Excerpt for C.I.A. Brat by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

C.I.A. Brat

Written by Ken Albertsen

ISBN 9781879338210

Copyright 2014 by Adventure1 Publications, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Distributed by Smashwords

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Chapter 1. Entering

Chapter 2. Virginia

Chapter 3. England

Chapter 4. Rome

Chapter 5. Leaving like a Tree

Chapter 6. Walter

Chapter 7. Acid

Chapter 8. DC Al Coda

Chapter 9. Influences

Chapter 10. Back-Country


Nobody ever told me, 'Go west, young man,' but that's what happened. I started off in Denmark, was then taken west to Washington D.C. At age 22, when the text for this memoir wraps up, I was again heading west - to California. After a quarter century there, it was west again – to Southeast Asia. Naturally, there were zig-zags along the way. Some zigs took me east, some zags had me going west again. Up until age 22, I had changed schools 11 times within 5 countries. There were sheltered elitist times as well as 'down in the dumps' times – some triumphs and some low points, such as spending a drug-addled night in jail.

If this intro was crafted like a 'movie trailer,' it would go on for 40 paragraphs shouting the highlights of each of the 40 most dramatic stories herein. There would be women screaming, bullets flying, and people running from giant fireballs. But alas, I'm not a movie promoter, so drawn-out over-hype is not my forte.

Auto-biographies are usually the realm of famous folks so, you may ask, “what's a non-famous person doing – writing one?” I'll take a stab at addressing that. For starters, most people, whether famous or not, have some profoundly sad event in their formative years. It might be; death in the family, rape, beatings, drug problems, break-ups, or some grave disease. Therefore, most biographies swirl around that unfortunate occurrence, and it therefore become the lodestone for the entire biography. Although similar such challenges took place in my formative years, there was fortunately no sole profound event which defined my boyhood. On second thought, having an emotionally shipwrecked mother might fit that role.

America doesn't reward spiritual insight. There are awards and accolades, certificates and commemorations for a million different achievements, but where does spiritual attainment fit in? Nada. It doesn't. The average westerner, when hearing a phrase like 'spiritual achievement,' might attribute it to one or more religious icons from centuries ago. Or, if pressed to name a contemporary, might mention The Pope or a kindly church pastor. Indeed, even a mention of one's personal spiritual insight is considered 'gauche' or egotistical. Modern folks are busy enough with heaps of other priorities, such as; making money, burnishing their vanity, or obtaining electronic gizmos. Spiritual endeavors take a back seat in the public domain, if they figure at all.

Drug taking is nearly as primal, and as entwined with human evolution as sex. The true stories that follow attempt to shed light, not only on drug-taking during the hippie era, but how certain drugs can be conducive to a person's spiritual development. Society, via drug-enforcement laws, lumps recreational drugs into two convenient categories: One category comprises the sole recreational drug which is legal, available, and tolerated everywhere: alcoholic drinks. The other category encompasses all other recreational drugs. They're all illegal, deemed deadly, addictive and criminal-making. The latter part of the following memoir does more than touch upon this topic, it endeavors to shed reasonable light upon recreational drugs.

If you wanted to regulate swimming, would you seek solutions from people who had never been immersed in water? That's essentially what society asks from legislators and enforcers, in regard to laws which criminalize drug use. Hemp, for example, is an herb that couldn't get a person stoned if she smoked a barrel-full. Yet, our sage leaders would throw people in jail for having a few seeds of the stuff.

All the tales herein are true. No names have been altered to protect the innocent. Indeed, because I've lost touch with nearly everyone with whom I had early adventures with, this text is partially a call-out to re-connect. Or, as Paul Simon alluded to in his song 'Kodachrome,' recollections of people we've known and lost touch with, are sometimes better left to memory. I've seen some 'later' pics of friends from 'way back', and must confess; some still look vibrant and endearing. They look like they still got their mojo workin.'


This book is dedication primarily to young black and brown folks, and here’s why: Young people of color grow up thinking white kids who grow up in well-off neighborhoods have all sorts of advantages over them. Granted, on average, white kids in comfortable suburbs have more money behind them, but money is only one slice of the pie of life. There are more important things in life than how much a person is worth in dollars, or how impressive the gifts are on birthdays and Christmas. Though my parents were well-to-do, and I was spoiled with gifts/toys growing up, there were also gaping drawbacks.

The times when my family felt like a chummy family were as few as I can count on
both hands. I would look around at other family interactions, and sometimes feel a bit jealous of how well they were all getting along. I’d see genuine laughter, chiding, joking and comraderie - which was lacking in my family dynamic. This was also a time (1950’s 1960’s) of the ‘nuclear family’ which indicated a small family which was an entity unto itself. No raucus barbecues with dozens of relatives, which one would expect from an extended family of color. I never even met my cousins, even though they resided about 160 miles away.

Don’t get me wrong, I had fun times growing up, as evidenced in the following stories. The point I’m trying to make here is directed towards young folks of color who may think that well-off kids in the suburbs have all the advantages, and kids in poorer neighborhoods always have the short end of the stick. Not so. All youngsters have challenges growing up, but money is not the defining element. Well-off kids can suffer psychological drawbacks as much as kids from any other social strata. Money can’t buy family cohesiveness or joy.

Chapter 1. Entering

"Clean up this room!” the woman shouted, lips flared, teeth bared and gritted. A moment later, before her 6 year old son could bring himself to rise up from sitting on the bed, she declared, "If you prefer to live in a pig sty, then go ahead, ...have it your way.”

