Thursday, December 11, 2008

The clapper

I couldn't resist posting a link to this hilarious video (completely safe for work):

The Free Market Clapper

And here's another one from the same author:

State-Run Sacrament


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

My Halloween debut with Two-Bit Eddie

As reported on Oct. 6, I've begun playing keyboards with a Nashville classic rock band, "Two-Bit Eddie." I'm the hippy face peeking out between the werewolf (John, our bassist) and drummer Jim (with the fake knife sticking out of his head). Our lead guitarist, Stin, is dressed as Jed Clampett and standing on the left holding the knife. Norm, our leader and lead singer, is dressed as a Wall Street banker (what could be scarier than that?) standing in the rear.

My debut was Halloween (10-31-08) at the Charlotte Pike VFW. I videotaped the event and was surprised at how good the sound came out. Here are a few highlights. You'll need to install Quicktime (a free download from Apple) in order to view the videos.

What'd I Say (where I am introduced)

The band has gotten tighter with each subsequent practice, and we're learning a ton of new songs. Soon we'll have enough songs to play for three or four gigs without a repeat. We play next on Friday, Dec. 12 at the VFW (7220 Charlotte Pike) from 8 to midnight, and we also play there again for New Year's Eve. If you're in Nashville, c'mon by and see us! There's no cover charge, and although the club does allow smoking, the ventilation is very good.

The Story of Stuff

I highly recommend that you watch The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard. It's a 20 minute film that will leave you questioning how long we can sustain our current way of life.

Here are some ways in which we can become better global citizens:

Many people who have seen The Story of Stuff have asked what they can do to address the problems identified in the film.

Each of us can promote sustainability and justice at multiple levels: as an individual, as a teacher or parent, a community member, a national citizen, and as a global citizen. As Annie says in the film, “the good thing about such an all pervasive problem is that there are so many points of intervention.” That means that there are lots and lots of places to plug in, to get involved, and to make a difference. There is no single simple thing to do, because the set of problems we’re addressing just isn’t simple. But everyone can make a difference, but the bigger your action the bigger the difference you’ll make. Here are some ideas:

