Saturday, January 28, 2006

I’ve already mentioned him several times, but I’m not sure how I met Mark Weldon. It could have been because he was working in the summer of 1970 in the cataloging room of my mom’s library. At any rate, Mark was a man who began to help me see who I was. He appreciated the person he saw, and he made me feel accepted. What a difference he made in my life. We became friends and started talking music, and he volunteered the two of us to put on a show. Rehearsing and performing for the freshman class party, I sang solos and duets with him. I wore a long hippie dress that I had sewn together from an Indian bedspread. We did “I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today” by Randy Newman (which I had learned from a Judy Collins album of Matt’s); “Hazy Shade of Winter” and “Dangling Conversation” from Simon & Garfunkle, and a bunch of others. My roommate who played the flute, and another girl who played guitar, joined us on some of the songs.

In this photo Mark is the one in the dark glasses, with our buddy Olivia just below him. Danny and I are on the top stairs. This was a choir promo shot so we were all in our black.

Mark’s was the first unchaperoned “guys’ apartment” I had ever been in, and after the performance we went back there for Spañada wine coolers. Although I was underage, I’d been identifying with college students for so long that it didn’t feel truly illegal. At some point, Mark moved out of that apartment and into a house with Stephen Bennett. The house looked a whole lot like the house on the cover of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s first album, broken down and funky, so of course I loved it. One morning when I arrived to visit, Mark was still asleep in bed and it was fun to wake him up. It’s not impossible that Mark and Stephen were both exploring bi-sexuality at the time. Though we never spoke about it, I could feel the vibes between them.

Mark taught me something really helpful. I was talking to him about how he could see things in me that, for example, Stephen didn’t seem to see. He explained that when people get to know you at a certain stage of your life, they sometimes can’t accept that you’re growing and changing. They insist on treating you like you’re still the same person you were when they met you. That helped me understand why Sara and Marilyn and Stephen and others seemed not to be able to perceive the person that Mark saw in me. I didn’t know yet that some people can never see you fully for who you are, simply because don’t have the sensibilities or perception equipment that such seeing would require.

There was a party one night in the summer of 1971 at Mark and Stephen’s house where everybody (but me) was smoking dope, all sitting in a circle on the floor and passing a hash pipe. Later that evening, hot as it was without air conditioning, we opened all the windows and doors, turned up the music really loud and danced, and I emerged for a moment from my self-conscious shell. I showed them the choreography Naomi and I had invented for the Supremes’ “Love Is Like an Itchin’ In My Heart.” It felt so good to be unafraid in a group like that. Danny Blair was at home in Stockton. Since he had broken up with me in that dreadful letter, I was feeling sad, but very free. Mark commented to someone about me at the time, “She’s really together, but she’s always falling apart.” That just about summed me up.

As I mentioned, Janie Epp was boarding with Momma and me in the Gray House on Crenshaw, that summer after freshman year in college. One night she and I both stayed up to work on term papers, and we finished after dawn. Mine was on the “Jesus Movement” – what class would I have written that for? I was working at Daddy’s desk in the office off the living room, and spread before me were the LIFE magazine articles with photos of Chuck Smith from Calvary Chapel baptizing hundreds of kids in the Pacific. At dawn, Janie and I were both so punchy that we decided we would drive to the beach to celebrate finishing our papers. We drove past Randy’s Donuts (the place that still has that L.A. landmark, the humongous brown donut on the roof) and stopped for some of those. That morning’s indulgence made me hate donuts ever since, for which I am grateful. One more food item added to the list of those that don’t tempt me.

We were too tired to think. When we got to the beach, I said, “Let’s drive out on the sand,” because I’d seen them do that in the movies. It never occurred to me that you can drive on east coast beaches where the sand is hard and wet, but not on west coast beaches where it’s dry and mushy. So of course we got immediately stuck. We found some discarded Jesus Freak newspapers lying around the beach and put them under the wheels of my yellow Camaro. We backed it up a foot or so at a time, moving the papers under the wheels as we went, until we were on pavement again. That little problem sort of squashed our celebratory spirit, but it was fun to see the beach at dawn.

