Lefty Parent

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Circle of equals

The Story of My Childhood & Youth

March 24th, 2019

I was born in 1955, a regressive time, but in the very progressive university town of Ann Arbor Michigan to parents who were very unorthodox in their own lives and very progressive and even egalitarian in their parenting style. This is my telling, in 26 chapters, of my childhood and youth, up to September of 1973, when at age 18 I headed off to backpack through Europe.

PART 1: SO I WAS TOLD – My parents’ sagas that led them to meet each other and to journey far from home to Ann Arbor Michigan to pursue their university education, to marry, and to start a family. I was born on April 2, 1955 in the maternity ward of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor Michigan. My mother, Jane Roberts Zale, was 32 years old, older than many first time mothers in those days. My father, Eric Michael Zale, was six years older than Jane. Theirs, I would later learn, would be a very unorthodox style of parenting, much more egalitarian than conventional practice, giving me a greater amount of freedom than most kids were blessed with. But given particularly my mom’s childhood story (I know little about my dad’s) that gift of an independent childhood had been passed through the generations.

 

PART 2: PLAY, PLAY SCHOOL & OTHER EXPLORATIONS – The key events I can remember from my youngest years – including extensive imagination play, the girl next door, singing at bedtime with my dad – before I went off to elementary school. A time when, despite fundamental issues with their own relationship, my parents came together and were like minded in their approach to raising me, combining to most progressive parenting wisdom of the day with their own natural inclination to let me chart my own course.

 

PART 3: IN SCHOOL & OUT – At age five mandatory public school became an uncomfortable part of my life, a kid who was used to living his life without ever-present adults monitoring and even trying to direct my actions. But it was the richness of my life outside of school that helped me compartmentalize schooling as best I could.

 

PART 4: BOYS, BUSHES, BASEBALL & BEYOND – A traumatic experience at school becomes psychological shrapnel that becomes part of who I am and challenges my precocious exploration of my world. I learn to be a “trained seal” at school while I continue to explore in my world in our basement with my male peers in the park and on my bicycle.

 

PART 5: BURNS PARK & DIVORCE – My mom has a panic attack because her life is not turning out as imagined. So things change and we move across town and things improve til my mom finds out my dad has had an affair and she initiates a divorce.

 
 

PART 6: CHIDHOOD’S END – The summer of 1966. I’m finished with elementary school and our now smaller nuclear family is recovering from mom and dad’s divorce. It is a very developmental summer where I make the transition from childhood to youth, for better and for worse, about to plunge into the maelstrom of junior high.

 

PART 7 – PUBERTY PRESSURE COOKER – After two long developmental weeks vacationing in Cape Cod, my mom, brother and I returned home all in a better place from the psychological trauma of the divorce. But as it always did, a new school year was starting, which never felt good to me, and in this case doubly so because I was about to transition from the relatively manageable single elementary classroom interacting all day with 30 other kids my age I am thrown into a big institutional school with 7 classes a day and some 1000 kids in the school, a very negative environment for me that took its toll on my self-esteem and my developmental arch.

 

PART 8: SUMMER OF LOVE & RESPITE – 1967 was the “Summer of Love” for the hippies. But for me, trying to recover my sense of myself after my first very difficult year of junior high school, using my summer vacation oasis to try and recover my sense of self, aided by the music of my “Greek Chorus” playing on the radio and my brothers record player.

 
 

PART 9: GUIDES ON THE SIDE – The fall of 1967 and the first semester of eighth grade with finally a couple interesting teachers, but still the uncomfortable school environment. But outside of school a paper route and exploring the cultural analysis provided by some of the best of the comic minds of the time.

 
 
 

PART 10: NOT QUITE A GIRLFRIEND – The beginning of 1968 was my 2nd semester of 8th grade and some new promising dimensions were added to my life, including a girl I actually danced with, my dad’s new world in Ohio, a new male best friend, and a brief stage debut. I also suffered a significant injury that had a silver lining of sorts. My mom was also suffering, her through another phase of extreme anger and depression in the wake of her divorce from my dad.

