For a while we lived on Lull Lane. This was in Burbank, up from Saticoy Street, across Hollywood Way from the airport. From six in the morning to eight at night, all we heard were 727 takeoffs. The whine of the Pratt & Whitney turbofans, that instant when the engines pause, consider, stay, or go.
“Moment of truth,” my dad would say. “One hundred thirty miles per hour. Or you’re back down on Runway 15. In pieces.”
He was an aerospace engineer, that’s why we were there. He got his bachelor’s from Texas Tech, moved us to Wichita and Boeing, to Georgia and Martin Marietta, back to Texas for General Dynamics and Fort Worth. Now we were in Burbank and Lockheed. The Skunk Works. His field was metallurgy, the science of knowing how far you could push something until it broke.
In the afternoons, the jets were joined by a thunk. That was my mother, practicing free throws in the driveway. When she and my father had started dating, she’d still been in high school, star center on the varsity team. Marlene Dobbins Powers Tigers to Division Win! said the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal headline she’d taped on the Frigidaire, as it had been taped on the same in Kansas and Georgia and Texas.
“Stop, stop, stop,” my sister said each time the ball thwacked against the hoop appended to the carport. We were watching Dark Shadows; the happy insistency of my mother’s athletics distracted Diane from the vampires.“Don’t you bug me either,” Diane warned me.
Thunk. Stop. Whine.
This was our life in the summer of 1968 on Lull Lane.
“What’s your name?” The boy and his troops circled me on the tetherball court.
“Dwight,” I said.
“That’s not a name.”
“It’s a name in Texas.”
He palmed the tetherball, then shoved it at me so it grazed my cheek.
“It’s not a name in California.”
When the tetherball swung back around, I grabbed it and pushed it hard, not at the boy who had hit me but at the plump kid standing next to him. One thing I’d learned from attending three schools in three years: you went for a follower. Give the leader someone else weak to hate.
The tetherball smacked the plump boy in the face. He looked as though he wanted to cry. “What a pussy,” his friend said.
The bell rang.
First period history at my new school was the same as in Georgia but with missions and different Indians; second period math was the same as Fort Worth.