That summer, Mom was away in Germany for a month, helping her missionary friend Irene Johnson run the summer kids’ camp. The cat being away, I was able to play. One evening the Choraliers gave a going-away concert, a trial run of a performance they would give on their USO tour. Kathy Ping sounded a lot like Karen Carpenter on “We’ve Only Just Begun” and Norm Mamey ferociously played “Classical Gas” on the piano, like the ultimate nerd he was. After the show, I invited everybody to our house to hang out, and of course they brought “liquid refreshment” with them. My main memory is gallons of Spañada sangria, but I’m guessing there was a wide selection. One tall guy named Terry hugged the toilet all night, but that was the only mishap that I knew of. We stayed up really late singing all the guitar songs we could think of. I had a big thrill when we were all crammed around the staircase singing, and in the middle of the crowd, John Kester called out, “Gwen knows the lyrics to every damn song in the world!” I was highly honored.

When it was time to finally crash, John and some other guy were going to sleep on the floor in my mother’s bedroom, and I really didn’t want to go to my room alone, so I slept on the floor next to them. As always, it was the totally chaste experience of brother and sister. The same thing had happened earlier that year when I went to the beach one night with another girl and two guys. We went to experience the “red tide”, an explosion of algae which makes you phosphorescent if you swim in it. After our swim the four of us lay on the beach together, listening to a radio and trying to keep warm. (The song of that evening was by Sugarloaf, “Green-eyed lady, wind swept lady rules the night, the waves, the sand.” I still think of that huge, dark beach at Playa del Rey and the night of red tide when I hear it.) It was clear that the other girl and guy were groping each other, but it was like I had an invisible shield around me. The guy next to me lay motionless and I was frustratingly safe. What was it that made me so apparently invulnerable? I had no idea.

I wrote something about that summer. The reader will understand that I was under the influence of e.e. cummings at the time, and entirely a romantic teenager. Thus the dearth of capital letters.

fine times
sipping a gift of hot tea
wrapped in quilts and watching
the strobe-light waves

the smell of rum-soaked lemons
the instant awe and community
of shared music
sleeping on the floor by a stranger
who’s my brother

trudging through wet sand
floating on the grass under the moon
afraid of touch, of talk, but needing
the time together

such understanding smiles
feeling so close to you both, waiting
for the time
of leaving, a wet hug and an
admonition to be strong

sitting on the rugs of a candlelit room
smoke and incense and silvery voices in the air
sharing a time of peace and warm-weary calm

a summer of growing
moving through the days with a new-found ease
all of us waiting, pausing, looking
back, and to each other

touching now and again
sensations and reflections passing just
quickly enough
to be savored, yet retain their sparkle –
to have lived today

Everyone knows that teenagers need to sleep a lot, but my parents never seemed to acknowledge that fact. Finally away from home for the first time my freshman year in college, I took naps every chance I got. My parents were always such duty-oriented, hard workers that they wouldn’t let me sleep in on the weekends. They wanted me up and helping them around the house and yard. Sometimes I would try to find an escape at the Youngs’ house, where I could hope to sleep on undisturbed. But when the Youngs moved from the mansion on the L.A. campus to the Rindge’s beach house at Malibu, that house became just as busy as it had ever been in L.A. So my sleeping-in-late plan didn’t always work out.

It was a shock to be awakened one Malibu Sunday morning by Helen calling rather frantically, “Girls, girls, you’ve got to get up quick and help me. I forgot to get centerpieces for the luncheon today.” We ran downstairs in our nightgowns and started pulling up daisy plants from the yard and throwing them into flowerpots to be centerpieces on the tables for some ladies’ luncheon.

Other mornings at the beach house, my precious sleep was destroyed by Norvel turning on opera music really loudly, early in the morning, and coming down the hall to Marilyn’s bedroom, where we lay in her twin beds. He greeted us with the exclamation he had made a million times, “Isn’t it a GREAT day to be alive?”

