2018: Bubble Wrap

It’s referred to as compassion overload.

Sad to say but there are times in my life that feel like we’re just hanging on by our fingertips – while so many dear friends are also locked in deadly combat with Life- that individual tragedies are no longer quite so upsetting. In the words of my foreman at Swanson River: “When you are up to you’re a** in alligators it is hard to remember that your original goal was to drain the swamp”

I wish I’d have ignored some of those alligators when I found out Janice Young passed away.

I had called another friend to check on Jan’s phone number only to find that she had passed away almost a year ago.  I carried on with the conversation, sharing a memory or two then rang off and:

  • finished my lesson plan for the next day’s class at the college
  • checked back on the crew scheduled to remove a fallen tree
  • paid some bills on-line

… then collapsed into my chair and broke down completely.

Jan was gone.

It was the winter of 1975 when I first Jan and her family while I was serving as a missionary in Skowhegan Maine. Her husband Dale had recently retired from the Navy and friendship developed as I talked with about his career – I was forever looking to connect with sailors that may have served with my own father during his 20 years afloat. As I would visit there were times when Jan wouldn’t move from her chair or her hands would be wrapped, actions that I first took to be unique measures to fight the legendary Down East winter temperature but later learned were therapeutic measures in her battle against the pain and limitations of advanced arthritis.

I also learned that Jan was smart. She had a highly developed insight into human behavior and consequences more commonly found in elderly people with a long lifetime of experience and knowledge to drawn upon.  More than once I found myself on the phone seeking her guidance after a “people problem” had blown up in my face.

My time in Skowhegan came to an end much too quickly but thankfully my friendship with Janice and her family stayed on. Despite too many years, too few visits and too few telephone conversations Jan and her family stayed in my life. I came to especially treasure those occasional phone calls that Janice insisted were for her benefit but were in fact my own pleas for help when once again I as drowning in a sea of human chaos and complexity.

…and now the phone calls are over.

There are too few “Jan’s” in my life now – people that maintain a measure of kindness and sanity around them.  Instead I am surrounded by bubble wrap, albeit a verbal variety of bubble wrap that emotionally insulates and does little other than clutter up my life in the same way that the tangible polyethylene version clutters up my studio after I’ve opened a package.


  • “C’mon, nothing can hurt that bad”
  • “Are you sure this isn’t a subconscious ploy to get meds?”
  • “When the going gets tough the tough get going”
  • “If you really wanted to get better you’d try to have more faith
  • “Good people don’t use pain medication

Empty useless prattle as useless as the other stuff is after my grandson Jayden has popped all the bubbles. Thoughtless words that emotionally fester in my isolation in the same way that a splinter can fester in a finger if left unremoved.

Eliminating those toxic comments can be as difficult as disposing of or recycling the aforementioned polyethylene packing material. I am left to find relief in doing my best to not make those same kinds of thoughtless comments, but rather to have kind words for those around me who are fighting their own battles.

…just like Jan did.

1969: With a Little Luck

“Hey Dave – what did that new guy have to say about moving to the Peninsula?”

 “New guy? Hey Pat – I wasn’t talking to a guy – I was taking to Rhonda the girl who just moved up from somewhere in Texas.”

 “You need to clean the wax out of your ears – and maybe get some glasses too. The name is Ron and he’s most definitely a guy. I’m pretty sure because he’s in my gym class and unlike you I don’t need glasses”


 “Hey – it was probably his long hair that threw you off. Well, gotta run!”

 I stood at my locker long enough to jump when the tardy bell rang. Well this was a first – I had bad luck with girls, but never had I been desperate enough to mistake a slim long-haired guy for a chick.

 “I ought to have my head examined…”

…a sentiment that came up again when I walked into the pep rally later that afternoon to see Pat Malone sitting up at the top row of the bleachers, arm-in-arm with the new girl Rhonda whose tailored blouse firmly established her gender once she’d removed her parka.

He’d done it again. Not only was Patrick light years ahead of me in drawing skills, he was ahead of me in fox-hunting as well. It didn’t matter if I’d set my sights on Joan, Jeanne, Joni or Pam – Pat Malone was always one step ahead of me with one arm around the young lady in question. I couldn’t fault him for taste, but just once …

“Pretty slick, isn’t he?”

I jumped just a bit at the unexpected comment – I hadn’t noticed anyone behind me. Doing my best to channel all the class of Sean Connery I turned and replied


(better make that George Lazenby)

Sitting next to the exit was the merriest pair of brown eyes ever. Attached to those brown eyes was Jeanne Little, one of those near-miss-to-Pat-Malone young ladies that I had been just thinking about.  I had a weakness for brown-eyed blondes and had noticed her during registration the previous fall, but then Pat magically appeared next to her sitting in the bleachers that day as well, her hand in his while they compared class schedules.

“What is it about Malone and the bleachers in the gym? I thought “The guy can do magic in here. I cannot believe his luck! It’s like he drew a perpetual cow tag during moose season and dropped one in his back yard on opening day!”  Nevertheless, I had to admit he was good. I walked out of the gym murmuring “…since day one of our freshman year he’s never failed to shoot me out of the saddle…”

“Shoot you out of the saddle?” Jeanne had overheard my murmuring….

“It’s just an expression. When another guy manages to hustle-away a girl just before you get a chance to ask her out.”

She sat up and interrupted “You mean you -? Did you know that Pat and I…?”


