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GONE TODAY, HERE TOMORROWA MEMOIR
By RANDALL NEECE
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 Randall Neece
All right reserved.
Chapter OneLife in Ozzie and Harrietville
I WAS BORN and raised in southern California in the early fifties, and would spend the summer months with my friends swimming in our pool or going to the beach for the day, which was about forty-five minutes away. I was slightly pudgy as a young boy, a towhead with freckles and lily-white skin that would turn bright red after about twenty minutes in the sun. But I had a flattop haircut like John Glenn, so I wasn't a total nerd. When it came to sports, I sucked. My older brother loved baseball and tried valiantly to turn me into a Dodger fan by tossing a ball back and forth with me on the front lawn, but all I really wanted to do was produce and star in a play in the garage.
Like most of the neighborhoods in the area, our little cul-de-sac street of fourteen houses was once an orange grove, but acre by acre it was turning into Ozzie and Harrietville, with block after block of young mothers and fathers all starting their families. On our block alone there were forty-seven kids all under the age of seven within those fourteen houses, so we were big business for the milkman who came by as the sun was coming up, the Helms Bakery man who came by around mid-morning, and the ice cream man who showed up every afternoon at four o'clock sharp, with his truck chiming "Pop Goes the Weasel" as he drove up the street. My parents paid $14,000 for our three-bedroom house, and my father lived there until his death at the age of eighty-eight. He owned Whittier Paint and Wallpaper and worked six days a week mixing paint, while my mother ran the wallpaper department.
Greenleaf Avenue was the kind of neighborhood where you could borrow your neighbor's lawn mower if yours was broken. Hell, for two bits, the kid next door would mow the lawn for you. I was allergic to grass so my job was to clean our pool, and a couple of the other neighbors' pools, for a quarter each.
Our second home was Granada Heights Friends Church. It was a Quaker church, but we didn't dress like the guy on the cardboard can of oatmeal—we were just a normal family who wore normal clothes. The minister, Verl Lindley, and his wife, Lois, started the church in an old American Legion Hall in town and our family was the first to join. At the crack of dawn every Sunday morning, we'd pile into our '56 green-and-white Buick and show up at the hall early to sweep the floors and pick up the beer bottles left over from the American Legion meeting the night before. Verl and Lois also had three children and their youngest daughter, Joyce, was my best friend at church. Everyone was sure that little Randy Neece and Joyce Lindley would grow up and get married to each other one day, and have lots of kids.
As the small congregation of Friends grew, Dad became the choir director and Mom was the church secretary. I could understand my mother's contribution to the church since she once worked as a secretary at the Goodrich tire factory before she got married and had kids, but my father didn't read a note of music and could barely sing. What he was doing standing up there leading the small ten-member choir is still a mystery to me.
Despite my resentment toward organized religion as I got older, I cannot imagine what my childhood or our family would have been like without that church. During the forty-five years Verl served as our pastor, he performed the wedding ceremonies of my brother to his wife, Marilyn, and my sister to her husband, Jeff. Verl and Lois were with us as my mother took her last breath in the hospital, and they wept with us as they said good-bye to their lifelong friend, with Verl presiding at her funeral and memorial service. A year later, he officiated at the wedding of my father to his wife, Juliana.
Verl is now in his late eighties and is retired from the pulpit. Two years ago he spoke at Juliana's memorial service, and less than two months later, he stood before the same congregation and spoke at my father's service.
Joyce went on to marry another guy from church and they became missionaries in some remote corner of the world—along with their five children. Not much has changed about the church except that it now sits on five acres of land and has hundreds of families in the congregation. And there's not a single beer bottle on the floor.
Trevor Taylor was my best friend and lived a few houses up the street. Kent Allebrand and his brother John also lived up the block, and the four of us formed a club we called the Wildcats. NO girls allowed! We built a clubhouse out of scraps of lumber and plywood behind John and Kent's garage. Someone donated an old worn out rug for the dirt floor, John made the sign, Kent slapped on paint, Trevor hung gunny sacks on the windows for curtains, and my big contribution was building the clubhouse door. It was unsightly shack, but to us, it was a thing of beauty. It was our castle!
Like all kids, John and Kent, Trevor, and I had our share of fights. But while others usually resolved their disputes by shoving each other until one went down, I had a more novel approach. I would unscrew the clubhouse door from its hinges and take it home. To get to our clubhouse, you had to walk down John and Kent's driveway, past their kitchen to the back of garage where it stood. John and Kent, and their parents, George and Jan, would be sitting at their kitchen table having a nice evening meal together, when suddenly they'd see me come charging up their driveway with a screwdriver in hand. They would sit and watch me out their kitchen window and nobody would say a word. Then, a few minutes later I would come stomping back down their driveway dragging the clubhouse door behind me.
