A Mirror into Ken's Past -- 1977

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Sid and I had been working at Fred Meyers. This was all well and good, and we'd been working there for some time (about half a year). It was a good job, at least we thought so. We got along great -- Sid was almost like a brother to me (he was closer to me at the time than my own brothers). One weird part of it was that my mother worked there on the sales floor. Sid and I worked in the warehouse unloading vans, stocking the shelves in the warehouse from the vans, re-arranging, and sometimes going out into the store (but not often). We got laid off in the post-Christmas layoffs, which was annoying since we weren't hired for the rush. (There may have been some office politics in there, but I have no idea -- I certainly wasn't paying attention to that kind of thing back then!)

This meant finding a job after Christmas, which is not an easy task. I remember working at Sizzler (when it was brand new on Northern Lights Ave., directly opposite the Sears Mall). That didn't last long. It was made stranger by the fact that my ex-girlfriend Jane (who was dating Sidney at that point) was working there.

Songbrook (our little folk group) took a trip to Chuck's parent's cabin down at Katchimak Bay. This was loads of fun, because we had to fly from Homer across the bay in a small plane. The pilot had fun scaring Barbara when we did this. The idea was that we would work on songs, have a "retreat", etc. It was COLD down there. We had a water fight at one point (really dumb) and then in the middle of the night the fire went out -- when we got up in the morning there was ice everywhere. Oof. It was a fun weekend, but it was a bit odd. I don't think it helped us keep the group together, which is what the idea had been. I think I hoped that weekend to get back together with Jane, but that wasn't to be ... she was dating Sidney and seemed to be happy there. Note that this was just a hope on my part, I didn't do anything in the way of actively trying to change her mind ...

Somewhere in the early part of the year we took on a new roommate who was someone Sid knew from High School. He was a nice guy but had a serious case of epilepsy (grand mal seizures). His name was Peter Hill. I don't know what he did for a living or if his mother was just paying his part of the rent or what. He had been dating Barbara for awhile and when they broke up he went into a weird seizure loop. You couldn't touch him, or he'd throw you across the room. He would start to come out of the seizure (which normally only lasted half a minute or so) and then go right back into it. We called a friend of his who was also epileptic. When he came over he did a fake phone call to the hospital loud enough that Peter could hear it, and asked them to bring a straight-jacket. That's what pulled him out of it -- the fear of being put in one of those things ... I clearly remember him yelling "I will NOT be placed in a god-damn straight-jacket!!".

John McKay notes the following in an email from him on January 18, 2003:
"Peter Hill was the epileptic roommate in 1977. Later he married Elizabeth something. That was to Chuck something like Jane and Sid was to you. They stayed friends, but it was very hard for Chuck sometimes."

Not much detail in the diary from January through to April. A depressing birthday ... mention of Songbrook (my folk group) breaking up (this was inevitable, Barb had slept with Greg, and was trying to play head-games).

We had picked up some strays (people needing crash space) living in the apartment on and off. One of them was a young un-married teen with a child, named Michelle. She was definitely looking for someone to be the father of her child. That made things really tense. There were comments in the diary about how Michelle and I were the only ones cleaning the apartment, and being really miffed about it. (It got weirder -- in College I met some folk who knew Michelle from where they had all known each other in High School ... -- see John's note about degrees of separation in Alaska ...)

Kicked Out of My Own Apartment!
Sid paid the rent in April, as my unemployment wasn't enough to cover that and be able to eat (try to find work, etc.). Sid, unknown to me, changed the rental agreement so it was in his name. I am surprised the landladies let him do that, but ... May 2, was the day that Sid kicked me out of the apartment. I have that one clearly marked in the diary. He apparently blew up over something, refused to listen to any explanation, and I found myself looking for a place to stay.

I moved in at Greg's mother's place. After about a week there Mary Helms and Martin Cose let me move in with them. They had had a roommate who was out of town, so I was allowed to live in his room until August, when he was returning from wherever he was all summer.

