Archive for April, 2017

Family Paradox………………..#41 (the 50’s)

April 12, 2017

Aunt Loretta, Gary and Smokey

The decision was made,  with Gary’s newly developed aspiration for financial autonomy,   it was time to open a new chapter,  this summer would be his last with the Oakland Tribune.   He would be starting at Castlemont in January and deemed it unacceptable to maintain his paper delivery route and participate in school activities.   This was the reason he propagated,  but in reality,  high school marked a new level of stature and the stigma of paperboy was intolerable.   He still had a fall semester in junior high to complete and time and opportunity to seek another source of financial gain that could complement his ascendancy.

Gary’s parents were unique,  at least the teenager thought so, the history of  their two families presenting a paradox.   His Mothers family, the Potters, read like a book,  her father a successful  construction  contractor raising three daughter and two sons before and during the struggling days of the depression,  provided them a good home and education.  Gary’s father was one eight  children, with an older brother passing in infancy,  the family being dispersed with the passing of his mother at the age of three, his Grandfather Willson  unable to assemble a household  for his family,  the  girls subject to a Catholic Convent,   the  eldest son institutionalized with a disability,  Gary’s Dad and his remaining older brother  made wards of the state, the twenty dollars per month state endowment finding receptive families.   Thru the years Gary’s Dad maintained contact with his two youngest  sisters, but the older brother remained elusive and like the elder  sisters  disappeared,  lost in the limbo of the past.

Gary was acquainted with all his mother family with a very young childhood memory of his Aunts and Uncles.   His visits to Etna allowing time with his aunt Della and Uncle Sam and notwithstanding the many visits to his Aunt Alice and cousins in San Francisco.  Gary’s  Dad’s sisters, his Aunt Loretta and Grace were different from his mother’s side of the family,  being raised in a Catholic Convent,  they never fomented any family kinship activities, making it difficult for the young lad to discern their personalities.   His Aunt Grace having been married a prominent union official who had passed and remarried to a stanch disciplinary , was what the young man consider proper and correct, she would espouse a correction if someone mispronounced the word Aunt.  It had to be Ont,  not Ant which juveniles sometimes enumerate.   The teenager often wondered how Grace’s daughter, his cousin Lorraine survived.   Gary viewed his Aunt Loretta as contrary to her sister,  she spoke in the vernacular and regarded anything serious as fatuous.    She imbibed as an occupational hazard,  but in her line of work  it was understandable having to confront  the patrons of  intemperance.

The No. 5 McAllister - Ferry electric bus

The No. 5 McAllister – Ferry electric bus

Aunt Loretta & Uncle Dino at Gary’s home in Oakland

Gary and his friend Dale Spady boarding a San Francisco destined bus for a trip golden Gate Park and the Morrison Planetarium.   Gary having attended many planetarium programs,  contemplated that Dale might enjoy a journey to the far reaches of  the universe courtesy of the California Academy of Science.   Disembarking from a  #5  McAllister bus not at Golden Gate Park but at Van Ness Ave.,  the two walking three blocks to a not so reputable drinking and small luncheon establishment  belonging  to Gary’s Uncle Dino and Aunt Loretta.   Dino Tognozzi prided himself as an Italian and rightly honored as he was from Italy,  the Italian cuisine he tabled was exquisite.   Being located on Van Ness Automobile Row and with  booths for serving nourishment,  elevated Dino’s Lucky 13 Club from skid-row bar to a nonpareil establishment.   Gary, on these San Francisco excursion would pause to visit  and the positive repose with the Aunt was always mutual.   The two enjoyed each other’s company and of course he never turned down the monetary surplus that was added by her with each visit bolstering their  relationship.

Inside San Francisco's Morrison Planetariium

Inside San Francisco’s Morrison Planetarium

The Morrison Planetarium was five years in the making and the 2 1/2 ton optical device was the first star projector building endeavour in the United States.   Gary having been introduced  years before and  was never disappointed in the presentations.   The 65 foot diameter domed room with its silhouetted panoramic skyline donning the walls,  providing cushioned lean-back chairs and giant universe projecting camera presents a breathtaking display.  Always amazed with the sun setting and a first glimmer of stars,  a meteor streaks across the sky,   beckoning a pristine world that enables a bounding imagination to appear as the  inspirational program begins.   Upon conclusion, the sound of Edvard Grieg’s Morning Moods from the Peer Gynt Suite caresses the darken  star filled night sky giving way to a gradual emerging pink hue,  submitting a scent of purple laden clouds, the picturques San Francisco skyline announcing the dawn of another days awakening.   Exiting the performance Gary could see the reaction from those first time viewers,  it was always the same,  even Dale espoused it,  a peaceful  glow of contentment.  The visits to the planetarium providing a meaningful communication with the realms of another world,  his visit with his Aunt Loretta a similar encounter.



