A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

School Days

English: A pic i took during my last days at s...
A pic i took during my last days at school (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         When September comes I invariably think about school.  It's not just the store back-to-school specials or seeing the kids hitting the sidewalks with their backpacks or even my teacher wife returning to work after her summer vacation.   After all I spent a goodly part of my first 18 years attending school.  The cycle of years has ingrained that innate sense of the school season arriving.

         Now September seems to fly faster than I can grasp, like a playground merry-go-round that is revolving in child time leaving an older less agile me unable to jump onto it.   These days I am more content to watch the darn thing spinning than actually ride.  Still, ride I do.   My mind and body feel slower but the time keeps getting ahead of me just dragging me along with it.

          But when I was a child and then later a teen, September seemed like a thousand months.  At least while the month was passing.    There was so much to do and so much to absorb.  New faces in the classroom, some who might become friends.   New teachers and new curricula.  Homework and tests.  In high school there were the football games that I never attended but was well aware were going on because everyone else seemed interested and the evidence was everywhere in the hallways and around the campus.    Days grew shorter and nights became cooler.

           Soon September was over and I had adapted into the routine of another school year.  With the arrival of fall came the burst of color of the turning leaves.   November was on its way and that heralded the coming of Christmas with another long vacation.   Still, before we allow October to get away there is one more thing that was especially important in my life during grade school...

            Halloween was coming!

            And now with September nearly gone, once again I'm about to arrive at October.  This year, as in the past seven years, Halloween doesn't mean that much to me.  Oh sure, there are the advertisements about seasonal costume shops popping up here and there.   There are the special candy displays in the stores.   I've been seeing Halloween decorations in various yards and business establishments.  None of it matters now--not like it once did...

...to be continued

           Do you still associate September with the start of school?    What was your favorite time of  the school season?    How involved were you in school activities?

Saturday, September 17, 2016

January 23-30, 1978 (Soundtrack of My Life)

       It's often said that life is strange, but compared to what?

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931...
Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory (1931), Museum of Modern Art (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

       Time can be a very precise measurement of the present, but it is often inaccurate when looking at the past.   Memories can meld together or get placed out of chronological order.  The memory can be an unreliable narrator regarding past events as it conveniently discards the unpleasant while exaggerating the importance of relatively insignificant events.   In the following post I question my memory in regards to a song that is among my favorites.

         In this post I offer another in my Soundtrack of My Life series. Robin at Your Daily Dose has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog for a while now. I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote. Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info. For my current back to the past post, I'm using the song "January 23-30, 1978" by Steve Forbert as my inspiration. If you like you can listen as you read the story that follows...

"January 23-30, 1978"

          What seems to be a somewhat odd title for a song actually is a time period described by the narrator of a song story by Steve Forbert.   While this date range can fit easily into my own life, there is no special significance to my knowledge that would be applicable in my personal history.  During that January week in 1978 I was getting ready to set out on tour with The World of Fantasy Players with my wife and our six month old baby.  I would have celebrated my birthday sometime that week since it comes on January 30th, but I can't recall any special thing that happened in connection with that event.

         But it's not anything about the song title that impacts me--it's the content of the lyrics, the events Forbert describes.   This song seems so akin to my own life experience that the story told within those lyrics touches the heart of my memory and reminds me of things that I too have lived through.  With a few changes this could be my song--a snippet of my own life history.  I am stirred within each time I hear this song as it has become part of my own life soundtrack.

         After I'd essentially moved away from my hometown in Tennessee to run away with a magic show in 1975, my visits home became fewer as time went on and my show biz life meant more time on the road away from home.  As each year passed I became less close to my old circle of friends thus less aware of what their lives were like.  Old friends were getting married, starting families, and embarking upon careers or other endeavors.  When I would go back to stay with my parents for short visits I would try to hang out with friends and catch up with their lives.  The fact was though that we were growing apart, they in their small town world and me traipsing about the country.

