As the only child in a bookselling family in which both parents worked, i spent many childhood hours in our family bookstore. In the 1960's, bookstores were still cultural centers of communities. Downtown areas had not yet been eviscerated by speculation, urban sprawl and suburban mall development. Wall Street had not yet overfed corporations, enabling them to grow beyond sustainability. Books were still a part of many peoples lives. Though i didn't recognize them as such, those were the golden days of the book industry.
As a child, i trolled the bookstore soaking up influence from the booksellers who were employed by my parents. I was born in 1962 so i call myself an infant boomer. Though i was too young to be a true participant in the culture of the era, my cultural, political, philosophical and musical outlooks were shaped by the 1960's. Of course i took books and reading for granted.
In school, i often felt like an outsider. I was drawn to other outsiders and even misfits. I was troubled by the meanness of children. Of the three communities where i spent much time - school, the bookstore, and church - the bookstore seemed like the most enlightened. It was at church and school that i learned racial slurs, sexism and bigotry. Even as a child, i knew these ways of thinking were stupid and wrong. At my parents bookstore, people of color in this, especially then, predominantly white community, were treated with respect. A gay couple who worked here received the same respect. Since most of bigotry to which i was exposed was of other kids, i presumed that open-mindedness, creativity and intelligence were functions of maturity. I didn't then realize that the crap coming out of kids' mouths was probably learned from their parents. So i bid my time through my school years, waiting for the magical world of enlightened adults to become reality. I wouldn't give up on this fairy tale until i reached college.
As a child, i read quite a bit. I was also a prankster. Math came easily to me. I was thoughtful and analytical and often stymied by decision making. I received from my father Sam, my first Beatles record, Meet the Beatles, when i was about five. I thought it was the coolest thing i had ever heard and played it incessantly, rocking out by myself in my bedroom. I was surprised that none of my friends seemed to care much about rock and roll. I don't think i had a friend who shared my interest in music until about fourth grade, when i met Chris Bertagnole. He was my first rock buddy and we are still friends today.
I met another good friend, Robert Baxter, at a neighborhood garage fire. I think we were in third grade. My school in the lower avenues, Longfellow, had recently been torn down to make room for parking for the Mormon ward next door. I had been transferred to Ensign, where i had seen Robert, but not really made his acquaintance. When we each saw smoke and were drawn to the burning garage, we met in our mutual neighborhood and became fast friends. Between 3rd and 12th grade, we perpetrated more pranks and stunts than i can even remember. We specialized in the unusual and in a later blog i might write about some of our more successful efforts. We are still friends today.
I am a small man and i was a small boy. I recall becoming frustrated at my lack of athletic prowess about half way through elementary school. The most resonant memory is having to leave recess pick-up basketball games because there were always 10 players who were better than i. So i whined to my father. He's now too frail to resemble the man he was then, but my father, Sam Weller was an aggressive, can-do, go-getter. Not a quitter. Neither did he have much patience for whining. He said, "well, you'll just have to practice until you're good enough to make the games." He had already hung a hoop in the driveway but then he proceeded to play ball with me every night after work. No whining. So i gradually shed most of my woosiness and became a good basketball player. Within a year, i was not only included in every playground game, i was frequently captain of a team. My father's can-do aggression became my first lesson in the value of perseverance, one i am now imparting to my own daughter.
I mentioned that math came easily to me. I dug math because it seemed to be without ambiguity. As a child i was sometimes nearly incapacitated with indecision. I was a very lucky boy in that i had nearly three parents. My mother, Lila Weller, had a very close friend in Margaret Smith and Margaret was like a member of our family. She traveled with us and my parents left me with her every Sunday, after the Mormon church i was then forced by Sam to attend. With Margaret, i played many games and i suspect, because i was so young that i cannot do better, that it was game playing that first gave me the idea to overcome indecision with chance. I recall coloring coloring books, by chance. I would dump all my crayons into a shoe box and place it behind myself. Then i would decide what i would color and grab a random crayon and color it. Later, i overcame indecision about getting dressed in the morning by pulling cards from decks to determine what i would wear. I think i was in either 4th or 5th grade when i realized that dice were the most useful tools for chance decision making. It is a habit i have refined over the years and i can't leave home without dice without feeling insecure. But more about dice later.
Last, i want to mention the influence books had on me in my 11th year. When i was in 6th grade, i precociously decided that i was too old for juvenile books. That's why i missed so many great young adult novels until i had my own child. When i made this decision, the movie version of The Exorcist was new and news reported viewers barfing in theaters. That seemed pretty cool to my 11 year old sensibilities. Too young to get into the movie, i decided to read the book. It was my first adult read. The second was Carrie by Stephen King. Then i started smuggling books on sex and drugs out of my parents bookstore. Not that i had actually encountered sex or drugs yet, but the boomer scientist in me just had to learn. Those early studies helped me to navigate my teen years with fewer problems than i might have had had i been navigating without information. Those experiences form the seminal basis in my opposition to censorship.
So i am now a rather OCD 47 year old who needs to quit pounding this keyboard. Since i have created an outline of things i intend to eventually blog, i thought this background might prove useful in explaining what will follow. I hope i haven't bored you.