What's not mentioned in my diary is that during the summer Greg had applied to, and been accepted for, College at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Something went off in the back of my fuzzy head and I realized that if I didn't go to college now (meaning that school year), I was never going to go. Greg really was the impetus for that. I applied to and was also accepted to the University in Fairbanks. I also applied for loans, grants, and so on. I wasn't eligible for any grants, but I was elibible for a student loan from the State of Alaska. There were some minor problems (I'll get to those in a bit).

While staying at Martin and Mary's that summer, Lyle Austin, a friend from High School also needed crash space and stayed there for a little while. I don't remember much about that except: a) Mary was trying to raise some cats (Maine Coons) to make money, and the first of those cats had arrived; and b) Lyle had a pet tarantula that got out of the terrerium one day. Mary had to leave work to come make sure her cat hadn't gotten bit ... (The cats were fine, and the tarrantula was just sitting on the bed ...)

Mary and Martin got me involved in the Society for Creative Anachronism, she made my first costume, got me to my first events ... I spent the summer going to a few events and one of the first "Open Aire Pleasure Faire"s that were held in Anchorage every year for MANY years (the name changed to the Renaissance Fair later on, and now is something else completely). I still have the clay token you were supposed to wear to show you had paid your gate fee. I played my guitar as a wandering minstrel, I also did some songs with the lady who became the founding Baroness of Eskalya (Selenia of Silverwood was her SCA name) and someone else who I cannot remember. That was fun.

Speaking of the guitar, the guitar was a way to escape from some of my problems. I played it a lot when I was depressed, or feeling lonely. I had taken one guitar class at the University in Anchorage from Wayne Mason. He was a really good instructor and I was sorry I never took more classes from him. I was even more sorry to hear that his life went so far sideways that at some point while I was living in Fairbanks, he committed suicide. That was a real shocker. I had some songbooks from John Denver and Neil Diamond, and variety of other folk and pop collections. I spent a lot of time trying to learn to play some of those pieces. I was never great at it, but who cared? I really enjoyed it, and when I played for friends, they seemed to as well, and that was all that mattered.

Mary was calling her SCA household (what there was of it) "Henford". My SCA name comes from there -- I started calling myself "Hirsch von Henford" in the SCA (a name I use to this day), as I was part of House Henford, and I chose "Hirsch" (german for "Stag") for my given name. There were problems with this name that I didn't know about for years, but even a couple years later when I registered it, the College of Arms of the SCA had no idea.

I got a job working at Sears that summer. It meant cutting my hair and beard. I was allowed a military style mustache, it was a pretty dramatic change in appearance. Sears was across the Seward Highway from Fred Meyers (where my mother worked). I saw mom one day and she blind-sided me (I knew how much dad disapproved of the hair and beard, and of course that was probably partially why I did that) -- she said "It isn't fair -- this isn't you!." While mom generally tried to be supportive, I just didn't expect that. This was the last job I had that required me to cut my beard, and I only cut it off a couple of times in College for plays and my makeup class.

Before I left for College Songbrook (remember them?) got together and did a tape. Chuck had the tape last I heard, and I never got a copy. Of course, my memory of how we sounded compared to how we actually sounded might be really disappointing.

March 1, 2004 -- coming back in and adding a bit. I recently heard from Chuck, and he said he had the tape at one point, but in the process of divorce, and so on, he couldn't find it. It's probably just as well.

I also heard, today, from Barb Adkins (now Adkins Rawls), and I thought I'd add a bit from her in here:

"Reading what you wrote about me was really no surprise; everything you said was true. In fact my main purpose in writing this to you is to somehow let you know that in all these years, every time I've thought about you or Songbrook or Greg or Chuck or Jane or Sid, etc., etc., I have always felt a deep sense of shame and regret that I behaved as badly as I did. I always thought that if ever an opportunity came along to say that to you, that I would and gladly. Of course it may not mean anything to you now and certainly I have no expectations other than the fact that since your memories of those days are true and accurate, and you did post the whole thing on the Internet, I might have the right to say what I feel about it, at least to you.
     When I was that age, and even younger, I was an emotional mine field. Those days didn't offer much in the way of help for someone like me for whatever reason; I'm not sure it would have been available to me anyway. I knew, at least to some extent, that I was out of contol and wreaking havoc everywhere I went. I just had no idea how to stop. I know that I caused alot of anger and resentment for alot of people, I even know that I hurt some of you. And I know that having to disband Songbrook was my fault. I am sorry and wish that I had been a better person.
     Today I am married for the second time. (My first husband died of cancer in 1999). Ironically, I didn't marry until I was 39 years old. I have one daughter LeeAnn. She's 24, married, and living in Stockton, CA. I have a good life now and hope that you can say the same." -- Barbara Adkins Rawls