10 Little and Big Things You Can Do

  1. Power down! A great deal of the resources we use and the waste we create is in the energy we consume. Look for opportunities in your life to significantly reduce energy use: drive less, fly less, turn off lights, buy local seasonal food (food takes energy to grow, package, store and transport), wear a sweater instead of turning up the heat, use a clothesline instead of a dryer, vacation closer to home, buy used or borrow things before buying new, recycle. All these things save energy and save you money. And, if you can switch to alternative energy by supporting a company that sells green energy to the grid or by installing solar panels on your home, bravo!
  2. Waste less. Per capita waste production in the U.S. just keeps growing. There are hundreds of opportunities each day to nurture a Zero Waste culture in your home, school, workplace, church, community. This takes developing new habits which soon become second nature. Use both sides of the paper, carry your own mugs and shopping bags, get printer cartridges refilled instead of replaced, compost food scraps, avoid bottled water and other over packaged products, upgrade computers rather than buying new ones, repair and mend rather than replace….the list is endless! The more we visibly engage in re-use over wasting, the more we cultivate a new cultural norm, or actually, reclaim an old one!
  3. Talk to everyone about these issues. At school, your neighbors, in line at the supermarket, on the bus…A student once asked Cesar Chavez how he organized. He said, “First, I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” “No,” said the student, “how do you organize?” Chavez answered, “First I talk to one person. Then I talk to another person.” You get the point. Talking about these issues raises awareness, builds community and can inspire others to action.
  4. Make Your Voice Heard. Write letters to the editor and submit articles to local press. In the last two years, and especially with Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, the media has been forced to write about Climate Change. As individuals, we can influence the media to better represent other important issues as well. Letters to the editor are a great way to help newspaper readers make connections they might not make without your help. Also local papers are often willing to print book and film reviews, interviews and articles by community members. Let’s get the issues we care about in the news.
  5. DeTox your body, DeTox your home, and DeTox the Economy. Many of today’s consumer products – from children’s pajamas to lipstick – contain toxic chemical additives that simply aren’t necessary. Research online (for example, before you buy to be sure you’re not inadvertently introducing toxics into your home and body. Then tell your friends about toxics in consumer products. Together, ask the businesses why they’re using toxic chemicals without any warning labels. And ask your elected officials why they are permitting this practice. The European Union has adopted strong policies that require toxics to be removed from many products. So, while our electronic gadgets and cosmetics have toxics in them, people in Europe can buy the same things toxics-free. Let’s demand the same thing here. Getting the toxics out of production at the source is the best way to ensure they don’t get into any home and body.
  6. Unplug (the TV and internet) and Plug In (the community). The average person in the U.S. watches T.V. over 4 hours a day. Four hours per day filled with messages about stuff we should buy. That is four hours a day that could be spent with family, friends and in our community. On-line activism is a good start, but spending time in face-to-face civic or community activities strengthens the community and many studies show that a stronger community is a source of social and logistical support, greater security and happiness. A strong community is also critical to having a strong, active democracy.
  7. Park your car and walk…and when necessary MARCH! Car-centric land use policies and life styles lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, fossil fuel extraction, conversion of agricultural and wildlands to roads and parking lots. Driving less and walking more is good for the climate, the planet, your health, and your wallet. But sometimes we don’t have an option to leave the car home because of inadequate bike lanes or public transportation options. Then, we may need to march, to join with others to demand sustainable transportation options. Throughout U.S. history, peaceful non-violent marches have played a powerful role in raising awareness about issues, mobilizing people, and sending messages to decision makers.
  8. Change your lightbulbs…and then, change your paradigm. Changing lightbulbs is quick and easy. Energy efficient lightbulbs use 75% less energy and last 10 times longer than conventional ones. That's a no-brainer. But changing lightbulbs is just tinkering at the margins of a fundamentally flawed system unless we also change our paradigm. A paradigm is a collection of assumptions, concepts, beliefs, and values that together make up a community’s way of viewing reality. Our current paradigm dictates that more stuff is better, that infinite economic growth is desirable and possible, and that pollution is the price of progress. To really turn things around, we need to nurture a different paradigm based on the values of sustainability, justice, health, and community.
  9. Recycle your trash…and, recycle your elected officials. Recycling saves energy and reduces both waste and the pressure to harvest and mine new stuff. Unfortunately, many cities still don’t have adequate recycling systems in place. In that case you can usually find some recycling options in the phone book to start recycling while you’re pressuring your local government to support recycling city-wide. Also, many products – for example, most electronics - are designed not to be recycled or contain toxics so recycling is hazardous. In these cases, we need to lobby government to prohibit toxics in consumer products and to enact Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, as is happening in Europe. EPR is a policy which holds producers responsible for the entire lifecycle of their products, so that electronics company who use toxics in their products, have to take them back. That is a great incentive for them to get the toxics out!
  10. Buy Green, Buy Fair, Buy Local, Buy Used, and most importantly, Buy Less. Shopping is not the solution to the environmental problems we currently face because the real changes we need just aren’t for sale in even the greenest shop. But, when we do shop, we should ensure our dollars support businesses that protect the environment and worker rights. Look beyond vague claims on packages like “all natural” to find hard facts. Is it organic? Is it free of super-toxic PVC plastic? When you can, buy local products from local stores, which keeps more of our hard earned money in the community. Buying used items keeps them out of the trash and avoids the upstream waste created during extraction and production. But, buying less may be the best option of all. Less pollution. Less Waste. Less time working to pay for the stuff. Sometimes, less really is more.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Two-Bit Eddie

I began rehearsing with Two-Bit Eddie in October 2008 and expect to begin playing out with the band sometime in November.

I first heard the band at an outdoor concert in Hendersonville, TN. I was impressed by their "deep tracks" classic rock repertoire and their tight, snappy arrangements that were obviously well-rehearsed.