 

PART 11: BASEBALL & BOOKENDS – Summer of 1968 when I developed my relationship with a real best friend blossomed, which I had not had since my childhood relationship with the girl across the street. My life that summer, shared with that new best friend, was all about our paper routes and baseball, with Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album as the soundtrack and key voices of my Greek Chorus.

 

PART 12: COPING MECHANISMS – Watching young people protesting the war challenge the adult order outside the 1968 Democratic Convention followed possibly my worst year ever at school and at home. My best friend and my brother and the fantasies we hatched together helped get me get through a situation at school that seemed to be getting worse for me, that I was trying to cope with by staying home sick.

 

PART 13: STUMBLING TO THE FINISH LINE – My mom finally took action to try to resolve my avoidance of school by long periods of illness, negotiating with my school counselors to get me back in that institution. A “Big League Manager Baseball” game and the songs of key members of my “Greek chorus”, the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and Motown song writers helped me get through the last difficult stint at Tappan Junior High, beaten and damaged but at least alive.

 

PART 14: GOOD RIDDANCE TO JUNIOR HIGH – My high school saga starts with a kid (me) having had an awful three years of junior high school which had devastated my self-esteem and made me nearly school phobic, I approached my first year of high school, like every year of school with resignation, but also a hope that it could somehow be better, way better than what I had just been through!

 

PART 15: FIRST YEAR – After a shaky start in what felt like a huge impersonal facility with over 2000 students, intimidated by some nasty kids in my homeroom, thru a young and sympathetic teacher I gain entry into the world of the theater and the possibility that I have real talents I can explore and a smaller world within my huge bureaucratic school where I can find perhaps a more human-level community.

 

PART 16: SUMMER SWAP TO ENGLAND – On a very tight budget, my mom figured out how to swap houses and cars with a couple in England for ten weeks in the summer of 1970, between my 1st and 2nd years of high school, in order to give her sons that developmental experience of living in a foreign country that she had never had as a kid. It turned out to be very developmental for me, stepping up to play more of a key role as a family decision maker, which among other things was the beginning of a significant transition in my relationship with my mom.

 
 

PART 17: THE PLAY’S THE THING – In the fall semester of my junior year, I had my fist real girlfriend, until I cheated on her with her best fried for my first kiss. I was drawn into theater by seeing the musical Hair in Toronto including naked people singing on stage, and getting involved in a unique youth theater group, that gave me the community and developmental experiences I was craving to start to come out of the shell I had built around myself in my four preceding traumatic years of school.

 

PART 18: BEHIND THE LIGHTS – After being lured by the stage in the fall, I took my initial “deep dive” into the technical side of theater, finding my place as a lighting designer and beginning to become an integral member of a a dynamic community of young thespians, also a spring break trip to the Soviet Union.

 

PART 19: IN FRONT OF THE LIGHTS – My “deep dive” into the JLO theater group moved in front of the lights as I put myself in front of an audience and found a way to become characters beyond myself, giving me a path forward to overcome my timidity plus insight into playing my own off-stage self more big and broadly.

 

PART 20: SONG & DANCE – Upping the developmental ante on my stage experience I am recruited to sing and dance in a musical comedy role, a successful adventure on stage, but not so successful in the romantic endeavors department.

 
 

PART 21: STARTING SENIOR YEAR – Starting to rethink my whole approach to my school classes and focus instead on the theater work that was really on my developmental path forward, jettisoning those classes that did not fit that developmental path, including making a shift away from math and science to the arts.

 

PART 22: ON MY OWN TERMS – By 2nd semester of my senior year I finally had the cadence of my life sorted out, minimizing school to the absolute minimum effort needed to graduate and focusing most of my time on a broadening experience on stage, exploring political radicalism, plus exploring a new area of historical simulation games.

 

PART 23: SCHOOL’S OUT! – Graduating from high school, my final liberation from mandatory schooling, only to have plans, mostly stage managed by my mom, to go off to school again in the fall. Wrestling with not being ready to think about my future, I continue my deep dive into theater as my theater group takes on an ambitious four musical summer repertory, and I also explore deeper into the world of war gaming, and complicated historical military simulation board games.

