Why I Went Down From A Louisville Slugger
When I was young and living in Compton, back about the time my sister listened to heavy R&B and would sneak off with Polly Bergan's sister to hear "The Deacon" play saxophone and hope to catch a glimpse of him through an open door at the night club, my Aunt Ludmilla and Uncle Tadeaus arrived at the big train station in Los Angeles, the one near the old restaurant that had sawdust on the floor and served french dip sandwiches, though it wasn't kosher. They carried large leather suitcases and visited us.
The time was near Christmas or my birthday, and the whole family chipped in, or so I was led to believe, and bought me a bicycle. This was a most unusual event, this form of generosity, and I will explain the reason why at a later time.
When I rode my bicycle, I felt just like the guy in the picture. This is the bike I used to ride down the walls of the L.A. River, which was actually quite a distance from where we were living at the time, sometimes through dicey neighborhoods, and I would have to sneak off to do so. Daredevil child. I'd ride up and down the bill hills outside of the Rattlesnake Baptist Church. I'd ride it over to the Big Do-Nut that had just opened. Many of the older children coveted my bike and some tried to steal it, but I would keep my bicycle safe from their grasping envious hands. One time a boy asked to ride it, and I said sure, but he turned around and gave me a smile like he was going to pull off a fast one, and he began pedaling away as if he were trying to steal my bike (which he was). I ran after and held on to the back and was dragged a bit, both feet skidding on the asphalt, until he slowed from the weight and that made him lose balance. No more rollerskating across town to get a record, I could ride a bike. And speaking of rollerskating! The little girls were so tough in that town, they'd eat shredded wheat without milk! and the girls would sometimes strap on the old metal skates ... and they'd be BAREFOOT! And they'd double-jump with two ropes barefoot, and my Filippina friend would say that reminded her of a rope dance they did in the Phillipines before they moved to Compton. (Hey, I was ok at the rope dancing, too, I could do double dutch and know the songs).
The one time my bike was stolen from me was in Claremont in 1960 or so. That time, it was stolen by a policeman. This was a small town (with less than 1000 residents), this involved the boy who I was trying to keep safe from the stupid nasty redneck boys threatening him on the playground, not two weeks after we had moved to this much safer and nicer community from big bad Compton, and I was the one knocked unconscious by the baseball bats they were weilding. He used crutches as he'd had polio, and it seemed to me those nasty redneck boys were trying to frighten him and were in other ways bullying him.
So I'd interceded.
I had walked to that school at my parent's bequest, because I was new in town and they wanted me to make friends by going to summer arts and crafts classes and stay out of trouble. I walked to the school with a girl who was going to show me around the new school. All I learned was how to braid key ring holders from bits of red, white, and blue plastic strips which were supposed to look like cool Indian leather weavings because they were braided, but they didn't, they were just hokey even to my young eye. The plastic strips were much thinner than the ones which flew in the wind like cat tails on the handlebars on my bicycle.
Even though they selected the girl's model with the rifle guard and rifle, they and my parents did not approve of guns even as toys for kids, especially not in increasingly violent Compton, so I had saddle bags on mine. And as I kid I liked Hopalong because he never shot any body, not even a bad man, he'd have a fist fight or subdue them in other ways. He really wore a white hat. William Boyd, as the actor, would remind the writers of the character of Hopalong so he did not as hero greatly harm any adversary, although they were brought to justice.
I'd hear stories about the older girls, who were tough and in junior high, who would jump on the backs of male adversaries when there was a little rumble or street tussle. And even coming out of a theater could be dangerous, as my sister's boyfriend of the time who already had his lower teeth knocked out would wear the new suede baker's jacket my sister got him for Christmas (after messing with a receipt where her friend ran a cash register), and someone would want to start trouble, and his new jacket would be slit down the arm with a knife just that fast. That whole rumble business on the streets was a place I did not ever want to go to, even as a kid, I wanted no part of gangs or violence, and they were everywhere then. I'd sneak off and I'd ride my bike to the library.
All the time I grew up in Compton, although odd things happened, I'd emerged intact. I had never been subject to a violent act (or if I had, I'd escaped them) like the kind I received at the hands of the dumb redneck with the baseball bat. The gutless redneck wonder even hit me from behind. Then later that year in my first year in 6th grade, a fat boy who was alarmed by the little doodles I drew of vatos in shades with a knife sticking through the shoulder of his draped zoot suit (we had to sit in assigned seats) suddenly turned around while we were chalking in a saber toothed tiger on a mural, and he and his friend were becoming increasingly violent in their conversation about the saber tooth and wanting to kill it (as some kids play), and I'd told them to knock it off, so the fat little bastard stabbed me in the arm with a pencil ... and like a street punk, he stabbed me right where I had an open would on my arm from falling down on my bicycle when I was doing stunts. That was 6th grade there, my first year in Claremont, patriotic key chain holders and sudden violence from the poorly put together white kids. So you can imagine what Junior High was going to be like .... (and I'm telling you, that place was fucking BRUTAL! especially when the new black doctor in town tried to enroll his daughter into school there. Oh shit! She lasted less than a week.) And, ok, so what I wore my collar even on my gym outfit turned up a little bit, that didn't mean anything too much, did it?
For the rest of this story, perhaps excluding the talent show and song Frank Zappa encouraged me to sing that resulted in me being suspended for a few days before summer vacation, you can read Carolyn Wing's volume of HER life and her middle school experiences at El Roble Intermediary, where apparently the old oak tree along the driveway was so embarrassed by the children's behavior, it has since withered and died,and they can't even keep the topiary El Roble going ... it just continues withering in shame