These guys are all seasoned pros with world-class talents who have families & day jobs like I do. I'm excited about re-entering the professional music world after a long hiatus as well as making new friends who care about the music as much as I do.

Stin, Norm, John and Jim

Click here to see their current list of songs.

Click here to see a video of Hold On, I'm Comin'. Here are four more of their songs you can listen to:

Of course, these will all sound different in a few weeks when I add my keyboards and vocal harmonies to the mix.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Extra Pounds Mean Fees in Alabama

Extra Pounds Mean Fees in Alabama

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Alabama, pushed to second in national obesity rankings by deep-fried Southern favorites, is cracking down on state workers who are too fat.

The state has given its 37,527 employees a year to start getting fit — or they'll pay $25 a month for insurance that otherwise is free.

Alabama will be the first state to charge overweight state workers who don't work on slimming down, while a handful of other states reward employees who adopt healthy behaviors.
Alabama already charges workers who smoke — and has seen some success in getting them to quit — but now has turned its attention to a problem that plagues many in the Deep South: obesity.

The State Employees' Insurance Board this week approved a plan to charge state workers starting in January 2010 if they don't have free health screenings.

If the screenings turn up serious problems with blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose or obesity, employees will have a year to see a doctor at no cost, enroll in a wellness program, or take steps on their own to improve their health. If they show progress in a follow-up screening, they won't be charged. But if they don't, they must pay starting in January 2011.


Editorial comment:
It infuriates me that the state of Alabama implies that fat people cost the state money and therefore must be penalized. How about diabetics? How about people with cancer? How about people with disabilities (mental and physical)? Should they remove the wheelchair-friendly curbs and stop allowing access to public places for people who can't climb stairs? It obviously costs the state money to provide those accommodations - and they only do it because of the ADA Act. But the point is that once you get started on this kind of thinking, you can't really stop.

I think it would be more useful for the state to concentrate on the things that mitigate toward health or un-health. Of course, right away they would discover that inequalities in income and education lead to inequalities in health outcomes. So maybe the state would be better off tackling the underlying problems of income inequality and poor education.

But it's easier for them to deride fat people than to tackle the real problems of society. Besides, many fat people already hate themselves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Don Helms, 1927-2008

Don Helms, the last surviving member of Hank Williams band, the Drifting Cowboys, died yesterday of complications following recent heart bypass surgery.

I had the privilege of a casual conversation with with Don in May 2000 during intermission from a benefit concert in Lafayette, TN. I was playing keyboards for Leroy Van Dyke, and he was accompanying Jett Williams, Hank's daughter.

In less than a month I would return to the white collar workforce, and Don would go on to finish his illustrious career as "the dean of Nashville musicians," as Marty Stuart puts it.

But for a few precious minutes on the steps of Macon County high school eight years ago, Don Helms and I were equals, relaxing together from our jobs as sidemen. It is a memory I shall treasure for the rest of my days.

My good friend Jerry Webb played with Don for ten years (see Jerry's MySpace page). Folks like Don & Jerry make me glad I made the move to Music City ten years ago.

Here's the article from today's Nashville Tennessean:

August 12, 2008

Steel guitarist put lonely in Hank, Patsy classics

Staff Writer

Don Helms 1927-2008

Don Helms, whose lonesome steel guitar graced some of country music's most important and enduring records, died Monday at Skyline Medical Center after suffering a heart attack. Mr. Helms was 81.
"In my mind, he was the dean of Nashville musicians," singer-songwriter Marty Stuart said. "He served at the foundational level for the family of country music."

Mr. Helms was the last remaining member of Hank Williams' original Drifting Cowboys band, and he played integral parts on Williams classics, including "Cold, Cold Heart," "Your Cheatin' Heart" and "I Can't Help It (If I'm Still in Love With You)." After Williams' 1953 death, Mr. Helms played on notable recordings such as Patsy Cline's "Walkin' After Midnight," Lefty Frizzell's "Long Black Veil" and Stonewall Jackson's "Waterloo."

