You Can’t Go Home Again

Last week I drove through the town that I grew up in. Jacksonville, Arkansas. It was depressing. The city just looked dead.

I stopped at the Bayou Meto cemetery to visit the graves of my grandparents. My grandmother’s headstone STILL doesn’t have the date of death on it. It just says

Lois A. Wilson

I don’t know who is in charge of that sort of thing, but they need to fix it. I mean, it’s like she’s a zombie or something. IDK.
I know when she died, though. It was Feb. 8, 2007. The exact same day as Anna Nicole Smith. That’s how I remember it. If I ever forget, I just go to the Anna Nicole wikipedia page.

She’s buried next to my grandfather -Noel Forest Wilson. He was an entomologist. His headstone has the death date on it, though. Sept. 25, 2005. That’s the same day as actor Don Adams, who played Maxwell Smart, on Get Smart.

I went by the house that I lived in when I was in high school. I was there from the 9th grade until I went away to college. Here it is now:

It looks absolutely nothing like it did when I lived there. I used to have a green roof. It looked very similar to, and was the same color as. those roofs that came with Lincoln Logs.
Now, it’s brown and ugly. It used to be my grandparents house. My mom started renting it from them after she split up with my dad.

Way back in the ’60s, when my grandparents lived in the house, my grandfather would win the city’s Most Beautiful Yard award every year.
If he saw the way that it looks now, he would be turning over in his grave. As would my grandmother…I mean, if she’s actually in there.

I also went by my high school. It kind of looked the same. Only more run down and dirtier.
Here is what it looks like now:

The year that I graduated, the school was at about 600 students over capacity. It wasn’t until the next year that a new school opened up and solved the problem.

This is Dan in 2002

There were 2 kids in my graduating class that eventually became ‘famous’. One of them was Dan Hampton.
He used to play for the Chicago Bears and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
When I first met Dan he hadn’t started playing football yet. He played the saxophone in the band. It wasn’t until our junior year that he started playing football.

Dan’s wikipedia page.

During our senior year we got together with some other guys and formed a group to perform in the school talent show. He played the bass and I played auxillary percussion. We performed Fire by the Ohio Players. If you don’t know the song, it’s the song that they play at the beginning of the Hell’s Kitchen TV show.

After we graduated from high school I never saw Dan again. Well, not in person that is.

The other ‘famous’ person that I graduated with was Lisa Blount. Her dad was part owner of the Blount and George laser company, and my mom used to work for them.

After graduation, Lisa went on to become an actress. If you’re not really familiar with who she is, well, she played Lynette Pomeroy, Debra Winger’s best friend in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Lisa’s wikipedia page

One of her first movies was September 30, 1955. Most of it was filmed on the campus of the college that I attended, and I was one of the background extras in it. If you blink you’ll miss me. It had quite a few young actors in it that eventually became fairly famous.

Later, Lisa became a producer and even won an Academy Award for the Best Live Action Short Film, The Accountant.

She died suddenly last year on Oct. 25, 2010.

I never became as famous as Dan and Lisa. Well, I did appear on a few episodes of a PBS show called Melody Shop back in the 70s. And at one point, I was ranked in the top 200 for “Biggest Game Show Money Winners of All Time”. But, that’s about it.

The other place that I visited while I was out and about in Jacksonville was the Flick Twin Cinema. Only, it’s not the Flick anymore.
This is what the flick looked like a few years ago:

It used to have a big red neon sign on top that said

 If you looked at it from a certain angle, it looked like it said F*CK.

This is what it looked like last week.

It’s now the Unique Connection Center, and I have no clue as to what kind of business that is.
I do know this, though. It’s cinema blasphemy.

The very first movie that I saw at the Flick was House of Wax with Vincent Price. I was 14 and had a broken arm. I had fallen at the skating rink a few days before and busted my radius.
The last movie that I saw there was Kramer vs Kramer.

In between ’72 and ’79 I saw so many great movies there. I even worked there for a while back in ’74. It was my first job and I made $1.40 an hour.

