March 8th, 2017

NCC-1701 Nebula 2

Pieces of my past: Little Lake, 1983-1984

Years ago, randomly, I Googled the address of the last Virginia Beach house my family lived in, on Little Lake Drive, and found a real estate listing for it, with photos. I saw inside a former house of ours (without having to break or enter!), and it was recognizably Ours, even with other people's furnishings.

It's distinctive. These street views don't really hint at that:



...but maybe this aerial shot does (hey! The more recent owners had a boat!):


It felt bigger on the inside, partly because of the high-ceilinged "Great Room" that served the purposes a family room and a living room usually serve. That was in the middle, facing north. Facing south was the fanciest foyer of any place I've lived: wood and narrow mirrors on the walls and, on the floor, decorative...well, they would have been "planters" had plants been in them, but no, they held decorative rocks. It was like xeriscaping if it were done inside, not outside.

It was our only house with wings.

The house was big enough that I think Mom and Dad toyed with installing a PA between the east end (garage, laundry, dining room, kitchen, Dad's den) and the west end (bedrooms and our computer-and-Atari room). And that Great Room, the most grandiosely-named room of any house we've had, with a bar off to the side. Very Seventies of the place (it was built in 1979). Turns out great rooms became a thing for a while, but usually in much bigger McMansions. Still, by my standards: big.

I finally lived near a lake, East Lake. Formerly, looks like, an inlet of Brown Cove in Lynnhaven Bay, but separated from the main body of water by berms. A place to walk near — I hiked around this and other lakes — but I rarely if ever got out on the water. We had no dock (though we had room to build one had we wanted), and the lake's residents? Snapping turtles. Mean-looking snapping turtles. And, up in the trees, not turtles thank goodness, but birds: our neighborhood was a bird sanctuary.

Trees gave the town some height. Virginia Beach is so flat that the city built a vertical landfill to give residents somewhere to climb. After the hills and mountains in Southern California, I hadn't noticed how to re-engineer the world like that, but I found the engineering feat fascinating. Plus Mt. Trashmore was a nice place to hike.

We'd drive there, of course. I've said it before: Virginia Beach is so spread out, it feels like its own suburb. Its bays, rivers, airbase, and nearby swamps (I've never gotten over how one is named The Great Dismal Swamp) have to be worked around, so there are limited ways to travel east-west. We lived right next to what could've been one of those routes: Inlynnview Road/Old Donation Parkway was, decades before, proposed as part of a highway that never got built; too many bridges would've been needed, and too many houses went up in the path to make the route politically or economically viable. But our neighborhood had been built with that never-built highway in mind, so we had a big front yard, some of which was city property but which Mom and Dad helped maintain. (Part of the city-owned yard got churned up by a roadwork project while we lived there, making a dirt yard that I then played in.)

In the "stuff I didn't really appreciate" category, this house was where I got to sleep in a queen bed. I haven't regularly slept in a queen bed since, at any home, apartment, or dorm where I've lived. My bedroom had one window, rather narrow and tall, looking south; if I remember correctly, the room wasn't all that well lit. It's surprisingly hard for me to pull up memories of that bedroom, certainly not as easy as Lord Dunmore or Vienna or Oakton. One concrete memory from there: playing with the Star Wars Death Star playset by taking advantage of how much punishment it could withstand and taking it apart, piece by piece, until it fell. My way of making the Death Star explode. Don't worry, I never tried to make it really explode.

I mainly remembered the bar off the Great Room as the place Mom and Dad stored their LPs. Don't worry, I never tried to drink the drinks in that bar, either.

Unlike a lot of our homes, I spent time in the garage: not only was it where we had Dad's restored 1965 Corvette Stingray (originally a dinged-up blue, by then with an engine rebuilt by Dad plus a silver paint job) and our extra freezer — I'd try to get back into the house before the freezer hissed shut, because it re-sealed with a hiss that sounded disconcertingly like "Chriiiiisssssssss" — but the garage also had a clunky, noisy pachinko machine. Only place in the house we could play it. We also stored our aluminum cans for recycling there, and sometimes it was my job to stomp the cans flat. This was long before there were recycling machines that would flatten cans for you.

On the west side of the house was a sort of office. There we put a TV with our Atari, plus the first computer I used regularly, a Zenith Heathkit (similar to this) that Dad had. My brother T.J. and I did our first bits of programming on that computer. T.J. later became a computer science major and used those skills in his work; me, I didn't progress nearly as much. A telling sign: I'd copy out BASIC programs from a book without knowing how to save them, so when we shut off the computer each day, any program was lost. At least our Atari games didn't have to be re-written every time, so I ran that more. (Ah, Atari. I'd hang onto and play that Atari well into the Nintendo era; I've never owned any other console.)

I'd been in 3rd grade while living on Lord Dunmore Drive; at this house I went to 4th grade plus a month of 5th, before moving to Vienna in Fall 1984. Fourth grade, at Trantwood Elementary (once again within walking distance), was when I started writing stuff that people Not My Family could read!

Fourth grade also was when I fell under scrutiny for something at school that I swore, and swear, that I Did Not Do. I don't remember the details of what I was accused of; I just remember having a meeting with my teacher Mrs. Hart, and she said she wouldn't do anything because she wanted to "give you the benefit of the doubt." I so strongly remember what I didn't then say, but wanted to say: You don't have to give me the benefit of the doubt, I didn't do it! Gee, Chris, way to want to shoot yourself in the foot. But whatever had happened, it had left me, briefly, righteously pissed.