I looked away blushing, my face as scarlet as the KCHS Kardinal mascot and casually changed the subject “Hey – why do you th>INK< its spelled with a “K” instead of a “C?” my voice cracking with sheer terror mid-dodge.


 “The ‘K’ in Kardinals. Kenai Kardinals.  Why isn’t it a C? Oops – have to go to class now”.

I narrowly avoided running over my friend Jim on the way out and he smirked in my general direction, launching a “I’ve-seen-you-do-better-Rave!” rocket at me as I shot past to a blush-free sanctuary outside the gymnasium door. My goal for the 1968-69 academic year had nothing to do with grade point averages; my goal was to be able to stand near a girl I liked and not become terminally twitter-pated. To be able to carry on an intelligent conversation with someone I was interested in, to somehow escape the nerd boy inside that could dissolve into “homina-homina-homina -duuuhhhh – drool. Me like pretty girl”. Judging from my trip-hammer pulse I wasn’t quite there so it was no wonder it took an exit from the gymnasium at a dead run to achieve some semblance of cool.

I was semi-surprised the next day to see Jeanne sitting in the same set of bleachers during lunch, but the surprise became total when she looked over, made eye-contact and smiled. I walked over and sat down, and when I managed to not spontaneously burst into flames we were able to have a nice conversation. At that point we started to became friends, which slowly began to morph into a pattern of stealth-dating which was the only way for me to see  someone given my age and situation.1 Something like a “Boy’s Night Out” with Jim and Jesse would be the plan presented when getting permission to go to the show or a dance but in reality, once I was dropped off I’d link up with Jeanne who’d pursued much the same tactics in getting out of her own home for the evening.

The relationship was very low-key, but spring2 was in the air and I was quite taken with the novelty, the magic of a girl who actually liked me at the same time I liked her. Signs of serious twitter-pation began to appear:

  • Absently mindedly writing her name over and over on my notebook.
  • Saving pencils she’d chewed on.
  • My heart skipping a beat whenever I’d hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.

Most importantly I was learning to relax, enjoy her company and be myself.

It was all developing nicely until our abnormally spring weather turned chilly and the high school’s water pipes broke one early morning just before the busses started dropping off students. Citing health hazard brought about by the lack of water fountains, showers and toilets, the administration (eventually) decided to cancel classes for the day. Unfortunately, at that point every bus was either back in the garage or moving elementary school students, so we were all left to mill about for a couple of hours…or in my case cruise around Kenai with my friend Gary. Given the state of the Kenai Peninsula’s infrastructure in 1969 we quickly ran out of road for cruising and that’s when I got the bright idea to go find where Jeanne lived and pay a visit.

I knew that she lived somewhere in Woodland Subdivision, so we drove over, parked the truck and started walking up and down the streets looking for her home.  We been afoot for just five minutes when we noticed residents of the subdivision watching us carefully out of their windows, understandably concerned to see teenage boys wandering around during the middle of a school day. By the time I found Jeanne’s house, word of our presence had preceded us, and she was not happy to see me. For the first time those brown eyes were definitely not merry and when my every effort to draw out a laugh from her failed, I elbowed Gary and we left.  On the long drive home, I kept telling myself that everything would work out OK, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that something major had happened that I just wasn’t getting.

Again, there was no “happy” in her eyes when we met up the next morning at school. She quietly told me that she was disappointed and felt I had been too forward in showing up at her house the day before. While she didn’t specifically hand me my walking papers I took the hint and from then on avoided our spot on the bleachers during lunchtime. We spoke only intermittently during the rest of the school year as I assumed any relationship that may have existed between us was rapidly fading away if not already gone.

There have been times in life when I have been lost to epic proportions, but whether we’re talking about flying to a stage field at FT Rucker, running an orienteering course at FT Lewis or searching for bogus referrals in Rhode Island, I have never been as lost as I was at that point. I was feeling some pretty complex emotions and could not figure out what was going on.

  • I could tell when someone disliked me.
  • I could tell when someone was angry with me.
  • I could tell when someone thought I was a total dork.

…but the idea of simple conflict resolution in a relationship was utterly foreign. I had no previous experience with the situation due to the dynamics of a bi-polar family, especially a bi-polar family of Celtic extraction, which did not foster belief in happy endings.  All I could tell was that there was a new kind of hurt going on. I didn’t feel like hitting anything, I didn’t feel like crying, but I did have a kind of sick, hollow feeling that had all the indications of sticking around the long haul.

That all-or-nothing mindset persisted, and I missed several shots at resolution:

  • My best friend Jim ran into Jeanne at the mall and later reported that the conversation was basically “please tell David to call me!”
  • During my own mall run-in her next-door neighbor said the same thing and pointedly told me several times in the conversation that Jeanne still liked me.
  • When her father was transferred to Kansas a third friend passed on Jeanne’s new address, urging me to write.

…all of which I failed to act on.

In retrospect the experience was a bit more than just six lost weeks during the spring of 1969. I really did learn some important lessons.

  • I discovered that there was a depth and complexity to relationships that I hadn’t realized before. Love wasn’t just a matter of people liking each other.
  • I got a brief look at how truly functional families interacted – caring, responsible parents and responsible teenagers. The day I showed up at Jeanne’s house her mom had been present in the background doing some nondescript chore and while she didn’t actively participate in the conversation it was plain she was aware of what was going on. I was more accustomed to kids just being yelled at or totally ignored.

Because the whole thing covered such a brief time span and happened so long ago I hesitate to say I was in love with Jeanne Little, but I do know that it was the first time that my attraction for a young lady had any measure of complexity… so the odds are she was in fact my first love.