 

PART 24: INTOXICATIONS, ALTERED STATES, SONG AND DANCE, RHYTHM & BLUES IN THE DEEP END – My first semester in college at Western Michigan University, 90 miles west of Ann Arbor in Kalamazoo, ostensibly to study theater. I do have a good experience with a chorus dance partner in a big musical production, but again bail on a budding romance. Perhaps more profoundly, my initial explorations with marijuana and the altered state of consciousness it introduces me to.

 

PART 25: BEST FRIENDS – Home for the holidays, I grow relationships with with my favorite aunt and three pairs of best friends, including solidifying my participation in a plan my friends Lane and Angie have to join with them in their plan to backpack through Europe next fall. Then back to school at Western for some interesting classes, a deeper exploration of marijuana and the deliciously dark music and rock theater of Alice Cooper.

 

PART 26: SUMMER 1973 NIGHT & DAY – After my first year of college I’m back to running my own life & engaging in or preparing for new projects & other experiences to push the envelope of my development! That includes what seems like the final production of this incarnation of my youth theater group, and my first full time job, as a janitor/chambermaid at a local motel, as I save money for big fall plans that don’t involve going back to school!

My Memoir: Two Inch Heels

March 19th, 2019

This is my memoir in 46 chapters of my 11 weeks backpacking thru Europe in the fall of 1973 at age 18. Though I intended to wear a brand new pair of hiking boots most of the time, they had not been properly broken in, blistering my feet and forcing me to mostly wear my second pair of shoes, a dressier pair of heels that were trendy in the early 1970s, and gave me a kind of strut that revealed a potential new persona. It was an odyssey that to a large degree transformed me from a youth into a young adult. It is written in a more narrative style than my previous autobiographical pieces, and is based on a detailed diary I kept of my journey. I hope you enjoy it and get a sense of the emerging me!

Click on the chapter title to read the chapter…

PART 0: THE ENDEAVOR – The events leading to my good friend Angie and I flying off to England for an ambitious extended journey through Western Europe. It’s the summer of 1973 and best friends Lane and Angie hatch a plan to backpack through Europe together for several months. I’m so taken with the idea that I manage to get invited to join. Lane then drops out and Angie and I plan our trip to Western Europe, living out of backpacks and trying to spend $6 a day.
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 1: ANGIE – My good friend Angie and I fly from Detroit to London England to begin our planned three month journey through Western Europe. After our first few days in England Angie tells me that it is all too much for her and she decides to stay in London and not continue on to the Continent. I had never intended to take this trip alone and wrestle with whether to continue, now no longer so much excited about an adventure, but afraid of the loss of pride and self respect if I bail on the trip after putting so much money and self esteem into getting there!

 

PART 2: SOLO – After parting company with my travel companion in London, who I expected to share the entire backpacking thru Europe with, I set off on my own to the continent to Munich where my friends are not in town, it’s the yearly Oktoberfest with all the hostels and hotels full, and I learn to improvise in the moment.

 

PART 3: CHUR – Hitchhiking with my new travel partner Jack, we head south from Munich to Switzerland to the small town of Chur and a youth hostel where I meet and become friends with several fellow travelers including a young woman I make quite a connection with, and share an encounter with the local police.

 

PART 4: RAIL PASS – Leaving my comrades behind in Chur, I set out on my own hitchhiking across the Alps, experience the kindness of strangers, and make it to the tiny resort town of Andermatt, when and where I can now use my student rail pass to ride the rail network of Western Europe, which is a skill I learn by trial & error.Encounter more fellow backpackers and an old homeless man in the Bern train station.

 

PART 5: ANGELICA & HELMUT – In Munich, finally with Angelica and Helmet, I go to a birthday party of one of their friends, drink too much wine, and watch on TV in German news coverage of the start of the Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war.

 
 

PART 6: RIVERS – Leaving Munich, now four weeks into my European odyssey, I ride the tour boats along the Rhine & Mosel rivers, interact with my fellow backpacker young-adult subculture their and wrestle with loneliness, longing home, and a proposition.

