Kris Station

Kris Station

Yes, her name is a terrible pun…

She could be Canadian. She could be a New England gal. I just tried to capture that fresh-faced Down-east look that surrounded me when I lived in Maine years ago. She was the very first Myrmaid I designed, inspired by an episode of Married with Children. Christina Applegate was parading around in a semi-rigid bustier that didn’t seem to move the same way she did –  which brought to mind the idea of a shell… and from there my thinking went to armor then to lobsters and the rest is  history.

Please note that for those interested  jimmo shirts has given me a direct link to the Myrmaid merchandise area of the store.

https://jimmoshirts.com/collections/david-r-deitrick-collection

Advertisements

Myrmaids / Mermaids

I’ve never learned any skill as quickly as I picked up sculpting.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise – I’d been producing assorted flavors of three-dimensional work all of my life but in areas not considered as “art”:  woodworking, model-making and prototype construction. It took a joint project in the early 90’s with Lori – the proverbial Christmas present for the friend who has everything – to take me over that last creative hurdle into sculpting as fine art. When I finally made the change it was like coming home after a long trip -where my progress in painting was measured in years the intervals between creative leaps in dimensional work were counted in months and sometimes days.

 At the same time, I was becoming dissatisfied with some aspects of  subject matter clients were starting to favor. The gaming market had become darker and while my bright, upbeat style was popular in 1985 (“if David is doing the cover it will be in good taste”) by 1995 it was a difficult sell (“I just don’t know if David can get gritty enough”). The creative trend that most disturbed me was the way women were portrayed in popular culture – what was touted as a move to bring a better balance in gender ended up as an excuse to create female characters that combined the dysfunction and violence of the typical male antihero with a chest that needed an antigravity system for support and a waist too small to allow a functioning digestive tract.

It was obvious that I had to broaden my client pool – not only was my current market changing, it was disappearing as if by Magic2 with many of the companies I usually worked for either out of business or soon to be so. While I was contemplating that situation one day a friend suggested I look at the collectible figurines market – the toys-that-aren’t toys sold in Hallmark stores and specialty gift shops. There was a great potential for profit and the average collectible consumer was already favorable towards that formal motif that I wanted to work in. Most importantly I could be doing interesting work in a medium that I had grown to love.

I spent the next year producing and marketing a line of collectible figurines based on ethnically diverse mermaids paired with sea-life native to each pertinent ethnic region. I called them Myrmaids and while the proposal was well received in terms of concept and execution I was continually running into people that wanted to “lead from the middle” – to work with a property that had been presold because of affiliation with a comic or animated cartoon.

It was a very frustrating situation; I was teaching two and three classes a semester at the college, producing work for on-going freelance commitments and (most importantly) had a wife and three children to take care of. I just didn’t have the time required in those pre-Internet times to conduct a thorough campaign, so I obtained a registered copyright to protect the concept and carefully packed away my renderings for use later.

Then as often happens life got in the way of life.  As we stood by to help our children transition through high school and college into adult life I was also beset with multiple autoimmune diseases that had a brutal impact on my creative activities. Toss two moves into the mix and it is no surprise that the Myrmaids project never got completely back on track.

…then I came across the original renderings while sorting boxes of “stuff” the other day.  I tend to be hypercritical with my old work but that wasn’t the case with the Myrmaids renderings –they still hold up nicely. “The girls” are some of my best work and deserve more than to be stashed away in a crate under my desk.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if the figure line is going to happen anytime soon – I’ve produced test sculpts in two different scales but I still don’t have a manufacturer – but the good folks at jimmoshirts.com have approached me about doing a line of T-shirts featuring the Myrmaids so check out their website as soon as you can.

Koralredci

Koralredci will be first in the series and combines the mystique of Ancient Egypt with the contour and color of the coral fish that live in the waters around the area. She is one of the few figures in the line that you may have seen previously as she quickly found a home in my portfolio and in some of the promotional campaigns I’ve put together over the years.

…and I really wish I didn’t need to include the following information but just this last week I’ve been hit with theft of intellectual property. Someone is pirating illustrations I did for Marc Miller’s classic science fiction role-playing game Traveller – all art that has been clearly marked with the copyright bullet © – and they are proving difficult to track down, so I feel prompted to include the following information

Please note the following:

  • The entire line is under registered copyright and not available for commercial use
  • Please include my name and a copyright notice on any reproduction
  • Full figureproduction is still in the planning stages with production at least two years away.
  • T-shirts, hoodies, and mugs will be available at jimmoshirts.com

Enjoy!