… and my heart still skips a beat when I hear “I Can Hear Music” by the Beach Boys.



  1. See 1971: “…then Dave discovered girls…:
  2. More like the musty smell of Break-up


1969: “Party Hearty…hardly”

One of the first things you learn when starting a running program is this:  The best runners don’t compete with other people – they compete with themselves. Rather than trying to best another person, they try to beat their own time. It’s a good idea in general to set personal standards to measure success. I’ve applied the concept several times in my life, but the most useful personal benchmark has to do with “getting in trouble” and by that I don’t mean life-altering hardship, setbacks or personal challenges – “trouble” as in “Awwwmmmm – you’re in trouble. Mrs. Blinzler wants to see you after recess.”1

In early 1969 I helped organize a party that got me into so much trouble I’ve used it as a gauge for the rest of my life. How did it come about? The same way normally rational people get in unforeseen trouble: Life became too comfortable. Whether you’re reading academic records, scriptural accounts or even bardic oral tradition, one lesson humanity has had to learn over and over is that any time life gets too comfortable we get into mischief. Such self-inflicted shots in the foot can take many forms, but in my case my it wasn’t a golden calf, it my part in planning a beer bust at Jim Kluting’s house on the last night of February 1969.

As I have written elsewhere, my sophomore year in high school was much better than my freshman year and in some ways it was the most enjoyable of my entire high school experience. I was doing well in my studies, I was part of a tight circle of friends and involved in an after-hours judo program. There was a happy balance in my life – for example while it looked like Star Trek was going to be cancelled in the spring, the Beatles graced us with the White Album just after Christmas.

It was also just after the Christmas break2 we started planning a party. Looking around It seemed like everyone in the school was going out on weekends and getting tanked/smashed/blitzed/blotto/feeling no pain while we just shared Playboy party jokes at lunch time. Even I could see we were missing out on something, so we arranged our own “event” for the last Saturday in February – which took some careful coordination as our average age was fifteen and only a couple guys could drive. Through a bit of low-grade subterfuge and careful planning we ended up with three different sleepovers scheduled for the weekend; the sleepovers serving as marshalling areas for the party supplies which we would then amass at Jim Kluting’s house for the event.

My base of operations would be Spike’s house where  we made liberal use of his father’s liquor cabinet in our preparation, carefully stowing the bottles in my old seventh grade book bag. Our friend Louie had somehow convinced his dad to drive him (and his beer) to the party but the white-hot rumor of all rumors involved the Holland sisters who were reportedly coming with beer of their own as well.

The weekend finally arrived, and the various teams started their preparations. I was a little concerned – Spike and I had jumped the gun by knocking back a beer apiece, but most of mine ended up on my coat and the alcohol that did make it into my system was apparently having no effect. I was beginning to wonder if the party was going to be as “off the hook” as we had hoped.

I started into an emotional yo-yo:

  • YO-YO UP: We got out of Spike’s house with the alcohol undetected.
  • YO-YO DOWN: At the last-minute Louie’s dad backed out on giving him beer.
  • YO-YO UP: The Holland sisters showed up for the party.
  • YO-YO DOWN: They weren’t able sneak any of their dad’s beer out of the house.

Undeterred and primed for a raucous, wild night of hedonistic depravity we showed up at the appointed hour at Jim’s door, which I proceeded to pound on wildly with my fist.


“Did we get the date wrong?”

The door opened to a scene of sedate activity. Jim and a half-dozen early arrivals were sitting at card tables playing various games. Jim’s mom had some Jiffy-Pop on the stove and the tables were laden with such exotic and forbidden beverages as Shasta Orange Soda, Seven-up and for those with even more sophisticated taste there was Coca-Cola. Once again, my literal sense of perception had blinded me to the fact that most of the talk about the “off-the-hook” party had been just that: talk  and that only a few of us really did come prepared for a blow-out.

Spike and I were shortly joined by a few other true believers and our party-within-a-party retired out to the driveway to salvage the night. I ended up with one of the Holland sisters in Greg Matranga’s El Camino where nothing more noteworthy than a little snuggling went on. Oh, we did have a Mason jar full of a screwdriverish mix of Shasta Orange Cola and vodka but drinking it made my lip curl and I gave up when more of the hideous concoction ended up on my coat than down my gullet. I went back in the house, apologized to Jim and his mom, and then Spike and I caught a ride back to his house, a little embarrassed but glad everything had been tied up nicely by the end of the evening.

It was early the next week that I found out I was mistaken when I encountered one of the greatest dangers of the Last Frontier; something infinitely more dangerous than bears, wolves, moose, earthquakes, avalanches, ravenous clouds of mosquitos or plane crashes.

A threat to life and limb that made all of these perils fade next to nothing.

An angry mom with high standards for her kids.

Evidently the Holland sister I had been cuddled up had spilled a single drop of our pseudo-screwdriver on her polka-dot slacks – which was enough to wake her mom up from a sound sleep in the master bedroom on the other side of their home. After grilling her daughters most of the night for information, she started tracking down other party participants to their homes, met with parents and started a cascade of parental discipline that had a significant percentage of the sophomore class grounded within 48 hours of the party.

For some reason she didn’t get my name, but Spike’s mom did call my folks and warn them that a crazy lady from North Kenai had started a witch-hunt. As soon as the call was over Mom and Dad started grilling me about the weekend, but I managed to avoid any real punishment by deflecting my parent’s inquiries in a masterpiece of verbal legerdemain:3

  • “Mom, where would I get money to buy beer?”
  • “Who would buy it for me?”
  • “Do you really think I would do something like that?”