 

PART 7: LOW – I leave Germany for Luxembourg and the low contries to try to see some of the towns and other geography that was represented on the game boards of the military simulation games I had played as a youth. In the process I end up having a very long and soul searching day.

 

PART 8: PARIS – Still feeling the lonlieness of traveling by myself, and the resulting urge to cut short my trip and head back home, I finally get to Paris to visit Giselle and family, but then on my own feel anonymous in the big city where my youth hostel feels more like a homeless shelter.

 

PART 9: STEVE – Staying at a youth hostel more like a homeless shelter, I explore the art and architecture of this historic city and find a reprieve for the lonely traveler, a companion to continue my adventures with, at least for the next couple weeks.

 
 

PART 10: MAGIC BUS – With my new travel partner Steve, I leave Paris, Giselle and family and we hitchhike to Spain including an overnight ride on the iconic hippie chariot, the VW micro bus as I reflect on the various aspects of the hippie ethos and my own peers wannabe stance relative to that ethos.

 

PART 11: BARCELONA – Steve and I spend our first 3 days in Spain enjoying the significantly lower prices on food and lodging, and have encounters with new food, sea creatures in the fish market, and one of the 20th century’s most provocative and transformational artists, plus spending a morning together in our underwear, waiting for the entrepreneurial older woman who rented us a room to wash our clothes.

 
 
 

PART 12: ALDEA – Steve and I leave Barcelona and try to hitchhike south to Granada with little success, spending a night sleeping under the stars outside a little Spanish town. But we do get a ride from our Canadian hippie travelers. And then finally giving up wrangle with a 20 hour ride on a very crowded train.

 

PART 13: GRANADA – I am impressed by the central market particularly all its exotic (for me) fish and discover the Spanish dish of Paella with Calamari on top. Visit the Picasso museum and see the developmental path of this transformational artist. And Steve presents me with a sexual proposition that I have to wrestle with.

 

PART 14: TORREMOLINOS – After Steve’s rebuffed sexual proposition in Granada we continue our travels together to the ticky tack resort town and enjoy the sun and sea, plus take in the uniquely Spanish spectacle of bullfighting.

 
 

PART 15: MADRID – A couple days in Spain’s capital and a visit to the Prado museum enthralled by the stunningly bizarre sexuality of “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch and a more realistic but explicit nudity in Goya’s “La Maja Desnuda”, plus Goya’s paintings depicting the Spanish people’s struggles against Napoleon’s armies in the early 19th century.

 

PART 16: WALTER – Steve and I get a ride from an older German businessman who ends up buying us dinner, driving us all the way to Paris and putting us up for the night. The next morning we learn disturbing things about his past, and his dark take on the world.

 

PART 17: RUE TITON -Returning to Paris we leave Walter behind after his morning Hitler rant and luckily find room at the quite nice Rue Titon hostel we had stayed at before in Paris, checked in by the gorgeous but thoroughly fascist Jeanette. Steve and I go to an Algerian restaurant for dinner but I’m too shy to invite some other of my interesting female backpackers to come with. Steve and I confirm that our paths forward are in different directions.

 
 
 

PART 18: BAR-SUR-AUBE-In the swansong of my travels with Steve, we get stuck sleeping outdoors in the rain and when I head off now on my own the results are nearly disastrous as I lose my passport and rail pass boarding the train to Switzerland.

 

PART 19: ROME – I come into Italy’s capitol traveling on my own for the first time since partnering with Steve several weeks back and experience the uneven but at times rewarding feelings of being on my own, including meeting new people, including two charismatic Aussie women who I am quite taken with and give me the nickname, the “Coopster”.

 

PART 20: INNER SANCTUM – Continuing my visit to Rome I spend my first day touring the city with new friend and architecture nerd Morgan. The next day I act on good advice from one of my fellow backpackers and end up spending some 20 minutes nearly alone in the Sistine chapel pondering this sanctuary to a religion and a god I have chosen years previously to not believe in. Then from the dome of St. Peters I look out over the Eternal City and realize I am burnt out on seeing the sights of yet another big cities and long instead for what I’ve been told about the wonder of the snowy mountains of Switzerland.

