And Don’t Forget To Breathe

 

An Autobiography

 

 With Thematic Variation, Reinvention and (A Few) Fabrications.

But only in tiny amounts.

 

 

Part 1.

 

Reno, CA

I was, and will continue to be (along the time-space continuum), born in St. Mary’s Hospital, Reno. June 6, 1949 at 1:30 pm.

Reno? Seriously? Why there? We lived in Burbank!

Hmm.

Awe. Pretty cute, no?

Awe. Pretty cute, no?

 

Well… because my mother, (Helen) Elouise, my father, Frank (Arnold) and my five year old bro, Douglas Michael Young (who later takes the name Mike- NOT Michael- and it sticks), had been living with our Grandfather, Clifford Lee Newton and his common law, full blooded Paiute wife, Ethyl, in Greenville, Ca. My family had moved there so my Dad could find work. Only problem being is that it snows in Greenville. A lot. And my dad is a bricklayer. So in the winter, he was shit out of luck.

He is 26. My mom is 21.

Greenville was about 60 miles up very windy roads and well into the mountains, but Reno provided the only real hospital in the area. And that’s where my family headed when it was nearing time for ME! to arrive. I was born and two days later we trudged back to Greenville.

Now Greenville was, and is,  a lovely little town. I think we went back and forth from Burbank to Greenville several times over the years, until I was four or five, because I remember it very clearly.  There was an old hotel, a saloon and a couple of cafés. I remember Round Valley Reservoir, as well as the the Masonic lodge, built in 1883. I remember my Grandpa Clifford picking us up, my mother, Mike and new baby sister- my Dad was noticeably absent from these later trips- from the Greyhound Station in Chester; Grandpa Clifford stopped his pick-up truck on the way back to Greenville to back to shine a floodlight on his truck at some deer, later a mountain lion. On the 14 hour bus drive up from Los Angeles on Highway 395, I ended up vomiting my guts out and in a chain reaction my sister, then my brother joining in. And my mother giggling like crazy; she went into hysterics every time a situation got too stressful. I guess that’s an okay trait to have.

My mother was extremely cute. A doll. And oh! so young. My Dad was a handsome man, but oh! so very insecure.

I remember the house we lived in. No indoor plumbing, old rambling. With a creek running under it. It was heated by an iron stove.

I went through Greenville on the way back from delivering my younger son, Michael, to Grad School in Seattle two years ago. I decided to drive back inland through the mountains through Greenville. It hasn’t changed one bit. Not one franchise store, all the old edifices including the miniscule Sheriff’s Office/Jail and Masonic Lodge remain standing. It’s astounding really, that time passed this town by.

Grandpa Clifford in the Mason's, 1950

Grandpa Clifford in the Mason’s, 1950

 

 

Grandpa Clifford's Grave. I was the only person in my family who has visited his gravesite.

Grandpa Clifford’s Grave.
I was the only person in my family who has visited his gravesite.

 

 

I have happy memories in Greenville. We were so incredibly poor, but it didn’t matter. We got by somehow. Eventually, when my Dad and Grandpa Clifford had some kind of falling out, we headed back to Burbank, where my mom and dad had met in high school. These are splendid years, or they appeared to me as such. Kind of an underwater dream.

My little sister was born when I was three. Robin was a cutie, but I was a bit of the attention hog; I suffered her presence, jealous. I was sometimes mean to her, cruel actually. And very jealous of the attention she received. Damn my eyes. But hey! I was a little kid. And I love her now, all these years later.

 

Note: I directed a commercial for St. Mary’s, some 55 years later. Of all the hospitals in the U.S., for this project to have landed in my lap?  Bizarre, to say the least. During the shoot we ate lunch in the photocopy room which had been the Obstetrics Delivery Room until fairly recently. I was looking out the same windows my mother probably all but ignored in her throes of labor. 

Here is the Saint Mary’s Hospital commercial.

 

 

 

 

 

Burbank, CA

My Dad left the family when I was five years old.  He left us for Another Woman,  a barroom skank who knew that Dad had a Wife and Kids but still wanted him- in the worst way. Her name was Betty and she was a full blooded Native American. Or Indian- that’s what we called them then. Cherokee, actually. A real Cherokee, not just “we have Cherokee blood in us”. She was an alcoholic, but then, so was Dad.

