Poetry

An Attempt at Exhausting a Neighborhood in Chatsworth, California

David Trinidad

excerpted from a longer work of the same name

Comanche Avenue was insulated by four streets: Lassen to the north, Winnetka to the east, Superior to the south, and Oso to the west. From Lassen (going east), you’d turn right on Oso, then take a left at the first street, Labrador, from which you’d make a right, before it ended in a cul-de-sac, onto Comanche. Ours was the third house on the right. The address (9773) stenciled in black spray paint on the curb. The houses all a different pastel shade, like the suburbia scene in Edward Scissorhands. The Lyons (peach) lived closest to Labrador. Then the Silvernails (green). They were the third owners of the house; the Boyers were there originally, followed by the Merandes. Then us (yellow). Then the Goodes (white). Before the Goodes, the Nelsons lived next door. Muriel and my mother were friends; I have a black-and-white photograph of them standing in front of the Nelsons’ house: my mother caught off guard, smiling nervously, hand at her throat; Muriel laughing self-consciously, face turning away. Muriel gave piano lessons to me (briefly; I learned how to play “Long, Long Ago”) and to my best friend Nancy. Nancy remembers Muriel sitting at her upright playing “September Song,” and sobbing. The Nelsons belonged to the John Birch Society. They had a son named Brook. But Muriel longed for a daughter. One Christmas she sewed a whole wardrobe of finely detailed clothes for Nancy’s Barbie doll. The Goodes (from Canada) put in a pool; I spent many summer afternoons playing Marco Polo in it. Next to them were the Weilands (orange), then the Creamers (pink), Hilzingers (green), DeMarios (Nancy’s family; blue). In 1965, the DeMarios will move to Thousand Oaks and I will be bereft, left to face puberty alone. The Hilzingers will follow them there. They were the only family on the block, other than us, who had a bomb shelter in their backyard. Next to the DeMarios were the Holmes (Vera and Bud, a motorcycle cop), then the Weeds (Edna and Larry), then the house where a girl named Debbie lived, then, on the corner of Superior, a mystery house. We never knew anything about the people who lived there.


Three cul-de-sacs branched off of Comanche to the east: Kinzie, Marilla, and Needles. Our house faced Kinzie. The Hoyts (white) lived on the corner to the right. Next were the Tates (green). Then the childless couple (yellow) who worked for the studios; his name was Hank. My brother, Ross, did yardwork for them, looked after their house when they went on vacation. They had a swimming pool. And a sign that said, “We don’t swim in your toilet, please don’t pee in our pool.” Then the Mays. Then, at the end of the cul-de-sac, to the right, the house where Nancy’s cousin Betsy lived for a while. Across the street from the Mays were the Henzes. They had three daughters. I tried to date one of them (Debbie? Vicki?) when I was twelve. (One of the few times I attempted to pass as straight.) Vicki or Debbie broke up with me right before our family left for two weeks in Miami (to visit relatives). I remember that “Help Me, Rhonda” by The Beach Boys was a hit that summer. The Morans lived on the corner of Comanche and Marilla. Same model as our house, with decorative iron trellis around the front porch. One day their daughter Linda (who years later will marry my brother) showed me her Barbie collection. Opened the black vinyl wardrobe case to such splendor—she owned every outfit, every accessory—it would haunt my imagination forevermore. From behind white curtains, Linda’s mother, Priscilla, kept an eye on everything that went on outside. Roland, Linda’s father, was a machinist. After he was injured in an accident at work, he spent a lot of time in their garage, drinking. On the corner opposite the Morans were the LeRouxs. I knew Nancy LeRoux (her name is indelible) but don’t remember anything about her. The Lindsays (John and Kathleen) lived next door to the LeRouxs. Mr. Lindsay was a college math teacher. At the end of the cul-de-sac (left side) were the McIntyres. Next to the Morans were the Driscolls. Mr. Driscoll (divorced) smoked a pipe. An older aunt who came to live with them, to take care of the children (Nanette and Dennis), was a great-niece of Abraham Lincoln. She had a lot of family mementos: pictures, letters written by Lincoln himself.