I spent some time answering Barb's email but I don't feel it's necessary to repeat it all here. Suffice it to say that I told her that I don't feel now that there's any reason for an apology, and that I don't feel she needed to carry around guilt all these years for what happened when we were all younger and more stupid. I did, just to be sure, forgive her, but I honestly don't feel that there's any reason for it. It was a long time ago, and we all did some dumb things. At the time they seemed a lot more intense to us, but 20/20 hindsight shows that they really weren't all that bad.

Just getting to College was an interesting experience. The loan commission in Juneau hadn't gotten back to me by the time I needed to leave for College, to let me know that I could actually go (this was probably partially my fault, getting paperwork in late, all that). I was getting desparate. I had made all the arrangements, had a dorm room assigned, and so on.

My mother notes the following: "You needed me to sign papers and get them notarized that we were not supporting you. We did that. You sent off your papers to the state. You called them frequently. Finally we had to do the papers all again because they got lost. You called Juneau in early Sept.. They had good news and bad news. They were out of money but were going to get more soon. They had approved your loan. But you had to go to a bank in Anchorage and get a Federal loan which the state would than repay. They gave you $500 cash to take with you to Fairbanks. I took you to the bank that day. I remember it well. I think I may have even taken you to the plane [I distinctly remember taking the train -- Ken] but don't remember. I know we were in contact a lot. We were very pleased with your efforts and that you were going to college. When you got there and registered you were still short of funds for books. We wired you $75. Yes your father knew of it. One time he showed support. Of course I knew you would pay it back, and you did."

I wrote my great aunt (Grace), who had some money (not vast quantities, but she had some), and asked for some help. She sent me something ... I think it was $500, but that was a long time ago, and I don't have any details. Martin and Mary helped me pack everything up and get on the train and head up to Fairbanks.

I was two weeks late for school. Somewhere within the next week or two after arriving the state loan commission came through, and I was "in", but I was worried for awhile there.

I went to school with the plan of getting a teaching credential and teaching music in High School, which meant I was a Music Major.

My advisor and I got together and worked out a huge and hairy schedule (I think it was 18 credits, which is a lot, especially if you haven't been in school for two years). I was not allowed more than one elective class ... the music department was pretty intense. I don't remember all the classes, but I had Symphony, Chorus (and I'm not sure this counted against the credits I was taking), Private violin lessons, Psychology 101, English 101, and more. Note that each of these required a huge amount of time. My violin instructor wanted me to practice 8 hours a day!!! (Literally -- I clearly remember her telling me this, and my serious puzzlement over how the hell I was going to get that kind of practice in, not to mention the bloody nubs my fingers would have turned into!) I kept wondering how I was going to do anything besides play my violin! My one elective class was an acting class. I figured if I was going to teach, I would learn a couple of related disciplines (performing arts) -- I was trying to plan ahead here. I wasn't very good at it yet, but ...

If you've read everything in this bio to here, you may remember that in my Junior year of High School (which was four years prior to this point in time), I had been invited to All-State Symphony. The director, as it turned out, was the director of the University Symphony, Gordon (Wright?). I was walking down the hall to go meet my private violin instructor on my first day in school, and here comes Gordon. He must have been 6'6", if not taller, fairly thin, long dark hair and long bushy beard, with VERY intense eyes. He looked at me walking down the hall, and said "You're Ken Mayer, aren't you?" It was four years after I had come to Fairbanks for All-State Symphony. I had long hair, a beard, I'd fleshed out a bit, gotten a bit taller -- I looked nothing like that high school junior that he met before. Yet somehow he remembered me! I was shocked, stunned, I am not sure if I was flattered or not, I probably should have been. Anyway, I affirmed that yes, I was Ken Mayer. He told me "I want you in the Chamber Orchestra. Rehearsal is this evening at 7." (Or something like that.) I told him that I hadn't played the violin for a couple of years, and he told me that didn't matter. What was I getting into? (Actually something I will remember for the rest of my life, and in a positive way ...)