"Nobody was better respected and loved than him," said Lloyd Green, like Mr. Helms a member of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. "There weren't a lot of stylists who were inimitable, and he certainly was. And he never lost any skills: Throughout his life, he played exactly like he did in the 1940s and '50s."

Mr. Helms often played introductions and solos to songs high up on the neck of his steel, and the result was an emotionally direct sound that cut through the mix of the song and allowed his playing to serve as a kind of duet with the lead singer.

He showcased that playing on stages throughout his life, bringing his 1948 Gibson Console Grand to thousands of shows, and he was at home playing the historic Ryman Auditorium or Robert's Western World across the alley.

In performance, he would treat audiences to instrumental versions of songs by Williams, Cline and others, and listeners left with the understanding that Mr. Helms' playing was not merely an adornment to those recordings. Take the steel away, and the impact of the song would be irrevocably compromised.

"He kept that same steel under his bed," said Stuart, who with wife Connie Smith frequently visited with Mr. Helms and his wife of more than 60 years, Hazel. "I'd go get that guitar and hand him his picks and he'd play 'Walkin' After Midnight' and 'Cold, Cold Heart' and just freeze me to death. When he was through, you realized, 'There wouldn't be this part of country music if it hadn't been for Don Helms.' "

He fell in love with sound
Mr. Helms was born in New Brockton, Ala., and as a child he fell in love with the sound of the steel guitar.

Each Friday he listened to the Grand Ole Opry to hear the steel players, and he was inspired to play after hearing a performance by Alabama native Pappy Neal McCormick.

"He was playing that thing and I thought, 'Man, what a way to have fun. What a way to make a living,' " Mr. Helms told author Colin Escott.

At 15, Mr. Helms purchased an electrified steel guitar from Sears, though the farm where he lived had no electricity. To practice, the teenager had to flip a washtub over and place the steel on the tub: The washtub resonated enough for the steel to be heard. When Mr. Helms joined Hank Williams' band at age 18, he was happy to play clubs with power outlets.

A year after joining up with Williams, Mr. Helms was drafted into the Army. Upon his return to civilian life, he turned down a chance to join Williams on the Louisiana Hayride show but became a Drifting Cowboy again in 1949, after Williams became a Grand Ole Opry star. In less than four years, Williams would be dead, but in that time Mr. Helms established himself as an instrumental force onstage and in the studio.

"Don was very honest about those times, but also very sentimental," said Country Music Hall of Fame Instrument Curator Bill Lloyd, who interviewed Mr. Helms in 2006 for the Hall's Nashville Cats series. "When he would tell stories about Hank, he'd sometimes well up with emotion."

He played Hank till end
His recordings with Williams would be enough to secure Mr. Helms' legend, yet he remained active in music throughout his life. In addition to his studio work, he played in the band of Williams' daughter, Jett Williams, beginning in 1989, and he often performed at steel guitar conventions and at live music shows. Mr. Helms appeared with the Wilburn Brothers (including a stint on the brothers' syndicated television show), Ray Price, Ferlin Husky, Cal Smith and plenty of others. Mr. Helms performed with Hank Williams Jr. as well, and with Williams' grandson, Hank Williams III. In recent years, he played once each month at Robert's Western World, bringing that old Gibson out from under the bed and toting it to Lower Broadway.

"His goal was to keep playing Hank Williams songs until he died," Green said.

In 2005, Mr. Helms joined with Dale Vinicur to write an as-told-to memoir called Settin' the Woods On Fire: Confessions of Hank's Steel Guitar Player. In truth, categorizing Mr. Helms merely as Williams' steel guitarist minimizes his other accomplishments, which include writing songs recorded by Brenda Lee and Hank Williams Jr. Yet the Hank Williams legacy is among country's most vital, and Mr. Helms was pleased to be a crucial part of that legacy. Though his face was in the shadows, his steel guitar was right up front.

