This is an uncorrected chapter of a book I’m working on provisionally titled Live From California: The ’60s — Before, During, and After — 1935-1973.
It’s sort of an autobiography of my first 38 years, which includes my observations on the ’60s. Having grown up in San Francisco, going to Lowell, which was the edge of the Haight-Ashbury district, having dropped out of the straight world in 1965, I have a different take on what went on in these few years, before everything — at least in the Haight district — fell apart.
Lowell was the one high school in San Francisco you could attend, regardless of what district you lived in. It was one of the best high schools in the country and many graduates went on to Stanford or Cal (UC Berkeley).
(Interestingly, Lowell was the subject of a New Yorker article titled What Happens When an Elite Public School Becomes Open to All in March, 2022. There was no test required to get into Lowell in my day, but in intervening years, demand to attend was so great that testing was required and this became a controversial issue — too much to cover here.)
*Mrs. Wasp, my fifth grade teacher told me I should study to be a lawyer, I guess because I argued so much.
My two favorite teachers were Mrs. Cooper, who encouraged me to write, and Jack Patterson, the journalism teacher. Years later, at a reunion, three of us discovered we were in our present occupations (English teacher, staff the San Francisco Examiner, and publisher) — largely due to “Captain Jack.”
Patterson had been a captain in the Marines and had a Silver Star from World War II. He was small and wiry, bald, and had piercing blue eyes that twinkled with humor and mischief. It turned out he was gay, although he never came on to us.
He was a great teacher. I remember to this day how he described the “five w’s and one h” of journalism that, he said, should be in the first paragraph of every news story: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
And how a journalist’s duty was to report objectively (as far as that was possible). Opinion was for the editorial page. How relevant that is in these days of “fake news.”
He got fired eventually. At the time, he owed money to a bunch of friends and since he’d lost his job, he decided to rob a bank in Texas. He entered the bank with a tear gas gun and a .22 pistol. The tear gas gun didn’t fire, so he fired the .22 in the air three times. He was apprehended before he could get away, and because of the gunshots, was imprisoned for armed robbery.
One of Patterson’s former students had been Pierre Salinger; Pierre had been the editor of The Lowell, the school newspaper. Pierre went on to become President Jack Kennedy’s press secretary.
From jail, Patterson got in touch with Pierre, who got Kennedy to issue a pardon and he got out of jail. The athletic director at Stanford gave Patterson a job on the campus. I’m so sorry I never went to thank him in person for his guidance.
I’d played football in my neighborhood in earlier years, but for some reason didn’t go out for high school football until my last year.
I wasn’t successful. For one thing, all the other guys had two or three more years of high school experience than I did. For another, the football coach was also the swimming coach, and he didn’t want me playing football.
I wanted to play halfback — I knew I could run and catch passes from neighborhood games — but the coach made me play defensive halfback. The first time at practice, our 220 lb. fullback George Schwarz broke through the line and was charging towards me. I weighed 150, and decided then and there I wasn’t going to put my head down and tackle him. Law of physics, or self-preservation. I didn’t get to play too much that season.
In later years, I was glad I wasn’t the football star I aspired to be, as I saw all my football friends suffering years later from the contact aspect of the sport — something that wasn’t noticeable in younger years.
But a couple of good things came out of football:
- Each night after practice at the polo fields in Golden Gate Park, we had to run around the ¾-mile track in full gear. I did it faster than anyone else, and it led me into going out for cross-country and then running the half-mile on the track team.
- On the bus to and from practice I started sitting next to Gary Friedman, a star wide receiver. Gary liked me, even if I wasn’t playing football at his level. He “adopted” me, in a sense.**Looking back, I can see that at various times in my life, people have “adopted” me. It happened again at Stanford, and a number of times in the publishing business — people who for some reason liked what I was doing and helped me move along through life.
I was on the swimming team — diving during 10th grade, the 100-yard butterfly my last two years. I was on what they called the 130s, a team for lighter weight, smaller guys and I got first place in each event. But it wasn’t the same as varsity swimming.
Bob McGrouther and I were the school half milers. Bob was 6′4″, and the track coach said I took 3 steps to every 2 of Bob’s. Bob was consistently faster than me. My best times were 2:06 in the half mile, and 4:53 in the mile. Good, not great. (Bob ran the half mile in 2:03 and a sophomore, Pete Ryder, ran the mile in 4:45.)
(These were years when you didn’t have to concentrate on one sport, as nowadays.)
My three best friends, the guys I hung out with, went to parties with, had adventures with turned out to be Gary, John Brazier, and Ron Chapman.
Read More …