If you turned left on Superior, you’d hit Winnetka. Right, below Plummer: the Winnetka Drive-In. Left, Winnetka ended at Lassen. Across Lassen: a line of eucalyptus trees. I loved everything about those trees: the pungent odor; the long, slender gray-green leaves; the bark like peeling wallpaper; the tops of acorns that looked like pointed caps fairies had left behind. There was a rope dangling from one branch, with a loop at the end, that you could fit your foot in, and swing back and forth. Running parallel to Winnetka: the concrete waterway, which we called “the wash,” closed off by a chain-link fence. There was a gap near Lassen wide enough to slide under. One summer, I went with my brother and his friends and explored the drain tunnel than ran beneath Lassen. We lit rolled-up newspapers and used them as torches. On the other side of Winnetka, beyond the wash: the next housing tract. It was still an orange grove when we moved to Chatsworth in 1958. As it was being built, we’d search through the house frames (all sawdust and concrete and skeletal stairs) for the silver slugs from electrical outlets, and pretend we were pocketing real coins.


If you turned right on Superior, past the mystery house on the corner, you’d come upon, after a slight curve, Superior Street Elementary School, which I attended from grades one to six. The playground (which extended to Oso Avenue) protected by a tall chain-link fence. Scattered about the asphalt: baseball diamond, volleyball net, two wooden walls to bounce balls against (that had what looked like doors painted on them, their purpose always unclear), tetherball poles, jungle gym, rings, and, near the kindergarten classrooms, a large sandbox. Must I speak (once again) of the indignities of the playground, how I tried to avoid the aggression of ball-throwing boys by playing hopscotch, jacks, and Chinese jump rope with the girls. Or later, spending lunch hours in the library, reading the blue-bound biographies of famous Americans: Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, Clara Barton, Daniel Boone, Dolly Madison, George Washington, Pocahontas, Thomas Jefferson. (I was most intrigued by the women.) Or the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her whole childhood captured in eight matching volumes. The titles alone were beautiful: On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake, These Happy Golden Years. Years of art projects: cutting an egg carton in half and painting it green, then adding eyes and two pipe cleaner antennas, and voila, a caterpillar. Or placing bits of tissue paper and yarn between two pieces of wax paper and ironing them, to produce a colorful “stained glass” collage. Years of current events. Of studying maps of the world (each country a different pastel shade, like our houses). And models of the solar system (each planet a hand-painted styrofoam ball). Years of report cards. (In elementary school they were called “progress reports.”) Grades for reading, English, handwriting, spelling, mathematics, geography, history, civics, science, art, music, and physical education. Grades for effort, work habits, and citizenship: “tries to do his best,” “follows directions,” “works cooperatively with other pupils,” “accepts responsibility,” “respects authority.” Years of fire drills. And in case of a nuclear attack, “drop” drills: In the middle of a lesson, the teacher would call out “Drop!” and we’d all huddle under our desks with our hands clasped over the back of our heads. All of my teachers were women: Mrs. Wiggins, Mrs. Field, Mrs. Kasower, Mrs. Bialosky (first name Kay, kind and patient and encouraging, whom I had for half of the first grade, and all of the third and sixth). Mrs. Morton (first name Milicent), my fifth-grade teacher, was the opposite of Mrs. Bialosky. Cold and strict, she had no use for a sensitive boy. My grades dropped that year, and I gained weight. Her best friend, Mrs. Price (first name Jeanine), was equally intimidating. The two of them dressed like immaculate Barbie dolls: white, short-sleeved blouses; sheath skirts with wide belts; spike heels. They wore their dyed hair (Mrs. Price, red; Mrs. Morton, black) in bouffants, like Elizabeth Taylor or Jacqueline Kennedy. It was rumored that Mrs. Price, originally from the South, was married to a “Negro musician.” Mrs. Morton (with Mrs. Price as witness) often took an incorrigible boy in my class (Jimmy) out to the bungalow where textbooks were stored, to thrash him with a yardstick. The only male teacher at the school was Mr. Bartell. His daughter Monica was also in my class. It was from Monica, in tears, that we learned, on November 22, 1963, as we were lining up after lunch, that President Kennedy had been shot. She’d heard it from her father. It’s the only time I remember seeing teachers upset. It was as if the world had stopped. We were sent home early.


