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Wednesday, January 10, 2001

01.10.01. Ten days into the year, and it's still looking like some futuristic cyber-date. I remember studying binary numbers in eighth grade, around the end of the Paleolithic Era, except that back then it was called "base two" and had no real life application that we could possibly imagine. We studied "base five" and "base eight" with the same arcane interest. It was like learning hieroglyphics. Or Latin. I took two years of Latin, and I'm sure I'm a better person for it.

This being 2001 and all, that would mean that the picture of me below is fifty years old. It was taken in 1951 (that's how I figured that out) and I was two. I don't remember it, but I'm told it was at the opening of a new bank in the town of my birth, Ukiah, California.

isn't he cute?

Festively festooned with floral arrangements, it was also infested by a photographer from the local paper, who snapped my picture as I took a whiff of the flowers on my level. (I was short even then.) It appeared in the paper, to the merriment of all (I'm sure). So sad, to have peaked so early.

In January of 1961, I was in sixth grade at Fremont School. Mr. Nash brought in a TV set and we watched, in black and white, the inauguration of President Kennedy. Yes, I heard the "ask not" speech live. I also remember Robert Frost stepping up to the podium and reading a poem, his breath visible in the cold Washington air.

I remember two other dates from 1961. On April 12, the Soviet Union launched a cosmonaut named Yuri Gagarin into orbit, beating the U.S. by sending the first man into space.

A few weeks later, on May 5, I got up early and turned on the TV to watch the first Mercury astronaut, Alan Shepard, in his abbreviated flight. He splashed down as planned a few miles off the Florida coast, and I think I saw the whole thing before I had to get ready for school that day. That was the beginning of a fascination with space travel. I was up for every Mercury, Gemini and Apollo launch, and I followed all the flights with great interest.

unhappy 12-yr-old; redundant?That fall I started junior high, an adventure in itself. The first day of school my best friend and I were set upon by a troop of marauding eighth graders, who smeared lipstick and shoe polish all over our faces and clothes. Lipstick comes out, but shoe polish (at least the kind they had forty years ago) burns like lye, and it takes a few days to wear off your skin. I've recovered, physically at least. I think the emotional scars have healed as well. I was pretty much over it by the time I graduated from high school.

In 1971 I graduated from college. I spent the last semester of my senior year at Santa Barbara taking seminar courses in which I had no interest. I was an English major, so it was reasonable to do a thesis on Appalachian folk ballads. There's no evidence of any scholarly work I produced for that course, but I'm sure I did well on the written part, because I always did. For the same reason, I'm sure the oral presentation was a disaster, even though I've mercifully repressed the memory.

During that semester I also worked as a volunteer aide in a third grade classroom at the school for children of university students and faculty. I was much beloved of the children in that class, as well as their teacher, which is why it was such a shock that fall when I failed so miserably as a student teacher.

I was placed in a fifth-sixth combination at a school in town, under three master teachers. I worked hard, staying up half the night polishing my lesson plans, and I got along well with the kids in small groups or one-on-one. But I had no command of the classroom. At 22, I didn't have the presence to stand at the board and keep the attention of that many ten- and eleven-year-olds.

There was a glut of teachers at that time, and I knew I wasn't doing well enough to get hired, although for some reason I was confident I could have done the job. I quit the credential program after one semester, but I think I would have been asked to leave if I hadn't done so on my own.

In 1981, I took over as manager of a shoe store on the San Francisco peninsula. For a few weeks I commuted from Santa Rosa, but that was a long, difficult drive even at that time. So I moved away from my family again, for the first time since college.

I made some friends there, with a few of the people who worked for me, but I drove back to Santa Rosa almost every weekend. Eric was five, and David was born in June of that year, and I took advantage of every chance I had to spend time with them.

I was a great success at the shoe store at first, mostly because the previous manager had been stealing from the company and his staff hadn't been trained and weren't being supervised. I turned that around quickly, and we became known for our good service (which helps, when you're charging the highest price around).

For awhile, I was a hero, because I made money for the owners. It all went sour a few years later, but that's another story.

It's funny, but I don't remember 1991 nearly as well as I do twenty, thirty or forty years ago. Maybe it's because it wasn't much different from now. I'd been working for the Boss for five years then. I probably complained about the same things then as I do now, plus one more thing: I commuted to Napa four days a week, a 45-minute drive each way through the hills and vineyards. The office was in the basement of the Boss's house, which he shared with his girlfriend at the time.

Yes, I just looked through my old paper journal, and ten years ago this week, besides complaining about Rollie Fingers not being elected to the baseball Hall of Fame and Sinead O'Connor not being nominated for a Grammy (I considered "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got" the year's best album), I wrote this:

Monday, 1/7/91. This day started with me driving to Napa in the rain, then got worse. One thing I have a hard time handling is when [the Boss] and [his girlfriend] have company; I feel awkward about using the bathroom or getting water from upstairs. Some people were sleeping on the floor up there when I got to work, and they didn't leave until some time in the early afternoon. (I'm not sure when exactly they left, and I didn't go up to use the facilities until 3:00, even skipping lunch.)
It was, of course, Monday, so there was about three times as much work as I could do in a day, all urgent and critical. By the time I left for home, the work load and lack of sustenance had combined to give me a headache and wear me out.

And one other topic was on my mind, and everyone else's:

Saturday, 1/12/91. Three days before the war. It may not happen that way, but that's how it feels, and the thought dominates every aspect of daily life. Deadline in the desert. Countdown to confrontation. There were peace marchers crossing College Avenue as I was driving to Mom's this afternoon after watching the 49er playoff game. The debate in Congress was serious, spirited and cordial, and the Senate vote was only 52-47. Polls show that Americans support going to war until they are asked how many deaths would be too many for this cause. For some of us, too many have died already.

Later that month, I wrote long descriptions of the war as seen on TV, and later in the year I followed the collapse of the Soviet Union just as closely. But mostly I wrote about baseball that spring, because both of my nephews were playing in youth leagues. Alas, the Giants did not have a good year, but they knocked the Dodgers out of the pennant race in the last series of the season. (So in a way, they did have a good year.)

This little romp through the decades doesn't have any point. I was just remembering all that has happened to me in all those years that ended in "one". I'm afraid I didn't gain any important insight. I just made myself feel older than dirt, is all. And yet, here I am, still trying to make my way. Just goes to show you. Something.

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