"Nobody else played like that," said Country Music Hall of Fame guitarist Harold Bradley. "Anytime anyone does one of those Hank Williams songs, they're going to have to copy what Don did."

On Monday, Stuart grew emotional, thinking not only of Mr. Helms' musical contributions but also of his personal kindnesses.

"He truly was an essential," Stuart said through tears.

Meanwhile, Hank Williams Jr. chose to ponder a reunion rather than a loss.

"The last of the Drifting Cowboys has gone home to heaven," he said. "The heavenly band is now complete."

Saturday, June 28, 2008

My visit to Chicago – May 11, 1992

I recently rediscovered this story tucked in the back of a filing cabinet.

I met Rick “Cookin’” Sherry during the summer of 1991 at Blues Week in Elkins, WV. Blues Week is part of the Augusta Heritage Workshops, which offers adults the opportunity to learn and practice the artistic expression of traditional folk cultures. Students can learn blues, Cajun music, swing dance and crafts including stonemasonry, storytelling, pottery making, weaving and even log home construction.

Rick is a harmonica player from Chicago who formed the acoustic blues trio, “Jukin’ Jake and the Salty Dogs” and whose day job is teaching 8th and 10th grade science. He invited me to visit him if I was ever in town, so I called him when a business trip took me there in May 1992. He lives in “Ukrainian Village” on the South Side near Western & Chicago Avenues. He and his girlfriend Cynthia live in a 2nd floor walk-up, an old building with high ceilings, big windows and a claw foot tub.
It was a pleasant evening. People were talking to their neighbors, and an elderly couple walked past on their way to Mass. Rick and I took off in his little car for the Checkerboard Lounge. As we sped along, the warm wind rushed past and brought the city sounds close to my ears. Off the expressway and deep into the heart of the South Side we plunged. Now I’m a stranger in a strange land. The faces are all black, and mine is white.
We pull up directly across from the Checkerboard. It is 7:30 p.m. and still light outside. The club is dark. I follow Rick closely, deeply conscious of who I am and how far out of my culture I am straying. Music is playing, and that’s enough for me. I’ve read about this place, and now I have a chance to see it for myself. Rick’s friend Paul is on stage with a drummer and singer. He plays an acoustic set on Mondays. Electric blues is all you hear in most clubs these days. We listen to a couple of songs, and then I buy each of us an Old Style, a local brew.
A tall, older man strides into the club. He’s outfitted in white cowboy gear, complete with guns, boots, hat and belt. He slips on a mask as he enters the club, and Rick tells me he’s the Black Lone Ranger. After Rick does his songs, the Black Lone Ranger approaches the stage. Paul, Rick and the drummer back him up. He does “Rock Me Baby” and one other song just like it. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to laugh, applaud or do both. I try to closely observe the audience for cues without appearing to do so. He really is funny as Hell. This is one of those situations in which a foreigner (me) is at a loss. I just try to "do as the Romans do."
After Rick finishes, the MC asks him to come back another night. The Checkerboard is known as a proving ground for new musicians, and it’s a tough audience. Rick’s triumph gets a congratulatory handshake from me. Later I trade cards with and talk for awhile with Hinds. He’s a big tall man with a hat and an accent from Trinidad, his native land. First he traveled to Ontario, then New Orleans, now Chicago. I invited him to call if he comes to D.C. and tell him about the DC Blues Festival on September 12, 1992.

I wish the club had a piano, but I will get to show my chops later, at another club. The MC takes me over to meet a guy sitting in a booth. The greeting is cordial. I have no idea what this means, but I go along with it.
We get up to leave and stop briefly on the sidewalk outside the club. I introduce myself to the drummer. He has a local TV show. I also met Lefty Diz, who was to go on stage next. He told me he doesn’t drink when he’s “on the road.” Says he’s “all business” then.