          Now some nearly 40 years later my memory is faulty about when I first heard the Forbert song.  Somehow I came to associate first noticing this song in early 1980 when I was separated from my wife and staying with my parents in Tennessee.  I had taken a job driving for the limousine shuttle service at the Knoxville Airport.  My shift started early so I would drive to work at about 4 AM.

            In my hazy memory I seem to recall driving through Alcoa, the town where the airport is located, early one icy cold morning and listening to my cassette copy of Steve Forbert's Jackrabbit Slim album.  When "January 23-30, 1978" came on the lyrics really hit me as describing how my visits home had started to feel.   I got a sense that soon I would be gone to another town and living a life far away from my home that held so many fond memories for me.

          However, thinking back I'm not sure I had that cassette copy until a few years after the date that stood in my memory.  Perhaps my listening to this song driving through Alcoa early one morning reminded me of driving to my airport limousine job and all of the other events of my life.   Maybe it was another visit.   It's kind of crazy how mixed up my memory is about this minor incident in my life.  From the standpoint of the scope of my entire life, hearing this song at some specific but some unknown time shouldn't have meant that much and yet that drive and that song at that moment vividly stands out in my memory.

        I'm reminded of that famous Salvador Dali painting "Persistence of Memory"--you know the one with the melting watches on the surreal landscape.  That depiction of time flowing and melding into the wholeness of everything is symbolic of the fluidity of all that I've been and where I've ended up in my life, a life where the past is not perfectly cataloged.  Not my life at least.  My mind seems to pick out certain things to remember even if they are not in the correct order.

        It doesn't really matter that much I suppose.   I understand what memory is telling me.   And yet I could be misinterpreting things as a matter of convenience.  

         What I do know is this:  There was a time when I was younger, when responsibility was a debate that I held within myself and consequences primarily affected only me.  We were all young, my friends and I, and then we moved on to other things and other people and other lives.  In other words we grew up--or pretended to.  

           Rarely do we capture the magic of the past in our tangible everyday lives.  Oh, sometimes we might get together with old friends for a few fleeting hours and everything seems as it once was.   Most of the past is only accessible by memory.  The memory might be spurred by a song such as this song from my own life soundtrack.  A song that might mean little to someone else, but something vast, strange, and maybe even unknowable to my mind.    A mystery that is really no mystery at all when I think about it, but a mystery nonetheless.

           Do you have a song that is attached to a memory so strongly that it haunts you when you hear it?    Did you drift away from most of your old friends from youth?    Do you have a disconnect with certain memories where you are no longer certain of when exactly they occurred?

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Back on the Job

Arlee at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park
(summer of 2015)

         The bad thing about vacations is that they have to end.  But of course if they never ended then they wouldn't be vacations anymore would they?   I'll admit that as our trip was coming to a close I was looking forward to getting back home and back to my usual schedule.  Now that I've had a few weeks back on the job of being at home I'm dreaming about vacation travel again.

          When I was still in school, the end of summer was looked upon with some sadness mixed with the anticipation of entering a new school year.  It was a cycle I came to expect year after year:  Go to school for a few months--with a few nice vacation days during the school year--then be off for the summer.   Things changed once I was in college as I had to work through the summer to pay the rest of the year's schooling.   I still found time to work a lot and have fun nearly every evening.   Who needed sleep back then?   I was in my early 20's and filled with much more energy and stamina than I have now.  

          During a decade of my work years I was fortunate in being able to manage a touring show and be able to have my wife and kids along for the year long tour.  It was a grand life where it was almost like being on vacation and working at the same time.  We were getting paid to travel and had a job that was fun.  This was a dream come true as far as I was concerned.

            Even after I settled down and started a stationary job with somewhat regular work hours, I still was given opportunities to travel.   The travel wasn't like the kind of vacation most people think of, but the trips were treks to visit family.  That's the way it's always been for me.  We try to do a few touristy type of things which makes the trips more vacation-like, but the real mission is to be with our loved ones.

             Maybe one day our circumstance will change.  Perhaps if we lived closer to family we could actually take vacations to destination places rather than going to be with people.  Then again, I don't know whether people we want to spend time with will ever totally be out of the equation.  Relationships are important to maintain if we can manage to do so.