Cigarettes & Imaginary Adulthood….#42 (the 50’s)

April 10, 2017

Pack of Camels from the vending machine

The only thoughts the young man had about smoking involved the scent of pipe tobacco.  Gary noticed the different aromas ebbing from the various brands of tobacco and found some were very pleasing.   He was vigil to media’s introduction of the stereotype pipe smoker, one sitting in a book filled library, attired in a smoking jacket, a tabled beverage and a distinguished pipe in hand.    He harbored no motivation or ambience  towards smoking,  but this presentation left unanswered questions.  His dad smoked but it didn’t register as consequence,  it was accepted as common practice.

The ad reads “Just what the Doctor ordered”

The ninth grader was somewhat surprised, it was unexpected, having frequented Dale Spady’s house after school no longer saddled with a paper route, their normal routine being to discern the afternoon antics of  The Ernie Kovacs Show television show.  Dale nonchalantly producing a pack cigarettes and offering him one,  stating it was the brand his Mother smoked.  Gary noticing it was a pack of L&M’s,  a relatively new filter brand, his dad strictly a Lucky Strike man.  Gary’s first inclination was to decline, but that didn’t resonate, it wasn’t peer pressure that influencing his decision,  it was the invitation and it was Dale.   He realized smoking was a common desire upheld by a diversity of people and now an opportunity presented itself to cross the deduction threshold and find the reason why.

A first cigarette was experienced, the teenager concluding that it wasn’t mitigating,  holding it, bringing it to your lips, furrowing  your brow and inhaling slowly but halting the smoke before it enters the lungs, then enacting the challenge, like making that first dive off a diving board into cold water, the smoke clouded breath entering briefly before being expelled.  He had envisioned scenes many time on  the giant screen where a cigarette set the tone for an event or accented a situation, but standing mimicking these actions didn’t seem to embossed an endowed sense of attainment, but briefly gave an imaginary perception of a giant step in the direction of adulthood.

Machine price $.23 cents - two cents change in the pack

Machine price $.23 cents – two cents change in the pack

bond street

He purchased his first pack of cigarettes from Ed’s Signal Station on Mountain Blvd.   The pack of Camels costing 23 cents from the vending machine and with a quarter deposited,  the change of two cents was returned enclosed in the cellophane on the side of the pack.  As a novice smoker, unlike Dale who surreptitiously borrowed mom’s cigarettes, deciding he would never smoke the same brand as his dad not that it would happen but just incase an accusation of ownership is made.  Gary understood the ramifications of smoking and was cognizant to where and when he would indulge, establishing a protocol,  not to secrete his newly found exponent,  but at the same time not to openly publish it either.

A first but not a last.

A brief attempt to keep his indulgence somewhat secluded was short-lived, but to no avail, his mother taking him aside and being forthright, that if he was going to smoke, at least smoke something aromatic.  Gary discovering his Mom, a non smoker, likened the fragrance of pipe tobacco and with this response, the door to smoking was opened at home, but limited to a pipe.  The youth entering a variety filled world of pipe tobaccos, starting with the most popular, Prince Albert in a can, but after sampling many brands, experiencing the different aromas, taste or how hot, he settled on Bond Street, a Philip Morris product.  He concluded that at no time would smoking have any priority and would remain recreational and for now his cigarette smoking was a private event with the exception of  Dale as none of his other friends smoked.  Gary reasoned, at his age abiding and smoking around others could be misinterpreted and divisional especially by adults, but with like-minded companions it was a time for lighter conversion and procrastination, finding even smoking alone was a meaningful time-out call for one to gather thoughts in the game of life.

Signal Station Prospective…..#43 (the 50’s)

April 8, 2017
A typical neighborhood Signal Station

A typical neighborhood Signal Station

Gary having relinquished his Oakland Tribune paper rout as did his friends,  Hank Ball and Don Bryant had before starting high school.  The midterm student in his final semester at Frick Junior High, discovering a subtle change in his now high school friends.


Sirens wailing,  the sound echoing from Gary’s bike,  bellowing its approach down Shone Avenue,  getting closer to Fletcher’s Signal Station across Mountain Boulevard.  Several high school teens with modified cars,  their header pipe covers removed having heard his approach. They  quickly began turning off ignitions,  silencing the deepthroated engine sounds emitting from the by-passed mufflers.