MyrmaidLogo

 

1967: How Do I Shoot a Basketball?

Boy/girl romantic mushy stuff kind of ambushed me; it seemed like overnight everyone went from playing army to “playing the field”, which was tough when there were eight boys to two girls in my eighth-grade class. Without an older brother to pattern on I was clueless when it came to managing the romantic side of life – but while there were several situations dealing with love & hate during eighth grade, none of which (unfortunately) involved girls. Living in Sterling was a love/hate relationship; while I hated moving to the Peninsula from Anchorage I was finally making some good friends. Participating in sports was a love/hate relationship; I loved doing things with my friends, but I hated the fact that I had absolutely no skill in sports at the time. Having Head Teacher in both a classroom setting and as a coach was not so much a love/hate relationship as an endure/hate situation.

On one hand Head Teacher was impressive – he fought across Europe with the glider infantry in World War 2, he was personally very intelligent, and he worked hard to improve Sterling School, establishing both a sports program and a controlled reading program that raised reading speed and comprehension in every student that participated. Most importantly he elbowed the school district into completing a badly needed but often delayed multipurpose room that served as combination cafeteria/gymnasium and counterbalance to student cabin fever.

On the other hand, he could be meaner than hell, especially if you embarrassed him.  I made the mistake of making the ethnic distinction that “Scotch is what a Scotsman drinks” and paid for it for the rest of my life. Head Teacher was one of those people unable to handle conflict with a kid without descending to a kid-level of thought and action himself; he took offense easily and never tired of carrying a grudge, an unfortunate tendency aggravated by the lunch he often took in liquid form.  I do have to say that he gave credit where credit was due; during class discussions he’d ask for my input when searching for a title, definition or some other bit of information from any of my areas of interest, and when I placed first in the school district science fair he showed just as much support for me as he did for his designated favorites.

Unfortunately, his model of character assessments placed a bit too much emphasis on athletics for an elementary school environment and as I consistently lagged two or three years behind my peers in developing strength speed and athletic skills it was a sure bet that I would miss getting on board with the Head Teacher sports machine.

The first sport of the year was softball, which for me was a qualified success: I got to suit up, but I sat on the bench for the entire season. As the year progressed and we changed sports I decided on a more attainable goal and applied to be the manager of the basketball team. Head Teacher somehow convinced me to try out for the team instead of that manager’s position and while I didn’t miss a single practice I never was tapped to suit up for even a single game. Given my relative lack of athletic talent at the time I wasn’t too troubled by the perpetual benching, but it soon became obvious that talent was not the deciding factor. No matter how well I did in practice I’d be passed over at game time, and it became quite a bitter pill to swallow when he started to fill the second team with fifth graders who routinely failed to get a ball even close to the net, much less through it.

It didn’t matter. I still showed up every Wednesday night and Saturday morning to participate in the all the exercises and drills to include the dreaded final four-lap run around the gym at the end of practice. It was a definite challenge to stick with the program especially since I was so bad at the sport that the only feedback I was given consisted of variations of the same message: “You’re a loser”.

I still showed for every practice – and I also went to every game without fail where I’d sit in the stands and cheer for my friends with the same dogged determination as when I’d try (and fail) to make a lay-up shot. Despite the vindictive and petty needling, it never occurred to me to quit.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my Mom worried about me the whole season – that I would somehow end up emotionally damaged because of the experience. Unfortunately, some of her fears were well-founded; any effort at bettering myself seemed pointless after being so thoroughly schooled in my own total lack of value that I ended up just drifting through high school until college and a change of venue altered my outlook.

…. but it actually wasn’t a juncture almost forty years later that Head Teacher’s tutelage showed its true value. In a deep discussion about permanent solutions to temporary problems Mom paused and said, “You know, Fritz can take the credit for this” – a comment which totally bewildered me at first. When I mumbled something about his actions causing the current situation she stopped me cold:

“No – he made it possible for you to survive!  I saw what Fritz was doing, and it broke my heart to see how he constantly (expletive deleted) with your head…but as hard as it was – never missing a practice but never playing – dealing with the constant belittlement in class– you never quit…

 “It made you stronger.”

 She was right, and that’s why when I heard of his passing I smiled instead of making my usual snarky comment. I haven’t won every battle in life, but I’ve always stood up one time more than I’ve been knocked down. It had never occurred to me that each time I got knocked down Head Teacher’s antics would come to mind – and  would jolt me into getting up again, and for that I must give him credit where credit is due.

The experience also gives a clue to the question in this post’s title.