My mom’s arm quickly swept across the top of the clothes dresser, instantly splaying all items onto the floor, breaking, among other things; a lamp with its bulb and shade, plus several plastic models. The delicate models were WWII fighter planes, with insignia, and a cardinal bird, painted red, all meticulously constructed, along with decals carefully applied.

The infraction which led to my mother’s tantrum? Leaving some socks and clothes on the floor. Her destruction was not an isolated incident. It happened several times, always punctuated by her yelling above my tearful protestations. At least thrice, she emptied out all the drawers of the dresser, angrily strewing clothes to all corners of the bedroom.

Not surprisingly, an emotionally shipwrecked mom can affect strong influences on her brood. It had the unintentioned effect of compelling me to turn off to her - from an early age. In response to the first few of my mother’s tantrums, I responded with tears and anger. That was the response she wanted.

Yet, after several upheavals, I adapted better ways to deal with it. Sure, the anger still seethed, but along with that came inurement. I was developing an emotional callous to her harangues.

Way back then, I could have been cowed by her avarice, but instead I resisted. Fortunately, my father was in the picture. His character was the diametric opposite of his wife's. Where she was driven by vindictiveness, he was guided by fair mindedness. Decades later, I realized that my mother’s outrageous behavior was also a component in me being drawn to Buddhism, whose core attribute is non-attachment. Having my precious possessions destroyed right in front of me by this raging person, was life molding.

Several concepts sprouted in my mind. I learned that anger and rage were bad, like poisons for the mind. I also learned that rage is, to a large extent, self-perpetuating. In other words, no one is forcing that rage to churn in that individual.

Like the alcoholic who pours drink down her throat, rage is largely something that's self-fueled. Those sorts of emotional outbursts were the beginnings of my learning about the attributes of non-attachment to possessions. Later in life, such lessons would expand to include non-attachment to emotional states. The seeds of non-attachment had been planted. Thanks mom.

In her carefree ‘salad days,’ during the 1940's, mother had been freelancing as an artist in Hollywood. The aspiring actress would frequent restaurants where movie stars hung out. Without prior permission, d'Arcy would commence a quick caricature of one or another personage, using high quality pastel crayons on a pad of paper. Showing such minute-made portraits to guests would inevitably spark lively conversations, and a few much-appreciated dollars. Caricature portraits could also spark acquaintances. There’s one story where actor Jimmy Stewart took pretty young d'Arcy with him on a wild fling to Lake Tahoe. It might be intriguing to claim I popped out into the world 9 months later, but it's doubtful the Stewart family would find humor in that.

After gallivanting around Hollywood, d'Arcy married a rich jeweler who took her to the Bahamas. It soon became evident that the jeweler could not sire babies. D’Arcy went to consult a doctor to see what could be done to remedy that. The doctor promptly inserted a solution, and duly impregnated his patient. A few weeks later, when d'Arcy excitedly declared to her husband, “Dear, guess what? You thought you couldn’t make children, but surprise, you can: I’m pregnant!”

Her husband, the jeweler, responded with a divorce. Baby boy Ron entered the world, months later.

D'Arcy and her baby boy went to hang out with the 'well-to-do' at the Hamptons, upstate New York. There, she fortuitously met the man who would become her second husband. Roughly nine months after that, while honeymooning in the Virgin Islands, I popped out: son #2 for mom, son #1 for dad. By that time, dad had graciously adopted his wife’s ready-made 3 year old son. At age 45, he had two sons.

Dad was blond and Nordic. There are respective baby photos of my paternal grandfather, my father, and me - if you put the black & white photos side by side, you could be excused for assuming they were triplets.

Strange as it sounds, that was a factor in why my mother would sometimes fly into a rage, with me as the butt of her acrimony. As with most married women, she was often dissatisfied. More often than not, she felt unloved, unappreciated, and/or her sex life wasn’t fulfilling. She would tape Playboy centerfolds to the inside of the folding doors on dad's clothes closet – deigning to stiffen dad's resolve.

She needed someone to unload her frustrations upon. Because my father was away at his job, or not sufficiently responsive when on the scene, mother would dump frustrations on me. Why? Because I was like a clone of my dad, like a mini-him. More than once, when I was around five, my mother would point her finger at me and state with all the angered conviction of a frustrated housewife; “you know you’re your father’s favorite son.”

I didn’t know how to field that. From her seething anger, I thought I was supposed to feel awful, as that’s what she seemed to want me to feel. Yet, from the words, I felt OK. So, to not further anger my mother, I responded sheepishly, but inwardly I felt good on hearing that.

Of my father’s three sons, I was the only one who was the fruit of his loins. If there was favoritism, it didn’t show, as dad was as fair-minded as a judge which, incidentally, was the profession of his Danish father.

My given name was Kenneth, but in this memoir I'm referred to as Kim, which is the nickname my parents gave me. The way they tell it is: while mom was pregnant, both parents read Rudyard Kipling's book, 'Kim', and that's where they got the idea for my nickname. Like the Johnny Cash song, 'A Boy Named Sue' (written by comedian, Martin Mull), a boy with a girl's name has obvious added challenges. Actually, there are a few males named 'Kim,' but there's no doubt they heard the same childhood taunt as I did: “why do you have a girl's name?” It's the type of thing some boys and girls with names like Jean or Leslie or Jackie, had to deal with while growing up. Partly for that reason, I learned to never ridicule a person's name.

The first time I got tipsy from alcohol was at one of my parents' cocktail parties. All the adults were in the living room doing what adults do at cocktail parties; talking, posturing and laughing loudly. At five years, I was sitting on a table where the empty glasses wound up. Each shallow glass had a stuffed olive in it and, without thinking, I ate the olives. A bit later, a friend of my mother’s, Adele, came over and saw I was tipsy. She put one and one together and broke into loud laughter while announcing to the party-goers, “Hey everyone, look, little Kim is drunk!”