Just like in L.A., at the beach house there were always leftovers in the refrigerator from teas, receptions, luncheons, dinners. Helen felt that since the family was allowed to live in such beautiful places, both on the L.A. campus and in Malibu, she wanted lots of other people to share them. So there was non-stop company. Hospitality was part of it, and the rest was fundraising. From an early age, we girls learned to prepare, to serve, to clean up. And to eat leftovers.

Observing the Youngs taught me many things about the lives of people at the top of their game. Norvel and Helen had so many responsibilities, so much to accomplish, that they couldn’t bear to think about their schedules all the time. They asked to be awakened with a cup of coffee before they were told each day’s duties. Later on, when Norvel became Chancellor Emeritus, the load got a bit lighter, and early every morning after their coffee they went down to the track to walk together. It would have been fascinating to walk with them and record the conversations they had with other people on that track. Some of the residents of Malibu would come to walk the Pepperdine track just to hang out with Norvel. People loved him and Helen, and they both deeply loved people.

While we still lived on the L.A. campus, Danny and I drove in his pale blue Ford Falcon out Pacific Coast Highway so I could show him the beach house. The classical music on the car radio seemed to fit perfectly with the drive, and we witnessed a great sunset. We arrived at their house around dusk. I took him down to the grassy yard that faced the beach, with its curved stone bench and the enormous tree that overhung it.

It was a perfect place for romance, to dance on the grass and maybe do a bit of serious kissing, but it didn’t happen. Often I would be frustrated with Danny because he didn’t seem to appreciate the romantic possibilities of the many amazing places we were together. He was an “only in private” kind of guy, and I was not so private. I was absolutely hungry to grab any opportunity, and I had no objection to public displays of affection. There was a lot of unfulfilled longing in me that I didn’t talk to him about, but he must have felt.

Summer ended, and someone in the Pepperdine administration decided that Mom needed to move. Our Gray House would be used by another faculty family and she could live across from the campus, back on 79th Street again. Now I moved out of the dorm and with her into a white stucco house four doors down from the Pink House. We had a major yard sale and I can’t believe to this day that I thought I was “over” the Beatles and sold my entire (and complete!) collection of Beatle albums in that yard sale. Sometimes I was just Dumb.

School started and Danny came back from Stockton. He was living with a guy named Max in an apartment on New Hampshire, around the corner from Momma and me. He walked over to see me at our new house, and said he wanted us to try again. Sometime during the summer he had a dream that the Lord had chosen me for him, and he had decided to act on it. I thought I’d better give it a shot. The faithful part of me was amazed that God had intervened on my behalf. The cynical part of me wondered how long it would be before someone else noticed me. The doubting part of me knew I wasn’t feeling strong or hopeful enough to wait on a more promising relationship. So we started spending time together again. One perfect Saturday sticks in my mind as typical of the moments we would share. Naomi and Danny and I were with his roommate Max and Max’s girlfriend. That morning, we all drove to Griffith Park, walking in the woods, wandering up to the observatory. Then we ate at Canter’s, a Jewish deli on Fairfax, and drove around Hollywood for a bit. Naomi wrote a poem about Griffith Park that day.

Sweet dreams
sweet babies
Dreaming on a fern-covered cliff by a running stream
Sh. Please don’t notice that the water is
manufactured and polluted.
The people in that special house probably
lust after their secretary at work.
But we’re sitting on a fern-covered cliff
fancy in a dreaming haze.

Want to think of something that can’t be special?
It has to be something away from God.
Even eating cornflakes for breakfast can be special.
But try a married man lusting after his secretary.

Naomi and I showed them an amazing little neighborhood in the Hollywood hills above Pickwick, my favorite bookstore. We had found this magical place on a previous driving around adventure. The houses and gates and garages and everything in the whole neighborhood seemed scaled down to a much smaller than average size. We were convinced that all the Little People from The Wizard of Oz went to live there after they were finished making the movie. We came back to the apartment and settled in to listen to the whole Blue album by Joni Mitchell. It was the first time I noticed that you can hear a smile.

Naomi and I made a list (we both loved making lists) of jokes and silliness collected from the conversations of that day, and perhaps the list will give a flavor for what we were liking, and what we were like, at the age of eighteen in 1972.