For the next two weeks Spike and I lived like escaped POWs trying to blend in with the general German population while Mrs. Holland kept up the witch-hunt for other party-goers. I was so spooked at the prospect of Serious Trouble my stomach was constantly upset but eventually life settled back down to normal and I no longer jumped whenever our phone unexpectedly rang in the evening.

I laid low and rode out the clock, spending two weeks holed up in my room entranced by the White Album, then losing six weeks when I fell in then out of love4.  By that time the academic year was coming to a close; final exams and starting a new job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps absorbed all my spare time and thought, but it was our big pointedly non-alcoholic group date/end of school party that painted over the February debacle for good.

In my best neurotic fashion, I over-analyzed the issue in my mind several times over the summer break and came up with the following conclusions:

  • Alcohol was definitely not my friend. The drunken pleasure or “buzz” that classmates were always talking about just didn’t happen for me.
  • Nothing in life was pleasant enough for me to deal with that much trouble again.

Two Years Later

Debbie and I were cuddled up on the bleachers at a wrestling match, the action on the mat taking second place to the simple pleasure of each other’s company. We were also having a good time with other friends sitting in the general area, one of them being the younger of the two Holland sisters who had been at Jim’s party. Pam was now a varsity cheerleader and we were laughing and responding to her routine, and in general having a good time.  During a break she came over to talk but as she ran back out she waved to a middle-aged woman sitting just to the side and said, “Love you Mom!”


I was sitting within slapping range of the Witch Hunter from 1969!  My distress must have shown because Debbie started asking if I was feeling OK and when my Dad unexpectedly showed up (he didn’t know about Debbie5) I didn’t blink an eye. That familiar yet unwelcome churning in my stomach started up again and I began mentally calculating how quickly I could get to the exit, but then there was another break in the action and Pam showed up at the side of the bleachers.

Again, my distress must have been very obvious because she leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, she forgot about the party a long time ago”. All the tension left my body and I settled back down on the bleachers in relief – and thankful that my resolution to stay out of trouble had also kept me out of Mrs. Holland’s radar long enough for the trouble to go away.

…. now I just had to figure out what to tell my Dad about Debbie.


  1. Why do little kids all instinctly say “Ahhhmmm – you’re in trouble” Why that particular phoneme? Why don’t they say “Ah-oogah – you’re in trouble”?
  2. Most of the dumber stunts I’ve witnessed in myself and friends happened deep in the winter. I think the lack of sunlight has something to do with it. The lack of daylight is supposed to bring on SAD (Seasonal Adjustive Disorder) but I’ve also though it was more accurately expressed as Seasonal Adjustive Dumba**)
  3. It was only later that I realized I probably hadn’t been as clever as I figured. Dad was standing a step behind Mom as they were grilling me, and she couldn’t see him roll his eyes at that last response.
  4. See blog post 1969: With a Little Luck (to be published).
  5. See blog post 1971: …then Dave discovered girls.

CPT Ron Fernstedt’s Last Jump

Despite the common uniform relations between active and reserve components of the Army are not always the most cordial, a fact I soon learned upon assignment to 1st Battalion, 19th Special Forces Group (ABN) Utah National Guard. It was January of 1984 and had just been assigned as the battalion S-2 (Intelligence) after four years of active duty and I was finding reception by the other officers to be decidedly cool.

The ink was still damp on my orders when I had an administrative hot potato dropped in my lap, specifically a Line of Duty (LOD) investigation. Whenever a reservist is injured while on drill an LOD must be completed to verify the conditions surrounding the injury and eligibility for future medical coverage. Never an easy task, this particular LOD investigation was a particularly complex and critical situation because of the timing and circumstances of the injury in question. I also happened to be the third officer assigned to the case, the previous two begging off because of conflict of interest, hair in need of a wash or some other flimsy excuse.

It was while I was struggling with this LOD that I first met Ron Fernstedt. The solider in question was a member of his team and as far as I could tell the investigation wasn’t looking good for this soldier. Ron stormed in one day and with his face set (in the way only Ron could manage) and demanding fair treatment for his subordinate. While not nearly as forceful I replied that I was doing the best job I knew how to do and that his sergeant would get an honest and fair investigation.

The room got quiet as our eyes locked. Several thoughts came to mind:

  • My path to the nearest exit
  • Money available for an emergency room visit
  • …and if I ever lost my axe this guy’s face was hard enough to make an excellent replacement

A minute passed, Ron’s face softened an iota and he spoke:

“You’re Deitrick – the new S2 here. You just came off active duty – right?”

I replied with a witty rejoinder: “Urk – yeah”

“They’ve dumped this grenade in your lap with the pin half-pulled and you’ve probably never seen, much less completed a National Guard line-of-duty investigation before”

Again, the clever quip: “Urk!”

The change was imperceptible, but there was change nonetheless. He became just a little less confrontational and a little more helpful as he realized that I had been put in just a precarious position as his team member. He helped me through the maze of National Guard Bureau and Utah National Guard regulations that had me completely baffled and eventually the LOD investigation was resolved in a less-than-total win for his subordinate, but it was a resolution that was totally fair and according to regulation.

It was pattern that in my experience would repeat itself every time I worked with Ron. He had a larger-than-life personality and definitely played to win, but at the same time his actions were tempered with a sense of justice and expertly camouflaged compassion. He had a strong set of standards to live by but wasn’t ostentatious about the matter.