Proceeding north on Oso, toward Lassen, you would pass, on the near corner of Labrador, the pink house where Minerva Herzog lived. She was an artist, and therefore somewhat mysterious; her blinds were always drawn. Nancy’s mother Mary, herself a bit of a free spirit, was friends with her. Instead of a lawn, Minerva’s front yard was covered with white rocks. An alley ran behind the houses on Lassen Street. In the late sixties, when I would walk to high school, I’d slip into the alley to the left of Oso so I could smoke a cigarette in secret. (I didn’t dare smoke on the street for fear one of my mother’s friends would drive by and see me, and tattle to my mother.) One morning as I lit a match the entire matchbook burst into flames and all the sulfur went up my nose. It burned terribly, and scarily (I thought I had permanently damaged myself ), and took some time to clear, but that didn’t deter me from smoking. Throughout high school, smoking cigarettes was all I ever wanted to do. If you turned right on Lassen and walked three long blocks (1.3 miles, it took half an hour), you’d come to Nobel Junior High School, which I attended from grades seven to nine. First you’d pass Winnetka, the wash and the line of eucalyptus trees on the left, and then Corbin Avenue. Left on Corbin: the alley where Antoinette (who sat next to me in the Superior Street orchestra; we were the two flutists) and her friend Martha would stand every day after school making out with two older (high school) boys. Farther up Corbin on the left, at Devonshire (the busiest street in Chatsworth; it led to the 405 freeway): the ranch house that belonged to Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. The celebrities no longer lived there, but their presence could still be felt; we used to ride our bikes up to Devonshire and stare past the white picket fence at the swimming pool and the house, by then painted green. Once you passed Corbin, Chatsworth turned into Northridge. It was like walking through an invisible wall, into a bigger and more dangerous world than elementary school. Nobel was just past Tampa, on the north side of Lassen. Rows of classrooms and lockers and outdoor walkways—in shades of tan and orange-brown—and planters with palm trees and yucca plants, and in the center the grass quad where they set up folding chairs for graduation each year. Crossing the quad from class to class, you could look up and see the pale blue Southern California sky.


The less said about junior high the better. Three years of boys pushing other boys around, calling each other “fag” and “faggot” and “homo” and “queer.” To avoid detection, I dated (not for long) a homely girl named Debbie Lane. When she broke up with me to date a handsome boy who was good in track, I wondered if he too was harboring a secret. I went on a few dates with the daughter of Edward M. Davis (who will later become chief of the Los Angeles Police Department). He liked me, I supposed, because he sensed I wasn’t going to try anything with his daughter. (These were the last times I attempted to pass as straight.) I quit playing the flute because the kids who tried out for orchestra were too aggressive, too competitive. In seventh grade, I had my first Black teacher. For Math. She wore bright red lipstick, and smoked: When she leaned over to help me with a problem, I could smell cigarettes on her breath. One of the twin daughters of Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on Bonanza, was in one of my classes. Debra or Danna; both were blonde and, like their father, on the chubby side. And, as the children of a TV star, the objects of much furtive attention. (I will think of them in 1972, with compassion, when Blocker dies suddenly at the age of forty-three.) I liked diagramming sentences in English class, and the short stories we read: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Frank R. Stockton’s “The Lady, or the Tiger?,” Guy de Maupassant’s “The Necklace,” O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf.” Oh the shock of discovering that the necklace was only paste! that the leaf was only painted on! And the wonder, when we studied Greek mythology, that those ancient stories were part of our everyday lives: Ajax (cleanser), Pegasus (Mobil gas stations), Trojans (condoms), Hermes’ winged foot (Goodyear tires). My greatest success in junior high was Typing. I literally taught myself to type overnight, and was so fast and accurate (120 words per minute with no mistakes) my typing teacher, Mr. Zimmerman, made me his assistant. In July of 1967, in a summer school English course, I asked the teacher if I could do a required book report on Valley of the Dolls. I’d just come upon it in the paperback rack at Thrifty Drug Store. She wasn’t familiar with the book, said she would look it up. The next day I was met with a stern “Absolutely not!” She recommended that I read Oliver Twist instead. I did, and enjoyed it, but was much more interested in the private lives of movie stars. My mother was also aghast when I mentioned Valley of the Dolls, the scandalous bestseller full of sex and drugs, and forbade me to read it. I hid a copy under my mattress and read it numerous times. As soon as I finished it I would immediately start reading it again; I wanted to stay lost in that story forever. But return to reality you must. To the fear of being bullied and beat up. To the pain of being among the last to be chosen for teams in P.E. To the humiliation of dodgeball in the gym on rainy days. To the dread of the locker room, of having to undress, of showering with other boys, of getting snapped with a wet towel by one of the bullies. Averting your eyes from the naked jock whose locker is right next to yours, you dress as fast as you can.