I have no affinity for basketball in any form or level of competition. My sort-of twin sister Heather loves the game and maintains that Head Teacher is responsible for that attitude, but to be totally honest it is a chicken vs. egg type of situation. I wasn’t a fan before I tried out for the Sterling team in the winter of 1967 and afterwards…well the only time I even thought about the game was when I had to deal with the irritating and pointless distraction it presented to every pack, troop, team and post that I worked with in my 30+ years as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts.

How do I shoot a basketball?

With a shotgun.

Reworked Traveller Character

Nothing sells better than nostalgia and I do a brisk trade doing renderings of RPG characters from my “Elvis years” of the 1980s. Most of the time people are looking for reworked BattleTech or  Star Trek figures, but Ged Trias threw me a curve ball and asked for  a marker rendering of Merchant Captain Alexander Jamison who appeared in  1982’s   Traveller Book.

It was an interesting project. On one hand I wanted to stay close to the design philosophy/motif I’d established all those years ago – but at the same time I wanted to reflect my improved thinking and skills. I hold fast to Michelangelo Buonoratti’s  model of professional development ( his last words were ‘I have so much to learn”)

2017-11-01 Jamison Character Design

Digital Drive-by

Does the illustration look familiar? It was one of a half-dozen illustrations I did as covers for the Aliens sourcebooks from Marc Miller’s epic science fiction role-playing game published by Game Designers’ Workshop. I also did covers for the Aslan, K’Kree, Solomani, Droyne and Vargyr volumes, all of which seem to be reproduced in this line of T-shirts.

These totally unlicensed T-shirts I might add.

We’ve moved a half-dozen times in the thirty years since I did this work so I don’t have access to who-agreed-to-what but so far no one of the principals involved in the creation of the work have been contacted/consulted/PAID from Marc Miller on down. I wish I could say that this shocks and surprises me…but it doesn’t. After teaching college  – also for thirty years – I have no illusions about business ethics in some of my students entering the work force.

1962: Arctic Armor

Mention the Trojan War and most people think of the contoured body armor worn by all the combatants – breastplates, greaves and armbands made to look like the ideal version of human musculature. You look so good in it that you don’t want to take it off – even for a lunch break or a trip to the “loo” – which is exactly why Michael Keaton would routinely “hold it” rather than change out of his body suit of similar construction during the filming of the 1989 version of Batman.

Do a little research and you will find that the people besieging Troy were actually Mycenaeans – predecessors to the Greeks with a much less impressive military wardrobe. Instead of form fitting suits resembling Michael Keaton’s Batman armor, Mycenean technology limited their suits of armor to cylindrical components lashed and riveted together in less-than-totally-functional armor. As they marched to battle they looked more like the Michelin Man than Batman.

I ended up in a similar situation during my first winter in Alaska. None of our family members anticipated weather-related clothing problems – after all we had extensive experience with chilly winter weather after surviving  three entire years in the Little Shasta Valley located on the California/Oregon border. We got at least four or five days of snow a year which often persisted through the night to a second day, so we weren’t exactly rookies when it came to be dressing for warmth.

Indeed, Mom’s expression was the very essence of smug as she showed me a picture of my first Alaskan winter coat as sold through the JC Penny’s catalog.  She was delighted; the listing showed a roomy and well insulated olive-green winter coat complete with vinyl shell and detachable hood, cut long enough for coverage to my knees.  I was not equally entranced – a garment made of polyvinyl plastic might work fine with my Rocky and Bullwinkle Color-forms set but that trendy acrylic wash rendering didn’t fool me for one second – It was one of the most hideous, least functional garments I had ever seen and for some reason I took to calling it simply Ugly Coat.

I should have taken note of the small inset black and white photo of an Oriental boy modeling Ugly Coat in the catalog because it would have given me a better sense of size and cut –  not even the Army would ever give me a garment that fit so poorly in so many places. Rather than reaching my thigh the bottom of the garment barely overlapped the waistband of my trousers. The hood was so small that I had to tie the drawstring under my lip and none of the zippers or openings were lined to keep out the wind…and as I was still sporting the bright red hair of my toddler days donning that plastic monstrosity had me looking like a Spanish olive stuffed with a pimento.

…but lurid color would prove to be Ugly Coat’s smallest drawback – as daily temperatures plunged well past the mild chill we’d experienced in California I found  that in arctic weather vinyl freezes stiff and becomes very difficult to bend – and will eventually crack at bending points.  By Christmas time I looked like a Landsknecht mercenary wearing looted, slashed clothing as I moved about in the snow, my shirt and trousers flapping through the long cracks in the vinyl.

