Anarchist to Abolitionist: A Bad Quaker's Journey


Steinway Avenue, Campbell, California, Then to Coalinga!

My only true memories of living on Steinway Avenue in Campbell, California are an image of a large tree in the front yard and a white picket fence, along with a very weak memory of an old man next door who scolded me for walking on the top rail of said picket fence. He attempted to convince me not to walk on top of the fence because, if I fell, I would be impaled on the points of the fence. I remember that I didn't like that man. I didn't like anyone telling me what I could and couldn't do. My only other memory of that place was from the last day we spent there.

We moved to Coalinga, on the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley, where we lived in 3 different houses before moving back to San Jose in 1968. I have a somewhat clear memory of the move to Coalinga. On the day of the move, I was quite sick with a high fever. I recall laying on the couch as the family moved things into an old milk delivery truck that my dad had purchased specifically for the move. I was one of the last things they placed in the truck and I quickly fell asleep. I woke up the next day in a house I had never seen before. It was very exciting.

Life in Coalinga would be an eventful time for me. I was given my first bicycle. It was an old, small child's bike and I quickly destroyed it by jumping it off the curb and over everything I could find that could be used as a ramp.

With the bike’s demise, one day I dug a series of "foxholes," trenches, and a tunnel in the backyard where I pretended to fight the Germans. I think I may have watched Sergeant York on the television around that time. I stopped digging when the trenches and foxholes were deeper than my head. After spending all day digging and fighting the Germans, I heard my grandmother calling me for supper, but I was busy saving the world. When I didn't come in, she came out to see what I was up to. She saw what I had done and was shocked at the depth of my earthworks. She alerted my mother and father that, being in earthquake country, if we had even a slight tremor, the trench walls could collapse and bury me alive. If I recall, my father and brother repaired the yard after dinner, destroying all hope of defeating the Germans.

Around this time, my uncle Arnold, one of three uncles for whom I am named, (my middle name is the same as his middle name) arrived for a brief visit. After spending some time with me, he felt I was responsible enough to be given my first real pocket knife. It was a small single blade jackknife with yellow plastic handle inserts. Evidently my mother was not consulted on this matter, so once she found out, she demanded I give up the knife. I resisted the demand and appealed to my father, who took my side on the issue. So I kept my knife, for the moment. In this case, as in most cases, the mother's determination is stronger than the father's kindness, and my knife vanished one night as I slept. It was two more years before she softened up and allowed me to carry a pocket knife.

On June 27th, 1966 around 8:15pm, a 5.3 earthquake hit Coalinga, CA, followed about 15 minutes later by a 5.5 quake. Coalinga's older brick buildings sustained some damages, but the quake was centered west of town in the foothills, so Coalinga was spared the full force of the quake. No serious injuries or deaths were reported.

My grandmother and I were alone in the house at the time. I called her Mawmaw. It was the first serious earthquake either of us had experienced, and I thought I was so smart. The whole time I was telling her how everything would be alright because California has earthquakes all the time. I told her I knew what to do and we should go stand in a doorway. I held her hand and walked slowly with her so she wouldn't be frightened. Looking back on it as an adult, I now understand it was she who was calm and was allowing me to believe I was helping her. It was just like when we played checkers and she would let me win. Grandmothers are the best! I can't begin to explain how much I learned from Mawmaw.

Mawmaw lived with us from a time before my birth until her death in the mid-1970s. She, along with my sister Judy, who is fourteen years my senior, did the lion's share of raising me. My mother was too ill to even pick me up for quite some time after my birth. But Mawmaw was there. She taught me to sit up straight, and how to tie my shoes. When I woke up in the middle of the night from terrible dreams, she was there. She would walk around the room with me to make sure there were no monsters. She would read the Bible to me and tell me Bible stories. Close to the end, the months before she died, I knew she was going to leave us soon. I just felt it, no one told me. I would wake up in the middle of the night and go to her room to check on her. I would just stand there and watch her sleep. I wanted to make sure she was alright before I went back to bed.

Back in Coalinga, near the end of summer, my mother informed me that the state wouldn't allow me to go to school in the fall if I didn't go to the doctor and get the state required shots. I had no idea what she was talking about. I didn't know what "shots" were and I had no concept of what this "state" thing was. Everyone kept telling me it wouldn't hurt, and I had no reason to think they would all lie to me. After all, I was young and didn't know adults lie to kids and don't even feel bad about it.

So the big day came and we went to see the doctor. (It's important, at this point, to understand that I was quite a bit larger than other four-year-olds at the time.) As the doctor prepared his gadgets, he also assured me that, "This won't hurt a bit." Then he jabbed a needle into my flesh! I responded by punching him right in his lying face. That was the first time I punched an adult, but it wasn't the last. The doctor called in two nurses and they attempted to hold me down for the shots. They became the second and third adults I punched, but I didn't get a good, clean punch on them like I did that stinking doctor.

Not only was this the first time I ever punched an adult, it was the first time I was ever in an actual fight, and it was against three people. So you could say that the State caused me to get in my first fight. Actually, since the doctor and nurses were working as agents of the State by using lies and aggression to enforce the edicts of the state of California, a subgroup of the State as a whole, the doctor and his gang were the State manifested at that moment in that place. Stinking Vogons, all of them. Of course I wouldn't understand that for many years. But the die was cast, and I was a fighter. The Rubicon could not be uncrossed.

The doctor scolded my mother for having such a violent child. My mother informed him that I was only four years old and had never had a shot before. The doctor explained that he didn't know it was my first shot and he thought I was more like seven. It didn't matter, I would have punched him when I was seven just as quickly as I did that day.