And walk home, on Lassen, as fast as you can, eyes to the ground, hoping no one will notice you, pick on you. Past Corbin, Winnetka, the eucalyptus trees. If you kept walking past Oso (instead of going left to Labrador and Comanche), the housing tract would end after half a dozen houses and there, on the left, would be the vacant lot that we called “the field.” This lot, for some unknown reason, remained vacant throughout my childhood and adolescence. Children and bicycles had worn a path through the wilderness of dry weeds and mustard plants. Toward the end of the field stood the Congregational church (modern design, with a wide arched doorway and smaller arches all around the base of the building, so it looked like a tent tethered to the ground) where for two weeks one summer, Nancy and I (although I was Catholic) attended Bible school. We sang songs (“Jesus Loves Me,” “This Is My Father’s World”) and crayoned pictures of Jesus and Mary in coloring books (I made their robes Carnation Pink and Turquoise Blue). I loved the illustrations in the children’s Bible: Moses floating in his basket among bulrushes; pairs of animals filing into Noah’s Ark; Jesus preaching to his disciples, both arms raised toward Heaven.


On the northwest corner of Lassen and Mason was St. John Eudes Church. The less said about my Catholic upbringing the better. How many feigned stomachaches (which my mother never fell for) before catechism every Saturday morning. How many confessions (“I lied to my mother”; “I thought bad thoughts about my father”) and penances (one Our Father, three Hail Marys). How many Sunday mornings not being able to eat breakfast till after Mass. My mother wearing a white lace scarf on her hair-sprayed bouffant, fingering her dead mother’s rosary beads. Kneeling to receive Communion, I was sure the priest knew I was an unworthy candidate for salvation. My father never came to church with us, but my mother insisted we attend, at least until we were confirmed. After that we were free to choose for ourselves. I drifted away, but came back, with my friend Vicky, to pray for Robert Kennedy the day he was shot. June 5, 1968. And came back one last time, a year or so later, to confess that I thought I might (though I knew for sure) “be a homosexual.” The priest’s vehement condemnation sent me out into the bright California sunlight vowing never to return. Soon after I declared myself an Existentialist (a term I learned in an English class when we read Albert Camus’s The Stranger). A boy named Clark, whom I knew from junior high and high school, lived in one of the houses across from St. John Eudes. I knew him well enough to talk to him, but we weren’t friends. (He went along with the others.)


