When I was ten, I imagined Zorro riding up and down the street in front of our house, protecting the rights of chubby chatterboxes like me. The Fifties were over, and Zorro had been a perfect hero for an era that saw things in black and white. Television, the magical mesmerizer of our childhood, had showed us a world rich with the fullest spectrum of gray...but color was coming.
My family lived on Briarwood Drive, fifty miles south of San Francisco, just off the old El Camino Real in the quiet community of Santa Clara, smack in the center of what would later be called the Silicon Valley. Housing developers had a decade earlier named our neighborhood Kilarney Park, but it ended up attracting few Scottish families and more Mexican ones.
In 1962 a carnival set up in the parking lot of the new shopping center built over a bulldozed orchard a few blocks from where we lived. My best friend Ricky Delgado wanted to test his mettle on The Hammer, one of the more intimidating rides, but his courage needed time to percolate. While we waited, we threw dimes at stacks of colored bric-a-brac. To my surprise, one of my dimes landed me a prize. The carnie handed me a plastic kaleidoscope. It was twice the size of a tube of lipstick, had a chain so it could be worn from a belt loop, and on the side it said: Made in Japan.
I was too occupied with the protocols of launching my best friend into space on The Hammer to check out my prize then and there, but the next day I squinted into the kaleidoscope’s tiny peep-hole and saw colors more beautiful than I could imagine, fractured planes of color that constantly shifted and reassembled when I twisted the plastic lens. I recall my expectation that the shapes and colors would come together like a puzzle, revealing something fantastic. For me, at least, color had come to Briarwood Drive. My life would never be the same.
Maybe Zorro got jealous of all that color and struck a fatal “Z” into the kaleidoscope because it didn’t outlast the summer. Tiny pieces of colored plastic rained down into the cuffs of my Junior Husky jeans. I’ve peered through many kaleidoscopes since then, and I’ve come to think of those fractures of shimmering color as the people and experiences of my life. When I twist the kaleidoscope in my mind, I look for the ever-changing fragments that converge into a portrait of my childhood.
I’m still looking….