We lived in what felt like a blocky bunker on Bronson Street. (The front yard in 1981 had grass.)
(The small backyard's fence was also made of blocks: the Santa Ana winds made that a better option than the blown-down wood fences my neighborhood sometimes had. Those winds reminded us, more than even the dusty-looking nearby hills, that we were still in the desert.)
It was a comfortable bunker, mind you, where I got deeper into Star Wars thanks to loving the previous year's The Empire Strikes Back. One night when we suddenly lost power, I'd been playing with our AT-AT walker, and I pressed the toy's noisemaker not to pretend it was shooting, but to tell Mom and Dad where I was.
Maybe the house, being bunker-like, will stand up to a big earthquake. I don't know; I was only in one small earthquake while there, after never feeling one in Rancho Bernardo. Well-trained, I ran from the family room into the kitchen and got under the kitchen table. Which was next to a large window, so if the earthquake had been big enough to break that, maybe I wasn't in the best position because glass.
Anyway. Camarillo. Generally flatter than my previous town had been, and a more encouraging place to get into the habit of long(-ish) walks. An easy trip to my school El Descanso (nicknamed "El Disgusto"), the community center park next to my neighborhood, and to a house a couple of blocks away where my friend Kenny Crandall lived. I didn't have as many friends as in Rancho Bernardo — and I dealt with bullies and related jackasses — but I did connect well with Kenny.
(I didn't yet know the word "jackasses." I did learn there were things called swear words. We'd gotten HBO, which often showed 1980's The Final Countdown. Navy plus time travel? I WAS WATCHING. Watching so often I memorized and quoted whole swaths of that film, and — heh — got in trouble for swearing. Parroting profanity, to be more exact, but still, swearing. The folks were not happy. We worked out a way I could be careful: I'd write down words I thought might be profane and show them to Mom, asking if they were or not. I once did this with "heck." I was relieved that that was OK to say.)
There I also started learning to cook — very basically and carefully assembling English muffin pizzas — and playing more video games. Ah, Atari (the only gaming console I've ever had). And instead of just a single arcade game in the front area of the Rancho Bernardo Vons, here I could go to an arcade. That arcade was the back three-quarters of a shopping-center ice cream parlor. I went there for the games more than for the ice cream; playing was more cost-efficient, even in 1981 money. The arcade game Battlezone also gave me the meta moment of watching the game and wondering Do you ever reach the mountains on the horizon? THAT would've been immersive.
My notice of the world beyond my home was growing. I started to learn the concept of News: stuff is happening, usually elsewhere, and news shows will show you some of it. I'd watched news (plus this) in San Diego, but it seemed like bigger events were happening by 1981: the attempted assassination of President Reagan, and the happier events of the first space shuttle launch and (we thought, at the time, happy) wedding of Charles and Diana.
Sight was becoming an issue. I had, and have, a weaker left eye than right eye, and not only was I wearing glasses, I started to wear eye patches over my right eye to get my left eye to strengthen. Not a cool pirate-like eye patch. Bandage-style eye patches. Which drove me to distraction: they were uncomfortably warm and moist, and I was lousy at wearing them consistently. Argh. That was, eventually, a bust.
I still read, more and more. I think that was when I started to read Beverly Cleary's Ramona Quimby books; even though I already knew Portland because I'd visit my grandparents there, I'd picture the Portland of those books as if it were Camarillo with Mt. Hood on the horizon. In that way, I wasn't the most imaginative kid (I was imaginative other ways, thank goodness). Other books: picture books about whales, National Geographics (big enough to be book-like), and, briefly, comics. Briefly because I messed up handling them. My brother T.J. was a burgeoning comic collector, and he let me borrow an issue of Beyond the Black Hole. I wrinkled it. T.J. got mad. It'd be years before I'd even touch another comic...and, to his credit, T.J. gave me one as a present, Christmas 1984 (probably so I'd get my own and not touch his).
Instead of my main extracurricular activity being soccer, as it was in Rancho Bernardo, here it was acting classes. My acting teacher had worked on films in what was then Yugoslavia before moving to the U.S.; me, I tried, but I wasn't bitten by the bug. Since then, I've known actors, I've performed in choruses, and I know a little more of what I can do and what I can't. I can perform, since you can perform by playing an exaggerated version of yourself; I can't make myself seem like a different person, which an actor can do, and I'm not particularly interested in trying. A man's gotta know his limitations.
