Sunday, March 29, 2015

Here and there

Just over a year ago I set out to find the house covered in my last post, as well as our East Virginia Street duplex in Phoenix and my grammar school on Indian School Road. I was able to locate Longview School by finding Country Club Estates through which I walked each school day. In fact, I passed Barry Goldwater’s house each time. That was when he was known as an owner of Goldwater’s department stores and was not yet the Republican juggernaut he became. I drove around the western perimeter of the gated community, hung a right and there stood Longview, much altered but clearly the place of my sixth and seventh grades and first girlfriend, Linda Munell. Years later Linda re-entered my sphere as a rock and roll groupie who was bedding my sax playing roommate.

Longview, an Osborn Education

In my day schools had open campuses. It's where you played pick-up basketball and Little League. Now it's all chain link and no trespassing signs.

Locating the East Virginia duplex to which we moved in the summer of 1952 was problematic since the old neighborhood was cheek by jowl with mid-century duplexes, a couple of which might have been our digs. The one shown here feels right. Our's was the rear unit.

The duplex on East Virginia
The duplex was a couple of blocks from North Phoenix High School where I spent many an hour watching track and field meets. North Phoenix coached by Verne Wolfe was a track and field powerhouse in the fifties, spawning the likes of Dallas Long, the Olympic shot-put champion and world record holder who matriculated to USC, and Jim Brewer, the first high schooler to top fifteen feet in the pole vault also went to USC. I remember when he broke the barrier and shortly thereafter saw my Tempe High schoolmate Don Jeisy become the second teen to go fifteen feet. Coach “Chief” Wynn was so worried about Don’s nerves that he lied about the height of the upcoming vault telling him it was a measly 14’-10”. I was next to pit and an accessory to the crime. Don became a marine officer and educator after a stellar track and football career at Arizona State. He was the first alternate in the decathlon at the 1964 Olympics. You’ve heard the term “man among boys.” That was Don.

The stadium at North Phoenix High
It was a trip to Alamos, Mexico in 1951 that led to our move from northern California to Arizona. My mother had seen something in Sunset magazine about a quaint silver mining town at the western end of Copper Canyon. The Nicky Hilton article extolled the charms of the little known Spanish Colonial village. It was so alluring that by summer we found ourselves in Alamos. Rather quickly I cobbled together some rudimentary Spanish and led tourists through the place for a few pesos. A highlight of my tour was a visit to the hacienda of the Jumping Bean King. You can’t make this stuff up. I still recall the busy beans jumping in my ten year old palm.

The hotel on the plaza had a drive-in courtyard as I recall. Our room was upstairs facing the courtyard. Drinking water was “treated” by resting it in earthen “ollas” suspended from the portal. Many an evening was spent at the cine watching John Wayne and Esther Williams movies dubbed in Spanish.

Either on the way to or back from Alamos we sat in the lobby of the long gone Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson. The lobby was redolent of leather. Real ranchers held court and repaired to the Rock Mountain Oyster Club upstairs. I was enthralled. To this day the smell of leather and straw hats grabs me. In the corner of the hotel was a western wear store where I got my first cowboy boots, kangaroo no less. If Alamos sunk the hook the Santa Rita hooked the fish. We were off to Arizona pronto. 
Much to her credit and notwithstanding my antipathy toward her, my mother exposed me to culture, cuisine and travel that created a view beyond the neighborhoods in which we lived. From our Oakland apartment we took to bus to Berkeley to see Helen Keller speak at the University of California followed by lunch at Larry Blake’s.  In Phoenix we took the bus downtown to hear Eleanor Roosevelt speak at Phoenix Union High. 

A department store portrait in Oakland about 1948

San Francisco also looms large in my look back. It was there that I saw “Swan Lake” and Alec Guinness in the “The Lavender Hill Mob”, dined on Welsh rarebit at Townsend’s, had afternoon tea at the City of Paris and stayed at the Hotel Cartwright on Sutter. In San Francisco we saw “The Prince and the Showgirl” starring Francis Lederer and the very young Shirley McLaine in the role played on screen by Marilyn Monroe. Even after moving to Phoenix we spent a couple of Christmases in the City by the Bay. Its magic still grips me sixty years later. I'd like to spend the holidays there again.

After the abrupt end to my innocence reported last time and a brief period of couch surfing I rented an apartment at the Lone Palm apartment complex just off Broadway and Rural Road in Tempe. The place had as revolving cast of characters and was the site of much revelry as you can imagine. Life was school, by that time I actually started acting like a student albeit on the famed eight year program, work and play not necessarily in that order. I was in college so long that I ran for homecoming king as a first semester sophomore when you had to be a second semester junior to compete. I’d been in school for long that folks thought I was a graduate student. My campaign slogan in my run for king was the memorable “Remember a vote for Steve is a vote for Steve.” I was a distant fourth. Still not too shabby for a total goof. 

The pool at the Lone Palm 2014

Bob Karan, Chuck Fridenmaker and I at that very pool in the early sixties. People might say that they never saw me without a beer but that's just wrong. Bob was completing his doctorate and became a professor at San Diego State. Chuck was an extraordinary photographer who got his MFA and died while hiking before he was thirty.

The Lone Palm is where I lived when I met the former Peggy Engle on a blind date arranged by John Dick. Stifle the snickering. John was dating the redoubtable Pam Shelley who was arguably the hottest dish on campus. Pam’s body was so extraordinary that guys would walk all the way across campus for a closer look at her configuration. Even Peggy agrees that Pam was gifted. Ron Becker and I asked John to set us up. Ron was lined up with Kathy Bush and I drew Peggy. Forty eight years of wedded bliss has ensued. And they said it wouldn't last. 

And finally heartfelt thanks to all of you for the atta boys and kind words after that somber post last week. It meant a lot. Thank you.


Blacks Crossing said...

WOW, Steve! The hits keep coming, baby! Loved today's look back at life after your mother became enamored with Mexico and your subsequent move to southern Arizona. You outdid yourself in the writing department this time. Nothing like former girlfriends becoming groupies and bedding your fellow musicians, and meeting the love of your life to inspire great prose. The old photographs of you in dress jacket and your three buddies by the pool are indeed priceless. I think our younger niece has you beat in the time spent in college department. But hey, got it done, right?

I really want to read the book, Steve!

Steve Immel said...

That might be it for the unsolicited autobiography for now. It's starting to feel like the bio is the book I really want to write but if told you everything I'd have to kill you.