Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Seoul Searching: Perspective XII

Since beginning, this blog, as a companion to my book, Wild Wild East, I've made reference to different chapters by linking past experiences to present in some hopefully useful and secondly entertaining way. Oddly the "Wild Wild East Dailies" has taken on a life of its own leaving my work on the book to waste for the last six months. This month marks a return to the Book and a major edit I've had on my mind for awhile spurred by an invitation to show the manuscript to his agent by a friend of mine.

Today's entry seeks to return to days of yesteryear when the Wild Wild East was really the Wild Wild Upper East Side of New York City and your author was but a gleam in possibly 100 Catholic nurses eyes:


The Guild of the Infant Saviour on East 86th Street in New York in 1956 was approximately 6885 miles and exactly thirty-nine years away from Seoul, Korea in 1995. Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis would play their last comedy show together at the Copacobana just a few blocks away that year and Elvis, singing Hound Dog, would electrify the Ed Sullivan show in the same city just a few months later. But things were reasonably less grand at the Guild of the Infant Saviour, a home for unwed Catholic mothers just a few blocks south of Gracie Mansion on the East River and adjacent to what was then Misericordia Hospital at 531 East 86th.

“He cried immediately, was cyanotic, resuscitated, then cried repeatedly”, said the medical report. The practice of slapping a baby’s butt after birth, was originally a device to kick-start heart valves and breathing apparatus as the infant made the transition from the fluid to the (Click on image to enlarge) airborne world (translation: resuscitated). Cyanotic babies, or blue babies as they were called, are blue in skin colour because blood is not yet circulating to the lungs which will produce oxygen – so a little slap on the ass not only makes them gasp but gives them an early taste of what life has to offer even before it begins to offer much at all – like finding out there is no Santa Claus before you even know who Santa Claus is.

The relatives in New Jersey had been told that Doris Mae had gone off to New York to secretarial college but probably everyone knew the real story. The preponderance of Catholics keeping up a good face would be mirrored for me by peoples in the far east many years later, but what an interesting precursor to a life of continually wondering where reality met the fantasy this new young man was about to live. Doris Mae Everitt gave birth to Shawn Michael Everitt on June 22nd , 1956 and immediately Upper-East-Side, New York Times, York, Dean-Martin, Jerry-Lewis, Copacobana, Guild-of-the-infant-saviour, Misericordia-hospital, New York, Ed Sullivan, Catholic-social-service, unwed-mothers, cyanotic-baby, blue-baby, Carl-henry-olson, doris-mae,everitt-olson, doris-carlson, raymond-carlson news, david-everitt-carlson, St-Francis-Hospital-Trenton-New-Jersey, wizard-of-oz, man-behind-the-curtain, elvis, martin-and-lewis, martin-&-lewis,eisenhower, battery-park, new-york-yacht-club surrendered him for adoption. She would marry the father, Carl Henry Olson, just six weeks later and bear him another child but would never see her son Shawn again. For Catholics, image was everything. For little Shawn this would be just the beginning of a life of continual reinventions – for he was not about to stay little Shawn for much longer.

The diagnosis stated the child had no trouble eating but did not gain weight in accordance with his caloric intake.
Tests were performed and it was decided that an adrenal insufficiency was the culprit. The kid simply needed more juice.

After 7 weeks in New York, he was transferred to St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey and put on medication to correct the deficiency. Babies with a better shot at making sizable collection plate drops later in life probably got to stay on the Upper East Side – but this kid’s chances were less than average.

Over the course of the next seven months the same tests and procedures were replicated three times until a suitably fat and happy child could be properly offered up for adoption.

One must wonder how many passing doctors, nuns, nurses and night watchmen, the child came into contact with over his many months at St. Frank’s. What were the procedures for dispensing hugs and kisses? Tablet or capsule form? Did the teddy bears wear little black leather jackets? And what about communication training? Was he being trained to only speak Joisey or were the Queen’s English, and other accents being given appropriate instruction time? Brass knuckles or plastic rattles? This kid was coming into a tough world. Better get him ready.

– WWE –

As we mature into adults our childhood memories remain but become stored in our brains in a way that we are unable to consciously access them. Sometimes a motion, a shape or even a smell can trigger emotions and feelings from very early on. This was the case with the New York Store, located oddly, on 5th Avenue in Moline, Illinois in the early 1960s. Around the ages of 7 and 8 I began to have a series of dreams that focused specifically on architectural and physical environments. Striving to put reality to these fantastic images I came upon the New York Store in downtown, Moline. The New York Store occupied a fading, foreboding black façade that was a microcosm of everything implied by it’s namesake. In one dream I stare, childlike up through the European style windows to spy a chandelier and a grand winding staircase towering over a Steinway, atop a checkerboard, marble floor. In another I am transported behind the store to an alley where I see plainly that the grandeur of the New York Store is more like that of a Hollywood set, with paint-chipped concrete blocks and a rusty fire escape hanging over decidedly New York-like smelling piles of garbage. Ahh, the New York of old. I visited New York last in 2002 and, save for Ground Zero, it was a lot more like Disneyland – all spit-shined and polished to the nth degree – a tourist paradise but a real New Yorker’s nightmare. Damn Bloomberg and Guliani. They’ve screwed up a perfectly good dream.