The teen gathering stood waiting for the appearance of a law enforcement black and white, presuming someone had complained about the noise.  Heads turning toward the oncoming sound,  a nervous shuffle detected among the group,  save one,  Ted Riley, the older high school graduate who worked evenings at the Signal Station,  he knew that it was only Gary and his bike siren.


Ted having graduated from Bishop O’Dowd Catholic High School, the newest school in Oakland,  a member of its first graduating class.  He worked weekends and evening from five till ten, being the only station employee in addition to Ed Fletcher, the owner. Ted watching the street rod group scramble.


Releasing the cord fastened to the latch which swiveled the bike siren against the tire,  the sound coming to an abrupt end.  Gary pedaling across Mountain Boulevard to the  service station, promptly discovering he wasn’t the most popular person in the assembly… The teenager was spending more time at the station in the evenings, Ted letting him assist in full service stops.  He also had a new-found interest, Ted’s 1950 red Oldsmobile convertible.   Ted having yet to modify the engine from stock, but having glass pack twin mufflers and air-lifts shocks installed in the rear to give a forward rake appearance.

Gary having made a decision, but was hesitant in approaching Ed Fletcher about a position as an attendant or helper, but finally deciding otherwise.    He was disappointed with Ed’s explanation, the teen would have to be older to pump gas for reasons of  insurance, but could perform the other service tasks,  such as windshields, checking the oil, tire pressure and general shop cleanup.  But, There was one major difficulty,  the station didn’t need another employee.


The Station was mostly a neighborhood business, patronized  by  local residence, the staff  and visitors of Oak Knoll Naval Hospital located a half mile down the road.   The two lane meandering Mountain Blvd. wasn’t considered a major thru way,  but was used by many in Hayward or San Leandro wanting to bypass Oakland’s congested traffic when going to Richmond,  the North Bay or Caldecott Tunnel to Orinda and Martinez.


Gary understood the employment situation,  having an awareness of the stations business aspect and volume.   His spring enrollment to Castlemont High was approaching and for the time being it would be best to maintain the status quo and continue to hang out and be of some help to Ted, besides just to be party to the 50 Olds boasted his resolve.



Setting aside his employment situation,  he reasoned some ambitions need to go undiscovered until ready to be fulfilled, and was confident a solution was destined to  come with time.

Castlemont – Another Beginning..#44 (the 50’s)

April 6, 2017

Castlemont High School – 1929 voted the country’s most                        beautiful new brick structure

The first impression “It lives up to its name”,  standing and reflecting on the serenity of the lily pads adrift on the embayment of water in the large structured reflection pool dawning before this magnificent complex.  Gary sensed Castlemont wasn’t merely another public school building it was a pulsating vibrant entity with its historic Tudor facade,  towers adorned with ivy stretching heavenwards.  The Host presenting an intuitive beckoning as if welcoming a prodigal son, a consciousness of belonging occupied the young man’s substance and he felt accepted.

Castlemont was conceived by John J Donovan who propagated the conception of many schools throughout the nation included among them was Oakland Technical High.   The school building and grounds was conceived in 1927 and given birth in 1929 as East Oakland High School.  The name was short-lived and changed to Castlemont after a vote of students and faculty prior to receiving an award for being the most  beautiful new brick structure in The United States, the award was from the prestigious  Common Brick Manufacturers Association of America.

The Castlemont campus was immense, with its track, football field, swimming pool, staff and student parking and a two-story modern addition added to the classic building, plus the presence of several portable buildings, an area encompassing over 25 square city blocks. The city of Oakland having added 90,000 citizens to its population since 1929, Castlemont having greatly increased its staff, Gary estimating the student numbers between 2500 and 3000.  The staff consisting of Mr. Baker, Principal, Mrs Brohm and Mr. Quellmalz Vice Principals, 8 officer workers, 9 maintenance personnel, 16 cafeteria workers, 3 librarians, a nurse and 89 educators better known as teachers., a goliath of a three-year public school.

Castlemont – another view from MacArthur Blvd.