You’d turn left off of Mason at Mayall, the first street north of the church, and walk two short blocks, to get to Chatsworth High School, which I attended from grades ten to twelve. High school was somewhat more civilized than junior high. All the kids trying to look and act sophisticated, taking their cues from the seniors, who were on the verge of becoming adults, entering the real world. The cooler and more aloof the better. Still, some bullies in letter jackets would push you from behind (they knew you wouldn’t stand up to them) as you waited in line at the cafeteria to buy one of those big square cinnamon rolls covered with gooey white icing. Naturally the jocks and the cheerleaders were the stars. One year a girl, a perky blonde, campaigned for a slot on the cheerleading team by driving around the school in a firetruck (a friend of her father was a fireman) chanting cheers on a loudspeaker and encouraging everyone to vote for her. (I don’t remember whether she won, but I can’t believe such desperate theatrics went unrewarded.) I had the misfortune of being assigned Chemistry right after lunch. The teacher, a thin gray-haired woman in a white smock (she reminded me of Miss Hathaway on The Beverly Hillbillies), would point at the periodic chart on the wall and I’d try to follow along, comprehend what she was saying, but found it impossible to differentiate between the elements, and wondered what on earth would I ever do with this information. The class was mostly boys, sleepy from starchy cafeteria food, and their straining jeans drove me to distraction. I was lucky to receive a C in that class. I fared much better in Geometry. For me it was easy (and even fun) to figure out the problems. Our teacher, a woman with short dark hair, was allergic to chalk (of all things), had to wear gloves and insert the sticks of chalk into a metal holder. Three years of French, at which I was competent. Fluent enough to read and understand The Little Prince. (Some basic French sentences will stay with me forever. Marie est malade. Je vais aller à la bibliothèque. Le livre est sur la table. But after graduating, I will never make use of the language and eventually forget all I had learned.) For English classes I read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (picturing Atticus Finch as Gregory Peck, having seen the movie on TV) and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl (the paperback had her picture on the cover and an introduction by Eleanor Roosevelt; I was haunted by the thought of the Nazis bursting into the secret hiding place) and John Hersey’s Hiroshima (the descriptions of the bomb being dropped made me feel sick) and Helen Keller’s The Story of My Life (I was shocked when she was accused of plagiarism) and Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun (one of the stories, about a man who travels back in time and accidentally steps on a butterfly and as a result everything is different when he returns to the present, freaked me out) and Bel Kaufman’s Up the Down Staircase (the story of teaching at an inner-city high school told entirely through letters and memos and student papers and anonymous notes put in a suggestion box: “Nerts to you”). For one class we were asked to collect similes from the novels we read; I loved doing that. Julius Caesar was the first Shakespeare play I had to read. I struggled through it, and would blame it (and the way it was taught) for my inability to truly love Shakespeare. Sixth period (Phys Ed) loomed; I had the whole day to dread it. Football, basketball, handball (with those hard black balls), swimming laps in the endless blue pool, trying to climb the coarse, ceiling-high ropes in the gym. The coaches more like drill sergeants than teachers. I envied the girls who got to play less barbaric sports, such as volleyball, and do push-ups on their knees. (My senior year, boys were given the option of taking badminton. I jumped at the chance. And was good at it—fast reflexes.) Drama class was my saving grace. There, students let down their hair and acted outrageously. Although I was never able to loosen up as much as the others, I was drawn to the uninhibited atmosphere, and felt like I belonged, and made new friends. The teacher, Mr. Carrelli (who will discover actors like Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham and Kevin Spacey), was accepting of our various personalities. I immersed myself in the theater, checked out countless plays from the library: Molière, Ibsen, Ionesco, Lillian Hellman, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams. And studied Stanislavsky. Mr. Carrelli kept calling attention to my monotone, which, try as I might, I was unable to shake. One lunch hour, as I sat in the small auditorium watching friends rehearse a one-act play, I had the (barely conscious) cognition that I wanted to be up there on stage, but not as a character; I wanted to be up there as myself. (Poetry will one day make this possible.) I acted in Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story with my friend Ron (I played the mild-mannered character; Ron, the unhinged one). Mr. Carrelli cast me as Snug (a joiner) in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, instructed me to play him dumb. And to let the head of my lion’s costume (for the play within the play) fall off when Snug takes a bow, and then fumble to pick it up. This got a laugh (which I was proud of ). In a summer school children’s play we put on in Canoga Park, I played a magic apple tree. I wore a tree costume, and at the end of my outstretched arms (branches) held two magic apples (plastic apples that we’d spray-painted gold) for a princess to pluck. My arms would get sore, as I had to hold them up for the entire performance. In the fall of 1970, Leann Renfrow, one of the older girls in Drama, who owned a car, drove a group of us to see The Boys in the Band at a theater in Van Nuys. There was much about the movie I didn’t understand, but to see that groups of gay men actually existed (albeit in New York City) and were handsome (albeit fucked up), filled me with hope. Mart Crowley became my hero (almost three decades later I will meet and get to know him); I bought a paperback of the play (which I hid like Valley of the Dolls) and read it several times. My friend Doug and I bravely staged a scene from it (I played Donald to his Michael) for class. That December, a few of us convinced Mr. Carrelli to arrange a field trip to the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles to see Crowley’s new play, Remote Asylum. It was exciting to see William Shatner and Anne Francis (Captain Kirk and Honey West) in person, and I thought the play was great, but the critics panned it and it was declared a flop. I saved and cherished the program: the silhouette profiles of the five main characters, facing each other in a circle, against a lime green background. One night, Ron (who also had a car) took me and Doug to see the movie Soldier Blue. We exited the theater in revulsion, stunned by the massacre of American Indians depicted at the end. Sat in Ron’s Ford Falcon and tried to make sense of what we’d just seen. The last semester of high school, nine of us were cast in Jean-Claude van Itallie’s experimental play The Serpent. Me, Ron, Cory, Sue, Robin, Sharon, Stacey, Scott, and Barbara (last name Wiggins, daughter of my elementary school teacher). We met off campus for rap sessions, tried to break down barriers and really get to know each other. At one of these, Cory, who of all of us looked most like a hippie (curly black hair, peasant shirt, gaping holes in the knees of his jeans), said, “Some of my best friends are gay.” Thinking I might meet some of his friends, I asked him, privately, about his comment. He admitted he had only said that for effect. To make a point. He didn’t have any gay friends. Which left me feeling as stranded as ever.