But the New York Store in my dreams was not the New York Store of 5th Avenue in Moline, Illinois. Primarily the windows were wrong. The windows in my dream were ornate in the sense that they were large and undulating and full of panes amongst the wood framing that refracted light ever so differently depending on their angles. The windows on the actual department store were just flat panes of glass suitable for the mannequin dioramas that lived behind them. No, these windows were special, like the windows on the stern of a Spanish galleon at the captain’s quarters. I had certainly never seen windows like these – not in Moline, Illinois anyway.

My first trip to New York as an adult came in 1984 when I was 28. Working for an advertising agency in Dallas, Texas, I was asked to accompany my immediate supervisor to a recording session on a sort of training mission. As I remember, the supervisor had little use for me on the trip and I was allowed to leave the session early. That meant I had the whole of an afternoon to be a tourist and took to it as voraciously as one far ago displaced New Yorker could have. I saw the Statue of Liberty, from Battery Park only, the Empire State Building, the façade and lobby only, and Central Park, the zoo and Wolman Rink only – and the Guggenheim, the whole damn thing – quickly. At the end of the day, on the way down Broadway the taxi hung a right on West 44th (yes, you could do that in those days) on the way to the Lincoln Tunnel for my flight out of Newark when my jaw dropped and I slammed into near paralysis. I had just seen a ghost. “Stop, stop, stop”, I screamed at the driver. Gathering my bags and pushing $20s through the pay-slot, I tumbled out onto the sidewalk in front of 37 West 44th.

It was the building from my dream – exactly the building from my dream as a child. I hadn't thought about it in many, many years.

There could be no mistaking this one. The ornate design. The nautical galleon windows. The sheer grace and individuality of the thing. Bags over my shoulder I strode towards the building to read the brass plaque next to the entrance.

The “New York Yacht Club” it proclaimed – The New York Yacht Club. Fuck all.

Born on June 22nd and transferred to Trenton, New Jersey just weeks later, did Shawn Michael Everitt, a functional orphan at the time, have a chance to glimpse this building from the window of a passing vehicle on his way to the Lincoln Tunnel? For just a second or for a longer time? How fanciful it might have compared to the institutional/medical surroundings of Catholic child care in the 1950s. It’s doubtful that Shawn had even seen the inside of a church at that point.

It’s common practice for adoptive parents to tell their adopted children that maybe they were the offspring of wealthy or famous families. And it’s a fantasy not without merit, because in those days no one was allowed to know the truth – so why not make the kid a prince instead of a pauper? The fantasy offered more hope than reality.

On April 7th, 1957 a healthy and repaired Shawn Michael Everitt passed under the waters of Baptism in a Catholic ceremony and emerged as David Edward Carlson, the son of Raymond & Doris Carlson (yes, another Doris), who would later move him far away, to the land of the Illini Indians, Moline Illinois.

As it turns out, my birth father, Carl Olson had been an avid sailor and even owned a marina at one time in his life – Doris Mae, my birth mother, went on to marry a US champion water-skier, Bruce Parker, divorcing Carl after four years. My adoptive father, Ray, had just finished a Korean War tour on the US Destroyer Dashiel and at least understood sailing from a military perspective. But at no time, to my knowledge, did any of them ever take me to the New York Yacht Club. That part was only in a dream – “Where’s my sextant? Where’s my compass?” – wasn't it?

– WWE –

In other news from 1956, a Joint Resolution of the U.S. Congress was signed by President Eisenhower, authorizing "In God We Trust" as the U.S. national motto, and the first television airing of the film, The Wizard of Oz, garnered a then staggering 46 million viewers.

Martin & Lewis were dead. Elvis was born and the Man Behind The Curtain and the U.S. Congress were headed for the perfect storm. David now had a new name and a steerage-class ticket for the fantasy/reality voyage of the century.


One thing that's been very noticable about this blog is the amount of time people spend on the site. Over 25% of you choose to spend more than an hour here. That being the case, you might spend an hour with the Book and tour my Wild Wild East from the beginning.

For more on the "Perspective" or "Little Things" series, click below:

My Morning Wake-Up Call - Perspective XX: The Little Things XII
We'll Have A Gay Old Time - Perspective XIX: The Little Things XII
"Rolled Foggy Disposed Ricepaper" - Perspective XVIII: The Little Things XI

Joyeux Noel - Perspective XVII: The Little Things X

Lunch With Obama - Perspective XVI: The Little Things IX

One Motley Crue On The Bus Today - Perspective XV: The Little Things VIII

Attraction vs. Conversion: How To Power Your Blog - Perspective XIV: The Little Things VII

A glass box full of deep fried chicken heads - Perspective XIII: The Little Things VI

Seoul Searching - Perspective XII

He Would Have Shot Me 40 Years Ago - Perspective XI: The Little Things V

Chomsky on Colour & Sleep - Perspective X: The Little Things IV.2

Running With Scizzors - Perspective IX: The Little Things IV

Henry Miler II - Perspective VIII : The Little Things III.1

Henry Miller - Perspective VII: The Little Things III

Big Brother - Perspective VI: The Little Things II

This Carnival of Life! - Perspective V

The Art Walk - Perspective IV: The Little Things

Bentley #5 - Perspective III.2

Bentley vs. Vespa - Perspective III.1

Bentleys Invade Vietnam - Perspective III

Death Of A Colleague - Perspective II


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