OK, OK, so I flunked map reading. Maybe that's why the U.S. Navy took me out of dive bombers, where I had to do my own navigating, and put me in transports which came equipped with a live navigator. One of them must have told me--and I believed him all these years--that Manus Island is in the Philippines instead of the Admiralty Islands, of which I have been reminded frequently and with some glee this past week. (One unsigned card said, "When did they move Manus from the Admiralty Islands to the Philippines? Incidentally, of all the Naval aviators I ever knew, you are the only one who is a pinko.")
Geography aside, there have been some interesting and thoughtful reactions from readers about my long auto trip and subsequent columns. The piece on being a liberal in Orange County attracted the most mail, mostly from people who were feeling very lonely Out There. Lisa Kaye of Irvine wrote: "You are not alone. It amazes me that there are over 400,000 Democrats in Orange County. Sometimes I think we are all in hiding."
An uneasy convert who concluded her letter "Unsigned for Obvious Reasons" wrote: "I am a registered Republican and have become more and more liberal as the years go by. My children, also Orange County residents who were raised during my 'conservative' years, now consider me almost radical. . . . While I feel a certain amount of guilt about remaining in the political closet . . . since I am nominally one of 'them,' my ideas are given consideration (and) I pride myself that some conversations may even have changed a few minds."
And Teddi Alves of Huntington Beach chided me--in a long letter--for "what I consider the cardinal sin of 'journalism,' the expectation that someone (else) will do the work for you. Why haven't you become involved?"
There was a delightful letter from novelist, journalist, former press secretary for Hubert Humphrey and ex-RAF pilot Dan Brennan of Huntington Beach about my column on my stepson's desire to remain 11 years old. Wrote Brennan: "I wanted to stay 9, and I told my mother I never wanted to get any older. It came from a glorious summer playing war with lead soldiers and flying WWI model airplanes in the neighborhood vacant lot--a huge lot on an avenue filled with three-story brick and wooden houses, replete with big porches. . . . Ten years later, I was helping carry dead and wounded out of RAF bombers and later B-17s. . . . Where are the vacant lots of yesteryear?"
Where, indeed? And the rubber guns and swimming holes and pickup baseball games free of parents and uniforms. And coffee cigarettes and movie serials and contemplating life from a front-porch swing?
The open letter to former President Jimmy Carter also brought a variety of thoughtful responses. Mrs. R.L. Crow of Seal Beach wrote: "I feel exactly as you do about Jimmy Carter and wish I could have written him as you did. I'm so glad your family attended his Sunday school class and that you wrote about it in the L.A. Times so that hundreds of us could share your pleasure in his talk. . . . I have felt that he and Rosalynn have really been ridiculed and looked down on by too many residents of our county who never did appreciate their many wonderful characteristics."
And Wiley B. Burnes of Westminster wrote: "Your open letter on the Jimmy Carter Bible class . . . sounded a lot like me some years ago. I had the same difficulty with what I felt was the simplicity of black-and-white Christianity. The person who helped me most was C.S. Lewis. He was a professor at Oxford and in his earlier years an agnostic. He traveled a hard road in what he called his 'spiritual quest' and one of the best little books anywhere is his 'Mere Christianity.'
"Let me urge you to pick it up. . . . It's fun reading from a philosophical view (and) it helped me immensely with that 'terribly uneasy' feeling."
Bob Johnson of Corona del Mar offered a temperate and well-reasoned argument for homeowner groups in response to my column about the South Laguna resident who is being forced to cut down her trees. Wrote Johnson: "Your article . . . seemed to skirt over the reason why the community association wanted Mrs. Trudeau to remove her trees. I think it is obvious that the trees in question were some kind of nuisance to the views of (her) neighbors. Your article seemed to be in sympathy with her, but what about those who have seen their ocean views, something that many homeowners in this area also treasure, eroded slowly by the growing trees?
"We in Jasmine Creek have a similar problem with some unfeeling and unfriendly adjacent property owners who maintain trees and bushes in violation of their own community regulations and block our view to the ocean. You would be surprised--and, I suspect, ashamed--of these people who insist that all trees blocking their views be trimmed, but refuse to trim their own for anyone else's benefit.