In the immortal words of Henry Frankenstein: “It’s alive. In the name of God now I know it seems like a dream, but it’s alive.” Why they changed his name from Victor to Henry in the James Whale 1931 film, I do not know.
But I believe I heard my father, Henry Lee, shout those very words at 1:55 p.m. on Saturday, November 20, 1954.
This may be one reason why I hate Saturdays, but more about that later.
I have the proof, in my safe, that I was indeed born on that date. The tiny sheet of paper – it’s what they used to call a thermo-fax, white print on a black background – states that all of these facts are true.
As I write this, I am still alive. It is some 66 years now, and I have cheated death with good success to the point where I embark upon this stunning tale that is my fascinating life. Well, it’s my life. I’ve heard that adjectives are the bane of good, clean, clear, readable prose, so I’ll just call it my life.
Perhaps once you have heard all the mysterious and harrowing details, you, Dear Reader, may adjectivize my life as you see fit. I pray, once you have heard all, that you will not choose words such as “boring,” “pointless,” or “sad,” but you alone will be the judge of that.
Suffice it to say, here at the outset, that my name is not “The Monster,” nor is it Jeffrey Lind Lee. My parents I trust would never name me “The Monster,” although my dear sister once joked, back in New York before she had children, that she wondered if her child would appreciate the name Gargantua. Or was it Godzilla? Something like that. I think she was joking. Oh, she must have been kidding, because her children are named normally, Paul and Amy.
Why, you may well ask, is my name not Jeffrey Lind Lee? Because this was my father’s choice, of course. Jeffrey Lind was his best buddy back in the Army, and because they both survived numerous horrible campaigns with the 82nd Airborne Division, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the European Theater during World War II, my father had hoped to carry that friendship forward with more concrete representation by giving me that name.
My mother, on the other hand, wanted to name me Lanning Christophersen Lee. She argued that Lanning/Lanny Bud, the hero of many an Upton Sinclair novel, the literary precursor to James Bond, the darling of her and her female college chums was the better choice.
I’m sorry. Did I say my mother argued this? I have misled you. There was no argument. My father’s proposal fell upon deaf ears and was carried away by those balmy tradewinds for which Hawai‘i is so justly famous. My mother’s first and only son, I was fated to be named Lanning Christophersen Lee, and that has been my name right up until this moment. I assume, barring entrance into the witness protection program, that I will be Lanning Christophersen Lee until the day I die.
You know the origin of Lanning, and you can guess the reason for Lee. The middle name my mother chose, Christophersen, was her Norwegian last name. My mother’s first name is Thordis, which is the female equivalent of Thor, the god with the big hammer, which fitted her well, but more about that later.
Another thing I find interesting about my birth certificate, but which you may not, is that it was issued by the Department of Health, Bureau of Health Statistics of the Territory of Hawai‘i. Yes, I came to be on the other side of Statehood. We’d been annexed by the United States of America, but we’d not been acknowledged yet as a State. That came in 1959. I don’t remember much about Friday, August 21, 1959, but I hear it was quite a to-do, complete with a mega-bonfire on Sand Island that almost set the town ablaze.
So yeah, we were a territory, and let me tell you, there were a lot of people very upset about that. If you’ve read anything about Hawaiian history, you’ll understand what I mean by upset. And if many of these people were upset about how we became a territory, and what this cost the Hawaiian nation, the hostile takeover of Hawai‘i’s monarchy with the unjust imprisonment of Queen Lili‘uokalani, then you can imagine that they were infuriated when Hawai‘i became a State. This anger, justifiably so, carries on through today, but, as I say, on that historic day, I was too young to understand anything about what was going on.
It’s funny. Some people still don’t know that we’re a State. It never ceases to amaze me when someone from over on the U.S. continent makes an ignorant about us not being a State. It right up there with folks asking if we live in grass huts. Up until the advent of television, and especially of the original Hawai‘i Five-0, you’d be surprised how many people thought this.
Before I was born, I remember very little. I do know, not because I recall it, but because I learned about it later, that my mother both smoked and drank alcohol while I was turning into the thing she birthed after nine months of suffering. She didn’t say she suffered; I just assume it. I would not want to go through pregnancy and giving birth. I’m always amused when the father says, “We’re pregnant,” or “We had a baby.” Come off it dads. You aren’t the one going through this. And be glad of it. I can know from the many stories I’ve heard that having a baby is no walk in park, unless you’re talking about Central Park at 2:00 a.m.