My roommate for my first year of college was Glen. I can't remember his last name, either. He was a nice guy, but his goal was to become a Merchant Marine, so we didn't have a lot in common. As roommates go, I could have done a lot worse, though. He was so easy going it was astounding. He put up with Courtney (see below) spending the night, without a qualm, that kind of thing. In our second semester we took a University extension class on "Bartending" -- it was aimed at the idea of having a small bar in your home, and knowing what the drinks were, how to stock it, that kind of thing. There must have been 30 some-odd students in the class, each one of us was supposed to make a drink, and then pass it around the class so everyone knew what it tasted like. I remember walking home from class with Glen on Monday nights, tipsy from the class, and laughing our asses off ...

During this time I spent a lot of time with Greg, and also a girl named Anne, who had a power-house singing voice. She was incredible, her voice was so similar to Linda Ronstadt's that it was scary. It didn't hurt that she really liked singing along with Ronstadt's albums. We spent a lot of time hanging with Annie and singing ... didn't get very far with it, but it was just for our own enjoyment anyway.

I had started to fall for Vicky Johnson in my acting class, but something about her scared me off. I think she was in College looking for her "M.R.S. Degree" (in other words, she was husband hunting). I could be wrong. She was quite attractive, but other than husband hunting there didn't seem to be much else there. She was a nice girl, and very bright, but something didn't mesh between us. A few years after this she was in my senior project play as one of the actors.

Courtney Anne Helms
It was in my acting class that I met Courtney. She was a lovely blonde girl, blue eyes, a mole right in the center of her forehead (looked like it was put there on purpose), fairly talented. We fell head-over-heels in love. During that time I discovered she was taking speed, and had in her past done harder drugs. She'd led a pretty harsh life in some ways. I wasn't a complete stranger to the drug culture, but I had never actually taken anything, and up until I met Courtney, I never even smoked pot even though I had been around it (Sidney smoked quite a lot). I had never felt a need (still don't). The only 'drugs' I had done to that point was to try beer (still don't like it), some wines (found a few I could stand, my taste has changed over the years), and that was about it. I hadn't even discovered coffee, yet.

Greg, Courtney and I one day in deepest winter in the student union building made a pact (Greg was as much anti-drugs as I was): if she could get me stoned, she would give up the harder stuff. It made sense, and we tried it. I tried to smoke a joint and couldn't deal with it (hack, cough). So a few days later she made some brownies with marijuana in them. I ate a couple brownies. When the pot started to take effect, I fell asleep. So much for my days doing drugs. (Seriously -- I've never had any inclination to do anything like this since.) Courtney was really disappointed by that.

But she was true to her word and kept her part of the bargain. She stopped taking speed and only did pot once in awhile. More on Courtney in the 1978 "chapter".

The Arctic Chamber Orchestra Tour
I had been drafted, almost literally (I didn't feel I had a choice, seems to me like being drafted <g>) into the Arctic Chamber Orchestra.

What I hadn't realized when I'd agreed to do this was that I was going to be taking a week (I had already missed two weeks of school!) to do a tour of the Pribilof Islands.

For the Symphony, and for the Chamber Orchestra, I was supposed to have a Tuxedo! I ended up "borrowing" an ill-fitting jacket from the theatre department. "Ill-fitting" may be too strong a word for it, but the fit wasn't quite right, either. The price was sure right. Combine that with a "standard" tuxedo shirt that I had from some Halloween party, and a bow-tie, and black slacks, dress shoes, and I was ready to roll. Not quite a tux, but I sure couldn't afford the real thing. The girl who got it out of the costume stockpile said not to worry about returning it ... She was a friend of Courtney's, and very nice. I remember she used to cut my hair for the two years she was at the University at the same time I was. I don't know what happened to her after that.