Rick is waiting at his car. I realize this and begin walking across the street. I hear someone calling for me, following behind, catching up slowly. I decide now’s the time to walk quickly and get in the car. Off we go to a Mexican place.
“Biggest burritos in the world,” they’re advertized, and they are. Next we return to Rick’s apartment to pick up Cynthia and head out to the Hot House.
It’s a Monday night, and Yoko Noge and Clark Dean are playing. She plays boogie, blues and standards on the piano, and he plays soprano sax.

Yoko Noge & Clark Dean

At one point, Yoko, an oriental woman, sings “Georgia on My Mind,” both in English and in Japanese. This is a favorite of the crowd. They ask Rick to get up and play with them. Tony Manguilo is on drums. Tony owns Roses, another bar Rick is playing soon with his trio. This was another triumph for Rick, because Roses is a well-known though newer club in town.
During the break I introduce myself to Clark. I tell him I’m a piano player, and of course I’m invited to get up and play. I start with Boogie Woogie, a guaranteed hit. While I begin, I wonder what I’ll do for a second number. I noodle a bit, and then light into an energetic “Hold It.” Finally I invite Rick up to do “Sloppy Drunk,” a song we did together at Blues Week. We trade verses and instrumental breaks. All the songs generate rousing applause.

Toward the end of the next set, I’m invited up again to join the musicians on stage. Yoko asks me to play four-handed; I take the bass. I play some with her at first, then some alone. Tony on drums, Clark on sax and electric guitar, and Rick on harp. We finish with an inspired “Down Home Chicago.” Then handshakes and business cards are traded. We say goodbye and head home. I have a standing invitation to sit in with Yoko and Clark anytime I’m in Chicago.

Postscript: Rick currently plays with "The Sanctified Grumblers." Check them out, and see them play live next time you're in Chicago!

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Recuperating after knee arthroscopy

I had arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday morning, which went just as expected. After dropping our friend Karen off at the airport, wifie and I drove to the surgery center and waited just a few minutes before the nurse called me back to get prepped. The anesthesiologist started my IV, into which "happy juice" was injected just before they wheeled me back, and quite soon I began to feel very fine. I kissed wifie goodbye, and the next thing I knew I was in recovery with a big ace bandage wrapped around my knee. I vaguely remember asking whether I was still waiting to be taken back to surgery.

I was advised to relax the rest of the weekend, put ice on the knee as needed and take the pain medication I was prescribed as needed. I can bear weight as tolerated and use crutches for support when necessary.

I removed the bandages yesterday afternoon. There were two small incisions each side of the front of my knee with a stitch or two closing each one. There is no pain at all from the incisions.

I'm posting this about 10:30 Saturday morning and have needed the crutches less with each passing day. I go back for a followup appointment Monday afternoon, at which time the doctor will remove the stitches and let me know what if any physical therapy I need.

This year marks my 20th anniversary of beginning Jazzercise, which I look forward to resuming in a few weeks.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Torn meniscus

After recovering from rotator cuff surgery in January, I now discover that my right knee has a torn meniscus.

From "Medically speaking, the 'cartilage' is actually known as the meniscus. The meniscus is a C-shaped piece of fibrocartilage which is located at the peripheral aspect of the joint. The majority of the meniscus has no blood supply. For that reason, when damaged, the meniscus is unable to undergo the normal healing process that occurs in most of the rest of the body. In addition, with age, the meniscus begins to deteriorate, often developing degenerative tears. Typically, when the meniscus is damaged, the torn piece begins to move in an abnormal fashion inside the joint.
Because the space between the bones of the joint is very small, as the abnormally mobile piece of meniscal tissue (meniscal fragment) moves, it may become caught between the bones of the joint (femur and tibia). When this happens, the knee becomes painful, swollen, and difficult to move."
That explains why I've been experiencing pain in my knee upon putting any weight on it, such as when climbing stairs. The good news is that this surgery is done arthoscopically and is very minor as surgeries go. After 48 hours on crutches, I should be able to return to my normal activities.
It's a major relief to finally find out what's wrong and that it is so simple to repair it.
My surgery is set for Thursday, June 5, after which I'll stay home from work until the following Monday, when I should be okay to return to work.
And then sometime later in the summer I should be able to mow my own lawn and eventually return to Jazzercise.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Old B&W pix

Here I am trying to look as cool as possible at age 13.

