Michael Chaffee

Michael Chaffee


I was born in 1955 in Southern California. My family moved from our Redondo Beach, CA home in 1958 to a Los Angeles suburb community that is about thirty miles north of L.A., which is called the San Fernando Valley.

Michael Chaffee

I came from a family of five children and I’m second to the youngest in birthing order. My family’s sibling’s gender of three boys and two girls were in descending order, including myself as; girl, boy, girl, boy, boy.

I was raised in the same three bedroom two bath house from the time I was three years old to eighteen and attended public school throughout the Valley.

The Shaping of a Mind…

In being born into this world we become part of this world. That success in nothing short of being awarded a gold medal at the Olympics for the swim of a lifetime!

At or around the age of eight years old our mind will have evolved to a point that we will have acquired the ability to apply our individual reason.

From there, the world will inflect further effects in the shaping of our minds and all of our abilities and or disabilities will be presented as our challenges.

The cruelty about life is that the world will not love you. It will test you! It will tease you! It will torment you and it will offer you many avenues for self destruction and or success!

It is up to us to allow the world to identify us as capable or incapable. If we fail to speak up for ourselves, who then will speak for us!

Abilities and or disabilities are not really any different, as they both only offer us challenges to struggle through and seek our truest identity. Weak or strong, poor or rich, kind or angry and on and on…

The choice is ours to view our challenges as enabling or disabling. Therefore my personal quote goes like this;

“If not for the struggle then what worth could be measured from any of the gains?”

A condition called dyslexia runs at 100% in my family’s male gene pool. My father, brothers and myself all inherited this life long usual genetic condition.

Statistically speaking this condition only effects around 10% of the general population.

In the setting of my immediate family this inability to read phonetically wasn’t seen as a disability among us but, in the world at large that was a very different story!

This learning disorder is marked by an impairment in one’s ability to recognize and comprehend written words. As the letters in the words are in disarray and any attempt to sound out the vowels A,E,I,O & U cannot be orderly recognized.

In the 60’s during my elementary schooling years this went virtually undiagnosed and was termed a “MENTAL BLOCK“, as many educators referred to it in those times as an inability to visually comprehend letters arranged as words, correctly.

Thus, the cultivation of my 8-year old mind through education would in fact meet the same road block that approximently ten percent of the population would meet. In retrospect, it becomes quite clear that those who were in-charge of instituting the curriculum’s of higher learning, were obviously double-dealing from the bottom of the deck!

If; “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” then why structure the fields of cultivation to the dry desert sand from which to try and sprout…hum?

How I ever could begin to write let alone thought that the world might embrace my writing skills or style was beyond me or was it?

This condition was actually an incentive to transfer my desire for expressing story into one that could be heard rather than to be read.

Initially it gave me cause to root my story telling intellect into the only soil that wasn’t starved of moisture, and that was my spoken words!

Even as a small child…I spoke often and attempted to compensate for any deficiency in understanding the written word. I attempted to do this by overdeveloping my verbal communication, which evolved into a very verbose style. Although in developing my “Chatty Chaffee” neuro-imaging of the world, it too would be met with less enthusiasm!

A Short Story

A funny example of this was when we were (as a family) all on our way in the 1961 Baby Blue Ford Station-Wagon going to our Grandmother’s home back in the early sixties.

This road trip involved about an hour’s ride to her home, which was “over the hill” and located in a South Central Los Angeles area neighborhood called Watts.

As we traveled up Sepulveda Boulevard (a street in Los Angeles, California that paralleled the 405 Fwy) from the Valley’s hot basin floor, we ascended up and over the Santa Monica Mountains range out of the blazing August summer day over the hill into the L.A. Basin.

The Conversation…

While setting cross-legged and unbuckled (no seat belts back then) in the furthermost rear compartment of the station wagon, I was chatting it up in rare form. I was trying to bend an ear of my older brother, Jerry Boy! I must have been about five years old and my brother was about ten.

As I often did…I went on asking my brother questions about every form of stimulation that my eyes were feeling, no that’s right feeling not seeing!

You see my world was captured as a feeling at five for some reason. As we continued driving I went on and on and on…when My Older Brother abruptly chimed in and afforded me a bit of his advanced ten year-old wisdom!

He said;
You know Mike, we only get so many words…and if we use them all up when you are young, you won’t have any left later in life!

WOW…yes for the rest of the ride these wise words gave cause to pause but, not for long…hum?