I have to say that tour was a lot of fun. It was weird going to some of the small villages out there in the bush, setting up, getting into tuxedos (well, the ladies got into formal gowns), and performing for people who, in many cases, had no cultural reference for the music we were performing for them. We did two shows a day some days, which meant get there, set up, perform, take down, get back on the plane, and take off ... do it again. Then we spent the night, and took off again the next day.

I can't remember how many shows we did, or the names of all the places we visited. The three I can recall are Bethel, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, and St. Paul Island. I know there were more.

Dutch Harbor was the weirdest part of the trip. We were flying in a 727 or something like that. We were about an hour and a half out from Dutch Harbor, when the pilot told us that unless we were alergic, we were going to take dramamine. What? It can't be that rough, can it? I mean, I hadn't had motion sickness since I was a kid, trying to read in the car. Well, ok. Then after we took it, he told us to make sure we were strapped in really good and tight. So, we did that. Turns out that the approach we were taking is right between two mountain peaks, and the winds are horrific. I am pretty sure that, despite my seat belt being strapped tight, in at least one of those instances of turbulance my head almost hit the top of the plane.

Dutch Harbor is one of the big Alaska King Crab fisherie areas in Alaska. The locals held a potluck for us that evening, but there was no crab! One of the guys in the group complained about that. Turns out these folk eat crab so often they don't think about it. Someone took off and a short while later came back with a huge pot of crab legs. These legs must have been 3 feet long, and I'm not kidding.

I tried to eat a whole leg. I really did. I didn't make it. It was a valiant effort, but ... that's a lot of crab meat (and King Crab is very rich in flavor)!

I seem to recall our flight out of Dutch Harbor was delayed, because the pilot got called away on an emergency/rescue situation. We hung out at the "airport" (it's not much, let me tell you), and tried to amuse ourselves. There are some odd photos from that in the stuff below. My violin case had a "Keep Frozen" sticker on it from that little adventure right up to the day I gave the violin to my sister-in-law.

The "national forest" of a single spruce tree outside of Bethel was funny. It was even funnier to look across the river from where Bethel was and see a huge number of spruce trees over there, but just the one on that side. Bethel itself being made largely of quonset huts was a bit odd.

St. Paul Island was fun. It was October. There's a big seal rookerie on the island, but in the winter the seals travel to Oregon and California. For some reason, even though it was October, they were still there. So, we were being taken out to the rookerie, and I was thinking "Cool, seals up close!" Little did I know ... we came around a corner, and I was close to the lead, because I just thought this is too spiffy, and there was a seal right there! I mean, I was maybe three feet from its face. I surprised it, and it surprised me (a seal that close yelling in surprise is quite loud!). I can tell you that up close they really smell of fish (big surprise, eh?).

If I'd been more together, I might have "gotten lucky" while out there -- one of the female members of the orchestra one day walked up and started caressing the "ruffles" on my tux shirt, and asked "Do your ruffles have ridges?". I wasn't really thinking and took it as a joke, rather than a come-on. (Smacking forehead with hand ... she was cute, too!)

In Dutch Harbor we did get to go out and see a Russian Orthodox Church. I have a couple of mediocre photos from that church ... (the photos really don't do justice to the church).

Meanwhile, Back at School
School continued and I worked like a madman to keep my grades up. Somewhere in here I was getting discouraged with the music department. I couldn't see how I could possibly survive through a four-year degree with all the demands they were placing on me. In hindsight this may have been an attempt to wash out students who weren't dedicated enough. Maybe the instructors really were so self-centered that they thought that their class was the only one you had that mattered. I made the decision to quit my private lessons. I found out that a few years later this woman was definitely missing something in her head. She was found in deep winter wandering around in her nightgown and barefeet in the parking lot of the faculty housing facility (I think it was in the sub-zero temperatures when someone found her out there). They actually took her to a mental institute.

My Psych 101 class had an instructor who came back into my life in the weirdest way later on (details when we get there) ... Dr. Charles Geist. Nice guy, I don't remember much of the class, except him.

I decided to try out for The Little Matchgirl, a children's show that was being done for Christmas that year by the Theatre Department. Lo and behold, I got a part! I was the evil drunkard of a father of the matchgirl. Courtney had a part as well, but I can't remember what it was. I don't have the script anymore.