Now I need to clarify an important point here. The issue at hand was trust, not pain. When I was four I was pretty tough. I would rough house hard with my big brother, including slap fighting, so my problem with the doctor was not about pain, it was about trust and truth. Sometimes, to show his friends how tough I was, my brother would lift me off the ground by my hair, and I would just grin. If the doctor had been truthful with me and just explained what he was going to do, that strong boys can take shots even though they hurt, I would have asked for extras just for bragging rights. I have never trusted a doctor since then, but it wasn't just the doctor who lied to me. Neither would I again accept the word of a human without some underlying evidence to support it. I learned that day that humans lie, even to people they love. And I knew by instinct that it was wrong.

Let's fast forward this story to 2019 for a moment. In late January of 2019, my grandson, Miles, went in to see the doctor for his government required vaccinations. His parents’ idea, not mine! After the doctor gave him a regiment of shots, the stinking pig doctor told Miles he wouldn't have to have another shot until he was a teenager. Miles, of course, believed the lying pig doctor. Miles explained to me that the doctor promised he wouldn't have to get another shot for years to come. As if the doctor could predict the future and could honestly assure Miles he wouldn't face a major illness, a dental procedure, a broken bone, or stitches! Doctors SUCK! Halfwit Vogons, the lot of them! Miles broke his wrist a month later.

Back to 1966. At the age of four, I started kindergarten that September. From that injection and the beginning of my indoctrination in school, the State and its Vogons had begun the process of trying to break me. They thought I could be shaped and molded to their will, but they were all of them deceived, for I was forged of another metal that could not be pounded into submission, and they could no longer trick me as they had done.

On a happier note, as a child there were only two occasions when I felt Christmas was a significant event. Christmas of 1966 was the first of those. I had sneaked a peek at every one of my gifts, as was my custom, but unbeknownst to me, my brother Roy (Roy is twelve years older than I am so he was about seventeen at the time), had saved money from his job and bought a new bicycle for me from the local Western Auto store. It was a real bike! A dark purple Schwinn stingray with a black banana seat and a sissy bar. It had big ape hanger handlebars with tassels on the grips. He brought it into the house Christmas morning before I awoke. When I came out of my room, there it was. I was shocked! It was the single coolest object I had ever seen. And it was mine. Before the day was over, both tires were destroyed, but oh what a day I had!

The desert around Coalinga, California is the perfect environment for growing goatheads (tribulus terrestris). If you aren't familiar with these little devils you should count yourself fortunate. They're a thorny sticker that looks like some demon took a set of miniature child's jacks (the game not the lifting tool) and sharpened each spike to a needle point. Then spread them by the billions throughout the San Joaquin Valley. By the end of Christmas day 1966, my bike tires were so full of goathead spikes that replacing the shredded inner tubes would have been a waste of time and money. Most kids never had such trouble with their bike tires, but then again most kids didn't fly across the desert pumping their peddles as fast as they could, jumping off every hill and every embankment of every dry wash they discovered. But I did. After replacing a few sets of tires and tubes, my father and my brother became determined to find a way to solve this problem. With the help of the friendly owner of the local Western Auto, they found a company that sold fat knobby tires with thick walls. We hadn't seen them yet, only read about them in a catalog, but the Western Auto guy assured us the goatheads didn't stand a chance against these bad boys.

When the new tires finally arrived we discovered that the tires didn't fit into the front fender of my stingray. The solution was of course, to remove the fender. Seeing my stingray without a front fender and with oversized knobby tires, was a life-changing event that unhinged my tiny five year old brain. My bike looked bad-ass! Then, off came everything I felt was not required. Why have a back fender if there was no front? The tassels had to go. The chain guard had to go. Reflectors? Where I'm going, I don't need reflectors! Eventually the ape hangers were replaced by actual dirt bike handlebars taken from my brother's crashed dirt bike. The cross bar of the handlebars was slightly bent from the crash, making my bike look tough. My dad had to weld the motorcycle handlebars into the Schwinn factory gooseneck, and the unpainted welds made it look even fiercer. Coalinga saw its first BMX almost 10 years before the abbreviation "BMX" would be uttered. Other kids thought my bike looked weird, and I liked that. The only bad thing about my bike was that I couldn't ride it to school. The kindergarten didn't have a bike rack and didn't allow kids to take their bikes to school. I couldn't wait for the 1st Grade. They had bike racks.

When September 1967 finally arrived, I was still only five years old. On my first day of 1st Grade, I woke up before anyone else in the family. I got myself ready for school, out the door, and on my bike. I didn't care about school, I wanted to ride my bike across town and park it in a bike rack for everyone to see. When I arrived at school, the building was locked and no one was there. I walked around the building and the grounds trying to figure out what was wrong. After some time, one of the janitors pulled into the employee parking area. He came over to me to see what I was doing. After I explained, he told me to go home because the school didn't open for several hours. I liked that. That meant I could ride all the way across town, then back again when it was time for school.

When I arrived back home, everyone was still asleep. My dad was the first to wake up, likely from the noise of me entering the house. He asked me what I was doing and I told him I couldn't wait to ride my bike across town. He said that wasn't a good idea. It was a long distance to the school with lots of streets and traffic. I could get lost. It would be better to ride the bus.

I could get lost? Parents can be so silly sometimes. I rode my bike anyway, I just didn't talk about it at home anymore.

I don't think much of anything interesting happened at school that year. It seemed a waste of time. I'm confident I learned more exploring the desert and riding my bike than anything any school ever taught me, and certainly more than I learned in 1st or 2nd grade. Mawmaw taught me to read and write and she taught me basic math. Mawmaw taught me how to play checkers and Judy taught me how to play chess. That covers logic, reason, and strategy, so even today I see no value in government schools.

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Comments 1

" I responded by punching him right in his lying face."

Pottery. Magic. The hero we needed.


14.12.2019 12:19