In overdeveloping my ability to become expressive verbally, yes my style of communication evolved into using more words than what others may deem as necessary and my writing is certainly plagued with that as well. My dear friends will certainly agree that I enjoy a deep and meaningful conversation, if only for my own entertainment..LOL? I suppose it’s an attempt to express the most from what I feel from how I see the world?

Nero-imaging Studies…

I suppose the reactive phenomena on my senses may be something like that of the hearing impaired, as one’s eyesight becomes more develop when suffering the loss of hearing. Thus my mind’s routing of nourishment was fed through the rerouting capillaries of expressiveness in my speech?

In viewing things absent the corruption or benefits of the written word my imagination was left to it’s own devices. This limitless interaction between the tranquility of internal dialog and summations of tone in viewing the world through such eyes uniquely aspired to find new ways to seek understanding and ultimately expression.

The Eight Year-Old…

Upon entering elementary school, I came to know the cruelties of my peers and the necessity for balancing a strong and purposeful personality with that of the “pick and pecking” critiques of my school yard chums.

During my elementary and junior high school years my small stature and clear internal tone offered an outer conflict to the presumptions being imposed upon my intelligence. That self-image resisted these implications and the interpretive assumptions being imposed (my presumptions) in my social surroundings, as they suggested inferiority and this was unacceptable!

The academic environment was quite simply applying a pre-emergent herbicide to any further potential for the rooting of my intellectual capacity to sprout.

My social defense was to rebuke the stigma that could narrow down my cognitive capacity to just that of a higher GPA. As I entered junior high school the sprouting of my physical attributes were further held in check, as my smaller stature offered up a clear target for being pushed.

Being smart enough to out-think an adversary was easy enough but, lacking the tools to employ such talents in anything beyond the gift of thought especially at a height of 4′-11″ required an expressive INTENSITY“, in order to deliver the internal tones that were screaming for respect!

Unfortunately these larger school yard chums failed to see the deeper, “under the thin skin” meaning for such struggles and the impact on my evolving character.

The Shapes, Hues and Tones of Family…

My older brother Jerry came down with polio at three years old in the early 1950’s, and this combined with the effects of dyslexia only furthered to ravage my brother’s self confidence and way-point headings.

If that wasn’t enough, an added complication for my older brother’s childhood was the Orthopedic Hospital’s Experimentation Program for polio scoliosis. These efforts resulted in him having to wear a full body Plaster Paris Casting from the time he was three to twelve years old.

Of course these efforts were successful at straightening his spine but it came to leave deep wounds and a form of scoliosis upon my brother’s developing personality as a result of the tormenting by his peers.

The same dyslexia stigma was suffered by my younger brother Earl’s educational experience, as he was inducted into the “Special Education” classes that were setup to deal with real mental handicaps.

It mattered not that he possessed an incredible aptitude and brilliance for dissecting electronics and building inventions because the educators only evaluated one’s abilities by them being able to measure the accomplishments for reading, writing and arithmetic.

It was a perfect example of how the sacrifice of a few would better aid a purposeful advancement in the Academies of “Homo-perfectus“.

One needed only to express the theorem in the equation by reading and writing. If that couldn’t be accomplished well then…you couldn’t authenticate your cognitive capacity nor your intellect!

It would be the prejudice inflected by academia and the results of their Scholastic Achievement Exams that would justify the delusion in their decisions. It was from such brilliance that these academically superior scholars deduced placing my brother in the demoralizing environment with classmates that were truly mentally impaired.

In the 1960’s the Los Angeles City School’s public education system wasn’t encouraged to recognize or assist such unknowns and as a result those being afflicted were often segregated and ostracized as being ones of inferior intelligence or having a special education need.

Unfortunately, one’s intelligent quotient was and still is the basis for evaluating your “degree” of usefulness in our society and those Master’s of Degree educators got a “failing grade” in giving dignity to the savant genius that existed in my brother.

The simple reality is that placing such limitations upon the over-thinking mind of a person with dyslexia only destroys one’s self confidence and extinguishes the belief in their own imagination for the things that could be otherwise…hum?

The Chip…

My exposure to the narrow corridors of academic society’s misinterpreted evaluations for dyslexia exemplified total and complete failure of the public education system. Their self proclaimed master’s minded competence was inadequate for tackling the task of teaching those with such conditions.

This exhibition of incapable accreditation gave cause for me to distance myself from such stigma by choosing to practice word memorization rather than phonetics.

This self taught adaptation aided me in not suffering the embarrassment associated with not being able to read and allowed me to become a Chameleon.

