2015 A to Z

Elements of Memoir

Have you ever thought about writing a memoir? And what is memoir anyway? During the 2015 A to Z Challenge I will be answering some of your questions as well as offering some possible ideas you might consider in writing your own memoir story. I'd also like to hear some of your ideas about memoir in the comment section. Let's talk about memoir.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

What's Up with the Phobia about Clowns?

A Capodimonte clown from Italy from
The Juggling Jacksons collection

       My most recent Battle of the Bands post on my blog Tossing It Out makes me wonder about the aversion to clowns that is so rampant with many people these days.  There are so many adverse reactions to clowns or the notion of clowns that I find it somewhat puzzling why so many people feel this way.

        Being around show folks and circuses as I was growing up, I was frequently around clowns and comical performers who portrayed clown-like personas.  Clowns often played starring roles in television shows that I enjoyed watching.  There was Clarabell the Clown on the Howdy Dowdy Show and even Bozo who starred in his own regional children's TV shows and a cartoon series.  Clowns were never fearful images to me when I was a kid.  On the contrary a clown sighting would cause me to light up with happy feelings.

       The business world has capitalized often on clowns as spokespersons and advertising draws.  Many a grand opening or special sales event has included a clown as part of the festivities to pull in families.   Then there is the most famous clown spokesman of all, Ronald McDonald of the McDonald's fast food chain.

       Clowns have a history that goes back to ancient times.  In the 20th century clowns were perceived to have a strong function of marketability to family audiences and have been popular icons in film and children's entertainment.  Though a natural inclination toward shyness in young children probably caused some apprehension when initially confronted by clowns, the realization of the sense of fun and silliness typically caused them to warm up to clown characters.  What happened to turn these positive feelings into ones of fear?

        Starting in the 70's the media began to present clowns as villains and horror figures.  This more than anything else probably had a bearing regarding to the public reaction to clowns.  Also, the entertainment mediums such as circus in which clowns played a major role have somewhat fallen out of favor with the general public.  Clowns continue to be hired as birthday party entertainment, but probably more out of tradition known to the parents rather than anything the kids want to experience.

         In the early 50's my parents attempted to use the clown gimmick to expand their booking potential with their juggling act.  They had high quality beautiful clown costumes made that never got used many times in performances, but served us for years as Halloween costumes.  The booking agents apparently didn't seem to want a clown juggling duo or perhaps my father's work schedule didn't coincide with the show opportunities.  I don't recall ever hearing why the clown gimmick didn't work for them.

        During the 70's there were a few rock acts who used the clown persona or similarly made up characters with varying degrees of success.  One of my favorites was The Hello People, an act that performed as mimes interjecting humorous mime routines with some very fine music.  The Scottish band The Sensational Alex Harvey Band had a somewhat sinister, but funny clown on lead guitar.  Then of course there was the most famous make-up band Kiss who took the scary clown persona to a new fright level if indeed they can be even be considered as clown performers.

        Sometime in 1977 I encountered a clown troupe from Bowling Green, Kentucky who not only were the centerpiece of a stage show that performed in their region, but also performed as a rock and roll band while in their clown outfits.  They were a credible performance band that focused on the old rock standards such as Chuck Berry tunes.  I enjoyed them but their musical talents seemed to be lost upon the mostly children's audiences to which they were performing.  The front man for that clown band was one Broadway the Clown who continues to perform his clowning to this day though I'm not sure if he still performs as a musician.  At the time I met him I bought a couple of art prints that featured him in clown character.   Over the years those have left my possession as they ended up with my first wife.  

A Ron Lee clown figurine from the collection of
The Juggling Jacksons

         Personally I think clowns have gotten a bad rap in more recent decades.  My parents had a nice collection of clown figurines and pictures.  My siblings and I added to their collection each Christmas and on other occasions.  Ironically, years later after my father had passed, my mother admitted that she didn't like clowns and wasn't particularly enthralled with the collection even though she continued to display them around her house up to the time of her death.

        Now my brothers and sisters and I are dividing the clown collection among us.  A few of my favorites will now reside in my home office.  I still like clowns and these mementos from my parents collection will provide some happy memories for me.

         If you don't like clowns, why do you think that is?   What has been your favorite clown character?    Is there any type of theme for which you collect figurines or other items?


Saturday, August 1, 2015

An Afternoon at the Fair

Super Star, Freak Out and KMG Booster, night 02
Super Star, Freak Out and KMG Booster, night 02 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      Last Saturday we spend the afternoon at the Monmouth County Fair in Freehold, New Jersey.  This was a relatively small fair by comparison to the fairs I grew up around.  For the most part it seemed to be composed of 4-H exhibits, food vendors, and a moderate sized carnival.  The grounds seemed well-attended though not uncomfortably crowded, probably because we were there somewhat early and I would assume the crowd became larger at night when the carnival ride lights would offer a more festive and colorful atmosphere and the weather was cooler.