My Aunt Mildred, mom, mom's mother, sister Mary and me posed in our Easter outfits in the front yard. In the background is the 1962 Cadillac that I got to drive when my mom didn't need it.

Here I am again looking uncool with my sister Mary. The vacant lot behind us has long ago been built on.

Dad, sister Mary, mom & grandmother (mom's mother) on a snowy day. The greenhouse dad built to house his azalea cuttings can be seen in the background.

Here are my dad, mom and sister in the living room.

I am looking as uncool as possible in my bow tie.

This is one of the saddest pictures if you understand the background. This is my grandfather, holding my daughter. He had traveled from Nebraska to attend the funeral of his son, my father, who had died of a heart attack while shaking my hand goodbye on my 25th birthday at age 57 .

Friday, May 09, 2008

Antique farm implements

Prairie Bluestem recently posted a picture of a horse-drawn hay rake, which prompted me to dig back into my own photo archives. In June 2003 I attended a reunion of the O'Rourkes, to whom I am related through my father's mother. Her grandparents immigrated from Ireland to Wisconsin in the mid 1800s, and her parents homesteaded in the sandhill region of northwestern Nebraska in the late 1800s. The reunion was held at RuJoDen, a family ranch south of Chadron, NE where my cousins Jim and Lora O'Rourke maintain a huge collection of horse-drawn farm machinery.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Childhood memories

A friend asked me to come up with some memories of my childhood and then suggested I post them on my blog.

My childhood

I was born in 1946 and grew up in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.

We got our first TV in 1950, a Dumont with a 5-inch screen when I was four years old.

After the morning news, the stations would go off the air until the evening news and then continue until midnight, when they would sign off until early morning. A test pattern would appear while the station was off the air.

I remember the AM radio (AM was all there was), which played the top tunes of the day. My dad liked to listen to classical music in his car and while reading after dinner. I learned early on that my ear was extremely attentive to music of any kind.

There were lots of obnoxious commercial jingles on radio and TV, which (as you know) I have always detested. I remember one for Double-Mint Gum, another for Pepsodent (“Brush your teeth with Pepsodent, and you’ll wonder where the yellow went” ), which of course as boys we would substitute “flush” for “brush” and direct the jingle toward another bathroom activity. There was the “Brusha-Brusha-Brusha” commercial for Ipana toothpaste featuring Bucky Beaver.

Then there was the invisible shield of Colgate Dental Cream. God, they go on and on!

Songs I remember from the 1950s:
Mona Lisa – Nat “King” Cole
Tennessee Waltz – Patti Page
How Much is That Doggie in the Window (flip side of TN Waltz) – Patti Page
Be-Bop-a-Lula – Gene Vincent
Blueberry Hill – Fats Domino
Mr. Sandman

TV shows I remember:
Howdy Doody

Hoppity Skippity (local DC show – I got to be in the studio audience “Peanut gallery”)

Captain Video

The Milt Grant Show (local DC teen dance show like American Bandstand)
Ed Sullivan
Red Skelton
The Pinky Lee Show

Captain Tugg
Pick Temple

Toys I remember:
Hula Hoop
Silly Putty
Erector Set

My stuffed doggie, which I still have (missing one eye)

I was sick a lot as a child until I had my tonsils out at age ten. I nearly had to repeat third grade because I had been out of school so much. My mom would allow me to bring the radio/record player into my bedroom while I was sick. During these long times alone, I enjoyed listening to the old radio dramas (“Gunsmoke,” “Fibber Magee & Molly,” “Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club” and others) and went through my parents’ collection of classical music, during which I developed a love for Tchiakovsky and Grieg. I can remember drawing a portrait of Tchiakovsky in the water condensation on my bedroom window. I can also remember keeping a box score while listening to the Washington Senators on the radio. My dad took me to a game at the old Griffith Stadium in DC. which was the predecessor to RFK stadium, which has since been replaced by the new stadium north of the city. The times they are a-changing.