             Did you go on a vacation this past summer?   Are your travel destinations where people you know are or are they more based on place?      What is your dream vacation?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Vacation Time!

         Since I'm on vacation for a few weeks, my plan is to limit my blogging to some extent.   There will be a few posts at Tossing It Out, but on Wrote By Rote I'll likely go dormant until I return home.

         Of course if I really have something big to say or am finding that I have more time for blogging than I had expected, then I might post here and there on this blog.  Don't count on it though.   When I'm not driving for extended periods I'll be enjoying time with my family members.

          Whatever the case may be, have a wonderful summer.    You can expect me back here probably on August 20th or so.  See you then--or whenever I get an urge to post on this site.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Candy Apply Red (Soundtrack of my Life)

          Oh, to be a kid again!  Though that would present the other challenges of adolescence and adulthood.   Would I really want to live my life over again?   Perhaps if I could edit out all the bad parts and just leave in the good.  But then what kind of life would that be?   I've had a pretty darn great life as far as I'm concerned so maybe those bad parts were necessary to appreciate the good parts.  Still, it's fun to think back on the good times.

         In this post I offer another in my Soundtrack of My Life series. Robin at Your Daily Dose has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog for a while now. I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote. Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info.  For my current back to the past post, I'm using the song "Candy Apple Red" by Robbin Thompson as my inspiration.  If you like you can listen as you read the story that follows...

Candy Apple Red

        When my family moved from San Diego, California to Crown Point in the northwestern corner of Indiana, I was just entering junior high as they called it back then.  Going into seventh grade was a huge transition as now instead of one teacher all day as we had in elementary school, now we had a teacher for each class and we would move around from room to room throughout the day.  It was almost like being in high school except that we were still like little kids in many ways.  I guess that's why they called it junior high school.   We were kids getting ready for those last few years before graduation and then on to college or whatever life was holding in store for us.

         The biggest change about moving to Indiana was the weather.  In San Diego the year round moderate weather made being outdoors a kid lifestyle.   So much time was spent riding bikes, playing games, prowling the neighborhoods, and roaming the still wild canyons that surrounded our neighborhoods.   Maybe there was some kind of law that said that kids had to spend at least eight hours a day outdoors--well it might have seemed like it, but perhaps it was just a natural law.  Not often did I as a kid want to stay cooped up in the house all day when there were so many amazing things to do outside.

          Of course I had my indoor activities that I liked to do sometimes.   We played cards and board games.  We might amuse ourselves making prank phones calls.  It seemed like I watched several movies on television each week in addition to some of my favorite programs.   I spent hours reading--I loved to read back then perhaps more so than I do now.  And there was my stamp collection.  My sister, some friends, and I all collected stamps and that activity could keep us entertained for hours.  Looking back on everything we did back then I'm thinking that days must have been longer back then.  I don't think the Earth was spinning more slowly, but I guess a kid's perception of time sees minutes, hours, and days from a far different perspective than an adult does.

         The relocation to Crown Point didn't alter my desire to be outside and about my environment, but sometimes the weather curtailed such activities.  Those heavy northern Indiana snows were fun to play in for a while, but after a while the cold would become unbearable causing us to seek the warmth and comfort of indoors.  Books, games, stamp collections, and television were still on the agenda,  Then came another interest for me--model building.

          Being older I could do certain things better like reading and following instructions and being more intricately creative.  I was ready to take on the challenge of those boxed models I would find in the variety store.  Initially I was drawn by the allure of the classic monster models made by Aurora.  The selection was limited so soon I had them all.  I had done a pretty decent job assembling and painting these models and displayed them proudly throughout my bedroom.  Eventually I was ready to move on with other model kits, starting first with inexpensive simple airplanes and ships.  Then came car models.

           Those car models presented a very different and new challenge for me.   They were detailed and far more complex than the other models that I had been building.  I began buying car model magazines for tips on creating better models and inspiration.  Actually in the long run those magazines probably discouraged more than inspired me.  Those professional and more experienced builders apparently had not only far more knowledge than I had, but also far greater patience.

