The Writing Life: reflections by a working writer. The Writing Life

Reflections of a working writer, a university screenwriting professor, and the editor of Oregon Literary Review.

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Charles Deemer

Oregon Literary Review

MFA, Playwriting, University of Oregon

Writing faculty, Portland State University (part-time)

Retired playwright and screenwriter.
Active novelist, librettist and teacher.

Email: cdeemer(at)yahoo(dot)com

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Bow. James Bow.
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The Writing Life...
"An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."
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The Writing Life II

(Posts archived here are from 01/10/03 - 10/31/06)

Sunday, April 20, 2003  
Growing Up
[from a memoir in progress]
Dad and I really bonded in Pasadena and began to do things without mother or Bill. One of the things I really looked forward to was going to Los Angeles Rams football games at the L.A. Coliseum. We never missed a game when the San Francisco Fortyniners were in town because this was the big California rivalry, and Dad loved cheering for the visiting team while surrounded by noisy Rams fans. It’s how I became a Fortyniner fan growing up in Southern California! This was the era of Y.A. Tittle, Joe Perry and, my favorite football player of all, Hugh McElhenny, who was known as “Hurricane Hugh.”

This also was an era when there was team stability before free agents, and professional sports stars weren’t millionaires. My dad loved to repeat an interview he heard on the radio with McElhenny, who had been an All-America halfback at the University of Washington. After his first year with the Fortyniners, the star was asked to compare pro ball with college ball. “I like pro ball all right,” said McElhenny, “except for the salary cut.”

Dad and I also were fans of the Los Angeles Angels team in the Pacific Coast minor league and never missed a cross-town rival series with the Hollywood Stars. I remember the great controversy when the Stars introduced a new uniform featuring Bermuda shorts. The new fashion didn’t catch on, and the next season they were back in long pants again.

I became a great sports fan and participant in Pasadena. I played sandlot sports – football, baseball and basketball – and was a fair athlete but I also was too much of a serious student to give time to organized sports in school. Ironically enough, I wouldn’t blossom as a school jock until I was in the toughest school of them all, Cal. Tech. In Pasadena, Dad put up a basketball hoop on the garage, and my friends and I would shoot baskets for hours on end. We played touch football and baseball in Victory Park, across from where I went to Elementary School, where the Rose Parade floats went on display.

I also began collecting autographs of professional football players. A school friend by the name of Charlie Ostberg got me started on this. Charlie had had polio and walked with a distorted limp, one arm askew, and didn’t have many friends. But he was an extrovert despite his handicap, and I grew to like him. Charlie collected autographs and broke me in on the best way to get them.

Teams coming to L.A. to play the Rams often stayed at the Green Hotel in Pasadena. Charlie would take me with him to the hotel lobby, where the gridiron heroes often were playing cards or reading magazines, and we’d hit them all up for autographs. Charlie had been doing this for so long that many stars knew him by name, and I about fainted the Saturday afternoon we walked into the lobby to hear Hugh McElhenny call from across the way, “Hey, Charlie, get over here!”

Hurricane Hugh, my all-time favorite football hero, knew Charlie Ostberg on a first name basis! Moreover, he needed Charlies’s help. McElhenny wanted to buy a gift for his 10-year-old nephew and wanted to know if Charlie had time to help him go shopping for it. Did we! I was introduced to my hero, of course, and we walked from the hotel to a department store with the best running back on the planet. After we picked out a gift for McElhenny’s nephew, the star took us to the fountain counter for ice cream sodas. Altogether we spent almost an hour alone with Hugh McElhenny, and obviously I’ve never forgotten the experience.

I met another hero through my mother, though I wouldn’t understand the importance of the experience until later. Mom used to like to shop at the big Farmer’s Market but didn’t like to drag the two kids along. Next to the market was a television station. This was in the very early years of widespread television – in fact, we didn’t even own a set yet – and daytime television consisted largely of all-afternoon variety shows. At the station near Farmer’s Market, the show was a country-western music program with a live audience. Mom and other mothers would drop off the kids for an hour or so and go shopping across the street. The television station served as a kind of volunteer day care center.

This was all quite acceptable because there were television employees herding the kids into various activities. Sometimes we even participated on the TV show. One performer in particular took a liking to me – and this was Merle Travis. I wouldn’t learn how significant he was in the history of guitar picking until I was a young adult. But I learned my first guitar chords from Merle Travis, and soon thereafter I got a Gene Autry guitar for Christmas.

Before we bought our first television set, there was radio, of course, but I was not a big fan of radio drama. The only two shows I remember listening to with regularity were The Shadow and another that featured Buster Brown and Froggie. What I remember most about the radio is listening with Dad to sports events, especially boxing matches (Joe Louis, Jersey Joe Walcott, Ezra Charles, Rocky Marciano), the Indianapolis 500-mile race, and the Army-Navy football game.

My dad’s father lived with us for a while, and he liked to play the horses. Now and again he would take me with him to Santa Anita. I remember one time Granddad won big by betting that a gray horse named Miche would upset the great Citation, which he did by a neck, breaking a winning streak by the hall-of-fame champion.

Once we brought a television set into the house, of course, everything changed. We actually did more together at home than before, gathering to watch a number of shows each week. The family favorites included I Love Lucy, Milton Berle, The Honeymooners, Dragnet, Maverick, Gunsmoke. Mom loved Lawrence Welk but I don’t think anyone else shared her enthusiasm. After school I used to watch a cartoon series called Crusader Rabbit. I also was a big fan of the sci-fi soap opera, Space Patrol.

Pasadena, of course, is noted for its Rose Parade. Since we lived only two blocks from the parade route, January 1st was always a very big deal in our home. Often a group of kids would sleep out overnight along the curb to reserve our parade seats, supervised by an adult. In the early morning hours, before the parade arrived near the end of its long route through the city, we might be relieved by a new shift so we could run home for breakfast. Then I would discover that total strangers would be all but camped out in our driveway and front lawn, squatting to get near the parade route. My parents and neighbors seemed to take this in course as one of the consequences of living where they did, and I recall few tussles resulting from over-aggressive squatting. They all would be gone in a matter of hours anyway.

After the parade came the Rose Bowl football game. Despite being a football fan, especially of UCLA, a team I liked because they were among the last to abandon the single wing formation, I never saw a Rose Bowl game live as a kid. In fact, I‘ve never seen one live. Instead we usually had a house party and watched the game on television.

As I approached my teens, I began to do less with Dad and the family and more by myself. My interest in astronomy was growing. An early consequence of this was a love affair I had with the primary instrument Dad had used as a navigator in the Navy, the sextant. I used it for fun but later for profit, small profit that it was. I became the only kid in the neighborhood, maybe the only kid in L.A., with a door-to-door sextant service.

4/20/2003 09:11:00 AM | 0 comments

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