So back then, my mom was not alone in keeping up those two habits while she was pregnant. Is this why I am the way I am? Well, maybe partly. I used to smoke, did it for 45 years, from the time I was in 9th-grade. I used to drink, still have a beer every now and then, but there were times when I would drink a twelve-pack of Beck’s a day, and then wake up and go to work in the morning.
Was I an alcoholic? I’m not sure. I certainly enjoyed drinking. Beer, not hard liquor. Which is interesting. Koreans – not all of them of course – but many, many of the ones with whom I’ve been acquainted over the years do like their alcohol. I never went to a Korean wedding in my youth where there wasn’t a bottle of hard liquor as part of the centerpiece on the reception tables. Usually, back then, it would be Seagram’s Seven Crown. I’ve tasted that stuff. It’s pretty potent. I never could understand why the appeal, though. Surely they could afford something else.
My dad drank moderately. I have never seen him drunk. He could hold his alcohol well, but it never seemed to me that he actually enjoyed drinking. He did it more, I think, to play out the social obligation role. Everyone else was sucking down a beer or a boilermaker or a shot, so he did it too. To be sociable.
My dad actually quit both drinking and smoking, cold turkey, on his 50th birthday. I wish there had been sugar-free candy back then, because he immediately replaced tobacco with Black Jack gum, Lifesavers and butterscotch candy. He didn’t eat more, I don’t think, but he gained 30 pounds that he never lost, and I believe he hated this happening to him. He’d always been a fitness buff, and no matter what he did, he could not lose the pounds and get back to his fighting weight. He’d been a boxer, so when I say fighting weight, I mean just that.
My mom, on the other hand, was an alcoholic. She would be what is termed a functioning alcoholic. That means that she would drink along the lines of the way I used to put away a twelve-pack a day, and then some, but still be able to rise and shine and head off to work every day. This created problems for our family, but I don’t know if I’m going say more about that later.
Was I an alcoholic? A functioning alcoholic like my mother? I don’t think so. I might have drunk a lot over a period of my life, but I never could put it away, especially hard liquor, like my mom. She quit cold turkey too. It was a memorable day. Again, I may not say more about that later. My mom’s drinking played a large part in my life, but in some ways it’s too large a topic to handle, to get my head around, so this may be the last time I mention it going forward.
But back to my birth. So I was smoking and drinking in the womb, but I believe the delivery went reasonably well, although as I say, I really wasn’t aware of any of the details of my life around that time. My mom decided on my name, and while I’m proud of it, it has been problematic.
I have this way of telling folks what my name is when I first meet them. I always, I mean always, say, “My name is Lanning, like planning without the P.” Many of my friends know this catch-phrase so well, that they kid me about it. A lot. Some of them even call me Planning-Without-a-P. It’s all good.
But can you imagine? I can’t. How many times, I wonder, have I said, “My name is Lanning, like planning without the P”?
As I mentioned, Upton Sinclair’s hero is named Lanning Bud, but he often goes by Lanny. So did I, growing up. It wasn’t until I went to college, actually, that I made the switch from Lanny to Lanning. My profs called my Lanning, so I fell into that groove. Almost all of my childhood friends knew me as Lanny, though, and almost all of them still call me Lanny.
My dad is the only person who ever called me Lan. Then my friend Gordon started calling me that. It always sounds a little strange to me. I don’t know. It’s weird when only two people over the course of your whole life call you by a certain name, isn’t it? Or is it?
So I’m Lanning/Lanny/Lan Christophersen Lee, and this is no dream. You’re about to hear the whole rest of the story, all the David Copperfield crap right on up to the second-to-the-last chapter of right now. Fasten your seatbelts, so you don’t go through the windshield of the car, like I did in my Freshman year at the University of Hawai‘i. Yeah, it hurt just as much as you’re thinking it did. But more about that later.
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Aloha #WriterSunday. This is the first day of November, which means it’s the first day of the annual National Novel Writing Month. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce a 50,000 word rough-draft of a novel in 30 days. I’m going to try to do that. My apologies.
Today’s #WritingPrompt is
Use it to inspire a piece of writing, and then post that piece somewhere I can read it. I would love to see what you write. Want to write a novel too? I think that’s a great idea. Let’s do it : )