paydays I've ever had as a musician.

On to Kindergarten

Stage work notwithstanding I was mostly a shy, introverted child. I was left-handed and had long red hair and as such I qualified as a freakish girl, who would never be part of the 'in' crowd. I wasn't too put out.

Our family being a his, hers and ours arrangement I was the youngest and the third child, and so I was raised by the dogs for the most part. That's not a put down of my parents. I mean, by the time #3 is on their way up, you realize that not much is going to cause your kid permanent damage. Your parenting death grip relaxes.
Kelly. I was always welcome in her house.

And so I ate dirt. I ate bugs. I had an air rifle when the barrel was longer than I was tall. I rode my bike everywhere - preferably through shrubberies. I outsmarted the bullies, but also occasionally fought them off. I almost always had a band aid on me somewhere.

And if the night was cold I would go sleep with our German Shepherds in their doghouse in the backyard.

In a house run by two mirror-image Aries, and with a brother 12 years older and a sister who was working full time when she was 15, I was most often alone, but I don't remember being lonely.

I mean, I always had the stars and the grass and the tree in the backyard. And I always had my imagination, and so I had everything I could possibly dream of, right?

1968. (If you couldn't tell from our hair.)
And I was extremely low-maintenance. My Dad joked that the only way he could tell if I had a full diaper was by the flies. If my Mom needed me to be quiet for any length of time she just handed me my all-time favorite toy: A crank-handled egg beater.

As an infant we once spent a day at Vasquez rocks, sight of countless Sci-fi movies and several Star Trek episodes. I ignored all of that natural beauty and spent the entire day following a single ant across the landscape.

Various family members would come by and slap more sunscreen on me, and my Mom slowly fed me a sandwich across about 100 yards, but nobody interrupted my intense concentration for the entire day.

And that sums up my childhood pretty well: Laissez Fair Haired - He seems happy - let the little freak do what he wants.

Angus McMahan

1 comment:

  1. I miss DEC (makers of the PDP-8) (And I remember LBSambo's, too.)

    I'm really glad the chef-without-pants learned to focus on what-things-go-in (and how to make his own pancakes, with or without tigers) rather than focus on what-comes-out.... Though it does make me wonder a little more about why the chef-without-pants goes without...

    Oh, yea... Nice Post. :)