After a few silent beats, their father, George, would turn to John and Kent, and ask, "Did you boys have another fight today?"
They'd look at each other and just shrug their shoulders.
"I don't know," John would answer.
"I guess so," Kent would add.
And then they would all go back to eating dinner like nothing had ever happened.
Most of the time we really didn't do much inside the clubhouse but sit around and talk, and play Go Fish. Then we'd get bored and go outside for a game of hide-and-go-seek—which I loved—or a game of baseball or football with the other neighborhood kids – which I hated. I was always the last to be picked for a team, and can still recall to this day the humiliation of standing there on line all by myself as one of the team captains was finally stuck with me by default.
We published the Wildcat Clubhouse newsletter and sold it to the neighbors for a nickel, and we washed cars and mowed lawns to raise money to go to the movies or to play miniature golf now and then. But we always seemed to be short on cash to do all the things we wanted to do. I had an idea for a way we could make lots of money.
"We could put on a show in my garage!" I said leaping up off the ratty old rug on the clubhouse floor. I began to pace. "We could sell tickets. And with all the money we'd make, we could go to other neat places like the zoo and Skateland." And then I added the pièce d'résistance. "Maybe we could even go to Disneyland!"
Disneyland had opened just a few years earlier and that caught them hook, line, and sinker. Trevor, John, and Kent voted unanimously to go along with my idea, and a major fundraiser on Greenleaf Avenue was born. The headline in our next Wildcat Newsletter proudly announced:
LIVE! ON STAGE! ONE PERFORMANCE ONLY! "PINOCCHIO" starring the Wildcats Limited Seating, so get your tickets early!
The first thing we needed was a script, so my mother set up the card table in the family room, opened the black box that contained a Royal typewriter, and she and I began to hammer out the script. Soon we were into rehearsals, and the four of us sold tickets for ten cents to every kid for blocks around. Bedspreads were used as curtains, and my sister painted the sets and scenic backdrops. The night before the big performance, I remember standing all alone "on stage," practicing my bow before rows of picnic benches and patio chairs that lined the driveway. I could almost hear the cheering crowds that would soon fill the theater. Tomorrow was the big day. It was Showtime!
I thought my casting was quite good. I played the starring role, of course, and also produced and directed the play. John played the part of Gepeto, and also doubled as one of the bad boys, along with Trevor. Poor Kent got stuck playing the part of Pinocchio's fairy Godmother. I thought he was stunning in the role, and even though his wand kept breaking, he never dropped a line. What a Trouper!
At the curtain call, everyone in the audience leaped to their feet. Unfortunately, they couldn't wait for it to be over so they could race home to watch Spin and Marty on the Mickey Mouse Club. A few even demanded their dimes back.
As if I hadn't already suffered enough abuse, the cast complained bitterly that I was "too bossy." Kent threw his broken wand to the ground, and as he was taking off his dress he had the audacity to tell me that he preferred mowing lawns and washing cars for his Skateland money, thank you very much. And so, as fast as the curtain went up, it came down on the Wildcat Clubhouse Theater, forever. But that wasn't the end of my career in showbiz. It was only the beginning.
I organized other events such as carnivals and bicycle parades, and spent days constructing floats which consisted of sheets of plywood on wagons. Then I would cover them with crepe-paper flowers. One of my more elaborate creations was when the girl next door played Betsy Ross sewing an American flag while riding atop my float. All the parents and the older kids, who were too cool to be in the parade, would stand along the curb and cheer as we proudly marched by.
As we got older, my friends no longer cared about parades or plays. All they wanted to do was spend the afternoons playing baseball or a game of football on the fenceless row of front lawns. I retreated to my back yard with my menagerie of rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, my spider monkey Tina (named after my grandmother), and best of all, my dog Daisy, who loved me just the way I was.
I desperately wanted to fit in and even tried out for Little League once. But after a year of striking out and sitting on the bench, I traded in my cleats for a pair of tap shoes and signed up at a nearby dance studio. I was the only boy in the class. My friends were pretty cool about me taking tap dancing lessons—at least to my face. Only Robbie Carmichael's mom seemed to have a concern about it. I overheard Barbara Carmichael whisper to another neighbor, "If you ask me ... little boys just shouldn't be taking tap dancing lessons!"
Chapter TwoOn the Avenue I'm takin' ya to, Next stop, Puberty Street!
GROWING UP IN a Quaker household, sex was never a subject of conversation. Sex Ed consisted of going to a father-and-son meeting one evening at Starbuck Junior High School with approximately three hundred other pimply, red-faced boys to watch a 16-millimeter film about puberty. About the only thing I learned from the movie was that I was going to start sprouting hair in lots of different places besides my head. I think my dad was kind of embarrassed by the whole evening too, because I don't recall either of us saying a word to each other during the whole drive home.