Otherwise, school was school: I did my work and did my P.E. — randomly, I recall a day when my gym teacher wore an E.T. mask to class — plus I continued my speech therapy that I'd started in second grade in Camarillo, CA. I'd do it for a few more years after that.

And the nearest library branch wasn't far (across Great Neck Road), though again we'd usually drive to it. Farther off was the local Chuck E. Cheese, where I could play fancier (and noisier) games than at home.

In Virginia Beach, I started to pay attention to weather. I needed to, since we were in the path of possible hurricanes. I'd rarely been in much heavy rain before living there. (Or snow: the first sticking snow I recall was maybe half an inch at Lord Dunmore.) We never had a hurricane or a tropical storm when there, but we did get torrential rain. Which I watched through the sliding glass doors of that house. I did so from the master bedroom, the glass looking out over the deck (where, one non-rainy night, I camped out) and down to the lake. Rain torrented; lightning exploded. The house kept it all out, and I could simply enjoy the spectacle. Today, the part of Northwest Oregon where I live is much more temperate and moderate; in my four years in Eugene, I saw a total of five lighting strikes. Virginia Beach could get that many in a minute. Other storms let me see, for the first time, sheet lightning and lightning that crackled along the bottoms of clouds but didn't, apparently, strike ground. I finally was seeing more dramatic skies.

And dealing with more humid air. I didn't mention this in the Lord Dunmore entry, but after my SoCal years, I had a verrrrrrry hard time acclimating to East Coast humidity. Very hard. As in: I spent my first two weeks in Virginia in summer 1982 feeling ill the moment I'd step outside (and away from the A/C). I'll spare you the details. I was still not acclimated at Little Lake. I wouldn't really acclimate to summer humidity until Vienna. My then-weak constitution kept going oh Hell no; I just got through as best I could even though my body wanted to revolt. I no longer fear humidity; I can handle it; and at least it wasn't Midwest humidity, which I've only experienced for about a week total during a cross-country road trip in July 1994. I've never lived in Midwest humidity. I probably won't.

At least I could go inside. And stay inside.

I found MTV, Star Trek (The Wrath of Khan on cable, the original series on a local station), Nickelodeon — You Can't Do That On Television, the fantasy anthology The Third Eye, Canadian TV specials starring Mike Myers as a kid — and, to an extent, newspapers. We got the Virginian Pilot; I read parts of it. Mainly movie listings, to be honest. I wouldn't avidly read newspapers until later.

(Cable at the time also gave me something I was way too young to see: a special on practical special effects as done in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and John Carpenter's The Thing. As in, the effects of blowing up Monty Python's Mr. Creosote and The Thing opening up its chest-mouth. I WAS 9. THIS WAS APPARENTLY SOMEHOW ON BASIC CABLE DURING THE DAY.

(...yeah, I was pretty wide-eyed, watching that.)

There were also friends. I haven't mentioned friends in the other entries; it honestly hadn't occurred to me to do so. They were there — Megan Orvis and Josh Gold in Rancho Bernardo, Kenny Crandall in Camarillo — but I don't have many memories of others. It'd be odd to imply I had only one or two friends in any particular place, though generally I had only a few friends in each place I'd grown up in before this place. I had, it seems, a few more friends while living on Little Lake, friends I could have sleepovers with. Though one sleepover I was ill and maybe delirious. The other guys were going to watch Young Frankenstein on a projection TV and I, not knowing the movie, thought it'd be a genuine horror film and got preemptively scared, and stayed by myself in a bedroom instead. Again, in my defense, I was sick. (I wouldn't see Young Frankenstein until years later.) Another sleepover, I "nope'd" out of it completely out of annoyance and called for my parents to pick me up early. So I was still learning social skills, I GUESS.

Somehow I didn't drive peers off. Too many peers, I mean.

I didn't have my first crush in Little Lake — I hit that milestone a couple years later, when I met Nicka — but I think I almost did. I befriended a next-door neighbor girl: Heather, if I remember correctly. Tall and smartassed. One of her favorite ways to diss someone was to call them "rude, crude, and unattractive." I'd visit her; I was the sort of male friend who didn't mind hanging out in a girl's bedroom. Heather's room, in fact, was likely my first regular exposure to a girl's bedroom. (I'd had friends before who were girls, but I don't remember visiting them their bedrooms.) Her second-floor room faced the kitchen/Great Room side of my house; I liked getting to see that higher view. Once again, like in Rancho Bernardo, I was drawn to views on high. Well, relatively high.

And I was drawn to science fiction. I think that had I read it at that time, Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers would have blown my 10-year-old mind*; but I didn't read that then. I did read my first Arthur C. Clarke novel, 2010: Odyssey Two, and that blew my mind in a different way. (I had already seen and liked, though not fully understood, the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, so I had a foundation on which to build.)

Little Lake. I grew, physically and mentally, quite a bit there. As I should have.

* I think this because one of my memories is of lying in a sleeping bag one summer night at that house, looking at the stars and thinking "There should be a science fiction war novel called War and Space."