Thursday, April 17, 2014


Even though you have put on enough miles where you can no longer be considered a new model, some of your hard wired features remain much as they were when you began taking the vehicle out of the show room and began driving it about the neighborhood.

Thus your early encounters with risk.

This analogy has come to you from your memories of how your external world began to expand beyond the times when Rule One was the need to have you enjoined from crossing Orange Street unless the crossing were supervised by an adult.  Thus you could, and were able to carry out errands for forgotten grocery items by the simple venture of you on your homemade scooter a half block east on Orange Street to Fairfax Avenue and Weiner's Market, without crossing a street.

Daytime ventures to school at the southeast corner of Fairfax Avenue and Third Street required your promise to take great care crossing the side streets from Orange Street to Third Street, and your unconditional promise to use the underground crossing tunnel to cross the heavily trafficked Fairfax Avenue.

Freedom to cross Orange Street, with an occasional, say one car every ten minutes, traffic pattern was still a major step forward, allowing you direct access to an enormous stretch of empty lot facing Wilshire Boulevard, your equivalent of the ancient Chumash canoeists venturing seaward beyond the point where they could see the coastline.

Because you were given to consider the risks of crossing streets without paying proper attention to oncoming traffic, you were able to see first hand the consequences of remaining entirely in your head.  Your then best friend, Bobby Burdette, crossed Orange Street in such a way as to emerge with a broken leg and, no doubt every bit as painful a reminder, the persistent visiting of the man who was driving the car.

Bobby admitted freely to having his thoughts elsewhere.  You heard the car driver's near daily lament, "I thought he saw me.  He acted just like he was looking right at me."

"Did you see him,"  you asked Bobby one afternoon when the guilt-stricken driver had departed, leaving this time a mocha-colored stuffed giraffe.

"No,"  Bobby said.  "I was thinking about Africa."  He also confessed to not liking the giraffe and wondering if you might like it.

For some time, when crossing Orange Street, you purposefully reminded yourself to look both ways and, just in case, to not think of Africa.  At the time, which was a time well before you became aware of The Heart of Darkness, you found any number of reasons to think of Africa, among them Tarzan and the other comic book hero you and Bobby held in some esteem, Jungle Jim.  You understood why Bobby would want to think of Africa.  You frequently thought of Africa and African adventures with Bobby and by yourself.

One afternoon, with Bobby still in a cast and thus unable to join you for thoughts of Africa, you ventured to the Africa within the enormous expanse of empty lot facing Wilshire Boulevard, whereupon you took a calculated risk of jumping over a large dump of two-by-fours and lath from some construction site, undoubtedly, now that you think about it, arranged into a fire pit for the then equivalent of homeless persons.

You'd had significant experience taking risks in the form of jumping off the roofs of garages on the residential streets, Maryland, Lindenhurst, Drexel, Fifth Street, and their likes.  All these risks with only the soaring senses of forbidden satisfactions from the moment you leaped until the moment you landed in a tumble of giggles in the grassy softness below.

On this day, when you leaped over the  dump of construction woods, perhaps not so much thinking about Africa, although it is possible you were deep within some adventurous fantasy, you missed your estimated landing point, fell on a lath with an exposed nail, which caused quite a gash on your left wrist.  The gash required seven stitches.  Until you began wearing a wrist watch, the scar reminded you in effect not to think of Africa when you were taking risks.

You were not in possession at the time of a recipe for successful risk taking, such as visualizing potential consequences, then weighing them against potential gains.  You did, however, take risks, many of them because you were daring some form of convention or authority.  One risk you often think about as your narrative style for the majority of the blog posts on this site is the risk you took when you were in the ninth grade.  Such a grade and subsequent age level means you were in one of the most unfortunate times and places of that time, John Burroughs Junior High School.  

In fairness, you could just as well have been in Ida M. Fisher Junior High School in Miami Beach, Florida, fearful you would never see Los Angeles again.  You could, except for an accident, have been a student at Le Conte Junior High School, possibly even Audubon.  Junior High School was the problem. Puberty was the problem.  In one class at John Burroughs, you were fortunate enough to have had a teacher who warned against the use of the second person when writing personal essays or fiction.  Liking her, you were not challenging authority; you were taking a risk.  You wrote a long, dramatic essay in the second person, which she held up as a splendid example of how risk could provide an unexpected pathway to discovery.

You sometimes hear Ms. Hummel, suggesting against the use of second person narrative and your delicious sense that you'd see for yourself about that risk.

With some frequency, you hit a delete key or wadding a sheet of paper when you sense a risk has failed.  You nod a polite thanks when the answer to another kind of risk is a "No," or the more emphatic, "No, thank you."  You sometimes do the equivalent of thinking of Africa when you pause to replay some of the risks you've taken or not taken, of the strong, unseen, guiding hand of accident in your life.

In many ways, you are still the newly freed individual who can, whenever he pleases, cross from the north side of Orange Street to the South, the daring young man who streaks to Weiner's Market on his home-made scooter (an eighteen-inch length of two by four, with a wooden fruit box, mounted horizontally at one end.  Steering is accomplished by a broom handle nailed to the top of the fruit box.  The wheels.  Ah, the wheels.  One of your sister's roller skates, unscrewed to form two separate pieces of two wheels each.).  Ah, the times you thought of Africa when you should not have.  Ah, the narrow escapes.  Ah, the risks.


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