 
 

PART 21: TRIX – On a crowded train from Rome to Florence Italy I encounter a very diminutive, charismatic and exotic looking young woman and find sanctuary and comfort in a compartment with her and five other of my fellow backpackers, all women, easily aligning myself with their otherwise all female space and sensibility, and they humorously re-invoking my new “Coopster” nickname.

 
 

PART 22: FIRENZE -I get to Florence, whose real name is the much suaver “Firenze”, with a large cohort of fellow backpacker types with many interesting characters among them, including three charismatic young women, who I am taken with, plus three guys from Cleveland who inspire me to think about the dynamics of patriarchy.

 

PAET 23: SOPHIA – I encounter a sexy older businesswoman on the train from Florence to Venice interested in hearing the stories of my travels to pass the time and sharing a very intimate story of her own. She buys me dinner in the dining car and I ponder the nature of a fair exchange.

 

PART 24: VENICE – I spend a couple foggy days in this uniquely sensuous and atmospheric lagoon city and am befriended by a character of a Frenchman name Jaques and we witness a forbidden kiss.

 

PART 25: UNDER THE ALPS – Frayed and homesick after eight weeks of travel, mostly on my own, I take a long train ride from Venice thru a tunnel under the southern Alps headed to the anticipated winter wonderland of Grindelwald, and I ponder who I am and where, if anywhere, I am going with my life.

 

PART 26: GRINDELWALD – I awaken in the youth hostel in this snowy little paradise in the Alps and come out of my shell some to interact with a crew of interesting fellow backpackers including three guys from Cleveland and two women from Sweden and an afternoon of playing cards, the game of Hearts, and the connections that it built between us, followed by an epiphany at dinner.

 

PART 27: DOWN THE HILL – A trip down the hill with some romantic flirtations, subtle and not, and a memorable evening in the pub with lots of beer and shared with fellow travelers on life’s adventures, including me stepping forward to lead at an important juncture.

 
 

PART 28: VIRGIN – A climax of sort to my whole European odyssey in the mountain resort of Grindelwald with intimate albeit nonsexual encounters with two bigger than life young women and the bigger than life mountains that surrounded all of us.

 

PART 29: SNOW DAY – The young women in our informal group decide to spend the treasure to ride the unique Cog Railway tunneling up through the mountains to the weather station at the “top of Europe”, while the guys I’ve befriended and I have fun in the snow with some local boys and I have an almost erotic encounter with one of my fellow male backpackers. Later the women return with tales of their journey, a new connection between two of them, and I have regrets of not going with them, and the possible encounter I could have had.

 
 
 

PART 30: BETH – I sadly part most of my backpacker comrades in wonderful little Grindelwald and take the train down to Interlaken to begin my journey back to London and then back to the States. But lucky for me, I am joined by one of those comrades and we share some secrets and have a quiet moment of intimacy together before going our separate ways, she chasing love and me heading home.

 

PART 31: STARTING HOME – I part company with Beth, the last of my Grindelwald backpacker cohort, and finally face the realization that I am heading home, with all the positive and negative feelings that engenders, including seeing how far I have come in my own development since the early stages of my odyssey.

 

PART 32: ANGELICA – I return to Munich and am grateful to get put up for the night at the last minute by my young adult family friends Angelica & Helmut. I wrestle with my attraction to Angelica and the boundaries between friends and lovers.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 33: HUGO – Tired, sad and homesick, on an overnight train from Munich to Amsterdam on a frigid night, I encounter a man who looks into my soul and tries his best to give me a little taste of home at his home in the little Dutch village of Best.

 

PART 34: AMSTERDAM – I arrive in this cold, rainy, but beautiful and friendly city, which is a haven for hashish and hippies and find my cohort at the youth hostel, some solace from my troubles, and free beer at the Heineken brewery.

