One Isn’t the Loneliest Number
By John Schulian
Somehow I survived the constant moves and my social backwardness. When I went back to East as a junior and senior, I found a comfort level that I’d never had before. I played baseball and football, got good enough grades, wrote for the school newspaper, emceed the farewell assembly my senior year, and had friends, the best of whom I’m still in touch with all these years later. By some wonderful twist of fate, I’d landed in a public high school that had all the qualities prep schools charge $20,000 and $30,000 a year for today. Great teachers cared about you and pushed you. I had a U.S. history teacher who actually got me to spend one Christmas vacation working on a paper for her class. I got an A on it, too. I’ll bet 90 or 95 percent of the class of 1963 went on to college of some kind. The best and brightest went to schools like Yale and Columbia and Berkeley. I, like most everybody else, just moved down the street to the Univesity of Utah.
Looking back, I’m amazed at what an innocent time it was. Maybe it was the last innocent time. A couple of years later, it seemed like half the kids who’d been underclassmen when I was at East were drinking and screwing and raising all kinds of hell. (No drugs yet, however. You have to remember this is Salt Lake I’m talking about.) My class, on the other hand, was tame in the extreme. There was a small group that boogied until they puked, but the vast majority seemed to get their high from sugar and make-out sessions. Me, I went to Utah basketball games and hung out in poolrooms with some buddies who were as inspired by “The Hustler” as I was. Never had a date, I’m embarrassed to say. I came close with a long-haired girl who reminded me of Audrey Hepburn–I even walked her home a couple of times–but I was still too damn shy. Graduation night, a friend from the football team and I–he was the good fullback, I was the other fullback–went to a Coast League baseball game instead of the dance. But a terrific girl (not Audrey Hepburn) came up and kissed me as I was on my way out the door. She may not remember it, but I do. It was a lovely moment.
The biggest thing about bouncing around the way I did as a kid was that I learned to never be afraid of solitude. I was pretty self-sufficient emotionally before I was self-sufficient in the sense of being able to actually take care of myself. If there was a high-school dance, I’d hang around the house until 8:30 or 9, then walk over to the neighborhood variety store and look through the magazines and paperbacks. (I had a driver’s license but no car; the car wouldn’t come until I was a sophomore in college.) That’s how I discovered “Rabbit Run” by John Updike. I read the first page and thought it was about basketball. Let’s just say I had a rude awakening when I bought it and read the second page, and the third, and so on. I made it all the way through, eventually. But it wasn’t until years later that I read “Rabbit Run” again and finally realized what it was about.
Maybe the ability to entertain yourself comes with being an only child. It just seemed natural to me. Lots of days there wasn’t anybody around to play with me, so I’d dream up something on my own. Or I’d turn on my little table radio and listen to Mutual’s Game of the Day or, when I was living in L.A., the Hollywood Stars’ baseball game. I listened to a lot of music on the radio, too. Not just Elvis, either, though he was the coolest thing going. I found myself, at the age of 10 or 11, attracted to black music. There were two disc jockeys in L.A.–Hunter Hancock on KPOP and Johnny Otis on KFOX–who played nothing but black music, and there I was, this blond, blue-eyed kid utterly mesmerized by Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and a guy named Sonny Knight, who had a hit with a song called “Confidential.” It was as though I considered this black music an antidote to the Pat Boone 45 my mother gave me as a birthday present. (Pat Boone singing Little Richard? For the love of God, Mom!) There was that incredible mix of Saturday night and Sunday morning in the music-–saxophones straight out of whorehouses and voices right from the choir. I can tell you for sure that I was the only kid in my neighborhood who made Ivory Joe Hunter’s “Since I Met You Baby” the first 45 he bought. Only later did I hear the influence of country music on the song, so in addition to being proof that I loved my rhythm and blues as a child, I was harboring the inner hillbilly who would emerge later.