I mostly played outside as a child. Inside was boring. When the TV started broadcasting during the day, it offered only soap operas and other stuff that was uninteresting to me. I much preferred exploring the real world beyond my front door with friends. We would often stray beyond the boundaries set by my parents, for which I received more than one hard spanking from my dad. I remember climbing trees and exploring creeks and woods more than anything else. Once as a four year-old I wandered down to a railroad embankment with some older friends, where we stripped down to our underpants and swam in the deep water around the bridge abutments. I vowed never to tell my parents about this excursion, fearing certain death.

I rode my tricycle all over the neighborhood, once venturing so far that my mom drove her car around until she discovered me far from home (probably a block away). I explained to her that my imagination had run away with me (hence my blog name runawayimagination). Later when I was old enough for a two-wheeler, my adventures could take me farther still.

Some of my best friends were the neighborhood dogs, who I followed around, and who followed me around. In fact, the family members to which I felt closest were my dog and cat.

I’ve always had just a few close friends, usually loners like myself. I didn’t travel with the gangs of bigger boys, who liked to terrorize the younger kids like me.

When I was 6 to 9 years old, I built a wooden car with a neighbor friend. We got it to roll down the hill, but the lack of effective steering and brakes caused us to bail out before it ran into the ditch. Later on when I was in my early teens, another neighbor friend and I built a go-kart powered by a lawnmower engine that we drove around the neighborhood.

One sport I remember playing is baseball (not softball). I had a pretty good left arm and was often assigned to left field, because I could throw the ball farther than anyone else on the team. I used to enjoy hitting the spiny fruit of sweet gum trees over the roofs of houses.

Beginning at about age 12, I began to discover the wonders of my parents’ extensive library of books. I loved reading Michner and also enjoyed perusing my mom’s 1918 “Our Wonder World.”

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Existential crisis?

Who the Hell am I, and what the Hell am I doing here?

What is my life, anyway?

Is my life about showering, dressing, eating, drinking, driving to work, logging on & logging off, reading & writing stuff?

Is it?

Or is my life about the children I brought into this world?

Is it about the friends I made? The friends I lost?

Is my life about trying to keep body and soul together? Purchasing products and services, then trying to figure out how to pay for them?

Is my life about loving my wife?

Is my life about nothing? Everything?

Is my life about whatever I want it to be about?

Are there any guidelines, and would I even follow them if they existed?

Is my life about the myriad responsibilities I take on?

I see fellow travelers every day.
Some old, some young,
Some injured, some healthy,
Some living, some dying.

Thoughts tumble through my head,
cascading one after another,
Sometimes like angry bees swarming around my head,
sometimes like snakes slithering through the underbrush, following other snakes that are following other snakes and so on.
Most thoughts never reach my consciousness, and most of those that do never find expression through my lips or my fingertips.

I wonder.

I just wonder.

So maybe that’s what my life is about.

Wondering about my life.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Late winter snow Mar. 8

I took these pictures about 11:30 a.m. on March 8. We had received about six inches of snow overnight, so considerable melting had already taken place.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Where I'm From

I am from the old piano,

the AM radio

and the record player.

I am from the creek in which I discovered frogs, toads and salamanders,

from the azaleas,



and the tall oaks under whose canopy I discovered the world of Nature.

I am from the Frozen Dairy Bar whose creamy goodness delighted me

and from the 7-11 where I got cigarettes to smoke with my friends in the woods

and lighter fluid to set the creek on fire.

I am from Granddad Bill the railroad man,

Grandaddy Peacock the Knower of All Things and Nanny the southern grandma.

I am from, "Do you have a grain of sense?", my mom's spaghetti sauce

and the library stocked with books that enlightened and incited a lifetime of learning about the world.