Gary found an environment totally dissimilar from what he had envisioned.   The hustle of student activity was organized, unlike the sinuous rush in junior high an aura of knowledge existed,  radiating a viable sense of attainment, the teenager initiating the educational classroom with his presence and behold academicism  prevailed, the Teen soon finding himself with the burden of study.   Geometry was a test of memory,  axioms,  postulates,  theorems,  he tried his best to find an application for instant recall,  but resolved to a commitment of memory.   The similarities in equating his junior high algebra teacher and his present geometry teacher was uncanny, both instructors resembling each other in appearance.  Gary often wondered if Castlemont geometry teacher Mr. Malmsten played a musical instrument with the Oakland Symphony whom engaged the algebraic instructor Mr. Conley at Frick Junior High.   After Mrs. Funnell Latin class in the 9th grade, the Young Man opted for Mrs. Haist  Spanish tutorial,  considering it would acquire less effort.   Perquisites included English with Mr. Darling; Biology, Mrs Harris, One eyed Coach Street in P.E. and one semester of typing as an elective to improve his  self-taught  typing, having been typing since Junior High on a  1927  Underwood that his mother purchased from Natalie Calhoun,  a close family friend and Professor at Mills College.

Mr. Malmsten & Mrs. Harris

One Eyed Mr. Clarence Street

A new experience was dressing for gym.   Prior to starting school, the sporting goods store on MacArthur Blvd. was patronized and an athletic support and a pair of gray gym shorts purchased.   Gym lockers were issued and with tennis shoes and other  required vesture suitably stowed,  Mr Street proceeded to instruct the class on the rules of the shower room.   The rules were basic,  you would participate,  you had an allotted time to get in and out and with great amusement the P.E. instructor demonstrated how to properly dry one’s body with a towel.

Hank Ball and Don Bryant

82 nd ave.

Six uphill blocks of 82nd Ave.

Gary’s high school year beginning with two options for traversing to school, the first was taking the bus as did Hank and Don, the second was ambulatory indulgence.   A walk up Shone Ave. and Sterling Drive to Crest Ava overlooking the vastness of San Francisco Bay, then taking the path shortcut down to 82nd Ave. continuing the six blocks to MacArthur and the three blocks to the Castlemont.  The walk to school wasn’t considered physically depleting, but the reverse meant going up 82nd Ave from MacArthur’s 73 ft. elevation to Crest 479 ft.  Gary estimated the distance was only a mile,  but the six blocks was like walking up flights of stairs  in a forty story building.   The #56 bus could be boarded at 90th and McArthur providing another way home, a decision that both options would be exploited,  depending on the situation.  The youth was once more joined in educational habitat with his friends,  Don and Hank,  his cohort Dale Spady  would be moving  to Castro Valley after this spring semester,  their high school system not participating in midterm graduations,  enabling Dale  to move ahead a semester.   Many  acquaintances from junior high failing to accompany Gary to Castlemont,  their residency being outside the Castlemont  attendance region, instead most attending Fremont High.  With the dawning of a far larger class,  he was looking towards acknowledging a host of new advocates, sharing expectations, aspirations and formulating new friendships.

Castlemont represented more than an advancement to a higher educational plain,  the opportunity introducing one to a host of diversity and a legion of  new experiences,  ascertaining some detrimental, but others offering  enlightenment,  Gary reasoning that the proof is in the pudding.

Planting A Seed……………….#45 (the 50’s)

April 4, 2017

A Motley Crew at Pops cabin

They call him Pop Graham, but his first name was Sterling, he was Gary’s Dad closes friend, a fellow driver at the affluent Interbay Lumber Company.  Gary having accompanied his Dad on several Saturdays to this place of employment and introduced to this older slight man with a perpetual pleasantry about him.   Gary astonished that such a tenuous size person was able to navigating the largest truck in the company’s fleet.  He was aware of the strength it took to maneuver the non-power assisted steering his wonderment remaining.  When the company needed a tandem tractor-trailer long haul, Pop was the one they called upon.
Gary discovering  that Pop had a secret, having a retreat stashed away in the Sierra foothills twenty minutes from San Andreas,  near the town of Mountain Ranch.  His dad’s friend generously extending an invitation to the family to utilize his cabin and it’s yet to be finished facilities.  Gary having ventured north to the Siskiyou Marble and Trinity Mountains and their cascading  wilderness  was unprepared for the low mountain foothills of the Sierra range.   The youth feeling somewhat disappointed,  but the journey to the Calaveras County hideaway was a retirement from the city communal existence of Oakland.

The two lane narrow Mountain Ranch Road

The two lane narrow Mountain Ranch Road

Pop’s cabin – Kay & Nancy

Pop’s Cabin, as it was referred to by the family wasn’t exactly just what the word cabin implied, it was basically a dwelling consisting of a kitchen, bedroom with a bathroom and a single larger room with a front door entrance extending across the front .  The Kitchen just able to complement  a wood burning cook stove, sink and refrigerator, but also having a side door to the outside.   Water was supplied from a well located below and adjacent to a nearby creek fed by natural flowing springs.  The water being pumped up hill from the well to a cistern and gravity fed from its above location to the cabin. The surroundings included a wooded expanse enclosing a large pond area with run-off  adding water to the creek.  With the coolness of the evening setting in,  the sun retreating in the west,  the household enjoying the seclusion of the environment and the quietness of it placidity.