Even though both my parents drank alcoholic drinks each evening, they weren’t alcoholics. Similarly, though I drank alcoholic drinks on and off until my early 20‘s, I’ve never had a problem with drinking, other than being drunk several times.

When our five member family sat together at dinner, dad would often pour each of his boys a small glass of half wine, half water. He did this from the time we boys were able to sit at the table without high chairs. That acclimatization, plus the factor that we all had European roots, contributed to the fact that neither my parents, nor their boys, ever had drinking problems.

It may sound racist to say so, but native folks who have no cultural tradition of drinking fermented sugar drinks are more prone, on average, to problems with alcohol. When it comes to other types of drugs, well, that’s a different story.

Drug use started in the womb during the months my mother was carrying me. Those were heady times for her. She had recently met and married a handsome Danish-American diplomat. They were in love and, after conceiving me in the Virgin Islands, went to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he was appointed First Secretary at the US embassy.

Though dad didn’t share stories of his work with his sons when we were young, he did elicit one tidbit, years later. While assigned to the US diplomatic Corps in Copenhagen, the first-ever defection by a MIG fighter pilot took place. The Soviet pilot decided, correctly, that if he went full throttle in a bee line for a landing strip in Denmark, he could break free from his USSR controllers. This was at the beginning of the Cold War and during the Korean War, when Soviet and US jet fighters were skirmishing daily in Asia. You can imagine what a great prize it was for the US and Europeans to get their hands on a fully functional MIG fighter plane, plus a pilot who was glad to divulge all he knew. Dad was the first American at the landing site and he escorted the pilot from the field. From that moment on, Soviet military planes were not allowed to fly solo. If a plane diverted from a flight plan, the other pilot was required to shoot it down.

Less than ten years earlier, dad had been actively assisting the ‘Danish underground’ during WWII. One successful assignment was to assist underground Danes in blowing up a commandeered corner restaurant used exclusively by Nazi brass for meetings. He may have done other clandestine things, but he was tight-lipped about them. Right after the war, dad received a ‘White Cross’ decoration for heroism in a ceremony hosted by the King of Denmark. So, when stationed in Copenhagen a few years later, he and his newlywed wife essentially had a ‘Key to the City.' There were parties and balls nearly every night. Champagne flowed like water. Cigarettes were considered chic, as movie stars were always seen with them. Little me, as an embryo and fetus, had no choice in the matter. I was along for the ride. The bit of life-giving placenta between the mother’s and baby’s body doesn’t discern between nutrition and drugs. It all gets passed along to the baby swimming in amniotic fluid. In sum, I was tipsy from day one.

While being born, so I’m told, a flight of white birds flew over the skylight in the delivery room. Perhaps that explains why I’ve been flighty ever since. As a baby, my parents wisely assigned a nurse to me. Her name was Bergeeta, a lovely young Danish woman. I had a photo of her where she’s smiling on the verge of laughing. I am so glad she was hired to take care of me. I can imagine my mother going out to fancy diplomatic parties, getting drunk and coming back in early morning hours, waking her baby and shoving a nipple into its mouth. I assume the martini, champagne and nicotine flavored milk was good, but I have no recollection.

I do, however, have a slight memory of one of those times. My mother must have been lactating, and while at a party, started feeling some pain associated with needing to nurse, in order to relieve the pain. Bergeeta, being the good babysitter that she was, surely bottle fed me and had put me to bed by the late hour my parents returned home. The memory was a frustrated mother trying to get me to suck on her erect nipple, angrily thrust in the little baby’s mouth. No doubt, I was crying and it wouldn’t be outlandish to suspect mom was concurrently chastising Bergeeta for feeding me prior. That episode could have been titled; Attack by the Angry Nipple.

Westward from Denmark to Maryland

The family came to America when I was two and a half. Dad got a large white rental house on Glenbrook Drive near Washington DC. With its spacious lawn and big trees, it was the ideal place for jumping onto leaf piles in autumn, as soon as they were raked together. There was a rainy day, when I wandered off to merrily stroll nude in the flooded gutters alongside the suburban street. A neighbor woman found me and kindly walked me home. There was laughter all around when the neighbor exclaimed to my mom, “all this time I thought you had a daughter because of the child’s long blond curls, but now it’s plain, it’s a boy.“

Another episode, this time a sunny day, my mom and I were in the backyard having a picnic. I put an end of a carrot stick in my mouth and then began to howl in pain. A yellow jacket bee had been on the end of the carrot and quickly did what any bee would do when put in a mouth: it stung. Mom laughed hardily while putting miserable me in her bed to convalesce.

One day, my buddy and I decided we’d pick some lovely flowers and give them to my mom. Big mistake. The flowers were her prize tulips which she had received from her mother who resided in her native Holland. My friend and I, around four years apiece, got chewed out royally that afternoon. Another time, I ventured out alone over to the neighbor’s. He had the amazing name, Poopy Dicker. That day he was entertaining at his swimming pool with beautiful women all around. Poopy was middle-aged and the women were probably in their twenties, but to me they were large and old. One bikini-clad lady took a liking to the little boy with the blond curls, and kept cuddling me. I don’t know if it was making Poopy jealous, but the jokes were flying fast and furious. One of Poopy's witticisms came out something like, “you got such big jugs, why don't you give the kid some milk.”

