When I was a kid, Thursday was the most important day of the week. It was the day my parents picked me up at school and took me to their apartment for dinner. Sometimes, we would go out to dinner at the Idle Hour or Ted’s Arrow Inn, but most of the time we ended up eating in and enjoying a primetime evening of television. I think the Thursday night ritual began in 1963 and continued a little into 1968. Thursday night TV memories include Superman reruns, The Flintstones, The Munsters, Donna Reed, F-Troop, Perry Mason, My Three Sons, Bewitched, That Girl, Star Trek, Dragnet, and Dean Martin.
I got to stay up late and sometimes on the way back to Nana’s house, we would stop for ice cream. The trips home are a bit cloudy. It was a school night and I would usually end up sleeping when the promise of mint chip ice cream wasn’t kept. On those nights, my father probably carried me into bed.
Thursday night, meant playing with my typewriter. Why they got me a typewriter, I don’t know. Did I ask for it? I wouldn’t actually learn to type until junior high school. On those Thursday nights, I would play hunt and peck, like my father who had never learned to type, but who seemed like a wiz to me when he used an old fashion adding machine. He could even multiply on it and taught me that long lost skill, useless now in a world where even cell phones come with a calculator.
My parents worked in movie theaters and that is why my childhood, up through the first half of the fifth grade, was spent with Nana, my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. Nana, the matriarch of the family, ruled over our little house on Belvedere Street. She was my protector and my nemesis. There was Tippy the terrier dog, who had at least one litter while I was in residence. I used to cut out the pictures of the different breeds of dogs that illustrated Purina Dog Chow packages as if they were trading cards before I graduated to Addams Family and Star Trek bubblegum cards. Tippy kept me company when my Grandma Lorraine wasn’t there to tell me stories of days gone by, like the one about how she once auditioned to be an Earl Carroll’s chorus girl. Grandma Lorraine would take me to Sunday school at the Christian Science Church and then, on the best of Sundays, she would take me to the movies.
It was with Grandma Lorraine that I saw Bye Bye Birdie, The Nutty Professor, Babes in Toyland, and Mary Poppins (at an art deco palace called the Paramount). Sometimes we would end up at a bus stop late at night in front of an old Doggie Dinner shaped like a dachshund. It was sort of scary waiting for buses in downtown Oakland, Alameda, and Berkeley, so I stayed close to my grandmother and didn’t wander off.
We went on other field trips, besides church and the movies, one time the Oakland Tribune had a contest. It was a scavenger hunt that took us to Children’s Fairyland, near Lake Merritt, looking for clues. When Milbourne Christopher, the magician and writer of a Houdini biography, decided to perform one of Houdini’s great escapes hanging from the side of the Tribune tower, we were there to watch, or, to be more specific, squint. Grandma was an adventurer and I was her companion of choice.
I enjoyed getting Dr. Seuss books in the mail and built up a nice collection. I also collected paperback volumes of Peanuts cartoons. At one point, I decided to open my own schoolyard library and loaned books to other students at Horace Mann Elementary school. Most of the time, I didn’t get the books back and decided to close my library. When my father took Nana to Safeway or Lucky’s Supermarket to shop, part of the agreement for my childcare, I would always ask for books, comic books, and magazines, as well as toys. I had a fondness for balsa wood planes and kites, diamond shaped and boxed.
When The Beatles became the talk of the neighborhood, I started collecting Beatle magazines or should I say magazines with The Beatles on the cover. I didn’t have their albums, but I had posters and stills from their movies. Who needed albums? They were on the radio all the time. I had guitar pins with their names and I even talked Grandma into buying me Beatle boots. The Saturday morning cartoon Beatles inspired games where me and my friends would play the Beatles and act out various Beatle adventures. For some reason, I always ended up being Ringo. I guess I wasn’t cute enough to be Paul, John or George.
When news of The Beatles’ drug use hit the papers, I came home one Sunday from church to discover that Nana had trashed all my Beatles things. Now, I knew how John felt when his Aunty threw out his poems. I was pretty upset, but at least Nana hadn’t tossed out my comic books and Mad magazines. My Uncle David’s Playboy magazines were still sequestered in the bathroom hamper to help take my mind off of my Beatle memorabilia loss. Collections come and collections go, but pictures of pretty women have always eased my troubled mind. Maybe, that’s why photographing women is one of my favorite pastimes.