I considered just staying inside all the time but with only a single Mighty Mouse program on Saturday TV, , the only thing close to weekend kid video entertainment was mocking commentary that we made for  the announcers on ABC Wide World of Sports.  It started out as pure sarcasmm , but as I watched over the weekends I slowly developed an interest in winter sports, By Thanksgiving I was eager to master as many events as I could, unaware that Ugly Coat was going to spend the next five months working to keep me from doing just that.

Our family’s “all for one /one for all” motto meant that no one was going to get decent skates anytime soon, so a lack of suitable equipment forced me into a reasonable facsimile of skating through running and sliding on the ice in front of the 11th Avenue/ E Street chapel. If I left the building right as Sunday School ended I could get in ten minutes of faux-skating before we left for home; The smooth leather soles of my Sunday shoes were nice and slippery, and I soon learned that by adjusting my stance and center of gravity I could  stay both vertical and cover a good distance.

Unfortunately, the day came when the temperature took a nose-dive and I had to wear Ugly Coat over my church clothes. The closing “Amen” had barely left our lips as I hit the front door at a dead run, my legs  churning even before I reached the front sidewalk – but as I launched into my slide I discovered something was dreadfully wrong: It was almost impossible for me to move or bend in that frozen vinyl shell.  Any sort of course correction was impossible and within seconds I was in serious trouble, spinning and sliding along towards a frozen berm to one side.

I softly chuckled in relief.  “A nice soft snow bank” I thought to myself, magnanimously accepting second place in Olympic Sidewalk Sliding. I should be so lucky. I hit the berm sliding backwards and the heels of my feet hit the edge of the sidewalk and caused me to do the splits…the Chinese splits. My legs shot out sideways, my kiester hit the icy pavement and I pulled muscles in places that I didn’t know I had muscles…or even places.  My folks took me home immediately and put me in a tub of the hottest water I could stand but neither hot water or liberal applications of Ben-Gay seemed to help. I couldn’t walk properly for the next ten days and to resort to short hops and sideways shuffles to get around the house or classroom.

The three weeks spent hors de combat after the Chinese splits incident cut heavily into the time available for marking winter sports off my list, but my prospects got better when we started sledding after our weekly Cub den meeting.  Bobsledding was another favorite from the ABC Wide World of Sports and while there wasn’t a total hardware matchup a regular runner sled seemed a suitable substitute, especially when I was teamed up with Robby Gray.

Robby  was as thin as I was hefty, but our den chief Calvin had us stacked on the sled in such a way that disparity in weight was put to good use during our downhill run.…which again proved to be false hope from the very first starting push. As we slipped, slid and pirouetted down the track it was obvious that once again I was in first in line for  the “agony of defeat” category. Robby was able to bail out in time but once gain Ugly Coat proved my undoing. A strategically placed crack in the vinyl snagged on a corner of the wooden seat just long enough to ensure that my full weight was behind my right foot as it hit the fence post at the bottom of the run.

From that moment on I made my discomfort very verbally apparent but after three days of percussive counseling Mom relented and took me to the emergency room where she was horrified to discover her diagnosis had been incorrect. I really WAS hurt, despite her curt sniff to the charge nurse that I was making a mountain out of a molehill.  Initial inspection revealed that the “little baby bruise” was in fact one or more broken bones in the flat of my right foot. After a subsequent inspection by the doctor an Air Force medic slapped a plaster cast on my leg to support a considerable injury consisting of three broken metatarsals, during which my mother cuddled me in her lap and whispered sweet little maternal wishes of reassurance in my ear. (1)

As we drove home all I could think about was the upcoming four weeks that I would be spending in a cast, watching the hours of sunlight lengthen while the snow steadily melted. It seemed like my luck had run out when the day before my cast was to be removed an article in the Anchorage Daily Times announced that the Lake Hood skating area had melted past the point of safety.

I was undeterred and remained sure that I could mark “ice skating” off my list with just a few more sessions on the family rink3 Use of the word “rink” was charity of my part; what we had was in fact three large uneven blogs of ice blobbed together, the whole thing looking like a giant frozen amoeba. The idea that people would groom, and smooth ice never occurred to me (2) just as I had never thought to flatten and level the ground underneath the ice – I just found a part of the lawn that was closest to being level and started to haul buckets of water one evening. It was used only on nights we couldn’t get to Lake Hood and now looked to serve as a last-ditch substitute since the weather was getting warmer.…in fact the undulating surface of the rink added an element of novelty; any one could skate on level ice but only a real sportsman could negotiate our bumps and swerves – at least that’s what I was telling myself on that last night of the 1962-63 winter sports season.