He was like my favorite uncle – he could be a little scary, but I always knew where I stood with him, that he was looking for my best interests and that we were all safe in every sense when he was on watch. He took his Last Jump to a better life earlier this week while standing on his feet –  a soldier to the last – and we will all be a little poorer because of the loss.

1972: Transition From Black & White

The more things change the more they stay the same. In this case the  “same” part was the fact that It was autumn and I was standing with a pretty girl in the waiting line in front of the campus cinema. The changed part? Twelve months earlier I had been taking Molly Dunham to see Castle Keep showing at the University of Alaska student cinema. Now I was taking my Best Friend to see The Wizard of Oz at the Manwaring Center at the Ricks College student cinema.

Also changed? I was really, really not-happy. Not necessarily “unhappy” but there were several places I’d rather be than Rexburg, Idaho.  I had spent the previous academic year at a state school with no real restrictions and my transfer to a faith-based conservative school with precise dress, grooming and conduct codes was something that would have not happened had I not been following my Best Friend, who’d chosen to attend Ricks long before she met me.

The dress and grooming standards weren’t the only drawback though. Up to this point my life had been spent on the Left Coast – California, Alaska and a brief interlude in Washington State. Going to school at Ricks College was like living in an Archie comic and whenever we were on the road I kept looking for signs that read “Welcome to Idaho – Please set your clocks back twenty years”.  People were nice enough but quirky.

However, that quirky behavior wasn’t all bad.  Going out at night was a lot less stressful that it had often been at home when any kind of weekend evening activity could involve navigating around people in various degrees of chemically-induced mental/emotional impairment. That impairment took different forms depending on the chemical involved; if weed was involved people were laid back and pleasant, but if there’d been some heavy-duty drinking, chances were someone would eventually start swinging. As sweet as she was my Best Friend was clueless to these kinds of situations and was baffled at my change in demeanor when walking from the car to wherever we were going. One minute I would be making my usual bad puns but once I was out the door I was as taciturn and alert as John Wayne in Fort Apache (“I don’t like it Cookie. The Indian drums have stopped and it’s too quiet out there!”).

I’d had to deal with some ugly situations with drunks interfering with other dates and there was no way I was going to let something like that happen to my Best Friend, so going to and from most of our activities were more like tactics exercises than anything else. I expected the situation to be much the same in Idaho but fortunately during the few weeks we’d been in Rexburg had been pretty peaceful and pleasant.

…including this particular trip to watch Judy Garland prance around with Munchkins at the student cinema on the third floor of the Manwaring student center. We arrived early but there was already a number of students waiting in line down the hallway. The hallway was a bit unusual:  To accommodate rooms of various size and configuration doors leading off this hallway were set back in varying depths with some of the doors flush with the wall and others inset anywhere from six inches to two feet. We’d parked ourselves in front of one of these inset mini-alcoves when the door at the end of the hallway crashed open and a very cowboyish-looking guy walked in. As he moved down the hall and past the line of people waiting for the movie he brushed shoulders with another young man standing a couple of spaces ahead of us.


My inner alarm system kicked in at what I figured to be an imminent fight. As the adrenaline started pumping I turned and swept my Best Friend into the alcove behind us, then stood in front with my hands up, ready to push the combatants away if the inevitable fight started to move in our direction.

Then something completely unexpected happened.

“Sorry – I warn’t watching whar I was going” said the cowboy.

“No problem” said the brushee.

“David, what is going on?” said my Best Friend, her muffled voice echoing from the alcove behind me.

I was totally bewildered as the two shook hands and the cowboy kept walking down the hall. I could feel little mental fuses and circuit breakers in my brain burn out and pop. The situation had resolved itself in a manner completely foreign to my experience  – Instincts kicked in and I started to loudly berate the young man in the line ahead of us.

“What are you doing you >expletive deleted<?”

 “He just ran RIGHT into you!  And your girlfriend too!”

 “Kick his a**!”

 A slender hand reached around, grabbed the front of my overcoat and gently pulled me around and away from the others in the line. While she straightened my lapel and dusted non-existent dust off my shoulders my Best Friend quietly said:

David, we’re not in Fairbanks anymore. Things are different here and different doesn’t always mean bad…or worse.”

 …which completely shut me up.

 …and I stayed quiet because I had a lot to think about. The parallel between what had happened outside and what was happening on the screen was sledge-hammer obvious.  I’d come from an environment that was just as black-and-white as the scenes in Kansas up on the screen and I while I wasn’t ready to say that Idaho was “color” in comparison to my home in Alaska, I was finding that “quirky-but-nice” might be just nice.







1962: Surf’s Up!

Sunny beach

After a grueling two-week road trip, it was no surprise that I had been asleep when we arrived, which in turn meant that I was understandably disoriented upon waking up in a place I’d never seen before. The room was in chaos with little sisters snuggled in sleeping bags tucked in between stacks of cardboard boxes. Other than a clock reading 5:00 the walls were bare but as I looked out the window the sky was much too bright for five in the morning. I shook my head and sat back bewildered until I remembered where we’d been headed during those fourteen days on the road.

We’d finally made it to Alaska.