It was at the Flick where I saw Night of the Living Dead for the first time. It was on a double bill with Gruesome Twosome, and it scared the crap out of me. I was with my cousins, Ricky and Jeff, and we had to walk home in the dark after the movie was over. I’ll never, EVER, forget how terrified I was.

Later, it would become my favorite horror film of all time.
I even used to have a movie poster of it on the wall in my old apartment in Vegas.

If I had the money, I would buy that hideous building that it has become, rip off that ugly ass facade, and restore it to the way it used to be – complete with the old and tattered burnt orange curtains that covered both screens.

Of course, that will never happen. Like they say, you can’t go home again. So, I’ll just have to appease the nostalgia by talking about it in a wordpress post.


Sleepwalking Through the Past

Sometimes a wave of nostalgia floods over me so intense that it takes my breath away. The diaphanous web slowly dissolves and my past comes into view.

This happened to me last week. For some reason I decided to see if I could find a google earth image of the first elementary school that I attended. I wasn’t sure if it was still going to be there. I typed in Bellinger Hill Elemenary School, Montgomery, Alabama. Sure enough, there it was.

I stared at the image. It was so spooky how it was almost exactly how I remembered it. The facade, the rounded white windows on the second floor, the steps leading to the front door… and the yard. 
The yard in the front was our playground. In those days, or at least at this school, the boys and the girls were separated during recess. Looking towards the school, the boys were on the left and the girls were on the right. I was admonished on more than one occasion for crossing the barrier – the steps – and playing on the girls side. Whenever I was spotted by a teacher, I would be led by the hand back to the boys side.

I still remember the school song.

Bellinger Hill is the school for me
To it I give my loyalty
Here is my hand, here is my heart
At Bellinger Hill, I get my start

Hail, Hail to thee
Hail, Hail to thee
Bellinger Hill is the school for me
Hail, Hail to thee

I even remember the melody. I have a vision of myself standing on the coffee table in our living room and singing the song for my parent’s visiting friends.

Bellinger Hill is where I learned how to read. We had Dick and Jane books. Our teacher also used flash cards. I have a clear memory of myself getting the words is and this confused.

As I stared at the image and tried to recall as much as I could about my first grade year, I remembered that we lived quite close to the school. A few blocks. I had a vision of myself as a six year old, walking the tree-lined sidewalk on my way to school. As I approached the school, it was on my right.

I wondered if the house we lived in was still there. I decided to go a google earth streetview walkthough, to see if I could find it.

After a few clicks, I saw it. The path (which in the picture is to the left of the garbage can) leading to the backyard and, to the right, the house that we lived in. I have a very clear image of myself marching back and forth on that path, singing commercial jingles at the top of my lungs.

Here is another view.

I remember the inside of the house. In particular, the bedroom that I shared with my sister. It had red, yellow and blue circus wallpaper.

As I walked a little farther down the road I came across these steps.

In the summer of ’63, I would sit on these steps with my friend Tony. Tony was an African-American boy my age, and I can see his face as plain as day. We were best friends. We would sit on those steps for hours playing with Etch A Sketches and Yo-yos.

When school started that year and we entered the first grade, Tony was in my class. We were both so excited. One vivid image that I have of that day is of a parent walking into the classroom and removing their child because there were ‘black’ children in the class – Tony, and 2 little girls. I remember being confused and not understanding what was going on.
Tony and I had spent the whole summer running up and down the street, playing on those steps, and going to the corner store to buy popcicles. No one ever said a word. I never heard any mention of the fact that he was black and I was white. My parents never mentioned it. At least not in front of me. As far as Tony’s parents…well, I don’t ever recall meeting them. I just knew Tony, the kid from down the street.

Later that year, Kennedy was assassinated. It was a Friday, and I was home sick that day. I’ll never forget it. I was sitting in front of and old black and white tv, eating my lunch, when the announcement came on.

We lived in that house until late ’64. My dad, who was in the Air Force, was transferred to Guam.

I may have forgotten some of the places that I have lived or friends that I have made, but I will never forget that house, Tony, or Bellinger Hill Elementary School.
Sometimes when something evokes various and specific memories of my youth, I feel like I am in a corporeal time machine. A dreamlike ghost world. I am sleepwalking through the past.

My sister and I on the front steps of the house.