           I was particularly impressed and envious of the paint jobs on those car models shown in the magazines.  These builders were putting on multiple coats of paints and coats and buffing them and treating them until they came out with glossy sheens.    My paint jobs were so much less perfect with streaks, bubbles, and, well, to put it bluntly--sloppiness.   I make it sound horrible I suppose.  Actually some of my finished products did look pretty nice and I was proud of them.  At least proud enough to display them in my bedroom.

           None of my work would have won awards at car model shows.  Not like the car models in the magazines.  I was an amateur at building car models and so I remained during my short career as a car model builder.    After a couple of years having those models on display some fiendish impulse within me caused me to burn all of those models to which I devoted so much time and care.   Watching them burn, melt, and vanish into toxic residue fascinated me much to my dismay years later.   I would have liked to have had them after I reached adulthood, but then again it just would have been more stuff for me to store or move like so much other stuff that I have now.

         What were your favorite solitary activities of childhood?   Do you still pursue any of the same interests you had as a  kid?   Did you ever willfully destroy any of the things you owned as a child?...

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Friday Night Fights (Soundtrack of my Life)

     Does anyone remember the Friday Night Fights that used to come on television in the 1960's?  Recently there was a network fight broadcast that brought back memories of the old sports series sponsored by Gillette.   There were other events besides fights, but the boxing is what stands out in my memory.  And actually I think for a while the fights on Friday nights was a regular series.  The following post recalls some of the memories stirred by the recent boxing broadcast on television.

     In this post I offer another in my Soundtrack of My Life series. Robin at Your Daily Dose has been doing the Soundtrack of my Life posts on her blog for a while now. I had done a few of my own "life soundtracks" on my Tossing It Out blog as well as the song series (starting at this post) I did for my 2014 Blogging from A to Z April Challenge on Wrote By Rote. Be sure to visit and follow Your Daily Dose for more Life Soundtrack info.   For some background music while you read the post you can listen to this Boston Pops recording of "Look Sharp, Be Sharp" which was the theme song used by Gillette.

Friday Night Fights

       Rarely in my lifetime have I taken much of an interest in sports.   Boxing has sometimes had an almost morbid draw for me--I like movies about boxing--but mostly I've tried to avoid this brutal sport.  Not so with my father.   He enjoyed viewing boxing matches.  When one came on the tube and he was watching, the energy and passion he displayed might make you think he was fighting the match himself.

         Actually I used to sometimes get scared when he was watching boxing because he'd be shouting, throwing air punches, and displaying what appeared to be anger.  But he was like this about all sports.  He was more than just a sedentary audience member--he put himself into the action with commentary and physical acts such as jumping out of his chair and pacing in a tight quick circle in the living room.   His head would shake and his jowls would flap as he roared out acclamations of encouragement or yowls of disgust.  You'd think he had some stake in the event, but he was just another armchair spectator among the millions in living rooms across the nation.

         Back then our house wasn't all that big so my mother, sister, and I couldn't help but be witness to my father's sports fan antics.   We could hear him throughout the house and if I didn't stay in the living room for the entire fight, I would at least have to peek in now and then to see what was happening.  Even though my father could be somewhat scary when he was watching sports, he was always a source of curiosity as well as an odd source of entertainment.  I wasn't as interested in the fights as much as I was my father's reactions to whatever was happening.

         From the opening strains of the Gillette theme song to the events that unfurled during an hour or two on that tiny black and white television set in our small living room, Friday Night Fights are a mainstay in my memories of childhood.  As many memories as I have of this, one might think that the fights were on every Friday night, but they weren't.  But when those fights were on, my father was there.   He loved those fights.   My guess is that he might have wished that his son loved watching those fights as much as he did, but I didn't.  However, my dad was plenty of entertainment while the fights were on.  I do remember that.

         Did you have a father or family member who was a huge sports fan?   Was there a sporting event that was always on in your home on a regular basis?     Do you tend to get highly involved when you are watching a sporting event?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Kazoo Man

          When my family lived in San Diego in the early 1960's, each summer we'd go to the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar.  We always got free admission because either our family was performing our juggling act on one of the entertainment stages or my sister was performing with her dance school.  Either way it meant at least one full day at the fair.