The move north had been a long, complicated process that started with a movie the previous winter. My parents were serious John Wayne fans and when North to Alaska came to town they bundled us all up in the station wagon for a family night at the theater.  My parents had very different reactions to the show; Mom thought it was great simply because it featured the Duke, but Dad spent the two hours and two minutes making editorial comments about location shots – and that’s when we learned that ten years earlier he’d been stationed at Kodiak Naval Air Station. He laughed and said “So, what would you all think about moving to Alaska?” to which in turn we all laughed, then immediately went into a discussion about Ernie Kovacs sliding down the muddy hill, forgetting Dad’s question.

….so, it’s understandable that we were all surprised when two months later he informed us that we were moving to Alaska. He had managed to get a transfer from the state employment office he was currently working at to an equivalent agency office in Juneau (AK)…and not only was this short notice, the move itself was going to be a short-fused operation. In about a month he would head north driving his old Ford truck loaded with some of our larger possessions and our two dogs while we would go live with my grandmother in Grass Valley (CA) until he came back in August to drive the rest of us up in our station wagon.

The move went as planned but for two changes that came about in mid-summer.

  • Grandma Ester hit a saturation point for having kids underfoot so around the Fourth of July we relocated to my great grandmother Hilda’s home in Nevada City.
  • Dad was transferred (with a raise) from the main office in Juneau to the state’s largest office in Anchorage.

So, it turned out that Anchorage was our destination when we left California in early August of 1962.  I remember just a few details about the trip – but then what would be truly memorable about two weeks crammed in the cargo area of a 1960 Ford Falcon compact station wagon, two weeks that included two thousand miles of gravel road?

High points included:

  • A frustrated breakfast in Fort Nelson (the free toy offer on the back of the cereal box was open only to Canadian citizens.)
  • A Rocky & Bullwinkle comic my mom bought for me in Dawson Creek.
  • A plastic RMCP Mountie statuette my father bought for me in Fort St. John.

Mostly I remember the seemingly endless unpaved part of the highway.  Any other summer I would have rejoiced in a never- ending string of sunny days, but this time the lack of rain meant a bumper crop of dust, and while you’d assume that with such a small interior space our Falcon would be uniformly dirty, my section (the “berry back”) was the grimiest space in the whole car.  To hasten the passage of time I found myself sleeping as much as possible which was why I was dead to the world when we finally arrived at our Garfield street duplex apartment in Anchorage Alaska.

I couldn’t wait to get up and explore our new home turf and was so excited dressing I kept putting both feet into the same trouser leg. All I could think about was the beach! On the long drive north, Dad hadn’t said much about life in Anchorage but in the months leading up to the move I had learned that Anchorage was bordered on two sides by the ocean. KA-CHING! All I could think about were the three golden months we’d spent in San Diego two years earlier and how much I loved our weekends on the beach.

In the meantime, the beach could wait because there were so many other things to do, activities that I’d missed out on while living out in Little Shasta Valley.  To begin with I was starting fourth grade at Willowcrest Elementary which entailed a lot more than the social issues involved in going from a one room country school to a contemporary single-grade school class with thirty kids. Classwork at Willowcrest took a hefty step up in difficulty (arithmetic became mathematics) as Anchorage schools put a heavier emphasis on preparation for junior high.

I also got a job helping an older boy with his paper route for two weeks…until I used those newly acquired math skills to figure out that I was doing most of the work while he was getting most of the money. Cub Scouts also took up a lot of my time as I was starting a year later than usual and had to pass  all the Wolf requirements before joining in with my buddies working on the Bear badge, It was under the guise of passing off some Cub achievements  that I proposed a family outing to  Bird Creek, which according to the road map I picked up at the Chevron station was located within walking distance of  Turnagain Arm – you know the seashore.

The ocean.

Golden sand and blue skies here I come.

Dad agreed that a family outing was a good idea and would give us a good look at our new home so the next Saturday found us driving down the Seward Highway for a bit then pulling over to a parking area on the northwest side of the road. From what I could see on the trip  it looked like the tide was in but the view from our parking spot was partially blocked by the raised road bed and  a stand of willows on the other side. The best I could get was a glimpse of the ocean underneath the bridge and again all I saw was sunlight flickering on the water.

The day was beautiful in that golden manner unique to autumn in Alaska and was the first time I encountered that unusual acrid smell in the fall air that comes about from a combination of decaying leaves and cranberries.  While dad fished I climbed up the giant boulders that my classmates had forewarned me about and then  explored a couple of side trails – I got so caught up in that adventure I almost forgot  the real reason for the trip – the beach.

I ran over and started pestering dad, whining in that paint-peeling, glass-etching frequency that that only  a nine-year old boy’s vocal chords  can create. Admitting defeat Dad collected his  fishing tackle,  checked his watch, muttered about tides then sighed as we started towards the ocean. Keeping an eye out on both lanes he started to walk me across the highway, but something snapped the minute we crossed the center line and I shook lose his hand to run  the rest of the way by myself, bursting through the tree line at full tilt.

Between leaves slapping me during that transit and a day’s worth of staring into a sunlit sky my vision was kind of hazy, but I could see that the beach looked awfully dark and “funny-looking” to be sand-covered. My pace faltered for a fraction of a second but then I remembered reading somewhere about black sand in Iceland, Hawaii or New Jersey and picked up the pace to sprint level again.

As I hit that last yard I broke into a broad jump but as I was flying through the air the “funny-look” issue finally came together for me. The beach looked wet and shiny.


Everything went black. Well, actually it wasn’t so much black as greyish brown. A sticky slimy greyish-brown. I was covered with the slimiest, stickiest gooiest mud I’d ever encountered in my short life that looked and felt like a mixture of chocolate pudding, axle grease and something out of my baby sister’s diaper after she’d eaten pureed liver.