Dad had a jaguar car, which oozed luxury. One favorite thing, was for the entire family; mom, dad, me and older brother Ron (Derek was in the incubator at that time), go for a drive. I would stand on the back seat and face the rear window diagonally. It was the best place to sing songs. The acoustics were such that my small voice would reverberate in the back window area. I purposefully kept my voice soft because I didn’t particularly want anyone hearing me sing. One day, I looked back to the front of the car and asked if anyone could hear me. All three smiled and simultaneously said, “yes.” That was about the time when Ron, who was late in coming around to speak, said his first words, “see car down there?”

Then there was the feather. Every night at that time, while going to bed, I liked to have a feather. I would manipulate its tip just under my nose. Apparently, it helped me to get to sleep. More than a few times, if there was no feather at hand, I’d lie in bed, and shout “where’s my feather?!” Mom, dad and big brother would scramble around the house looking for it. I would stay in bed and continue shouting my demand until the darned feather was brought to me. What a spoiled brat I must have been at times.

Dad then bought his first house. Valued at $13,000, it was located a few miles from the prior house on Glenbrook road. The newer house was on Brite drive. It was near Radnor elementary school which I would attend. It was also near two enormous water holding tanks which I would summit a few years later.

One sunny day, as my dad and I were standing in the front yard, two little girls happened to walk by. It was just after he had gently rebuked me for turning on the car radio to listen to songs. The engine was off, “You’ll run down the battery.”

The girls were my age and, as this was a couple of weeks before school started, this was our first encounter. When they saw me, they stopped and asked about the new boy. I was painfully shy so I just stood there without saying anything. My dad perked up and stepped forward to introduce me. It was one of the few times I can recall him being unabashedly joyful. He was not, by nature, morose, but instead was often even-keeled, conservative, and not prone to being effusive with emotions. In a nutshell, the polar opposite of mom. Yet, on this occasion, he was clearly charmed by the two five-year-old girls with blond tresses who took the time to inquire about the new boy in town.

My younger brother Derek entered the world in May 1956. I recall when he was brought home for his first time. I was standing alongside my father. It was just him, the baby lying in the crib, and me. After a few moments of wordlessly staring at the baby's dark curls, my father spoke without humor, “Sure doesn’t look like me, does it.”

As all kids are apt to do, I entertained myself at times. I’ve always preferred to be outdoors and thankfully TV was not a big lure, and computer games would not be invented for twenty years. There was bamboo growing alongside a fallow side of the house, perfect for making spears. There was also a long wooden ladder with dowel steps. When sitting flat on the ground, it made a fine raft for floating down an exotic river somewhere in the remote wilds of Africa. I became adept at spearing large fish and crocs.

One Saturday morning, while sleeping in at my 2nd floor room, I heard a sharp click, as something smooth and cool entered my mouth. I took it out to look at it, thinking it might be a tooth. Then I heard one of my buddies calling my name from the yard, 15 feet below my window, “Kim, Kim, come out to play.”

It turned out, my pint-size buddy had taken some small blond smooth pebbles from the driveway to use to rouse me from my slumber. My bedroom window had crank-opening glass panels. One of his pebbles had surreptitiously banked against the panel, and vectored directly into my mouth.

Another very different occurrence with my mouth, in the same bed: One night, as my parents were having one of their many cocktail parties, I went to bed early. Awhile later, my mom came in to check on me. She was woozy on liquor, and I could smell her breath. She kneeled down and put her mouth on mine, and then stuck her tongue in there too. In a split second, I pulled away, and said ‘’eeuuw.’ That was the first and last time she ever tried something like that with me.

Around that time, the family went on a drive to Vermont. The only memory worth noting on that trip was: I nearly died. Ron would tell the story of how he and I were jogging down a dirt road after a rain. Within moments we found ourselves in a mud pit. Ron called it 'quicksand' but I question whether there was tropical-type quicksand in a northern region like Vermont. Ron who was older and stronger was able to get out. Seeing me up to my neck and slowly sinking, he ran and got a stout stick, and ably helped extradite little me. All we got, when we returned to the guest house, was a stern rebuke for being so muddy.

Once in awhile, mom would take me shopping at one of the big malls. Lord & Taylor and Sears were among her favorite haunts. She would dress me up handsome with bright blond hair combed high and back from forehead like a mini James Dean. Mom would sing along dramatically to songs coming from the car's AM radio, hits from her salad days, the 1930‘s and 40‘s. I was sorely relieved none of my friends were listening, yet it was great exposure for me to hear so many of those great old tunes. Later in life, I would imagine what it might have been like to work at Tin Pan Alley in Manhattan, where so many enduring popular songs were written.

Glen Echo was a large amusement park near Bethesda. It had a grand old-style roller coaster, built with white painted timber. However, its best ride was located on top of a large circular building. It probably had a name like ‘Fighter Pilot.’ There were six or eight metal planes, each big enough for one kid-sized pilot. Each plane had a cable tether connecting it to a high point on a stout center wheel. When the wheel turned, the planes would become airborne by centrifugal momentum. They'd actually swing out beyond the perimeter edge of the round flat roof. Additionally, each plane, besides being bright colored, had its own flap in front. By using a handle on the flap, each mini-pilot could compel his/her plane to veer further outward or inward along the round-about trajectory. Altogether, an ingeniously designed ride that delivered a thrill a minute.

It was at Glen Echo where I made my first song recording. For a pittance, anyone could record a song and walk away with an actual vinyl 45 rpm record of it. I chose the song; ‘How Much is that Doggie in the Window?’ and duly gave it to my mom as a gift. A little bit of parallel R&R history: Elvis Presley’s first-ever recording was at a 50 cent place like that, in Memphis. It was ‘Happy Birthday,’ and he gave the record to his mom.