Betty lived in a trailer park. She saw my Dad in the bar where she prowled and my where my Dad drank beer every night after night after work. He was a Masonry Contractor- a bricklayer actually. Who always called himself a Masonry Contractor. Later, he actually became a Masonry Contractor. Non-Union, but still.

Betty took him home to her trailer and?

Wouldn’t. Let. Him. Leave.

I wanted him back so badly that it caused an ache in my chest, a spasm- a total disassociation from reality. I took it very, very personally, his leaving.  I mean… if I loved and needed someone so much, identified with him so strongly, and he wouldn’t come back? Well, then? I was just… unlovable.

This set up a pattern in my life that I have been unable to break.

His  departure really devastated my big brother, Mike. He was 10 and my Dad’s abandonment pretty much knocked his stuffing out. My little sister was just a baby, so, as she grew older, was kind of ‘fuck him. I don’t even know the guy’.

And my poor, belovéd Mom.

Jesus.

My mother had to take a job (ending up at the Burbank Police Department where she was secretary), leaving us in the care of my grandmother, whom we were never, ever allowed to call Grandmother; she was always Mother Gladys. I guess  ’Grandmother’ made her feel old. She was only 39.

Mother Gladys. What a piece of work. She would drive my sister and me around in her pale green ’52 Chevrolet DeLuxe which had no seat belts, just a strap you grasped onto in the back seat. Front seat? You were on your own. And God was she mean. Head ringing slaps to the face were her specialty, although… I don’t remember my bro or sis getting them. Was it just because I a problem child? A behavioral mess?

I mean, I was just a little kid. But I became hyperactive, daydreamy… a little squirrely. I couldn’t sit still in school, frequently peed my pants and acted out in the way that drives Nuns crazy. Behavior that they had no concept of, that made them frantic.

Oh yeah. Catholic School. Oy. We went there, St. Robert Bellarmine in Burbank,  because my ‘Aunt’ Joan was Catholic. She had been inherited from Mother Gladys’ 3rd and final husband, Edward McSweeney.

I used to accompany my Grandmother to San Francisco to visit Grandpa Ed, whom I adored. He lived in the Irish Community in North Beach and his daughter Joan attended Mission Dolores Catholic School. His other daughter, Peggy, was an on again, off again junky. She came and went.

I loved the coffee houses and bars and the little Italian groceries Grandpa Ed took me to. He and friends were fucking hilarious, sly, underspoken and pretty much drunk all the time.

This was the same North Beach that gave birth to City Lights Bookstore and Espresso vendors.

San Francisco got into my blood at an early age. I loved the architecture and gestalt of the City. It was, it seemed, always foggy. We went to the City of Paris Department Store (torn down tragically in the 60s) and wandered Union Square, Market Street, Powell- taking the Cable Cars (“halfway to the stars”). And i loved Mission Dolores Schools. The nuns wearing full habits with wimple and rosaries, and I found them hilarious. Most were Irish and let you know it. They smelt good- clean, fresh, starched- devout.

Grandpa Ed and Mother Gladys bought a grocery store on Schrader Street in the Haight Ashbury. We lived in an apartment above and sent Joan off each day to school. I tagged along in the Grocery.

Alas- Grandpa Ed was diagnosed with lung cancer and I was sent back on the train to Burbank. He died very quickly and Mother Gladys and Joan followed us back. She moved into an apartment on Palms Avenue a few blocks from where my Mother lived on Cypress with Robin and Michael.

We left Burbank, and Catholic School, for San Mateo in 1956, renting a house at 356 42nd Avenue. Somehow I have managed to remember all the addresses where I have lived. They’re imprinted in my memory.

Hmm.

All the women in my family were divorced but they kept the last names of their former husbands as a kind of Sacred Trust. The surname was something bestowed on them and they cherished being Mrs. McSweeney, Mrs. Young and Mrs. Murchison. I remember them in the morning getting ready for work, all spraying hair spray on their hair. And smoking. A toxic cloud engulfed them and my little sister and we got lungs full of it. But we didn’t mind. It was a joy listening then complain about men.

 

 

Til the day she died she remained Mother Gladys.

And beyond. We still talk about Mother Gladys- she sort of mellowed out towards the end. At one point, maybe during the Lawrence Welk Show, she turned to me and said,

“You had a real hard childhood. We put a lot of shame on you.”

Wow.

 

To be continued.

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