I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on New Year's Eve, a scant eighty minutes prior to 1966. As fate would have it, my father was a bartender and was scheduled to work that night, usually the busiest of the year. Short on tip money but long on pride, he demanded the finest obstetrician in Omaha and I was brought into this world kicking and screaming, the second son of Patrick Michael and Jill Emma Marie Sparks, in a family that would include an additional child (a daughter) the following year.
My family: (mom and dad, Micah (b. Dec. 1964) and Danielle (b. Dec. 1966) led a largely nomadic life in the beginning. Our father was still a student, working to get into a master's program, and he was eventually accepted to the University of Minnesota. I spent two years there and my memory of the place is limited. I had a dog named Pepper, a cardboard-box train I liked to sit in, and I remember picking bugs off the grille of the moving van when we finally left for Los Angeles in the summer of 1969.
Los Angeles -- my home for the next four years while my father worked toward his Ph.D. at the University of Southern California -- is also fairly shadowy. I remember getting hit in the head with a brick thrown by an eighteen-year-old thug, learning to ride a bike (losing only one tooth in the process), and unfortunately, watching my pet turtle commit suicide by diving off our second-floor patio. In 1973, I went to Grand Island, Nebraska for a year with my mom (and brother Micah and sister Danielle) while my dad finished his thesis; then we all reunited in Fair Oaks, California, on December 1, 1974. I remember very clearly that Kolchak: The Night Stalker was on television the moment we arrived at our new house. Perhaps that's why I seem to associate Darrin McGavin with my adopted hometown.
(Quick side-bar: because my father was a student until I was nine years old and my mother didn't work, we weren't exactly living the high life when I was little. I grew up on powdered milk and ate tons of potatoes, though to be honest, I never noticed how poor we really were until I was old enough to take an honest appraisal of things. Even then, it didn't matter. For the most part, I had a wonderful childhood and wouldn't change a thing.)
Anyway, elementary school was fun, if a bit stressful at times. My third-grade teacher had flaming red hair, a big round face, and a fondness for Nile green evening dresses that draped her rather large body. I flunked my first English test, but since my papier-mache volcano spewed purple lava (baking soda, vinegar, and food coloring), my creativity was deemed sufficiently impressive for me to continue up the educational ladder.
The rest of my childhood was typical. Bike riding, exploring in the woods, playing in the American River, games with other kids in the neighborhood. Nothing special, nothing tragic. Just the life of an average little kid.
High school was when things started to get interesting. For some reason, my brain kicked into high gear when I was fourteen and I didn't receive a grade lower than an A for the next four years. I ended up the valedictorian but couldn't give the commencement address. I was due in Los Angeles (again) for the state track meet. I broke a number of school and meet records during high school and received a full track scholarship to the University of Notre Dame. All this in addition to working thirty hours a week at a local restaurant. Life was busy in high school, but good. Darn good. Then, as it often seems to, my life took a U-turn and things got tough. During my freshman year in college, I got injured, went a little insane, and after breaking the Notre Dame record in the 4 x 800 relay (at the Drake relays -- a record that still stands), I spent the summer icing my Achilles tendon. During those three months, in which I was instructed not to run at all, I moped around the house until my mom got tired of it.
"Don't just pout," she said, "Do something"
"What?" I asked, not bothering to hide my sulking.
"I don't know. Write a book."
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