Half a block north of Mayall on Mason, on the right, was the shopping center that ran all the way to Devonshire. Large rectangular parking lot, the stores lined along the inner half of it like a backwards “L.” At the top was Ralphs, my mother’s preferred supermarket. When she’d come home, I’d help unload the brown paper bags from the station wagon; they’d cover most of the kitchen floor. (If my father was home, he’d yell about how much she was spending.) I’d fish through the bags for snacks: crackers in the form of daisies and whistles and bugles (which I’d put on each finger and eat one by one) and buttons and bows, bags of Fritos and Cheetos and Ruffles and Doritos, Hostess Sno Balls (white or pink) and Twinkies and the chocolate cupcakes with the white squiggles on the icing. Below Ralphs was a small Bank of America. And an H. Salt Fish & Chips, where they served the deep-fried cod and potatoes in a red plastic basket lined with a faux newspaper—to replicate how it’s done in England. We either doused the fish and chips with malt vinegar or dipped them in a cup of tartar sauce. My mother liked to go there. In the corner of the “L” was the Chatsworth Cinema. To its left, the bottom of the “L,” was Thrifty Drug Store. In front were two kiddie rides: For a quarter you could be, for two or three minutes, a cowboy riding a bucking bronco or an astronaut steering a rocket ship through outer space. In summer, when you walked through Thrifty’s automated doors, the air-conditioning hit you like a refrigerator. Immediately to your right was the ice cream stand. Through glass you could see the bins of ice cream in the freezer, in two rows of three, six different flavors, like a palette of watercolors: brown (Chocolate), green (Mint ’N Chip), beige (Butter Pecan), pink (Black Cherry), light brown (Coffee), Orange Sherbet. Cones cost a nickel: a tall cylindrical scoop of Rocky Road (my favorite). To your left, through the metal turnstile, was the makeup counter. The display of Yardley Slickers (lipstick) in “five shimmery, shiny shades”: Basic, Sunny, Frosted, Surf (blue lipstick!), and Tan-Tan. The pink-and-orange-striped tubes would drive me wild. They looked like little toys, little curios. As did the small round plastic Glimmerick (eye shadow) cases, with their border of blue and lavender stripes. And the names of the colors: Little Girl Pink, Ruffle Blue, Peach Ribbons, Stop White, Kid Brown, Lacey Aqua, Dolly Mauve, Organdy Green, Quicksilver, Yellow Frills. The trick was not to linger too long, lest the woman behind the counter become suspicious of this boy’s interest. (Little Boy Blue would have been my shade.) Several rows over and back: the toy aisle with the Barbie outfits in their pink-and-white-striped cardboard frames (they looked like paintings), the tantalizing dresses and accessories gleaming beneath cellophane. (Years in the future, from age forty on, I will collect those forbidden outfits to my heart’s content.) If upon entering Thrifty’s you walked straight ahead, past the cashiers on the left and the liquor section on the right (where cigarettes and Trojans and Playboys were sold behind the counter), you’d reach the magazine stand and the rotating rack of paperback books. These were my lifeline to the outside world. Comics were twelve cents apiece. I followed Harvey characters like Casper the Friendly Ghost and Wendy the Good Little Witch and Richie Rich and Little Lotta and Little Audrey and Little Dot and Baby Huey and Spooky the Tuff Little Ghost and the Ghostly Trio (Casper’s uncles) and the Witch Sisters (Wendy’s aunts). And DC