Years after I made my first record, I was again at Glen Echo, and decided to pay a quarter to get my age guessed. The age-guesser was supposed to pay the client a dollar if his guess was over two years off. I played the game when I was 12, and the guesser guessed my age as 14. I misunderstood the rules of the game, and thought that I was owed the dollar. The guesser took a moment to set me straight. None of that is of any significance except that nearly a decade after that encounter, after not seeing or thinking of him in the interim, I was to become best friends with that age-guesser, named Walter. Later in this memoir, there will be some quirky tales about him.

My little brother, Derek, still a toddler, was assigned a maid who, in today's PC world, would be called a caretaker. She was a big-hearted, big bodied black woman named ‘Fanny.’ The name suited her well because she seemed to always be carrying little Derek on one hip or the other. She had a slow-as-molasses easy-going personality, and had her own room downstairs. For the many ensuing years we resided in that house, long after Fanny took leave, we continued to call the room, 'Fanny’s Room.' Derek was fortunate to have had Fanny look after him, similarly to how I was lucky to have had Bergeeta when I was a toddler. If, for no other reason; our mother was not much the motherly type. Mother had talents, which we’ll touch upon in later chapters, but she didn’t have a profusion of sunny, nonjudgmental love which nourishes kids’ souls.

Several months after Fanny had taken leave, the family was driving through the eastern Maryland countryside near Delaware, and dad pointed at a modest shack in a green field and said, “That’s the type of house Fanny lives in.” On that same trip, we went to pick up Ron at the end of his summer camp stay. When we saw him, the first thing he wanted to show us was a crack in a car-sized gray rock, where water flowed naturally all day and night, otherwise known as an ‘artesian well.’

On the ride back home, my parents were discussing a friend of theirs named Leslie, and were wondering out loud why her husband called her 'Buttercup.' I piped up, “Elsie is the nickname for Leslie. On the cover of Fleischmann’s butter there is a picture of Elsie the Cow. In the top-right corner of the label, there’s a picture of a buttercup flower.” Both parents enjoyed that interruption, and mom commented, “I think your son is ready to apply for a job with you at the State Department.” Turning to dad, “you can arrange that, can’t you dear?”

Ballroom dancing classes were an after-school one hour gig which most of us first graders attended. It was led by Suzie Barker’s mom. Suzie could have been Shirley Temple's twin sister and was the first girl I ever had a crush on. The dance class was tops and gave an opportunity for even the shyest amongst us to get near and touch someone of the other gender. In ballroom dancing class, we were compelled to actually hold hands. Wow.

I had a set of hardback books about Doctor Doolittle. I recommend every parent of grammar school-aged children get at least one of those books for their kids. In the digital age, lamentably few children read books anymore. Even better than encouraging kids to read Doctor Doolittle books, would be the parent, or some kind-hearted adult, reading the books aloud to little children. Perhaps a radio show could be devoted to that.

The Doctor Doolittle stories were written by Hugh Lofting. He was a British soldier who found himself stuck in trench warfare during WW I. To express how much he loved and missed his children back home, he wrote the stories.

They feature a sensible even-keeled man who communicates with animals. There is no flowery language nor hocus pocus theatrics. No winged Pegasus, wizards or genies appear in a cloud of colored smoke. Instead, the stories are told matter-of-factly. The reader gets taken along on the journey. Without a doubt, reading those books contributed to me becoming an environmentalist. Many years later, a movie was made with the Doctor Doolittle name. It featured Eddie Murphy as the good doctor. No offense to Eddie, but I just couldn't picture a brash black comedian playing the part of a distinguished soft-spoken Britisher. I had cherished images of the stories in my mind's eye and, for that reason, never watched the movie.

It was around that time, in the summer of '64, that dad took me up to New York City to see the World's Fair. Just the two of us. When we came out of the hotel lobby on our first night in the city, I looked up and saw the million lights on the skyscrapers rising straight up like a starry canyon. Dad enjoyed my awestruck reaction. The World's Fair featured many of America's largest corporations, all vying to impress, which they did. The overall theme was about 'the future' so there were fun displays with jet-cars, and clunky robots which could clean a house and serve tea.

Back in Bethesda, mom wanted me to go on TV to share my World's Fair experience with viewers. She brought me to a children's TV show being aired live. With my turquoise colored World's Fair hat clustered with a dozen corporate pins from the various booths, I was placed alongside the show's host and interviewed. 50 years hence, as I write this, that TV transmission might just be reaching aliens residing 50 lights years from Earth. They can watch a little boy, too shy to say more than a few words about his trip with his dad to New York City.


A year later, dad got a State Department assignment to France. On the flight over the Atlantic, Ron and I, ages 9 and 6, were put in the cabin luggage compartment, I don’t know why. Not enough seats? A better place to play? Anyhow, we must have been getting rowdy because all of a sudden, mom and a man in a pilot’s uniform were standing in front of us. Mom said, “If you boys don’t quiet down, the captain is going to toss you off the plane. Isn’t that right captain?” He looked at her, then looked at me and nodded in agreement. I was hushed with horror. I pictured little me and my brother being tossed from the plane. The man who was saying he would toss us out, had a uniform and pilot's cap, so he tells the truth, doesn't he?

We moved into a large three story house in a suburb of Paris called Le Vesinet. Years later I found out Le Vesinet was a wooded region where various French kings and his invited guests would go hunting for game. To commemorate that, there was a life-sized statue of a stag with a full rack of antlers, set on a pedestal at a street crossing. Those are the types of things a little boy recalls. Woe be to any regular folks caught hunting on the King’s reserve.

