David Kronemyer

When I Was Young

August 17th, 2006 by David Kronemyer · No Comments

DAVID KRONEMYER: I was born on March 12, 1953 in Chicago, Illinois, the first child of Robert Kronemyer and Nancy Kronemyer nee Davis. An icy wind whips off of Lake Michigan, freezing the Loop and all who traverse it. My father remembered San Diego, where he had been stationed in the Navy during WWII. “Westward the course of empire takes its way,” thus we moved when I was two years of age. My brother Daniel was born in 1955; and my sister Kristen, in 1957.

We had an idyllic 1950’s upbringing. Playing in the street in front of our house, exploring the near-by forest, engaging in a variety of past-times that would be unthinkable today, when children and their nervous parents are not sure if it is safe even to leave the back yard. We had a ranch in the east county where we went for the weekends and during the summer. My mother taught us how to ride horses, my father, how to shoot (though no shooting guns while on horses, as far as I can recall). My childhood hero was Davy Crockett. I sang in the church choir and was in the Boy Scouts (actually, I was an Eagle Scout). By the time I was 14 or so I’d spent over a year sleeping out-of-doors, had hiked the entire John Muir trail in the Sierras, and most of the California Riding and Hiking Trail (the part in San Diego County).

Key influences during this period of time were:

The Cold War. Its impact cannot be underestimated, particularly growing up in a center of military activity, such as San Diego. There was a tall yellow tower at the corner of our street. Its air-raid siren sounded on Mondays at noon. We built a fall-out shelter, at the ranch. We had duck-and-cover drills at school, and were assured (somewhat unconvincingly) by our teachers that, if we implemented this maneuver properly, we surely would live for up to five minutes more. This created an atmosphere of contingency and uncertainty, eerily complementing the transience and impermanence of Southern California – the iconic Southern California of Raymond Chandler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Nathaniel West, etc. It also postulated a weird kind of “zero-sum” game, as both the Russians and us had the means to annihilate each other, and knew it; so, who would panic and strike first, only to insure its own ruthless counter-self-destruction?

I highly recommend two books about the Cold War, which are: Gaddis, J., The Cold War – A New History (2005); and, Reed, T., At the Abyss – An Insider’s History of the Cold War (2004). These texts are chilling, because they make clear just how close Armageddon was.

The Space Race. Not so much the actual launching of astronauts into orbit, but rather, its influence on style and design. As a kind of reciprocal to the Cold War, it promoted an expansive and optimistic outlook; an attitude that anything was possible, just given orientation in the right direction. A kind of bubbly, JFK-ish buoyancy. It also emphasized the hegemony of technological solutions and the requirement for specialists and specialized solutions, even for seemingly-ordinary problems.

Disneyland. A confusing amalgam of impressions, an artificial juxtaposition of images and objects, that, properly understood, really is a metaphor for the combination of (1) and (2). We took it all in like an “E”-ticket ride. Not to forget the burning settlers’ cabin, wild Indians dancing all around. Also in this category would have to be “The Wizard of Oz,” notable not only for its imagery of fields of poppies and flying monkeys, but also its underlying message: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, he might not even be there, he’s just a figment of your imagination. In other words, like on “My Favorite Martian,” it might actually be possible to levitate buildings merely through an act of will.

I highly recommend May, K., Golden State, Golden Youth – the California Image in Popular Culture, 1955 – 1966 (2002), which pretty much sums all of this up.

The Watts Riots. OK, no question but that these people had legitimate grievances. But what’s up with not sitting there with your hands neatly folded, not queuing up in orderly fashion, not listening to instructions and for that matter not paying any attention at all to authority, rioting even to the point of destroying your own environment and infrastructure, thus evidencing a kind of civic nihilism, not really caring about anything – as a paradigm or a template, it was precisely the opposite of everything we had learned, yet, there it was, in black and white and even on television, for that matter. This resulted in a peculiar sense of disengagement, of disorientation, of being outside-of-one’s head. It’s still confusing; consider the recent images of rioting in New Orleans.

Vietnam. I was just a little bit late to get hit with the full bore of Vietnam questions, problems, issues, etc. But, beyond doubt, it (by which I also mean to include all of the cultural phenomena it provoked) hovered, suspended overhead like a permanent malaise. I’ve gotta hand it to Richard Nixon for ending the war; my 2S student deferment would have expired in 1973, and my birthdate was number 12 in the lottery for that year.