heroes like Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and the Atom and Aquaman and Flash. I subscribed to Lois Lane and Justice League of America and The Brave and the Bold. And also bought Superboy and Jimmy Olsen and Action and Adventure Comics. And Classics Illustrated Junior fairy tales like “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Little Mermaid” and “Rumpelstiltskin” and “The Dancing Princesses” and “Thumbelina” and “Snow White and Red Rose.” And romance comics like Heart Throbs and Teen Confessions and Young Romance. I bought MAD for the movie spoofs (“For the Birds,” “The $ound of Money,” “Valley of the Dollars,” “Rosemia’s Boo-Boo”) and for “Spy vs. Spy.” I bought teen magazines like 16 and Tiger Beat for the pictures of The Beatles and Sonny & Cher and Herman’s Hermits and my idol Patty Duke (the youngest actress ever to win an Oscar, for playing Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, and star of her own TV show, in which she played identical cousins, which I watched every chance I got). I bought movie magazines to keep up with forthcoming films and the private lives of the stars. For pictures of Jane Fonda in her sexy costumes for Barbarella. And Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow taking a bath together in Secret Ceremony. And Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski jet-setting from airport to airport, Sharon wearing black boots and fur coat and gigantic sunglasses, a movie script tucked under her arm. And to find out who Ryan O’Neal and Barbara Parkins, the stars of the prime-time soap opera Peyton Place (which I wasn’t allowed to see—too racy) were dating. Then there were magazines like True Crime and Inside Detective, which after reading a few articles about co-eds being strangled and housewives being stabbed, I stayed away from. Each time I went into Thrifty’s, I would spin the paperback rack to see what new novels had come in. Agatha Christie mysteries (I read many, and especially liked the ones based on nursery rhymes: A Pocket Full of Rye, Hickory Dickory Death). Harold Robbins potboilers (I read A Stone for Danny Fisher, The Dream Merchants, and Never Love a Stranger). James Bond thrillers (which I never read but was enticed by the colorful covers: Diamonds Are Forever was shocking pink; Casino Royale, yellow; Goldfinger, purple; The Spy Who Loved Me, green). A book about the history of the Academy Awards (which I memorized). Novelizations of movies I had seen (Arrivederci, Baby!; Sweet November). A novel based on the TV show Bewitched (which I stole by slipping it between my skateboard and my hip, then felt so guilty I threw it away on the way home). Reflections in a Golden Eye and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (because I’d seen the movies). The Exhibitionist (supposedly based on Jane Fonda). The Symbol (based on Marilyn Monroe). The Walking Stick (“Soon to be a Major Motion Picture”—which I never saw). One day I discovered Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s in the rack. From the very first line (“I am always drawn back to places where I have lived…”) to the last (“I hope Holly has, too”), I loved every word of that book. It, more than any other (except possibly Valley of the Dolls), made me want to be a writer when I grew up.

David Trinidad is the author of the poetry collections Swinging on a Star and Digging to Wonderland: Memory Pieces. Trinidad is a professor of creative writing at Columbia College in Chicago.
Originally published:
February 28, 2022

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