Play it [Again] Mark
Brother Noel stopped by my blog the other night to make a comment on my piece about the radio shack. What he ended up saying jogged my brain, so I want to talk about the origins of this bachelors’ quarters, out in the back yard of our house on Fellowship Street. Noel wrote, “Boys would enter that shack, and in time they would exit young men, ready for the outside world.”
Growing up with six brothers meant that when Papa added onto our 1920’s era home, the four older of us boys ended up in one room, in two bunk beds. As the sixties unfolded, two of my older brothers got bitten by the ham radio bug, and as they pursued this interest, they needed a site to conduct business. As they began to acquire the tools of the trade, it became obvious that they were going to need more space than what our house could provide.
We lived in the last house on our block, before the “new” tract home units were built, beginning in the late fifties, when they bull-dozed down the orange groves, against which our house was built. We had an acre and set back about one hundred feet from the back screen door, was an old shed that was divided into two rooms. One was about ten by twelve and was used as a storage shed; the other was about 16 by 12, and was referred to by all of us as the “boat house,” ostensibly because Papa had originally intended to build a boat in this shed. He never got to the actual construction of it at this time, but the name stuck.
When Eric and Noel plunged into the world of ham radio, Papa told them that if they would do the work, he would orchestrate electricity being routed to the old boat house, and the boys could set up operations in this shed. The transformation took place one summer, and what had once been a forbidding edifice, noted more for the presence of black widow spiders, became a freshly paneled, newly-carpeted, brightly lighted bachelors’ quarters.
As long as the boys were still operating the ham radio, the newly named “radio shack” served as headquarters for this activity, and nothing else, really. However, when Noel went off to Dominguez for school, and Eric went off to Chicago, no one was left to operate the radio, and I began to eye the radio shack for purposes other than what we had been using it for. In 1967 I was coming off of my freshman year in high school, and began working for Sunrize Market that summer. That meant I was a wage-earning contributor to the family.
As much as my mom and I went around in circles on this issue, I was required to give 75% of what I earned to the household-we all contributed. Working as a box-boy in the grocery store, I told a parent-sanctioned lie, to get into the Retail Clerks Union, as a fifteen-year-old, and was seriously helping the family maintain the home fires, when I began to envision the radio shack as a place where I could not only spend the bulk of my time, but a place where I could sleep as well.
Coming home from Sunrize Market, around 9:30, or thereabouts, the rest of the household was routinely in bed, so I could not listen to music, or make any racket whatsoever. So I talked Mama into letting me make the move out to the radio shack.
Living in SoCal, heat was not an issue, and I transformed my new quarters into a boys’ paradise. We acquired an electric refrigerator for a song, and I was in business. I plastered the walls with posters of Led Zeppelin, the four pictures of the Beatles that came out of the “White Album,” a picture of Raquel Welch, in the film “One Million Years BC,” and I acquired a four-foot long florescent black light, with a little help from Noel.
We had gone to Orchard Supply Hardware, and the price on the black-light bulb was outrageous, compared to the regular bulbs, and since they looked identical, Noel thought it would be pretty smart to simply switch price tags. I expected buzzers and whistles to go off, as we left the store, or at very least, a bolt of lightening, but nothing happened, and the radio shack now resonated with whatever you call the light that a black light makes. It wasn’t very practical, but it was so bitchin’.
We had some monumental ragers there, a couple of them even sanctioned by the ‘rents, because they were parties that were thrown as a result of me getting drafted and ending up in the military. There are a lot of anecdotes to be discussed, when thoroughly rehashing the history of the radio shack, but they will have to be the subject of later posts. But yes, when you went into the radio shack, you were a kid, and when you went off to school, you were not. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement; after all, Mama could only hear “My Baby Wrote Me a Letter,” by the Boxtops, so often, before she was ready to permanently burn that “letter” and get it over with.
“You are asking me if you can move into the radio shack? Does your stereo go with you?” That was all it took, and then there was no one to listen in, when I played “Suite Judy Blue Eyes,” by Crosby, Stills and Nash, twenty-five consecutive times, when Kathy Wiseman dumped me, my senior year of high school. Mama never thanked me for that.