Cast of Characters, Part One

"I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well." - Henry David Thoreau

Me, Wesley H. Clark, Jr.

I'm the author of this little work, and this is my senior year high school photo. It was taken by "Bishop of Burbank" photographers in September 1973, when I was 17 and just starting my senior year. Mom purchased an unflattering enlargement of this photo (no one's face was ever meant to be that large), and for many years it graced the walls of her bedroom, along with a Homerically-sized enlargement of my USMC boot camp photo.

Note the expanse of flesh between the bottom of my lower lip and the bottom of my chin. Dad called this "the Great Chin and Grin" photo. I borrowed the suit coat from the Scottish people across the street, not owning one myself. The tie was borrowed, as well. That brown shirt is mine, however, and so were the tan double-knit trousers and earth shoes I wore with the coat!

Yes, yes, I know - this is the very image of a Seventies dork. Hey, we all grow up, okay?

My Dad, Wesley H. Clark, Sr.

This is my dad in what I think was a shoot for a beer ad. It was taken by a photographer girlfriend of his, probably in the early Fifties.

Dad was from Greenpoint, New York, which is essentially the same as Brooklyn. He certainly had what has come to be known as a Brooklynite demeanor: down to earth, cynical, world-wise and generally unimpressed with authority and pomp. The Archie Bunker type, without the pervasive ignorance. (Dad was rather well-read.) My father's most obvious characteristic was his active sense of humor, which I am happy to say I inherited. You can click here to see photographic evidence of this.

Dad was a World War II veteran, and I have documented his service here.

Dad died in August 1983, just two days before his 71st birthday and four months before the birth of my son Ethan. He was looking forward to this grandchild, and prepared for it by buying up diapers during his trips to the grocery store. I am truly saddened that the two of them didn't meet.

My Mom, Madeleine M. Clark

Here's a Polaroid of Mom with two lesser women, a pitcher of beer and two glasses in front of an avocado wall (she painted it that color) at the Alibi in 1974. You can see they're looking at Polaroid photos of themselves. Mom is the one with the attention-grabbing eyes and big photogenic smile in the middle. She always liked this photo, and, to be truthful, a lot of her personality shines through in it.

Mom was born and raised in Berlin, New Hampshire, a little town in the northern part of the state. Cold? I should say so. Berlin is even north of the famously cold White Mountains. She was of solid French-Canadian stock as far back as I can trace her genealogy. I can find no non-French surnames in her family, which is to say that she could be bad-tempered (Dad used to call her "Mad Lion") and perhaps a little dotty. Dad used to make fun of photos of her father, a scowling New Englander. Chafing at the enforced Catholicism of her household, she left Berlin at 18 and traveled around the U.S. (and, once, Cuba) working as a waitress. She eventually wound up in Los Angeles, where she met Dad. (Neither parent was especially detailed in their explanations of this.) As I write elsewhere, Mom's big move was in buying the Lincoln Cafe - her start as a Burbank business-owner and the creation of the economic engine that financed her unfortunate home crafts and improvement schemes.

Mom stayed at the Lincoln Cafe only three years after Dad died, and moved back to Berlin. Three harsh winters later she moved to Martinsburg, West Virginia to be closer to us and to her grandchildren (by this time there were three). She spent a good deal of the money she made in selling her Burbank house on Bingo and us, and in socializing with the friends she was always able to make easily.

My mother was a model grandmother, and I'm convinced that she enjoyed this even more than she enjoyed me as a small child. She died in June 1995, just after her 74th birthday, mourned by her son, daughter-in-law, grandchildren and Martinsburg, Berlin and Burbank friends.

My high school pal, Mike McDaniel

Too bad this photo of this handsome fellow is in black and white, because the velvet coat and bow tie Mike is wearing here are a deep midnight blue and very dramatic. The photo doesn't do justice to them. (Click here to see The Suit in color.) Wearing them to dances, Mike looked formal, mysterious and VERY Seventies! (This shot was taken in 1975.) Dad called this "Mike's Mormon Disco Suit," and so it was.

I have related our adventures with The Cruise elsewhere. Suffice it to say that Mike and I got along famously, enjoyed each other's company and still do. The great thing we have in common is what I have come to call "Chronal Orientation." You see, some people are visionaries and live for the future, others live for only the present. Still others find themselves obsessed by the past, and that's the way Mike and I are. It should come as no surprise, then, that I would take on Civil War reenacting as a hobby (here's my anonymous web site about that) and that Mike would become a collector of World War II relics and associated with the Burbank Historical Society. (Or that I would create this page, come to think of it.)

Mike still lives in the Burbank home in which he grew up, and raises his five kids there. Whenever I find myself back home he drives me around and points out the lamentable changes. We make our traditional drive to the Tower Records in Hollywood and even do a little cruise, breezing by the church lot and remembering the sounds of screetching tires past. His living still in Burbank is like a child's parents still owning the big house - it's a connection with the past. He's trying to sell his place. While I wish him well and hope he does so for the sake of his growing family, there's a part of me that wants to see him remain where he is!

Mike was the best man at my wedding.

My high school pal, Bob Avery

This is Abe's senior picture. His hair is plastered down for formal occasions; at school he used to wear a visor, and his incredibly curly hair would stick up from the top giving him a somewhat comical appearance. (As usual, he had the last laugh, as girls liked to run their hands through his hair.)

