Sunday, December 08, 2013

Technicolor Memories

I was watching the season wrap-up of Anthony Bourdain’s CNN show Parts Unknown when Tony, that’s what his friends call him, said something like, “I like to tell stories that interest me and I try not to repeat myself. And I figure that if the tale interests me there’s a good chance it will interest you.” That’s a very liberal paraphrase. In fact, it may bear no resemblance to what he actually said.

With the gist of that premise in mind I realized that I want to tell stories. In Spanish the word is historias. It may seem like a minor revelation but it gave me a long needed, seven years to be exact, understanding of why I do the blog in the first place. It even provides a little direction going forward. The best of my posts tell stories. Or the best ones tell the best stories. Something like that.
After Oakland we moved to San Leandro and in San Leandro we lived in two places. I think.  The first was an apartment that we shared with my mother’s older sister, Fern. My memories are sketchy but I do recall the sweet aroma some kind of pot roast that involved cooking sherry that my mother kept in the cupboard. Might have had a salty taste. Just guessing. I learned to swim in San Leandro when somebody said, “Jump in. You’ll figure it out.” Since I don’t remember any screams or thrashing sounds and haven’t been saddled with a lifelong fear of the water I guess the sink or swim lesson worked.

From the apartment, of which I have a fuzzy two level image, we moved further east to what I recall as a single family house. With advancing age, maybe eight as the fifties loomed, my arsenal of memories grows. Among them is one of the teacher who let me read books of my choosing and at my own pace. That was probably third grade. Because my reading was several grades ahead of my class it made a whole lot of sense and her allowing that freedom is one of my fondest school day images. Good for my self-esteem, too.

In the field behind my house I snuck my first smoke.  My buddy and I had a tree with a knot hole that hid a pack of Fatimas or Spuds quite handily. You’ve got to be seventy to remember those monikers. Who stole the cigarettes remains a mystery but I know it wasn’t me since Mom didn’t smoke.
Within walking distance, we didn’t have a car till I was in my mid-teens, were the barber shop, a café and a movie theater, the Bal.  All resided on East 14th Street near the corner of 148th Avenue in the still surviving commercial hub of our neighborhood. In that barber shop I got my first haircut that ended with hot shaving cream and a straight razor. I cannot tell you how grown up I felt. In the café I first had diner fare like hamburger steak with mashed potatoes, brown gravy, canned peas and sliced white bread. Hot turkey sandwiches, too.

But mostly I remember the Bal which would have screened its first movie when we lived there. I don't recall the theater’s grand opening but it had to have happened about that time. Maybe we watched She Wore a Yellow Ribbon at the Bal. I know we saw it in first release so it almost has to have been the there. Joanne Dru and the Duke in living color against the backdrop of Monument Valley in 1949. 

The Bal’s the most vivid touchstone of my San Leandro days. Maybe that’s because it the old auditorium is living a second life as a music venue lo these 65 years later. That it still stands, as does our old apartment house in Oakland, is somehow touching.


Daryl A. Black said...

Your historia is becoming more and more interesting all the time. And the threads that connect you and Fred and thousands of other youngsters from California are quite astonishing. When Fred road his bike from Fremont into Alameda, he would take East 14th to see his grandmother.

The photographs tell much about the area, but the writing that you have done brings a richness and flavor to them that would make Anthony Bourdain proud.

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