1. An alphabetical list of the names of the fruit flies that used to gather around Carmen Miranda when she wore her hat.
2. An original shooting script of Battle of Elderbush Gulch featuring Harry Carey.
3. Larry’s 40-foot front.
4. An intentionally ambiguous dissertation circa 1930 on “The Work and Power of the Holy Spirit” by Aimee Semple McPherson.
5. A dozen street muffins.
6. As many ragamurchins as realistically conceivable.
7. A key to all those locked mushrooms.
8. Several symbolic hairs.
9. An ecological answer to the pollution of streams of thought.
10. An all-night drunk on Banana Rhine Wine (without the peels).
11. A projected transcription of a conversation with Søren Kierkegaard after some of that 94% Lipscomb fellowship
12. A situationally moral but epic fornication filmed by David Lean.

Sometime that fall, a Sub-T brother of Danny’s intended to fly up to Stockton, Danny’s home town, and we decided to go with him for the weekend. Who knows what we avoided because the equipment wasn’t behaving properly that morning, but after boarding we found out we weren’t going to be allowed to take off in the little two-engine prop plane. So Danny and I decided to take the bus, since we didn’t want to forfeit the trip altogether. I was bummed because the bus was so crowded that we didn’t get to sit next to each other. He seemed – relieved. I was all prepared to reenact Simon and Garfunkle’s song, “Laughing on the bus, playing games with the faces. She said the man in the gabardine suit was a spy. I said, ‘Be careful, his bow tie is really a camera’…All gone to look for America…”

Danny appeared to be nervous when we arrived at his family’s home in Stockton, but nobody was home, so my first-time meeting of the parents was delayed. He told me at some point in the weekend that his mother had literally not stopped playing with dolls until she had her first-born, Larry. And he told me that his mother used to dress him in girl’s clothes when he was tiny. I got angry at his mother for not realizing what she was doing by making him “her girl” of the three boys. She was a crafts person, and she involved Danny in all that with her, while his dad paid the most attention to the other two boys. Timmy, his younger brother, was a baseball jock, and Larry, the older one, was already married. Here was Danny, an artist and musician, feeling insecure about his identity and distant from his father.

We went to his dad’s shop, where he happened to be working on a project that Saturday. His dad showed me how to use the jigsaw, and I got so excited about the prospect of learning more about woodworking. That was something I always wanted to delve into. I wished that Sam would teach me how to use the equipment he bought later on, when he was living in Normandie Village. But it was not to be.

We went over to Judy Ayala’s house. Danny had told me about her, and claimed that he and she had never been boyfriend and girlfriend; they had just spent a lot of time together listening to music and smoking pot. In fact, a favorite moment in a Seals and Crofts song, “Gabriel”, held a memory Danny loved to relive every time it came around, where the music is slowly going up the scale and Judy says, right in rhythm, “You know how long I’ve been smoking dope? A . . . long . . . time . . .”

So I met the famous Judy Ayala, and another guy and girl that Danny had hung out with in high school. That night we all drove around in a car looking for nothing in particular, and ended up parking in an empty, dark church parking lot where the others in the car proceeded to drink from the gallon jug of wine and fill the air with thick and highly visible smoke. And then a cop car pulled up, and the fuzz were knocking on the car window. Oh, my gosh, we were busted. Another patrol car joined the scene. I knew we were all going to jail, and I told God that I would be willing to go if it would help Danny decide to quit doing this stuff.

But no. The cop overlooked the roaches, he overlooked a possible major bust with the weed in plastic bags, and he simply told us, “Pour the wine out on the grass right now.” We did. “And don’t let me catch you doing this again. Be careful.” He didn’t even ask our names. Good grief. It was over, they drove away, and the old Stoners Club had a good laugh. I still had a clean record with the police, and my mother avoided once again finding out anything much about the world I was living in.

[i] You tell me – is this a quote from somewhere? I’m not recollecting anything.
[ii] We had recently been informed that Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee had a 94% membership in the Churches of Christ. I don’t know if they were talking faculty, student body, or both.

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