Many years later, I returned solo to Le Vesinet, and searched for the house where I had spent two years of my early childhood. After a full day of searching, I couldn't find it. The next day, however, I found the bronze stag and from there vectored over to my childhood house. It had been turned into a house for children with learning disabilities.

Many dramas played out around the house when my family was there in the late 1950‘s. Close by the house, there was a two-car garage. Over the garage was an apartment where a gendarme lived with his wife and daughter. He was probably assigned to reside there to provide security for my dad and his family. One evening, a blood-curdling scream emanated from the gendarme's house, followed by uproarious laughter. It turned out to be the policeman’s daughter. My whole family went out in the yard to see what the commotion was about. It so happened, her dad had painted the toilet seat white, but forgot to tell anyone. You can guess what ensued.

We had a long circular driveway in the backyard. At its farthest point, was a small straight sided swimming pool, though it never had water in it. One day, as I was idly watching Ron riding his bicycle around the drive, he disappeared. Not a sound for several seconds, during which time I was flummoxed. Where did he go in an instant? Did aliens suddenly transport him to another dimension? Then I heard a groan. I ran over and saw him and his bicycle sprawled on the floor of the empty swimming pool, no worse for wear.

Another time, there was an infestation of bees. They made their nest in the ground, and happened to locate it right near a spaceship my brothers and I were building out of discarded old doors and such. We told mom, and she duly marched out to the site with a liter of kerosene and dumped it in the two inch wide bee hole. A flick of a match and, within half a minute, most of the back yard was up in flames. One moment, there was two foot high dry grass. A few moments later, a fireman’s truck arrived while I ran to the house and grabbed a garden hose and turned it on. Great excitement. I’ve been keen about brush fires ever since. I also use them to bake squash and potatoes.

My mother thought it would be a grand idea for me to attend my first grade year in a local French school. Her reasoning: her young son would soak in the French language. My parents were so ‘old school’ they still believed French was the 'diplomatic language,’ in other words: the language used for diplomatic interactions worldwide. Though that was pretty much true for much of the 19th century on up to about the first WW, English was fast becoming the world’s ‘diplomatic language.’

The other reason my mom thought her son going to a French school would be a grand idea was: she herself was fluent in French. What she didn’t quite grasp, was: being the offspring of a fluent foreign language speaker doesn’t necessarily endow fluency to the child. Regardless. Off I went to the little French school, five blocks from home. Every day was a struggle. I was set in a class of kids, all of whom had been immersed in the French language since birth. The only subject which I did well at was math, and even that was uphill.

During the course of a school day, the teacher would occasionally hand out little pictures of Christian saints to those students who got correct answers. The kids would get the colorful little pictures, about 1 inch by 2 inches. When they had amassed ten of them, they could be traded in for one large picture, with lots of detail, and big enough to frame. The pictures were probably taken from classic paintings of saints shown at the Louvre.

One day in class, there was a math question. I, along with all the other kids, wrote what we individually thought was the correct answer on chits of paper at our desks. The teacher correctly declared the answer to be zero, and then slowly strolled among the desks, dispensing the saint pictures to each student who had the correct answer. She looked at my answer and (said in French): ‘six, no, that’s not correct,’ and kept strolling. I let out a yelp of protest, saying I had written zero, which I had. She took a slow step back to my desk, looked at my answer again, and declared, ‘no, you wrote a six, you don’t get a saint.’ It turns out the zero I’d written, in sloppy haste, had a slight tail to it. Therefore, if she was determined to deprive me of getting a picture of a saint, she could cross her eyes and twistedly see the scribble as a six, not a zero.

That afternoon, when walking home, I saw dad’s car coming out of our driveway. It was a block away so I ran and shouted valiantly, but no one in the car noticed. I knew they were going to the American PX, and also knew, by missing the ride, I’d miss out on getting french fries. My mantra for the next self-pitying half hour: “I wanna go get french fries.”

Several miles away, in the town of Saint Germain, I attended a boys summer camp called Shape Day Camp. Getting there entailed taking a train, and quarter mile hikes to and from respective train stations. It’s a testament to safer times that I took the train, solo, back and forth from home, many times.

After the last day of camp, I went with my parents in the car. It was a day for camp kids to show-off what they’d done. I was showing mom and dad a picture I had painted of a horse. My mother exclaimed, ‘oh how lovely. A pink horse inspired by my pink horse in the living room!’ It so happens, mom was a rather good painter, and two dozen of her paintings would hang at every house our family had. Her largest, by far, was an impressive whitish-pink horse, rearing up. However, I was not thinking at all about her horse painting when I made my mess, and said so: “Nope, as you can see, I outlined the horse in red paint, and when I went to fill it in with white, the colors smeared.”

Dad laughed so hard, I thought he might get a hernia. His laughter was fueled by mom’s indignant expression. Her ego had been shot down, or so she thought. I laughed too, and can recall mom saying, “OK, you both have a good laugh at my expense.” Laughter didn’t come easily with dad. He was ‘old school,’ having spent his youth largely in a chilly stiff-upper-lip, all-boys boarding school in England. Though he had a wholesome sense of humor, and was known to grin lovingly at times, laughter wasn’t a regular part of his character. So, to see him convolute to guffaws was great fun.

Those must have been happy times for him, while stationed in Paris, because I distinctly recall another time when he laughed out loud. It was just the two of us in the living room one evening. He was reading the newspaper, when it happened. Immediately, from me, “What’s up dad? What’s so funny?”