Bob has always been one of the most thoroughly self-actualized people I know, and far too clever and witty for his own good. He's also skilled in debate, which can be an real annoyance. I first met him as a friend of Mike's, when we were all 16. Shortly after, he began welding together the chassis for a go-cart. The fact that he was doing his own designing and welding impressed me to no end. The other thing that impressed me was the way he easily deflected criticism by others, as if it didn't matter. (This level of self-confidence is no mean feat for a teenager, and I admired it.) Once, when questioned as to what his post-high school plans were, he responded that he planned to attend Brigham Young University. When the questioner demanded to know why anyone would want to attend such a place, Bob smoothly told him "...they offer a good program for what I'm interested in." He didn't bother to elaborate, and, the other guy didn't ask, correctly sensing that he would shortly be treading rhetorical water if he persisted.

Bob is, and was, seemingly knowledgeable and/or interested in everything, and eager to learn from those who know things he doesn't. I have never met such a formidable conversationalist. Bob can make off-color jokes and outrageous comments in the presence of my wife, who laughs appreciatively. This annoys me no end, since she only scolds me for saying the very same things. The only thing more annoying about the man is the fact that he seems not to have aged much. At the Burbank high school 20th anniversary class reunion his senior picture looked current.

The other awesome thing about Bob was that he had his very own vehicle, a blue '73 Mazda mini-truck (of fond memory). Accurately speaking it belonged to his father's business, Storey Plumbing, in Burbank - but he had free use of it and I was green with envy. He stylishly put astro-turf in the flatbed, where we'd retreat to eat lunch every day, at a curb just outside of school. We had a lot of fun in that truck, which Abe outfitted with a P.A. system. Naturally enough, when a high-powered P.A. system made itself available to me while in the Marines, I fitted up my Volkswagen Beetle with it. There's nothing like a snotty comment delivered to some other motorist backed up with 40 or 50 watts... ("I heard that Hondas suck!" "Hey, take both lanes, why don'tcha?")

A year after high school Mike and I talked about what we would do in life, and whether or not we would be successful. The topic of Avery came up, and we quickly agreed that we had no fears on that matter. Not surprisingly, he is a successful businessman.

My dreamy gal pal, Angela DeTolla

I mention Angela elsewhere; you may also remember her as the artist of the tiki god, as well as the Vlad Dracula portrait. This photo is her school picture from when she was 14 or 15. Along with any cash I had, it was the thing I was fondest of in my wallet. Is it possible for a teenage boy and girl to simply be friends without romance, love or lust getting involved? Indeed. I suppose the fact that Angela was a couple of years older than I was had something to do with it as well, but nevertheless we got along great.

I first met her in 1969. Her mother Mary was one of Mom's waitress co-workers who had just become a widow. Angela was interested in "Dark Shadows," an ABC daytime soap opera I had just discovered. A lot of our initial conversations were over the phone, when she'd fill me in on past episodes. Later, Mom got us started on weekly visits over to their place for dinner or sometimes we'd go to a local Italian food place for pizza. Usually this took place on Monday, the day they had off, and it gave me something to look forward to since Monday normally only meant the first day of another dreary week of school.

I hated my junior high years. I was socially maladroit, with only an acquaintance or two at school, and uninterested in sports or classwork. Since I was too insecure not to be something of a coward, I was bullied by a lowrider who took to randomly punching me at accidental encounters in the halls or in class. In this climate I increasingly relied upon Angela for companionship and intelligent conversation, so fortunately for me we got along well. It was a platonic relationship - we weren't attracted to each other and didn't regard ourselves as brother/sister, either - we were just buddies. It only recently occurred to me that like me she didn't seem to have any close friends at school. I always assumed that the time I had with her was time she didn't have scheduled with someone else, but this wasn't the case. Apparently, she was only a little less socially inept than I was. (If a teenaged girl could be such a thing - I always assumed teenaged girls were born popular.)

Angela and I had two great things in common: a love of history and the ability to make each other laugh. A true eccentric, she became infatuated with the life and times of Alexander Hamilton (!), which I found remarkable and unique. She read every book she could find on the subject, talked incessantly about it to the point where our parents were bored to tears, and dragged me into it, too, just so we would have one more thing in common. After the Alexander Hamilton phase, it was Cardinal Richelieu and then Napoleon, with an associated flurry of interest in the appropriate period in history. To me, this was unprecedented. I thought teenage girls were only interested in being popular, dating and clothes. Here was a person who loved books and history to the point of infatuation! I've been a reenactor long enough to recognize the type - in fact, it is from this type that I still choose my friends! - but spending time with Angela was an interesting and sometimes confusing experience.

With our mothers we did some things that seem pretty incredible. We used to drive around Burbank at night, raiding other people's trash cans for valuables and grousing about the homeowners not being prosperous enough to throw the good stuff away since the "damn Republicans" were in power (it was from Angela that I first learned how to swear). Naturally, Angela played at being mortified at such a low diversion, but I'm sure she enjoyed the fun as much as I did. Mom and Mary wouldn't decline to raid the Goodwill boxes, either. (Goodwill was an industry that employed the handicapped to repair and sell people's cast-off goods. The boxes were about the size of a garden shed and located in grocery store parking lots. People would leave clothing, old appliances, beds, etc. in and near the boxes for us to sift through.) I once got temporarily trapped in a Goodwill box: as Mary held my ankles I slipped halfway down into the bin with a flashlight and was rummaging about for treasure. Mom spotted a cop, alerted Mary - who let go and dropped me into the box - and then drove off, so as to not arouse the interest of the police. I recall sitting in the box and wondering, 1) what was going on, and, 2) how I was going to get back though the self-sealing bin door. With some difficulty I did, and Mom swung by with the car to pick me up. I don't think Angela ever laughed so hard in her entire life.

Nowadays Angela is married to a very nice man, has two very nice daughters and lives in a very nice house in Southern California. A true Bohemian and eccentric, I never figured her for the settled-down conventional domestic life, but she's happy and I'm happy for her.

Click here to go to Part Two of the Cast of Characters.

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