It was fun, and we had a blast doing it. As the old man I scared the kids so bad that after the show when they got to meet the actors, they all flinched away from me. The photo of Courtney below is taken from the display we had up outside the theatre, so the kids could see what we really looked like.

I was definitely feeling out of sorts with the music department, and was having a great time in the theatre department, and was heading in the direction of changing my major to theatre ... which is what I did in the next semester.

Somehow I managed to maintain a B average (I think) for that semester. I am really unclear how I pulled that off.

As with the other sections, a bit about the folk who really influenced my life during this time.

John McKay -- I heard from John recently (January, 2003), and got a bit of a summary on what's been happening with him over the years (sort of like the one I got from Greg ...):

"After I graduated in '78, I had a bunch of unpleasant jobs and really had trouble finding my spot. I was married for four years. I was too naive and she was too young and it was a bad idea for both of us. But somehow we managed to become friends and we still keep in touch. For the most part, the eighties--or my twenties--sucked. There's really no other way to put it. In '88 I went back to school at UW in Seattle and have been here ever since. I picked up an MA in Balkan history and came close to a PhD before I ran out of money. That was a big disappointment, but at the same time I ran into a friend from my undergrad years and married her, and that was one of the best things I have ever done.
     "As a forty year old dropout in Seattle with a crappy job history, there was only one thing I could do. I got a job at a software company (many of the history folks ended up doing the same thing). I was just in time to ride the tech boom up and down. My wife, Tessa, an English major, did the same thing. For eleven days in 2000 we were stock option millionaires. Then our stocks lost 97% of their value. Many of them would loose us money to cash in. When I was laid off, I completely walked away from my options.
     "So today I have an odd job for a little company that builds custom AV systems. I was hired as a tech writer, but I spend most of my time as a media librarian. It's okay. I have a small house with a garden, a car, two cats, and a couple rooms of books. I'm writing a book about unusual belief systems in geology."

Greg Gadberry -- not only was Greg the one who made sure I wasn't living on the street when Sid kicked me out of the apartment, he was the one who was responsible for my getting to College, even if indirectly. While in College, when we were not in classes, we were practically inseperable most of that first year. When Carlos Montoya came to town Greg and I had to go see this world class guitarist perform. They made a mistake at the box office -- they'd oversold the show and everyone was showing up in deep winter. They put chairs on the stage. Greg and I asked if that was for the audience, we were told "yes", and we grabbed a pair. We sat maybe 10 feet from one of the world's greatest classical guitarists in concert. I don't think our eyes left his hands. We got a bit depressed after the concert, realizing we'd never be that good. But after we'd gotten over that we pulled out our guitars and rather than throw them in the river like we'd been talking about, we played for hours.

Martin Cose -- was one of the most laid-back easy going people I knew. He always had a joke on his lips, was friendly, and a joy to be around. He eventually got bit by cancer, several years later, and passed on. I was really heart-broken over that.

Mary Helms -- was one of those people who always worked hard at everything that she did, and was an over-achiever (not necessarily a bad thing, but I was in a completely different head space at the time, probably more of an under-achiever than anything else). She had science awards from High School, and probably could have gotten into the military academys, or gotten grants for college. I am not sure why that never happened. However, she was never satisified with things, and was always trying to improve her life, and consequently that of those around her. I will say that she was always a giving person. There were problems we found out about years later, but there's no need to get into those here. She worked for the Girl Scout Council, had a catering business, and was starting a business raising and selling Maine Coon cats.

Courtney Anne Helms -- very important factor in my life at this point. You'll find out more in the next installment (as it were), but we had a hot and heavy relationship going.

Anne -- cannot remember her last name. Mentioned earlier, Greg and I hung out and sang a lot with her. She was fun. I think she only lasted the one school year, though. Pity. College is rough on a lot of people ...

A Few Photos
(These are thumbnails, click on them to see larger versions with text explaining them)

My Brothers and I with
Grandfather Baker

Ken (me)

Ken (me)

Student Union Building




Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Chamber Orchestra

Poster of the Play
The Little Match Girl

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