 
 

PART 36: HIGH – I awake the next morning at the youth hostel to a brazen offer to smoke hash even before I’m out of bed, which accepted, sends me on a day’s adventure thru Amsterdam with three other backpacker stoners, including an uncomfortable encounter with the ticket agent at the BOAC airlines office to book my plane reservation back to the States.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 37: INTIMATE – The rest of that day in Amsterdam after smoking hash first thing in the morning and then drinking a lot of beer at the Heineken brewery. Together with three comrades exploring various venues of the cold rainy but friendly city, including close encounters with Van Gogh’s works, a female backpacking comrade, and a young woman working at the BOAC office.

 

PART 38: NORTH SEA-I finally part company my fellow stoner types and the “hive mind” we developed at the Christian Youth Hostel in Amsterdam, but not before a wonderful goodbye hug from Gwendolyn. I finally leave the Continent of Europe after nine weeks, starting across the North Sea back to England.

 

PART 39: MAX – Sharing a bottle of Oude Jenever (Dutch gin) with a hippie rock musician from Los Angeles named Max and a seemingly more straight-laced young woman from Minnesota named Rhonda, sharing our stories and our paths forward on the ferry across the North Sea to Harwich England. A surprise twist when we debark catches me off guard.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 40: GREAT BENTLEY – I stay with the couple we traded houses with three years back when we spent the summer in England in 1970. They had now moved outside Colchester and were starting a young family, but I was troubled by the dynamics of that family and particularly the husband’s approach to marriage and parenthood.

 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 41: LONDON – I stop at the American Express office in London to get mail from home. Then I take a bus to Oxford and encounter three young women returning from an office party who have had too much to drink and engage me to make their trip home more interesting.

 

PART 42: THE CLAYS – Back in the village of Horspath outside Oxford I stay again with the family we lived next to three years back when we lived in England for the summer, a family very active and in tune with each other.

 
 
 

PART 43: KATE & COMPANY – Still staying with the Clay’s, their daughter Kate invites me to join her and here two best friends seeing the new movie “Godspell”, and I get a glimpse of the world and worldview of three young women, though just 2 years my junior, with a very different view of the world!

 

PART 44: THE COOPSTER – After my final days with the Clays in Oxford I finally take the bus to Heathrow airport and board my plane back to the States and have an insight on an old persona “Clubius” that I am giving up and a new one “The Coopster” that I will now try to inhabit.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

PART 45: HOME – My mom and brother bring me home from the airport to find some things changed and some things the same, both uncomfortable in their way, but happy to be home and reconnect with my family.

Coop Goes to Europe Part 17 – Rue Titon

February 7th, 2016

Part 17 – Rue Titon

Kandinsky’s Painting “In White II”

On Thursday November 8 1973 Steve and I left the hotel where Walter had put us up for the night after picking us up hitchhiking just outside Hendaye in southwestern France and driving us some 800 kilometers to Paris. Along the way he had treated us to the most extensive and expensive meal either of us had had since leaving the States. He had been such a gracious and giving host, but also had revealed to us in conversation, just this morning, his right-wing political orientation including sympathies for Adolf Hitler, whose army he had fought in as a young adult soldier during World War Two. I was still struggling to reconcile all of that, him taking us under his wing and into his confidence for the day. Did he think we would share his pro capitalism, pro Hitler, anti communism worldview? Did he think he could sway us to that worldview? Or was he just simply sharing honest feelings that we could take or leave?

It was a quick walk to the Gare du Nord train station where we phoned the hostel on Rue Titon, where we had stayed previously in Paris, and confirmed they had beds for us. So we took the metro there, checked in, dropped our packs off, and then headed to our backpacker oasis of sorts, the American Express office. I was delighted to get another stack of mail from my mom and dad and several of my friends back home. I read my letters as we walked from there to the German embassy off the Champs Elysee where Steve was going to check out about the possibilities of getting a job in Germany. Turned out the embassy was only open until Noon and it was already past one in the afternoon. I agreed with Steve that it was ridiculous that the embassy would have such short office hours. So we stopped at a bar for a beer and some pinball and returned to the hostel.

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