rich brown's Early Days

When I was eight or so I returned one summer afternoon from a swimming class more slowly than I should've. My mother found me a half dozen blocks from home, walking very slowly and reading a Wonder Woman comic I'd just been given by a friend. (This would've been circa 1946.) She was very angry with me (I'd dawdled more than an hour), so to punish me she made a fire in the incinerator we had in the back yard, and burned my entire collection of comics. I was deeply and permanently offended by this, and have compulsively collected far too much since then. The "collection" she destroyed was a dog-eared, beatup batch of maybe 20 or 30 comics, many of them coverless, some with pages ripped out, and almost none of them bought new by me (I'd gotten them by trades and handmedowns). But they were mine.

That was when I was eight. By the time I was in high school the Washington Daily News (a now defunct tabloid absorbed by the Star in its last years) ran a piece on me (with photo) called "The Kid With 10,000 Comics." It's amusing to speculate whether I'd ever have been a collector if not for that incident.

-- Ted White

I had something similar that was a turning point in my life, too. I was 16 going on 17, about a month short of graduating from High School, from which I returned one afternoon to find my mother confronting me with a fanzine in her hands. It was a Cult zine. As an Active WLer, I had a letter in it in which I said that I was an Atheist. She had read it and was Very Upset; we were not a "church-going" family, since my mother and father subscribed to different Christian beliefs, but the last time she had looked--when I was 10 or so--I had been baptized in the faith she had some out of, which was Southern Baptist. I was a Good Christian until about age 12, when I stopped going to church (just like both my mother and father); I had a paper route that took me out early Sunday mornings and I managed to stretch it out until after 9 a.m. when the church bus came by our area. This is all digression; I quit because I was pretty disgusted with all three religions I had "tried"--the Methodists told me my mother was going to Hell, the Baptists told me my father was going to Hell, the Church of the Nazarene told me my father and my mother were going to Hell, so I decided to let them all go to Hell....

Back to the point. My mother was upset; she showed me what I had written, asked if I had written it and when I confirmed it she tore up the fanzine.

As far as I was concerned, that was a Big Mistake.

My parents believed in corporal punishment; my mother spanked me with the back of a hairbrush, my father used his belt. On this occasion my mother had at me with the hairbrush and sent me to my room where (I was told) my father would be sent in to Deal With Me when he got home.

It wasn't the corporal punishment and the threat of more to come but the destruction of a fanzine I knew to be rare and to contain something of mine that sent me on out the back door. I walked up to a little park which housed the local public library and wondered how long I could stay away from home. The park had some pomegranate trees, and I thought maybe I could just hang out there for a few weeks eating pomegranates and using the public rest room there to wash and give me a place to do the other things one's body requires one to do for which they have been set up.

I even went into the library and checked out an sf book. I read it until it got too dark. As dusk was coming on, I kid I knew named Ronny Shalvis greeted me as he was coming through the park. I bummed a cigarette off him and told him that I'd run away from home. He invited me to come stay at his place-- he and his brother David had tossed their abusive/drunken dad out on his ear and were living with their drunken but non- abusive mom and could do pretty much what they wanted.

So I went and lived with them. Ronny told his mother that I had been kicked out of my house.

Since I was so close to high school graduation, I decided to go to school and finish it up--reasoning that it was the last place my parents would ever think to look for me. In that I was right--they never did. I no longer had a paper route but, along with Ronny and David, made a few dollars a day chasing golfballs in the Arroyo Seco. [If you've seen either Buckaroo Bonsai or Terminator II, you've seen the concrete-enclosed Los Angeles River, which ((some Californian correct me if I'm wrong)) flows out of the Arroyo Seco, which is also concrete enclosed but the walls of which are slanted -- \__/ --so you can walk up and down them. The Arroyo Seco, passing by the Rose Bowl, cuts up the middle of a golfcourse. Golfers tee off on both sides and frequently knock balls into the Arroyo Seco, but don't want to try walking down those walls in cleated golf shoes. By placing ourselves at strategic points, we would get the golfballs knocked into it and bring them back to the golfers. At times we'd get no more than a "thank you" but often we'd be "tipped" a quarter or a half dollar. We could make anywhere from $4 to at times as much as $10 doing this a few hours after school. Again, I digress.)

The Shalvis brothers wanted to join the Navy after getting out of high school. All three of us went down, but being on the verge of our 17th birthdays, we all needed the consent of a parent or guardian. Ronny was eventually rejected because of a bad back. David went in. I contacted my parents for the first time in a month and a half and was promised their cooperation--they even let me go to the Solacon. My mother, however, feeling that she'd not raised her boy to be a sailor, had my rich uncle, the Garbage Disposal King of Southern California, take me out on the ocean in his cabin cruiser and get me seasick. That ploy worked; I've never felt worse in my life. I went into the Air Force instead.

-- rich brown