But he should still try to surprise himself. I did that once when the Santa Ana winds were blowing, blowing, blowing, east to west; I got out my bike, pointed it west down Bronson, took my feet off the ground...and got pushed down the street, staying upright, without having to pedal. I managed not to fall over. It felt like the closest I'd ever come to effortlessly flying. (Getting back down Bronson was, heh, more difficult; eventually I got off the bike and just walked it.)
Maybe acting or performing could've helped me improve how I spoke. Instead, at El Descanso I started what became several years, throughout the Eighties, of speech therapy. I needed to pronounce better, annunciate better, stammer less, and speak more distinctly. One issue was, for years I had trouble with my R's. I persisted in this until Northern Virginia, where I moved in fifth grade and continued speech therapy into junior high. Occasionally, people in Virginia would think I was from either New England (pahk yeh cah in Hahvahd Yahd) or, amusingly to me, England. That was in my future (a future where I'd become an Anglophile, which I hadn't quite become yet by Camarillo); but there and then, I started to get better. I've used my voice in school choruses, (bad) acting, and voice posts on this here blog. I still sometimes stammer, but people generally give me time to get my words out cleanly.
School...was school. I didn't feel as connected to El Descanso as I had to Westwood in Rancho Bernardo, though I attended both schools about the same length of time. Bullies had been in my life in Rancho Bernardo but were more of an issue in Camarillo. A bully at El Descanso almost hurt me physically, which was an escalation beyond what I'd dealt with at my previous school: he was sitting on top of a horizontal ladder that I decided to climb across, trying to make sure I'd grab rungs where he wasn't sitting. A mistake. A naïve mistake: he took advantage of momentum and leverage and pulled open my hand as I swung towards a rung, so suddenly instead of holding one rung I was holding none. Being a kid and, essentially, plastic, I somehow wasn't too hurt as I swung my butt into the rungs you step on at the end of the ladder. Whump. No, I didn't go after that guy; I didn't do anything except go away. Argh, bullies. An existence-bane for years. But I survived, if crankier than I'd been when younger.
As Camarillo was more rural than Rancho Bernardo, I learned that a few days a year, the smell of fertilizer from the fields was so overpoweringly a pall over the town that, if you could, you stayed inside. Thank you, the people who worked in those fields and dealt with that smell.
The ocean never had that smell. We'd get to it occasionally: beach visits, drives up the Pacific Coast Highway (if I recall correctly, this was when we road-tripped to Hearst Castle; I was impressed by that estate, and enthusiastically asked our tour guide lots of questions), and whale-watching trips. ON BOATS. On boats that I'd run around on, finding their nooks and crannies and looking for good views of the gray whales passing California. Since British royalty was on my mind back then, thanks to the Prince Charles-Lady Di wedding, I pretended that her title wasn't Princess of Wales, but "Princess of Whales." She could proclaim an end to whaling, then proclaim that everyone should go see whales. (People really should see whales. Whales are amazing. And "Princess of Whales" sounds like a kid's book.)
My memories of Camarillo include a wider variety of weather than Rancho Bernardo. More clouds (it seemed), more wind, more variance in temperature. There was a night one winter where, for the first time I could remember, the high temp for the day happened at night; I thought Weather can do that? Of course, this "low" temperature was maybe 64° F; I wouldn't be hit by really cold weather yet. I was later.
The sky included chances for rockets. Not far away is Vandenberg Air Force Base. Rockets launch from there into southbound, polar orbits; NASA had planned to launch space shuttles from Vandenberg until the loss of the Challenger led to all later shuttle launches launching from Cape Canaveral. I should have been able to see several launches — there were at least 26 launches while I lived there — but the most I remember was one night where my family stood outside the house, looking west and waiting for a launch, and not seeing anything: that night's rocket launch had been canceled. So we watched a sunset sky and a night sky instead. That's often worth watching.
Around then, I started to see life in a more science fictional way. I'd read National Geographic's A Picture Atlas of Our Universe when over at the Crandall's; they had a copy before we did, and I was enthralled by the details of other planets and the speculation of what sort of life could live on them. Star Wars was, as I said, getting even more ingrained in my mind. Around then (maybe even earlier than Camarillo) I saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, in its slow, mind-bending splendor. The film confused the hell out of me, but intrigued me so much, and not much later I'd both revisit that film and become an Arthur C. Clarke reader.
As I should have, I grew up a little more in Camarillo. A lot happened, growth-wise, in that 18 months, which ended with me finishing second grade and then piling into a car to drive cross-country. To Lord Dunmore Drive, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and the next place I'd do some growing.