He explained the article; it was about how the Parisian government had been trying for years to find a way to try and clean city grime off its many marble statues throughout the city. They had tried all sorts of chemicals, and nothing worked well enough. Then they tried simple soap and water and voila, it worked fine. Magnifique!

Another time, I went with Ron, to visit one of his friends. The friend had a child’s chemistry set, which included small samples of many chemicals. The friend put a little bit of yellowish powder on a wooden match, then lit the match, blew it out, and put it under my nose. “Here, sniff this.” I did, and the burning sensation of sulfur caused me to cry immediately. It felt like a hot poker had been rammed up my nostril. As the tears poured down, the two bigger boys were consumed by hilarity, completely racked with laughter. I stomped out, filled with pain, embarrassment and anger.

While walking home alone, I picked up a stout stick and hurled it as hard as I could, as a way of venting anger. I watched the stick fly like a boomerang across a grassy area, and then ‘smack!’ It squarely hit the side of a moving delivery truck, 70 feet from me. Screech, went the brakes. Out popped two big men. One yelled at me, shaking his fist, while they both walked quickly and menacingly toward me. I stood.

“What the hell are you doing?!”, yelled the bigger guy, in French. ”Do you want to buy me a new van? I should punch you, but you’re just a puny little kid.”

“Je ne comprendre pas,” I lied, while scowling, still immersed in my anger from the chemistry experiment.

“Why do you not understand?” he asked in French.

“I’m American”

The big guy’s demeanor changed at that moment. His scowl morphed into a grin. Then he smirked at his friend; “Americain. Ha, That explains why he didn’t run.” He then stood in front of me, bent down and firmly patted my small shoulders, and said in French; “You Americain won the war for France. You didn’t have to, but you came all the way across the sea, and fought like devils to free France.” While strolling away, he kept saying ‘merci’ and then turned to his buddy and said, “That’s why the kid is so brave and didn’t run away. He’s American, and he hit a moving van with a stick. I’d like to see you do that from that far away.”

A puppy came to the family. A boxer we named Tarzan. We played everywhere in the yard, but particularly in the far back corner of the property. It was where a broad, low-lying leafy tree was. The ideal spot for our fort, along with comic books, broken tools, abandoned bicycles and such things as boys accumulate. Tarzan followed me everywhere within the walls of our domain.

One fateful day, I opened the gate facing the busy street. Tarzan probably thought we were going to explore the outside world, so he dutifully strolled across the street ahead of me. He sat and waited on the other side. There was no plan for me to go on a walk with the dog, but he didn’t know it. Cars were zipping by in both directions. All I had to do, to remedy the situation, was wait for traffic to ease up and then go across the street to pick up the dog and bring him back to safety. No problem, he was sitting and waiting on the other side, while I was waiting for traffic to clear.

All of a sudden we hear “Tarzan! Tarzan!” being yelled by a woman, out of a window in the house. It was the booming voice of Maruchi, our Spanish cook. Not cool. The dog looked all around, looked at me, became agitated, and started crossing the street. Within seconds, a car ran him over. Blump blump, Tarzan became a little speed bump. I was helpless, but still had to wait until traffic eased, to go and get my badly wounded dog.

Traumatic as it was, the coup de grace was later that evening. As my family was sitting at the dining table, dad with his glass of wine, and me and Ron with our half wine / half water glasses, the story of the moment came forth. Before I could get a sentence out, Maruchi belted her version from the kitchen door, in broken English; “Kim. He leave gate open. Tarzan go out in street!”

“Not true!” I yelled, while breaking in to tears. It actually was true, but what I wanted to say, but was too emotion-wracked to articulate: Maruchi, by yelling the dog’s name, had agitated the dog, compelling him to try and cross back across the busy street. What ensued was a brief shouting match between me and Maruchi until dad spoke up to end it. His was like the booming voice of Solomon. A hush came over the scene, except for residual sobs from me.

Tarzan had not died at the time of the accident. We left him outside covered by a white towel. Next morning, we found him dead. He had crawled the full 80 meter length of the backyard to expire beneath the leafy tree where our fort was.

My second year near Paris also gave rise to prepubescent urgings. At the public swimming pool one day, there was a photo-session. Alongside the pool, a teenage girl dressed in a bikini, was set lying on a towel. A photographer set up his tripod, while his associate proceeded to slather sun-tanning oil on the comely model. When I say ‘slather’ I’m not using the word lightly. The older man was applying the lotion by the sloppy handful. My buddies and I stood close to the action, while the lotion applier kept rubbing the oily stuff, particularly on the inside of the model’s thighs near her crotch. He spent several minutes slathering that region of her anatomy. She didn’t bat an eye. She looked as bored as if waiting for a bus. I experienced my first-ever erection.

On a different note, but still applicable to early arousal, was my first kiss. I had a fleeting crush on Cindy. The schoolyard game, at the time, during ‘recess’ breaks, was for little boys to chase little girls to steal a kiss. I chased Cindy all around. She climbed up a metal jungle gym. I followed. When she was cornered, I kissed her on the cheek. She frowned. I said, “sorry.” Even so, I’ve sometimes wondered whether the girl was Cindi Lauper, whom I’ve always had a crush on. Doubtful it was her, but instead a flight of fancy on my part. Regardless, Lauper got famous, singing; “Girls just wanna have fun.” Awhile later, Cindi had another song which wondered tunefully; “Where is little boy blue?” Cindi, if you’re still wondering: here I am.

