Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Search for Adventure

On a scale of one to ten, you had a five or six childhood. Even though you were well accommodated and cared for by both parents and an older sister, and five or six on a scale of one to ten resides within the so-so or mediocre range, it is still good marks for any childhood. 

The five or six rating comes not because you were born close to the heart of the calamitous era known as The Great Depression, wherein your parents and maternal grandparents lost considerable resources and status, rather because it was, after all, childhood.

Of the many things to be borne in Life, childhood, for whatever its advantages in the overall picture of who one becomes later, needs to be endured every bit as much as explored, if only to allow you to get on with the activities you were so keen to attempt.

You were eager to try your hand at adventure, travel, experiencing love for persons beyond your family, and love for animals beyond that of Ming-Toi, the grouchy Pekingese foisted on your family by your mother's youngest brother.

You were of equal keenness to move beyond licorice cigarettes to the imagined enlightenment of Camels and Murals, both of which bore some proportion of a dark, mysterious  and foreign-sounding tobacco known as Latakia, to experience major league baseball in situ rather than the Spring training games you saw, to dine with regularity at a dive bar on upper Santa Monica Boulevard with the name of Barney's Beanery, and, because even at this date, you cannot resist the opportunity for an awful pun, to try your hand at masturbation.

These were the imagined ingredients that would get you out of childhood and into some semblance of the uproar you saw then as a life well lived and investigated. Under the circumstances of the restrictions on your activities, many of which you were able from time to time to circumvent, there is small wonder you took with such eclat to reading.

On one of your kitchen-area windowsills, overlooking the ambitious sprawl of a neighbor's garden, a few titles from your past settle into the pulpy decrepitude of ancient Big Little Books, reminders of your searches for vicarious adventure. These searches, such as Don Winslow of the Navy, Terry and the Pirates, and your cowboy hero, Red Ryder, and a trip with your mother's youngest brother to Pismo Beach, California, where, unlike the sidewalks in Los Angeles, were wood plank, sealed your destiny so far as ventures into the interior of imagination were concerned.

In later years, no longer in your chronological childhood, when you had your own automobile, you were able to search for--and find--places such as Pismo Beach, where the sidewalks were of sun-warped board.

Your early searches for adventure led you along the paths of irony and destiny to a time when you were head writer for a television series, I Search for Adventure.  Never mind that you were the only writer for the series. Never mind that one afternoon years after I Search for Adventure had become history, you met, when exiting Barney's Beanery, the former host of I Search for Adventure, or that he embraced by by both shoulders, thanking you for what he called the sign-off line to the show that he considered only a small step below Edward R. Murrow's "Good night, and good luck" sign-off. Never still mind that you'd evolved the sign-off line one night after a dinner with too many bottles of Pommard and too many cognac and coffee.  "And now, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, good night until our next adventure."  Just never mind, will you?

But you do mind how reading has informed, directed, and underscored your own searches, leading you ultimately down a not-quite ghost town with a warped wood sidewalk in some places, but no sidewalks at all in most others.  This was a town you'd found over a hundred years too late, a town where another hero of yours, this one quite real, had trod and had worked for a newspaper called The Territorial-Enterprise, and where a more modern editor said, "Say, how'd you like to send me a column? Maybe call it 'A Letter from Los Angeles."?"

"Sure," you said.

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