I saw the results of what could happen when exhibiting an inability to phonetically sound out words and read aloud correctly. In classrooms this made me focus upon teaching “thyself” how to memorize and read complete words rather than the jumbled clustering of confusing letters.

Due to this early life experience my appreciation and adaptation in learning to apply the written English language as a form of effective communication and self expression would lay dormant for much of my young adult life.

The Neighborhood…

In these early years growing up in the expanding megalopolis I banded with neighborhood associates who would engage in many summertime activities such as; riding bicycles, investigating the storm drain system, tinkering and fabricating motorized mini bikes and go-Carts, as well as building tree forts and tunneling shallow caves in empty fields.

My local associations and friendships formed a well rounded sampling of pranksters and envelope pushing characters that exempted one from intellectual comparisons, as this environment scaled the weighted worth of another by the size of his jewels, not his IQ, metaphorically speaking.

Although it had nothing to do with intelligence, a guy that was known to have a big pair was much less likely to be asked to show them. This of course required leaving a lingering uncertainty for how close the fuse was burning at the end of the sweating stick of dynamite!

It also required an occasional exhibition of sorts of an example of a Compulsive Obsessive Explosive Disorder (COED) to emanate from any requests to show em’…how big was big?

The rules were the rules and everyone within the band of neighborhood brethren knew exactly where the lines were drawn and what potentially would happen if one were ballsy enough to try to draw new lines.

On another side of this, I suppose if our societal “disorder” today drew something from this primordial basis of law we’d probably not have the level of personal unaccountably being exhibited in everything from politics to the right of way acknowledgements for common courtesy at an intersection.

I mean you wouldn’t have people flipping you the bird at a traffic light for a two second delay in moving your foot from the brake peddle to the accelerator. If only because of the risk of the consequence as it wouldn’t be worth the freedom taken in blurring the lines of distinction between these two boundaries?

Lessons Learned

Corporal punishment seemed to be the “go to” solution when boys behaved poorly during this schoolyard indoctrination era and some lessons were taught and learned well. The path of logic acquired had set strong precedence and the examples administrated from higher authorities were a strong source of knowledge but, not wisdom!. After-all, teachers and law enforcement had been passed the substitute baton of parental controls by proxy and the stick of encouragement was to;“let that be a lesson to you!”.

Unfortunately, you still had boys behaving poorly and clowns at traffic lights flipping the wrong guys off at the right moments and it appeared that some would never learn, no matter how hard you’d paddled their asses…hum?

My farther served five years in the Navy during the war and my mother had worked in a B-29 manufacturing plant back east. Post WWII America took on the face of a population boom as the returning veterans settled into a civilian lifestyle.

In 1952, before I was born my parents decided to leave Michigan with their three children at the time and moved out west to California. The 1960’s was the decade of my adolescences and both family life and a wide range of social interactions formulated my views and perspectives for the world that I’d come to question latter. During the 50’s and 60’s America represented a changing demographic profile, which is refereed to as the “Baby Boomer Era”.

Anchored in a mid-western morality from my mother’s Catholic upbringing and my father’s down to earth and heartfelt farmer’s sensibilities, I ventured out into the unsupervised world of L.A.’s evolving Hipster-ville lifestyle with a strong morality foundation in my tool bags. I came to view the world in a way that offered unique exposure to a diverse and changing tide while gaining insight for which of the next waves just might sink a ship!

From the sexual revolution of “make love not war” to the unsuspecting hazards of the Hippie’s mind altering drug induced lifestyle. The cultural shift during the sixties represented many new freedoms, as well as many new dangers. The Neo-Americana became virtually unrecognizable from the mom and apple pie, “Leave it to Beaver” view of the fifties to the mid-sixties as American society was placed into a blender!

The disapproval of the continuance of the Vietnam War together with the U.S.median age of 27.5 years lit the fuse for the spark of social unrest, not unlike the recent Arab Spring. Growing up in an area of the country that was a melting pot for the cultural revolution enable me to smell see and hear first hand the delivery vehicles of change! The music of the sixties blared out everything from “War, What is it Good For” to “Everybody Must Get Stoned“. The now “world famous” musical artists such as Jim Morrison and The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendricks and Janis Joplin were only unknown bands playing local bars and high school stadium gigs during this time!

The sixties offered kids parental freedom unheard of, and I and my buddies would peddle our bicycles miles from home right up to the chain-link barricades that surrounded these events. These venues would afford us a bird’s-eye view of the topless hippie chicks and rowdy motorcycle gang’s ungoverned Roman Holiday bliss! It was also part of our learning lessons from time to time to come to understand the sentences for encroaching upon the lines of territorial boundaries and how these could also invite grave consequences, quite literally!