           This was a great fair with plenty of entertainment, a plethora of exhibits, savory food, and a noisy fun carnival midway.  It's proximity to the ocean shore made for comforting breezes and the weather in San Diego was usually delightful anyway.  Fair time was a great time for all, but an especially exciting time for any kid.

          Now over fifty years removed from those days, I don't remember too many specifics about the San Diego Fair, but there is one memory that particularly stands out for me--the kazoo pitchman.  I don't remember ever seeing such a pitchman at any other fair before or since, but my search on the internet revealed that the kazoo pitchman was not uncommon to find at fairs and circuses even decades before I saw the one at this fair.  I've seen plenty of sales people hawking kitchen knives, home gadgets, and novel toys at fairs but for me the kazoo pitchman was something completely different.

          Like any pitchman, the Kazoo Man at the San Diego Fair was a slick talker.  But he did more than give a smooth spiel--he was an entertainer.  He put on a good show and the crowds loved it.  Rather than given a booth in an exhibit hall or some corner on the fairgrounds, the Kazoo Man had his own stage at the heart of the fairgrounds.  Everybody had to pass this spot at some point of the day and when one of the Kazoo Man's presentations began to get underway, people stopped and began to crowd around the small stage.

          Recorded music began to play to alert the passing throng that something was about to happen.  People gathered in anticipation.  Then the Kazoo Man stepped on stage to begin his show.  He was a slight looking fellow with an expansive presence that drew everyone in.  A fast talker, he was funny, he was fascinating.   He explained the quirky little device that he never called a "kazoo", but gave a far more interesting name that I don't remember.  Whatever he called the thing, the crowd wanted to know more.  The Kazoo Man gave them more.

         The Kazoo Man made funny noises with the instrument and then he began to play music.  Beautiful wonderful music.   He imitated all sorts of musical instruments with this tiny thing.  One could almost imagine that he was actually playing a violin as he went through the gestures of drawing his invisible bow across unseen strings.  I had to look closely to see that what I heard happening was only a ruse of pantomime.  The sound was all coming from this silvery little thing in the guy's mouth.

         The more the guy spoke his entertaining patter and played his enchanting music, the more the crowd was allured by whatever this guy was pitching.  And then the closer came to the sales pitch.  We too could have this fabulous little instrument that absolutely anyone could play with no training and no extraordinary skill.  For seventy five cents we could have one of these devices or we could have two for a dollar.

           The crowd pressed in with dollars in hand.  The Kazoo Man grabbed dollar bills and dispensed his wares with skilled efficiency.  I convinced my father to let me get a couple of the instruments and I had no problem getting a dollar from him.  He had been equally taken in by the pitch and had no qualms about his son being able to have one of these amazing things.

           When I had my little devices in hand, I gazed upon them with great curiosity.  They were metallic silver round things that looked not unlike the UFO's I'd seen in the science fiction movies I liked to watch.  The instruments looked futuristic and mysterious.  Almost immediately I recognized that they were merely fancy kazoos that functioned in the same way a piece of wax paper wrapped around a comb did.   I had made those comb kazoos myself and understood the principle of how they worked.  You'd hum through it and make weird sounding vibrating music.  But these were special. The Kazoo Man's kazoos were the equivalent of a professional kazoo if there were such a thing.

          I don't know how long I had those kazoos.   I never was able to get quite the same sounds that I had heard the Kazoo Man perform during his sales pitch.   No doubt that I had fun with my kazoos, but there was also some element of disappointment for me.   However, that show put on by the Kazoo Man was the best part.  I'm not sure how many years he was at the fair, but whenever I was there and saw him giving his show I would stop to watch, mesmerized by everything he said and did.   All of us who bought his products were not buying kazoos as much as we were paying for his entertaining performance.  It was something to remember.

Here's a bit of amusing entertainment from a professional kazoo quartet:

        Have you watched pitch artists at events or on television?   What items have you bought from a pitchman?    Were you satisfied with your purchase?