Where the hell was my beach – my beautiful sandy beach?

I tried throwing a tantrum but all I did was fall back down into the mud. I got in a couple more attempts before Dad showed up with some rags and helped me scrub off the worst of the mud. While he was doing so he began to explain in very basic terms the reasons for the lack of sand – or more precisely the reason for the sticky mud. He pointed out the glaciers and talked about the silt that drifted down in the streams. He pointed out where high tide would reach and told me about the bore tides. In general, he spent about 20 un-Dad-like minutes getting my mind off the junk smeared all over me so the  squish-squish-squish walk back to the car wasn’t as miserable as I thought it would be.

I sulked all the way home and continued to do so while my mom stripped off my muddy clothes and dropped me in the tub, but while the mud washed away my disappointment lingered. As days went by the sadness lessened a bit, it didn’t completely go away and it wasn’t until Pack meeting the following week that I figured out why.

I was having so much fun with skits and games that I forgot to sulk; when we took a break the blues reappeared and at that point  I had one of my first fifty-year-old-man-in-kid’s-body insights. It wasn’t the ocean or the sand that I was feeling sad about – I was homesick. I had lots of new friends and lots of cool things to do in Anchorage, but my cousins and old friends were thousand miles south now and it didn’t look like we were heading home any time soon. It was going to take a bit longer to wash away those blues  than it took to wash out the browns and greys of the mud.


Mid-morning Purgatory

Night time seems to be the popular setting for most writing about coping with depression or illness. The dark and quiet hours of the night seem to be the hardest for most people to deal with as they battle their personal demons – it seems to magnify the isolation that comes with chronic illness.

Hell comes knocking on my door at 9:00 AM every morning.

Maybe it’s because I woke up screaming at 4:30 and it’s taken me until nine to be able to walk. Maybe it’s because I just watched most of my neighbors drive off to work while I am stuck here in my home/prison cell. Maybe it’s because I’d rather be bouncing along the street with the joggers instead of hobbling around my studio with two canes

Maybe I can really get tired of living this half-life.  I’m trying to think of a punch-line or something upbeat to add in but to be honest I am so over the platitudes and the “warm fuzzys” about positive mental attitudes and forgiveness. For every kitten poster with “hang in there baby” I’ve got two other flavors to match:

  • Two buzzards perched at the edge of the desert with the caption “Patience my *ss. I’m going to kill something:
  • The guy in the swamp clambering up a tree with the caption “When you’re up to you *ss in alligators it’s hard to remember our original goal was to drain the swamp!”

Yes, I will hang on. I’ll get through the day – mostly because I have Lori to lean on but there are no magic bullets (or posters) to make all the fractures, inflammation and calcification go away. The best I can do is to tell myself at bedtime that “maybe tomorrow will be a better day” and hope that the people around me will forgive my surliness when I hit mid-morning purgatory the twelve hours later.

1965: Three O’clock High

 “Colonel – we’ve got more flak holes than fuselage and Skippy is stuck in the ball turret!”

“OK – keep working on getting him out.”

“Pilot to crew: Keep a sharp lookout for enemy fighters. We’re going in!”

“Pilot to bombardier: We’re coming up on the IP.”

“Patches of cirrus clouds obscuring the area sir!”

“Get your boots on Gus!”

“Can you still see the target?”

“I said get your boots on NOW!”



…and just like that I went from 25,000 feet over the armament plants in 1943’s Schweinfurt Germany to 3 feet above the living room floor in 1965’s Sterling Alaska. For some reason KENI TV had decided to run the second season of Twelve O’clock High on Sunday afternoons. For an equally mysterious reason my dad chose Sunday afternoons to go out and get firewood.

Oh, and did I tell you that it was the middle of winter?

I’d learned long ago that there was no point in arguing discussing the matter; after pulling on my work boots and grabbing my coat and gloves I’d slog out to the pick-up where (with any luck) Dad would have the heater already going. Riding in Dad’s 1941 Ford truck was one of the very few positive aspects to our firewood expeditions – I loved that old bucket-of-bolts and would eventually earn my license by driving it all around the pastures surrounding our house. The other slightly positive factor was the proximity of dead trees to cut: we lived in the middle of what had been the big fire of 1947 when a good part of the Kenai peninsula had been burned out – so there were plenty of cuttable dead trees fairly close by.

While this trip took us only a couple of hundred yards up the road it was still physically challenging as  years of harvesting left most of the suitable wood  at least fifty yards off the road. It was not an easy hike – after negotiating the earthen berm left from the road’s construction there were enough fallen logs, hillocks, and depressions in the ground to make the trip between cutting site and  truck more of an obstacle course than a stroll in the woods.

…all of which contributed to the blue funk I was wallowing in. In addition to the hike I was cold, the chunks of wood were heavy, and to be brutally honest I was kind of creeped out being around Dad (not that anything hinky was going on) – I just didn’t know him that well.

Dad had spent twenty years in the Navy, retiring when I was about five and during those five years I rarely saw him  – he was just this guy in a uniform that showed up about every six months. Unfortunately when he finally did become a full-time parent not much changed.  As I have mentioned before my dad wasn’t so much “raised” as dragged up; his birth father abandoned the family when Dad was an infant only to be replaced by a physically abusive step-father, so my father had little opportunity to observe much less develop parenting skills. I think that shortcoming bothered him more than he let on because his  first five or six post-service years always entailed  jobs  that entailed a lot of travel away from the family.