       My earliest fair memories go back to 1955 when my parents worked on the girlie show of the Goodings Amusements at fairs in Knoxville, Tennessee and Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia.  My father took a few weeks summer vacation in order to work these engagements.  I was four at the time and remember very little of their stint as carnies.  However the experience instilled in me a longing for the carny life.

       In the early 60's my family would spend a good bit of time at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California.  My parents would either be working their juggling act or my sister would be performing with the troupe from the dance school where she took lessons.  I was along for the ride mostly, but I benefited in being able to see the fair for more time than I might normally have in just a day's visit.  That fair in San Diego was a real beauty with an outstanding grounds that had permanent structures of class quality which was a far cry from what I'd see later at the more traditional fairs in the Midwest.

     This time in the mid-60's of playing dates at fairs in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and elsewhere is where my mind reverts to the most.  The sights, sounds, and smells of the county fair are revived when I go to a fair these days.  Whether a big state fair or a small county fair, my memories take me back as my mind is flooded with the sensations of those years.

       As I think about it even now I realize that there is so much to write about that it can barely be touched upon in a single blog post.   The New Jersey fair that I attended last weekend was fun for my grandkids and an enjoyable little outing for me.   We only stayed a few hours and left as the sun was heading toward the horizon, but still a couple hours from setting completely.

       All of those fair memories amount to another idea for a memoir that can be written one day.  Not right now while I'm on vacation, but I think I need to get this writing started.  After all, as The Band sang on their album Cahoots, "Life is a carnival" and as the carnival that sets up for a brief few days when fair time comes, tear down will come before we realize it and the carnival moves on.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

New Jersey Memories


        New Jersey never figured into my past in any big way.  Now ironically New Jersey is a big part of my more recent past, my present, and undoubtedly will be a major part of my future since three of my daughters now live in this Atlantic coast state along with four of my grandchildren.  I don't see any of them moving from here anytime soon so I guess New Jersey is now a big part of me.

       Prior to my touring show career starting in the late 1970's, I'd only been to New Jersey twice for brief visits.  The state flew low below my radar most of my life.  My mother used to tell me stories when I was very young about her visit to Atlantic City when she was still in high school.  I longed to see the amusements at the Steel Pier and ride the rides.

        Then in the mid-1950's--I forget exactly when--our family took a vacation trip to the Big Apple and then to Atlantic City.  I don't remember too much about either place other than having been there.  Snippets of memories of visiting Coney Island, going to the top of the Empire State Building, and riding the Staten Island ferry vaguely reside in some dusty corner of my brain.  Only a hazy remembrance of visiting my mother's cousin at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where he worked.

         The Atlantic City memories are even less vivid.  One that stands out most is my ride on the Bathysphere or Diving Bell as it was most commonly known.  My search on the internet found little about this attraction though I did find some confirmation of what I remember.

         The Diving Bell (my parents called it The Bathysphere which is a term that was apparently more well known back then) was a small vessel that dropped to the depths at the pier giving riders the experience of being under the ocean for a brief period.  I still recall the stuffy cramped interior that now would probably give me feelings of claustrophobia, but at that time didn't bother me much.  It was more than an amusement ride for me.  It was an adventure.

        As we dropped into the depths I gazed out the porthole before me in wonderment.  The murky greenish waters were mysterious and foreboding.   I had expected to see fish and other undersea life--maybe even an octopus.   All I saw was the algae encrusted pilings of the pier and unknown particles floating in the water, but to me even that was exciting.  I felt the pressure change in my ears as we descended to the sandy ocean bottom.

        Then suddenly the small capsule that we were in rushed to the surface with riders squealing with delight or maybe terror--I couldn't tell quite which.  For me it was a thrill, but I was glad that we were back out of the water.  The ocean bottom was a fascinating place to visit, but I wasn't too keen on staying there for long.

        Though my internet research gleaned little knowledge about the Atlantic City Diving Bell, I did find an informative little article at The Atlantic City Free Public Library website. There is also a very brief video (embedded at the top of this post) that shows the Diving Bell submerging and then reappearing on the water surface.  Apparently the Diving Bell can still be seen on display in Atlantic City.  Maybe after my wife arrives to rejoin me in New Jersey we'll take a trip down to Atlantic City to see what it's like now.

        Have you been to Atlantic City?   Do you have any memories of Atlantic City in the pre-casino days?    Does a brief dunk into the ocean depths interest you or does the thought make you uncomfortable?

