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Pat was born in 1946 in a Navy hospital in Glenview, Illinois. As with a lot of military kids, he got used to moving a lot. "There's a whole syndrome to that," he says. "You learn how to be superficially pleasant enough to make friends quickly, since you need to make new ones every couple of years. I was your classic nerd as a kid, so I got picked on, and every time we'd move, it would be a clean slate and the possibility things would be better."
His younger brother and noted surf musician Matt recalls, "While the rest of us were reading comic books, Pat was reading Popular Mechanics and studying the scientific method. He actually devised a logical approach to cleaning our bedroom, dividing it into quadrants to make the work more methodical and efficient, while my approach was, 'How do I get out of doing any of this?'"
There were innumerable good sides to having a nerdy brother. When the little 78 RPM record player broke, Pat, age 7, disassembled and fixed it. When he was around 12, he built a working, gravity-powered roller coaster in the family's rambling back yard, which produced a pleasing "whoopa whoopa whoopa" sound as kids plunged into the unknown.
This was sometime after 1957, when General Quilter was first stationed at El Toro, and the family lived off-base on a sprawling four-lot property in Emerald Bay, with a knotty-pine ranch house, swimming pool and kid-swallowing wilderness area. It was paradise compared to some of the places they had been stationed.
Pat and Matt attended Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, which in those days meant a trip through the countryside and bean fields on two-lane roads, with only a couple of traffic signals to slow things down.
The two did a lot together. "Pat was probably the greatest brother ever," Matt says. "My friends and I were just a bunch of knuckleheads, but Pat, who was three years older, was always there for us. He was always the smartest kid in the room, and at the time, if you were a little different, you got picked on, and he really didn't have friends his own age. But he was a hero to us. It seemed like he could make or fix anything and could always show us better ways of doing something."
It wasn't until another military move brought the family to Hawaii that Pat began feeling comfortable with his peers. He enrolled at Punahou Academy, one of the top prep schools in the nation (and where Barry Obama attended 15 years later).
"It was my first school where an appreciable segment of the student body were willing to admit they were studying for college, as opposed to just enduring prison for young people," Pat says. "The idea that you could be smart and even relish it was an eye-opener and allowed me to blossom."
He was still a boy apart in many ways. While Pat was enjoying the Beach Boys and Beatles with one ear, he was busy combing thrift shops for 1920s and 1930s jazz records, which he'd come to love as a kid when he heard the music in old cartoons and Laurel and Hardy shorts. So, while everyone else, including Matt, was taking up the electric guitar, Pat hunkered down with a four-string banjo, studying Paul Whiteman 78s.
Physics had been his favorite science course, so he picked that as his college major, "without realizing college physics was way more theoretical and esoteric than the hands-on stuff I was interested in," he recalls. "I shifted to engineering, and it was full of tiresome calculations about girder stress and so forth. Meanwhile, my aunt found a 1920s table radio someone was throwing out. I got it going and figured a way to play my records through it. Then I got interested in making a portable, so I studied transistors and batteries on my own and made an early boom box."
College wasn't half as interesting as he thought it would be, so he dropped out. By then, the Quilter family was living on the base at El Toro. He and his brother had it better than most of the teens there. Some had fathers who were Great Santini types; it was all "yes, sir; no, sir," and they'd make the kids stand at attention as their rooms were inspected.
"I knew a lot of Marine fathers who were classic jarheads, very strict, and politically and philosophically rigid," Pat says. "While my father was a staunch Catholic and thoughtfully conservative, he was always willing to listen to us. I'm sure we were something of a disappointment to him, with our derelictions, drug use and all that, but he never cut us off like a lot of Marine fathers would have, especially the higher-ups where their reputations might be at stake. All the other guys made sure their kids got military crew cuts, while we were running around with long hair. He occasionally got heat for it, but I think he took a secret pride in saying, 'What does it matter if they're not robbing banks?'"