He was gone a lot until we moved to the Kenai Peninsula where  job duties and our living arrangements kept us all in close proximity for the first time. As the fifty-year-old-man-in-a-twelve-year-old’s-body that I was it didn’t take me long to figure out his past absence was a major factor in my discomfort, but that was information that I shared exactly one (1) time with my mom who unfortunately was in the middle of one of her bi-polar spells. It took time, effort and an icepack to extinguish the resulting metaphorical flames.

…but for the moment I was tired, cold,  my feet were wet, and there was a butt-load of   wood left to haul from the cutting site to the truck. A year earlier I would have been sniveling and crying at my cruel fate, but from the lofty perch of my 12-almost-13 years there was no way I was going to give in to tears. I think it surprised Dad – he’d started out gruffly giving instructions, but as  visibly started to tire his tone of voice started to soften a bit.

He asked if I was OK, mistaking my silence for whine-control, but when he saw the determined look on my face his expression hardened for a moment – then softened again. Then told me that I’d moved a lot of firewood, almost as much as a grown man would have and when his chainsaw stalled he called me over and explained the process as he manipulated the choke, then asked for my input and had me try pulling the start cord a couple of times too.

Then he inexplicably stopped trying to restart the chainsaw, packed it back to the truck and started helping me with the rest of the cut wood. I was mystified – when we piled up the last piece the truck wasn’t nearly as loaded down as usual, which I most definitely did not comment on for fear of spoiling the moment and somehow prodding him into cutting and sawing again. Instead of more cutting and sawing something incredible happened – he started the truck up, briefly instructed me on the functions of the clutch, brake & throttle, then asked me if I wanted to drive the truck back home!

The trip back to the house felt more like riding a severely gaited mule than a truck, but eventually I made it back to the house driving all the way in first gear. After stacking the wood, we went in to hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies, with Dad and I bantering in “guy” talk with like he never had before…but then Mom started setting the table for dinner which was my cue for cleaning up and getting my stuff together for school the next day.

…and just like that the spell was broken…

If this incident had been a script for an episode of The Waltons my relationship with Dad would have changed for the better and from then on we would have become close buddies as well as father and son but unfortunately The Waltons would not be on the air for another seven years and our relationship didn’t change much. There were other non-video factors at work – in addition to his own self-doubt about fatherhood Dad had to operate under a set of strict guidelines my mom had given him regarding me, guidelines that guaranteed a permanent gap.

She had watched her older brother struggle with alcohol for most of his life, a condition that in my mom’s very black-or-white manner of thinking was brought about by excessive family pressure to excel in everything he did.  Her favorite example was when he would play the first half of a football game (both offense and defense) then play the tuba with the marching band at half time, THEN go back for the second half, again playing in both directions.

She was convinced I would follow that same path, so she told Dad that she didn’t want him forcing me into any kind of sport or interest – that I had to approach him to instigate the activity. It didn’t matter if it was just playing catch or collecting stamps – I had to express an interest first.  When you connected the dots between Mom’s restrictions and Dad’s own inner demons it was easy to understand why my father and I existed on the same planet but lived in different worlds.

Unfortunately, this was decades before even the idea of family counseling, and in our textbook bi-polar home the situation remained an open secret and was never discussed. Nevertheless that particular day we went chopping firewood together was a start. The door had been opened just long enough for me to see what Dad was really like and from then on, other doors were opened from time to time. We could be framing a shed, camping with the family or even just standing on the roof adjusting the T.V. antenna; I’d catch his eye, he’d look back and his expression would relax just enough for me to know that the door was open and for at least a couple of minutes the words “father” and “son” were not just titles.




The Car-key Fairy


Sometime after putting together the Myrmaids concept I came up with a second line of figures called (In)Formal Fairies, a mish-mash reimagining of the traditional gremlin concept but based on female fairies dressed in formal gowns rather than ugly critters that you can’t feed or get wet. I wasn’t able to put nearly as much time and energy into this second concept, so production of the concept paintings ended up spread over several years.

Long story short:  quality is very inconsistent so I’m going back to the drawing board for a new set of images on which to base my copyright application.


I produced sculpts for two of the fairies that have held up well. Occasionally I will sell a casting, but I haven’t sold very many because:

  1. A) I’d like to get the entire set of images finished and under registered copyright first
  2. B) I have to put a pretty hefty price tag on them – there’s a LOT of clean-up work required after casting, not to mention the time involved in quality painting.

Now, do you ever wonder where those car keys went? The ones that you just had in your pocket yesterday? Well, look no further than the young lady imp pictured today. Done up in a shimmering formal gown complete with cocktail gloves, she is getting ready to drop the aforementioned get of keys down a heating vent, where you’ll never, ever  think to look for them…

Time for a change…again

My dad used to say ” a move was as good as a change” but I personally think the opposite to be true: “a change is as good as a move.” Living in Clarksville is nice but I do miss the gypsy days of my younger years when it seemed like I was moving every year or three.  Funny thing: I always felt a bit short-changed at the time because I didn’t have a home town – place where  I spent my entire youth from birth to young adulthood, but after living for extended periods in some places I realized that I like a change of venue from time to time.

All of which has nothing to do with the new masthead illustration. The title is “Solo Kill” and it was painted with acrylics on a 36″ X 15″ Masonite panel. It was produced in 1990 and is based on a book written by Skye Boult  – and  if you search through my older Solo Kill posts you will find that there’s actually an interesting back story to both the book and the painting.

…and yes, it really is a cat flying that airplane.