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Trip Log: Danville, Virginia

Innkeeper Motel North in Danville, Virginia

       As I write this I sit in a dingy motel in Danville, Virginia.  It's Friday night and most of the motels in town are filled because of the NASCAR races as well as college students coming with their families to get ready for the upcoming school year.  This is a small town with quite a few motels.   Few of the hotel chains where I'd normally stay are located here and the ones that are have no vacancies for this weekend.  Thankfully I'm only here for one night before I move on toward my next destination--New Jersey.

       It's been a long time since I've stayed in a place such as this.  We used to stay in similar or even worse places sometimes when I was touring with the roadshow on which I worked.  Eventually after I started managing the show we upgraded to better places like Marriott Hotels which made touring much more of a pleasure.  Tonight I feel like those old days when we tried to keep expenses down by staying in the cheap places.  This dingy Innkeeper Motel is like those except that it is not all that cheap.  

       The temperatures today have been in the humid 90's.  It was a good day for driving though I only had a rather short 150 mile trip.  After a period of a few weeks of staying up late night after night I'm pretty beat.  A good night's sleep would be welcome.   Hopefully I'll get an okay sleep to get me ready for what could be a long day tomorrow.

        Then to beat all, for dinner I had this really dumb craving for Kentucky Fried Chicken.  The absurdity of my visit to that fast food establishment might be worthy of an entire blog post, but I won't do that.  After bringing my meal back to my motel room I ate maybe half of it.   I don't think I'll be going to KFC again for a while.  At least not this one in Danville and not this motel either.  Let's face it, so far this Danville stay is nothing to write home about or a blog post for that matter, yet that's what I've been doing so far.

       On Thursday I had a great day.  Even though I was dragging after a late night and an early start, my trip was pleasant.  There was only one traffic delay as I drove I-40 through the mountains on the way to Asheville, North Carolina, but after that it was a very nice drive.  I arrived at my destination for that day, Charlotte, North Carolina at about 1:30 PM.

       My first stop was the headquarters of Morris Costumes Wholesale, the company I used to work for.  It was good to see old friends who work at that location as well as members of the Morris family.  Philip and Amy Morris, founders of the costume company, took me to dinner and then we visited the Morris retail store.  This is one of the finest, cleanest, and most organized costume stores in the United States.  If you live in the Charlotte area you probably know about this store, but be sure to visit if you've never been there.

        Later, Phil and Amy took me to their son Scott's mansion where I'd be spending the night.  What a fantastic place he has!   The massive home sits on a prime location overlooking Lake Norman.  The home was constructed from high quality materials delivered from all over the world.  It was almost like staying in a museum or some historic chateau in Europe except that it was a homey and welcoming place.  Too bad I was only there for the night.   Scott and his charming wife Denise were tremendous hosts.

        Also visiting for the night were some other gentlemen in the costume business.  These were guys whom I had already known from associating with them at Halloween trade shows in the past.   We had a great visit that evening even though we'd all been traveling and welcomed our beds when it was time to turn in.

        Now that visit seems like a fantastical dream as I sit in this darker nightmare of a motel room.  Really, I guess it's not all that bad.  I've stayed in worse.   I doubt that I'll ever stay here again.  I'd rather be at the Morris Mansion on Lake Norman.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Putting the Past Behind Me

     It's been over a week since I arrived at my mother's house in Maryville, Tennessee.  I've spent a lot of time just staying at the house, sometimes reflecting on memories while at others just basking in the aura of this place that's been in our family for nearly 50 years.  And now we're trying to sell this place.

     Since I've been here we've spent most of our evenings just sitting on the deck that overlooks the expansive back yard.  With the approach of evening comes a hypnotic chorus of cicadas soon joined by a myriad of crickets and other critters whose names I don't know.  The insect soundtrack provides a steady background for our discussions of stories dredged from the past and the uncertain plans for the future.

       Getting rid of this house is the main thing on all of our minds while being the topic we hope might disappear as it becomes resolved in the simplest manner.  I'd be happy if the house just stayed with the family and we could have summer evenings like these recent ones from now until...

        Then again, maybe we need to let go of this past.  Leave it to our memories.

         My time here is running out.  I need to leave this coming Thursday and I haven't gotten anywhere near what I had hoped to have done.  I've got some boxes packed up to take with me but there are so many things to do here.  Once I leave, I may not be coming back unless I absolutely have to.

      I want to come back.  This is part of the story of my past.   This house is like part of my life museum.  No one else knows all of the stories here.  Not the stories I do.  And I don't even know all of the stories.  This is a house full of stories.

