Chapter 1: Mr. Toshihiro Watterson

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A Toshihiro Watterson Mystery

BY

Douglas Moran

CHAPTER ONE

Mr. Toshihiro Watterson

I suppose it's not that big a shock when a military brat signs up for the military (although my Mom wasn't too keen on me joining the Marines).  But it is a bit of a shocker, I think, when that Marine is invalided out of the Corps and ends up at the left-wing haven of Santa Cruz.

I graduated from high school in the San Francisco East Bay in 1981, my diploma and my 18th birthday pretty much arriving simultaneously.  I wanted to go to college immediately, but my Dad had struggled with work and money somewhat since leaving from the Navy, so I decided to take the government up on the their offer of some college money and training for a 2-year hitch.

Unfortunately, while many of my brothers and sisters got covered in glory and medals in the next two years, for me it was nothing but disaster.  Hit by an explosion during a nasty piece of off-the-record work, the shrapnel caught me pretty bad. (Even now, years later, I never know what's going to ache more from day to day—my leg or my shoulder. It's a good excuse to carry a sword-cane, though.)  I probably wouldn't have even made it out of that damn Central American jungle if not for the corpsman, Murray, who slung me on his back and hauled me out of there to the LZ for evac.

The government decided that a jarhead with chronic pain and PTSD was not worth the rehabilitation time, so they eased me out.  I was close enough to the end of my hitch anyway by the time I got out of the hospital that I got the full college package that they promised.  (I know lots of guys have gotten the shaft in similar situations; I got lucky.)

Despite my good high school GPA, solid college board scores, and military experience, Berkeley didn't want me, or at least not right away.  They were, yeah, a little too liberal for me, but they were close, an excellent school, and I wanted to be an electrical engineer like old Dad.  But the competition for slots at Berkeley in the Engineering school was fierce, and anything less than a 4.0 and 1400 on your SATs just didn’t cut it.  Berkeley offered me what at the time I considered the Booby Prize:  a “redirect” to UC Santa Cruz (then chronically under-enrolled), where if I spent the first two years getting the pre-requisite classes out of the way (Chemistry, Calculus, Physics, and such), they would accept me as a Junior transfer.

Santa Cruz?  I was a former Marine and military brat!  Back in 1983, Santa Cruz was even more whacked than Berkeley (if you can believe it)!  What the heck would I do in Santa Cruz?  But it was a nice town, farther away than Berkeley, yes—down on the Central Coast, about 60 minutes south of San Francisco—but still reasonably close to my Dad (and Mom in The City, who had left a few years previously), so I decided to give it a shot.  Besides, banged up and stressed out as I was, I thought some relaxing time spent in a beach town might be a good idea.  Hell, I could always learn to surf.  

Besides: I had always had my weird, unusual side.  Not your typical Marine, by any stretch.  I read science fiction; I like Star Trek; I may have lettered in swimming and soccer, but I also spent time in the computer lab and doing musicals with the drama club.  I was an odd duck. And Santa Cruz is in many ways ground zero of Weird.  The town clock isn't set to the right time.  Progressives and Socialists, with a capital “P” and capital “S”—that was their official party designation!—were in charge of the city council.  They had no football team.  No sororities or fraternities.  The student body (and the athletes) stubbornly stuck with what had been the unofficial mascot up until the Chancellor arbitrarily picked “sea lions”: the banana slug. Maybe I would feel at home there.  ”Freaks of a feather flock together,” as a girlfriend once told me.

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