Mom and Smokey on the Mokelumne River bridge

Gary having planned ahead bringing his fishing pole and tackle box. This wasn’t a lake in the Marble Mountains,  but a  substitute miniature reasonable facsimile and from what Pop had said, fish were abundant.   Leaving his sisters and parents secure in the cabin,  following  a deer trail path through the darken shadowing woods towards his destination.  The stillness of the seclusion, alone thinking he had escaped the bounds of family,  when he heard the silence broken,  some noise behind him,  a rustle in the underbrush.   Stopping and turning about, discovering It was  Smokey, the family dog, his room sharing companion that slept at the foot of his bed.  Smokey once a stray,  his Dad having rescued this canine from his life in oblivion over a year ago.  The youth continuing on his mission, reaching the far side of the pond, finding an open downwind accessible area,  placing a synthetic worm and bobber on the leader line,  casting the rigging outward  into the immobile stillness of the expanse of fluidity.  Then out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of a dark coated four-legged heterotrophic missile  launched and tracking airborne towards the water.  The projectile entering the wetness with a resounding reverberation , sending it effluence cascading  skyward  engulfing the area,  soaking Gary in liquid bath.  The youth determining, fishing and water spaniels are not a compatible combination.

It was noticeable these visit to Pops Cabin instilled a long but secret desire in his father, soon discovering he was  inquiring about the assets needed to secure property in the tranquility of the Sierra Mountainous countryside.  The family traveling Highway  49,  symbolically named after the 49er’s of  the California gold rush era, The Gold Country Highway.  These journeys  providing a staging area for stopping and researching the many real estate opportunities that abounded.  Gary concluding,  the seed had been planted and would soon flourish.

Captive Accommodation……#46 (the 50’s)

April 2, 2017
School smoking policy - a silent publication

School smoking policy – a silent publication

Another closed campus, another Doggie Diner no longer accessible, Gary disappointed,  all the Oakland Public Schools espousing  closed campuses’.  Commencing with his  final semester at Frick Junior High,  the Doggie Diner and Foster Freeze across Foothill Blvd. from the Junior High proclaimed off-limits during school hours and to leave the school grounds requiring a permission slip.  Frick compensating for the luncheon menu loss by adding a Cafeteria Sandwich Bar area,  where hamburgers,  french fries, milk shakes and sundry candy items could be purchased.

Gary having looked forward to venturing off campus at Castlemont for lunch, especially to the malt shop in the 8300 block of MacArthur Blvd,  a burger,  fountain establishment and a haven for teenager to congregate.  Recalling from earlier years  during his journey home from the Castlemont pool,  the doors being open, hearing the music, the teens dancing to the jukebox.   The Doggie Diner across from Castlemont also falling  victim to the campus student captivation imposed by the Oakland Public School’s new policy,  having succumbed to closure with its enactment.  There was no recourse, so with solitude resolve he made use of the school cafeteria with the rest of the captives.

Dale Spady and Gary

The young man was uncomfortable this noon hour,  a feeling of being under observation prevailed as he made his way beside the fenced-in oval track and football field,  heading in the direction of the swimming pool.   Along this route  groups of students were huddled in clusters,  several benches and trash containers abounded.  Gary looking for a recognizable acquaintance, it was his first time in this area.   Across the way an acknowledge figure was standing, grasping with his fingers the glowing pertinacity for his presence, raising the fixture to his lips, the figure inhaled the clouded gray mist that exited from the cigarette.  Gary halted,  greeting his friend Dale Spady,  having arrived at what was commonly referred to as  The Smoking Alley.

Since the closing of the campus, Castlemont providing a supervised smoking area for the student body,  students being allowed to smoke before the start of morning class and during the lunch hour with a staff member present for oversight. The openness of smoking on campus concerned the teen, it wasn’t like he was performing something reprehensible,  but troubling in that it was something he didn’t want publicized.  This initial feeling began to lift upon recognizing the number of pronounced students and members of the teaching staff who acceded in the enjoyment of a cigarette.  The association with the smokers endowed a sense of being a constituent with these affluent upper classmen, but the youth knew the reality, this was all a pretense for justification.

Gary was not aware of the school smoking policy until after his arrival and the subject was never brought to discussion at home or mentioned to his nonsmoking friends, although this unspoken word had a silent publication.    Gary concluding: accommodation sometimes dictates engagement.