My elder sister of two years, Debora Lynn Chaffee was a kind soul and at two years older than I, she would become a brief but strong influence in my mid-teenage years. She allowed me to drive her little MG all the way down to San Diego on a weekend at fifteen, as she knew I’d need to practice to get my drivers license. Little did I know that she had fallen into a bad crowd and the San Diego trip would be our last.

I think it was on this trip that she had somehow contracted infectious hepatitis, as she was a thin and frail girl with a million dollar smile who was just beginning to see her potential. I remember that Sunday morning as if it were yesterday. I’d returned home from a sleep over at a buddy’s house and was walking up the front walk to my front door. I could see my oldest sister Karen standing on the porch,…crying? As I approached, the air became still and there was an impending doom that lingered in this absence of sound. The next ticks of tock seemed to all unfold in slow motion. The words…“Debbie died last night” appeared to be rolling off of Karen’s lips but, they fell silent. I could only see her lips moving, I couldn’t hear the words…I didn’t want to hear the words!

Oh…lord how could this be…was this all being imagined? There wasn’t any sound…maybe it’s just being imagined, I’d thought? Maybe this was just a bad dream? But no…no…then the sound reached my ears and my mind was introduced to the totality that offered the affirmation that my sister was dead. The finality of death is so abrupt, that I don’t believe we are equipped to fully process it in the immediate moments after being informed. It takes time for this new reality to become fully appreciated and fathom the fact that someone dear to you has moved on without a word spoken or a forwarding address to write to or a telephone number to call or…?.It requires us to be reintroduced time and again over the course of months and years in order to formulate concordances of reckoning, that those who are gone are never going to walk through that front door again! It takes time to come to an understanding for the absolute “terms of death” and to fully comprehend it’s finality!

Finality…yes!…it is so abruptly final…and forever empty. I suppose this may have prepared me somewhat for the loss of my younger brother some years later, as this polishing of our emotional capacity shapes the lenses from which we peer into our realities. It would be from these lenses in viewing life and the examples of “rewards” and “consequences” that I came to develop my opinions for the views behind one set of inquisitive eyes.

Throughout my school years with dyslexia and in combination with the self imposed disrepair perceived by my socioeconomic conditions, I justified in my own mind the manifestations of an illusionary “self”. I was blind to the source of my rebellious behaviors because the heart of my soul was temporarily blind to my cosmic responsibilities and wasn’t prepared for the brutality in life. Such exposures may have help me to justify a belief that the only defense is a strong offense and head butting was fair play. Whatever it was that set my way-point concordance, I believe it was purposeful to my journey in life, I choose the reactionary path of logic that would offer me the results of such choosing, and this I would own! We can often turn a blind eye to the freedom of choice thus allowing ourselves to be momentarily rid of the responsibilities for balancing our conscious awareness. The reality is that rewards and consequences come from our choices and how we choose to balance the freedom of reason in making those choices will be the determining factor in what may come from the results of our choices.

The Eye Opener…

One night, while standing unsuspectingly in front of a typical 1970’s San Fernando Valley Friday night “open” party a muzzle flash erupted and broke the calm in the distant darkness! A ranch house’s exposed long gravel driveway introduced the eminence of associated mortal risk in partaking in such a lifestyle!

Although at that moment the rapid secession of flashes failed to broadcast any need for urgency, in a nanosecond latter the 1,250 fps velocity of the lead projectiles from the 9mm pistol penetrated the trunk of the parked Rivera that was located next to me and my small group of gathered brothers. As hot pieces of searing metal and shattered paint ricocheted off of the car’s trunk an abundance of flying sparks were magnified in the reflections in the Rivera’s polished chrome bumper!

It was at such a moment…that time just seemed to take on a different form of progression in the span between the second hand’s ticks-to-tock!

Das Augenblick…

Some refer to this as an undressing of one’s subjective mindful reality, which eclipses any appreciation for what takes place between the blinking. In the lull of the metal penetrating gunfire, I and a small group of boys who thought of themselves as men, came to terms with new conditions for living the dream in a boy’s mind. A new understanding for how easily one could become a finalist in just the time that had elapsed between the; blinking of an eye, Das Augenblick! For after all, this was a life or death calling and if by chance the latter unfolded, what then would be said of one’s uniqueness?

Having reached the legal age of eighteen years old, I and a small sampling of my childhood brethren, on that night, in that space, made the decisive giant leap to challenge our world’s perceptions!

To Be Continued…

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Writing with the Veiled…