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The boy lived with women.
"Why don't we watch Rat Patrol tonight?" he would ask.
"Lawrence Welk," his mother would reply. "It's my time for the television. We have to share."
The boy would understand. He seemed to understand a lot. There were seven women in the house. His mother and six sisters. Three sisters were older, three younger, and he was the only male on the cramped premises. His father, also named Harold Warren Moon, had died from liver and heart ailments when the boy was seven. Nothing had been the same since. How many people had informed him of the obvious fact that "you're the man of the house now"? His mother disliked the phrase, thinking it put too much pressure on a kid with enough pressures already in his path. But the boy simply "took it on, full bore," as Moon would say later. "Probably I even went too far."
He didn't have to look any farther than the other side of the kitchen table, where his mother sat, to find his role model. Pat Moon's husband, a janitor, was 37 when he died. She was left with all of these kids, ranging in age from two to 17. Her family was back in Atlanta, the city that she and Harold—she called her husband Harold and her son Warren—had left years earlier for the more promising environment of California. Should she return to Atlanta? The promise of California, she decided, still remained. The pursuit was simply a little tougher.
She already had started classes to become a practical nurse, and now she accelerated her schedule. Welfare helped her finish school, and then she had a job, working those hellish late-night shifts that nurses must work, that helped her raise her family. The neighborhood bordered on Watts, where, in 1965, the National Guard, with machine guns mounted on armored personnel carriers, would be poised at a gas station only three blocks away. But life inside the house was as middle-class as Pat Moon could make it.
She was up when her kids left for school, home fixing dinner when they returned. The chores were assigned on a schedule, everyone sharing. Older kids helped raise the younger kids. Everyone worked at odd jobs. Money was saved for trips to Disneyland and to the museums and to the ballet and the beach and even the odd athletic event. Pat Moon wanted her kids to have the same advantages as any other kids, even if the advantages weren't as freely dispersed.
The boy learned to cook and sew and iron and clean house. To this day he cannot do the "man" things, working under the hood of a car or fixing plumbing or electrical problems, but he can bake three dozen cookies with ease. That was what he did, the high school star quarterback, on the eve of every big game: bake cookies and hand them out to his sisters.
Outside the house he worked at a succession of jobs and played every sport possible. He worked as a paperboy. He worked in restaurants. He even worked in high school as a clerk for the Veterans Administration. He played in the Pop Warner League up in Baldwin Hills, where the richer kids lived, the sons of Ray Charles and Tina Turner and Ram running back Dick Bass. He also played in his neighborhood. He played hide-and-seek. He built soapbox racers from shopping carts. He played in an electronic football league, the little men buzzing along the game board. He covered his fullback with adhesive tape for added size. He learned to make the little spring-action quarterback throw a spiral with the white cotton ball.
Football was his main game. He decided that early. He looked at his mother and older sisters and decided that he wouldn't grow tall enough to be a pro basketball player. Baseball seemed to be a bore. He decided that he could play only one sport in high school because he had to work the rest of the year to help the family, and the sport would be football. Quarterback would be the position. He had discovered that he could throw a football longer, harder and straighter than anyone he knew. He would take that arm all the way to the pros. That was his goal.