      This week I will be leaving, but I will never truly be gone.  Or should I say I will take pieces of this house in my heart.   The crickets chirp into the the night as I drift into sleep.  Those crickets.  They know something.  Perhaps they know everything.

         I know nothing at all.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

July 4th Maryville Tennessee

Happy July 4th!

English: The New York City fireworks over the ...
The New York City fireworks over the East Village of New York City. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      It's been two weeks since I left Los Angeles to start out on a prolonged vacation.  Time passes so quickly and I never seem to be getting as much done as I had hoped.   I can use the argument that I'm on vacation, but still there is much to be done while I'm away.

      We had a wonderful trip across the country on our first leg to Houston, Texas.  After getting on the road at 5:30 in the morning of Saturday June 20th, we had smooth sailing throughout the day.   For me a highlight of that first day came about 60 miles before we got to Las Cruces, New Mexico.

        It was about 5:30 PM Mountain Time when I happened to tune into a classical radio station at the moment they started playing the Third Symphony of Camille Saint-Saens which is one of my top three favorite symphonies.  For the next 40 minutes my drive was invigorated by some of the most wonderful music to be found.   This is truly one of the best symphonies ever composed.

       My stay in Houston was very restful as I took many naps throughout the week.  My wife noted that my nighttime sleeping habits had vastly improved.  After that week of personal recharge I was ready for my next adventure--a two day drive by myself to Tennessee.  My wife will be staying in Houston until August 5th.  I'll be on my own visiting my family members while she stays to help her daughter.

       So far I've been in East Tennessee for almost a week.   With my brother and sisters we're still working on settling up my mother's estate.  There's lots of housecleaning and touch-up repairs to get her house ready to put on the market.  We all hate to see the property leave the family, but selling it seems to be the most practical solution since none of us wants to live there--or in my case I don't live in this town.

       I'll be here another week and a half or so before I begin wending my way to New Jersey.   There's still plenty to be done in Tennessee and it's not going to all get done while I'm here, but I'll hopefully help make some progress during my stay.  And then there's trying to make it to see some old friends.  Time will be kind to me I can only hope.

        Have a great 4th or whatever day you read this.   May your every day be the best one yet.

        How do you feel about traveling long distances alone?   What music inspires you most when you are on the road?   What did you do for the holidays?

Saturday, June 27, 2015

My Own Personal Newspaper

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...
 New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My Own Personal Newspaper

         I've had this fascination with newspapers since early childhood.  My parents always had newspapers in the house and I liked to look through them.  There were the comic pages of course, and the advertisements, but once I learned how to read a whole new world was opened to me.

        The photojournalism was what often attracted my attention.  Some dramatic image would arouse my interest enough for me to read the story.  Then there were all the other curious little stories that were short, but filled with enough information to get my young brain working to figure out the rest of the details.

         Then, starting in fourth grade, current events became a standard assignment on Monday mornings.  We'd be required to clip an article to present to the class.  The presentation part would make me nervous, but I loved searching out the strangest stories I could find.  There was often duplication of stories among the other students, but rarely did anyone bring in the same story as I brought.  I didn't care much for major world events or politics, but I relished finding anything that was kind of "out there"

        Sometimes for fun I would put together my own newspaper.    Once, inspired by the animated television show The Flintstones I created my own version of a prehistoric caveman era newspaper.  The artwork was all drawn in colored pencils--yes, this was an advanced newspaper all in color!  On another occasion my newspaper edition was a facsimile of what my vision of the newspaper of the future might look like.   Maybe my thinking wasn't too prescient in that the edition was still on paper rather than some electronic type media, but it was easier to use paper in order to write the stories and draw out the illustrations.

          In a way, my discovery of the medium of blogging is like being able to have my own publication.    Much like a newspaper or magazine I can present stories and add images.  I'm both reporter and editor.   The control of managing my own blog allows me a far greater creativity than composing a publication by hand.   The best part is that the potential of actual readership is far greater than those single copy "newspaper" editions that I would pass around to my friends and family to read.

        Blogging has opened a fantastic new world of possibilities to all of us who have longed to see our words on published pages and to have readers who actually let us know they've read what we've written.  And even if the readers aren't there, the digital evidence is there to be potentially found by readers someday in the future.

          Of course, I'd much rather be published in an actual printed edition of some mass produced and distributed newspaper or magazine.  That would be the greatest thrill of all.  For now though the blogging will have to do.    Actually it's not all that bad of a way to be published.  And it is practice for that future publication position that I long to one day have.

           Did you ever create your own homemade newspapers or magazines when you were a child?   Did you work on a school publication?    Do you treat blogging as your own personal publication?