30 July 2011


I worked, as I have said, at "Space-General Division" of Aerojet - itself owned by a company called General Tire and Rubber - which provided some high-jinx at work.  The whole company structure had offices in France and England - and there was system of telphoning amongst them.  You could dial a number that got you to the General Tire headquarters in Akron, Ohio.  Then you had a dial-tone and could do another to get you to France or England - and so forth.  The switching was all mechanical, so to get a connexion all the way from your office to Akron to Paris to London back to Akron and back to El Monte to ring the guy in the neighbouring office was ... well, stupid, actually, and getting the connexion took minutes.  But we thought it fun.  I was, after all, just 20.
I had my first practical lessons in computer use there.  I had done various bits and pieces at UCLA, but at SGC (Space-General Corporation), though I was not programming, I was running programmes, sometimes helping to debug them (all Fortran), driving back and forth to Azusa, where Aerojet (and the computer) were located - running card sorters, printers, etc - it was all quite instructive, and did, in fact, set me in practical computer work.

Life in Los Angeles at the time was riding on an economic high.  Men (mostly men, in fact) were being paid high salaries.  President Kennedy's space programme was in high gear.  There was money everywhere.

Nevertheless, some people seemed to spend it faster than it came in.  Edna and I had a friend named Phil Sollow.  Phil was an engineer.  He had bought a house, and a lot of furniture, all on debt.  He was paid a lot more than I was.  Nevertheless, the time came when he could not service his debt.  This was short-term, as I recall, but he became our paying passenger, to save money.  He was a race-car enthusiast, so I suppose his Alfa-Romeo (or was it a Lotus?) took a lot of petrol.  For several months, he paid us $15 a week, I think it was, to take him to work.

He regretted this decision at times.  It is a wonder that I survived.  I was a very scary driver - put it in the fast lane, keep it there at top speed it would go (not all that in my old Renault Dauphine) until a couple of hundred metres from the exit, then zoom through whatever traffic happened to be in the way.  Phil, the racing enthusiastic, found it ... unnerving, and said so.

The Renault caused some consternation the day it caught fire.  It had a rear engine.  Driving to Aerojet one day, I was surprised to see a car pull up beside me, gesticulating.  Look in the rear-view mirror.  Flames coming from the bonnet.

I was near an exit, so I pulled off - and stopped right in front of a petrol station.

As I said, I was 20.

No, he didn't have a fire extinguisher, and get that thing away.

The fire brigade came soon and put it out - and the petrol station was able pretty quickly to replace the tubing that had leaked.

It's a wonder we survive to reproduce.

Edna and I had some nice times together then.  We became fairly enthusiastic ice skaters, at the local rink.  And I loved the Arcadia Arboretum, which we went to probably weekly for a while.  We had dinner with a Romanian friend, an engineer at SGC, Elliot Kleinman.

All of this changed, if not instantly, at least very quickly, on 14 August, 1963, when Kathleen was born.

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