One highlight of any week was going out, en famille, to indulge in a buffet dinner. It was held at the local military cafeteria, which was a semi-formal affair. The french fries were good, no doubt, but my favorite thing to do there, was go and stand by the musician - a soloist at a grand piano. He played a slew of standards tunes. I was dazzled by his magical skills on the keyboard, and he didn’t seem to mind the little boy standing close by, watching his hands dance on the keys.

Chapter 2. Virginia

After two years in France, the family returned to the U.S., this time to Williamsburg, Virginia. Actually, it was a rural place nearby called Camp Perry, where dad worked as an instructor for CIA trainees. We resided there for a year before returning to the house in Bethesda, Maryland. For 3rd grade school, in Virginia, I was stuck with a teacher who was as drab as her name: Mrs. Gray. She exemplified what’s wrong with having strong teacher unions. Strong teacher unions, among other things, keep old people employed. Not all oldsters are lethargic, but Mrs. Gray was.

Nearly every one of the dozens of teachers I was stuck with, within American school systems, were old, tired and gray. Where were the young dynamic teachers for youngsters? I don’t know. We baby-boomers didn’t see them in our classrooms. I suspect teachers in their twenties were largely kept out of the teaching ranks by strong unions which required maintaining employment for oldsters until they fell off the podium, or became too dust-covered to put a sentence together other than; “Class. Class. Come to order.”

One memorable moment, in an unmemorable school year, had Mrs. Gray talking about a mathematical equation. All of a sudden she looked at me and said, “Kim. What is the answer?” I didn’t know, and was not even listening to her monotone prior to her calling on me. She kept her gaze fixed on me and said, “Your mother said you were excellent at math, and you don’t even know the answer?” In a microsecond, I realized my mom had spoken with the teacher the day before, and had bragged about how adept I was at math. Mom must have deduced that from the fact I did poorly in the French school at all subjects other than math. Did mom know the actual reason? Simple: I didn’t speak French well enough to do well in other school subjects.

This was not the first, nor the last time my mom inadvertently caused me dire embarrassment when making over-amped claims about me, without me knowing. She had a quirk of character where she believed her particular skills, in language and arts for example, were skills which were naturally endowed to her three sons.

Camp Perry was quite rural. Us young boys would band together and do boyish things, like digging deep tunnels underground. We stepped up our level of construction by cutting some small pine trees. Luckily, a man came along who chastised us for felling trees. His gentle and measured way of reprimanding was impressive.

There was another phase where I and my best friend, Kenny Brownback, would roam through the woods with our dogs, looking for turtles. Turtles there were about ten inches long with flattened black shells covered in moss. We would scrape our respective initials on the ones we caught, then let 'em go.

One time, while out alone, I came upon a one-story building, which I thought was abandoned. It was deep in the woods with tall pines all around. Small window panes showed along one side. Hare-brained as I was, I picked up some pebbles and commenced to throw them from about 30 yards away. Plink, plink, I broke one pane after another. I was immersed in thinking what a great baseball pitcher I would be. Then a man came out the door and shouted, “Hey kid. What the hell are you doing?” I didn’t have a good answer, and just stood there. He shouted again, “What’s your name?” I told him.

At home, that evening, my karma caught up with me. Dad was told about the incident, and reprimanded me. He had to pay to get the window panes replaced. He should have docked my allowance of $1 per week. Even so, I could have easily run off into the woods when the man came out the door of the building. I already had about a 100 foot head-start, and it’s doubtful he would have wanted to chase a 9 year old kid, running like a coyote through the forest. Alternatively, I could have given him a fake name. But I didn’t run and didn’t lie. Still, it's intriguing to think what a building like that was for. It wasn't a house. Why build it so secluded and removed from all other buildings, without even a driveway leading to it? The mystery waxes when one considers it was built at a camp for training CIA operatives.

Once, we had a young man visit. He brought a guitar with him, so mom asked him to play. There we were, peacefully sitting within the screened porch, the guitarist and I facing each other. He was playing pleasantly, and I was soaking it in. Then all of a sudden, my mother tells him to stop, saying, “Look at Kim, he’s not listening. He’s bored.” Apparently, because I wasn’t staring at the guitarist in rapt attention, she assumed I was uninterested. Again, with her intense micro-management, she succeeded in embarrassing me, our guest, and bollixing an ordinarily pleasant encounter.

Another time, we went en famille and saw a horror movie called House on The Haunted Hill. A note to any parents of young children reading this: Please do not allow your kids to see horror movies. Kids soak things in to their tender minds. Horror, of any kind, is not what you want your children fixated upon. It seems obvious, yet millions of parents let their kids watch horror shows. Granted, horror is intriguing, and is why famous movie makers like Alfred Hitchcock (In Cold Blood) are eager to make horror flicks; because it will ‘put a lot of butts in seats’ at movie theaters.

So this tender young boy, me, is placed in a dark movie theater, and compelled to stare at a movie which has people taken down dark stairwells to a basement of an old rickety house. The zombie-like guests are dipped in pool of sulfuric acid - using giant tongs, and then slowly taken out as skeletons. Sure, the movie sold tickets. The theme was so fixating, there was a remake of it decades later.

You could bring 1,000 sugar coated brownies to a grammar school and, for a penny each, you could sell them all, even if there were just 25 students. That probably makes you a good businessman, but selling sugar snacks or selling horror movies has repercussions, particularly for little kids. For me, that night, it was being unable to sleep due to recurrent nightmares – picturing vivid re-creations of the most gruesome episodes. It was more than one kid having nightmares one night long ago. Multiply that by tens of millions, and you get a better idea of the ripples sent out from horror movies. Do we want our children to have nightmares? I don't think so, but movie makers and actors don't care, as long as being a part of such movies puts money in their pockets.

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