By the time I was thirteen, I still hadn't felt that certain spark for girls. It wasn't that I didn't like them. On the contrary, I often felt more comfortable around girls than around other boys. Two of my very best friends were Jenny Hall, who lived next door, and Joyce Lindley, at church. They were girls, so maybe there was hope. But I didn't get that fluttery feeling for them, or for any girl—not the way all my friends seemed to feel. Jenny and Joyce were more like sisters.
I tried to be as "normal" as possible, which included taking Joyce to Disneyland on our first and only date. My father drove us to the park and dropped us off, and then picked us up at the front entrance later that night. I walked her to her front door while Dad drove around the block. After giving Joyce a quick peck on the lips, I said, "Well, good-bye. See ya tomorrow in Sunday School."
It might have helped in my efforts to be a boyfriend if I had been a little more informed by my parents or at least by my friends, especially when it came to filling me in on matters of sex. For instance, I knew a penis was also called a dick, but I had no idea it had been assigned other names as well. This nearly resulted in catastrophe.
For Joyce's thirteenth birthday I took all of my savings, hopped on my bike, and rode down to the mall to buy her a gift and a card. The gift was a sold gold plated necklace with a cross, and the card was one of those big oversized ones. The size alone was sure to impress her! As I'm wrapping the gift, Mom came home from work and saw the card on the table.
"Oh, is this the card you got for Joyce?" she said with delight as she picked it up.
She read the front and then opened the card and read what was written inside. Her mouth fell open and she reread the card.
"Randy! You can't give this card to Joyce!" my mother gasped, totally mortified.
"Why not, Mom? I think it's sorta Biblical. Don't you?"
On the front of the card was written, "You should never rob Peter to pay Paul." Inside it read, "Because who wants a sore peter on their birthday!"
From this one event, I learned two important things. First, peter is yet another name for penis, and second, always check with your mother before giving a birthday card to the minister's daughter.
Aside from the movie about puberty, the only other time I remember the embarrassing subject of S-E-X coming up was when my mother gave me a book to read by Dr. David Reuben called, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (but were afraid to ask). After the peter incident, she must have realized there was a lot that I needed to know. As she handed the book to me, she said, "If you have any other questions, be sure to ask your father."
Right ... "Hey Pop, exactly how do two guys have sex with each other?"
I skipped right to the letter "H" in the book and read about people called homosexuals. I had a vague idea of what it meant to be a homosexual from watching movies and television. They always played the part of the hairdresser or fashion designer and talked funny, but maybe they were just British. They all seemed a little creepy to me, so I was hoping the book would shed some insight on what else homosexuals did beside hair and wardrobe. Unfortunately, Doctor David didn't have many answers to the questions I wanted to ask on the subject, and what little he did say was so horrible that I put the book away, too ashamed and too freaked out to read anymore.
On Saturday mornings, one of my favorite things to do with my fellow Wildcat Club pals was to hop on our bikes and ride down to Larry's Liquor Store to buy candy with our allowance. In the pre-puberty years, the best thing about this adventure was choosing between an Abba-Zabba and Milkduds. In the post-puberty years, the best thing about Larry's Liquor was figuring out ways to steal the nudie magazines without getting caught. John, Kent, and Trevor were okay at it, but I was a pro, mainly because I had a slightly pudgy stomach while everybody else was slim and trim, and ol' Larry didn't notice the bulge under my sweatshirt as much. We would race our bikes back to one of our homes as fast as we could peddle, in anticipation of the photographs we were about to feast our eyes upon.
Securely locked in the bedroom, we'd turn the pages one-by-one. There was Scintillating Sin-thia, Tammy Why-Not, Virginia I'minya, Brenda and Steve, Kitty Colossal ...
"Wait!" I shouted. "Go Back!"
Kent flipped back to the previous page. We were all mesmerized by the picture of Brenda with her long golden hair, caressing the penis of a handsome man named Steve. While everyone else was busy drooling over Brenda's boobs, my eyes were glued to Steve's sword. My heart started beating so fast and so loud that I thought maybe Trevor's mom was pounding on his bedroom door. Kent resumed flipping through the pages, but I noticed that I wasn't the only one who wished he hadn't turned the page with the photo of Steve quite so soon.
One day, my taste in periodicals changed when I spotted a magazine on the rack at Larry's picturing a sexy-looking man on the cover. When I thought it was safe and no one was looking, I slipped the magazine under my shirt. I thought, Please dear God, don't let anyone catch me—especially my friends! We rode our bikes home and I didn't say a word. I couldn't wait to lock myself in the dressing room by the pool for my own private viewing.
Excerpted from GONE TODAY, HERE TOMORROW by RANDALL NEECE Copyright © 2012 by Randall Neece. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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