…but to be totally honest melting ice wasn’t the only reason I liked to skate on the family rink. In my ignorance I had committed the most heinous of sins when getting my first pair of skates – instead of getting those bastions of testosterone-laden footwear otherwise known as hockey skates I’d picked up a pair of figure skates.

…. otherwise known as “girl skates”

The simple act of owning them was bad enough, but possession also capped off the preexisting charge of insufficient fourth-grader misogynism brought about by my excessive number of sisters and a fleeting romance earlier that winter(3). A confined and bumpy skating area was a small price to pay for protection from such withering retorts as “TWO-LITTLE-LOVEBIRDS-SITTING-IN-THE-TREE / K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”. Lacking those crude distractions, I could slowly circumnavigate the small splotch of ice, the chill tweaking my nose, the Northern Lights presenting a light show and-

KA-SNICK!

 THUD!

“OWWWWWW!”

I’d been so caught up in the beauty of the night sky that I had failed to keep a proper look-out and hit one of the mid-rink ridges at an awkward angle. I tried to retain my balance, but Ugly Coat’s stiff frozen polyvinyl chloride carapace prevented any attempt at a wind milling recovery and down I went to fall flat on my behind on the ice.

I should be so lucky.

Instead of a flat fall one of my legs had buckled and folded underneath me, the sharp trailing end of the skate blade on that leg passing through the only break in that area of Ugly Coat’s vinyl shell. Lloyd Bridges on Sea Hunt couldn’t have skewered a shark with a spear gun any better than that skate blade pierced my “cheek” that night.

Memories of my transit indoors from the rink are fuzzy but one thing I am sure of: that coat was gone. I must have ditched it in the garbage barrel on the way in and until the weather got warmer I relied on sweaters and long underwear and played indoors as much as possible.

I was also very involved in the purchasing process of my winter coat the following year. It was made of thick but pliable-under-all-temperatures cotton, had a looser fit but thicker insulation and truly did reach down to mid-thigh. The hood was an interesting design – it normally lay like a short cap across my shoulders and upper back, but the zipper ran from my neck to the apex of the hood, turning into something resembling an elongated point on medieval serf’s hood. It gave a slight “pixie” vibe to the garment but I didn’t care.

It might be 100% total dweeb wear, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t out to get me.

 

——————————————————————————————————————————

  1. “…if you ever tell anyone I HAD YOU walking on a fractured foot for three days I WILL KILL YOU!”  …did I mention she was very proud of her status as a registered nurse (vs LPN) with a four-year degree from a WW2 Army cadet program?

2. I thought “Zamboni” referred to a recipe for Italian veal.

3.  See 1963: A Question of Cooties

 

[MG1]

1969: Blue Paint, Black Ice & Dry Pavement

69 Maverick

Parallel Parking?

I flunked my driving test over parallel parking?

Like most kids on the Kenai Peninsula my driver’s education program consisted of driving around pastures in an old pickup – and the last time I checked there were no sidewalks in our pastures to parallel-park next to. For that matter I don’t think there were any places on the peninsula that required parallel parking, so failing that part of the test should have been no surprise. Unfortunately, the timing couldn’t have been any worse, as failing the test meant I had no way to take Carey Matranga to the junior class play.

…. conveniently forgetting that there had been no chance whatsoever that Carey would have gone with me in the first place. However, practicality elbowed romance aside and I started preparing for my second attempt at the exam.  Using wooden stakes and string, I mocked up a parallel parking space next to the driveway and practiced the maneuver as best I could during the two weeks I had to wait before re-taking the exam.

I passed the test easily on my second go-around but contrary to my expectations I didn’t immediately start driving to school (or anywhere else) all that often.  When I did get access to wheels they were usually the ones holding up the old red station wagon rather than the Maverick, but I really couldn’t fault my parents for that restriction. Our powder blue 1969½ Ford Maverick was the first new car my folks had ever owned –  other than being driven up the ALCAN after purchase in California it led a very sheltered existence.

After a dent-free month of driving I was allowed short solo trips with the Maverick, running to and from the gas station, the post office and friends’ homes in the immediate Sterling area…which didn’t happen very often. As I’ve written elsewhere, my third year in high school was a bleak one – my close circle of friends from the previous school year had unraveled, most of the young ladies in my life had moved away and chemistry was seriously kicking my butt. As Thanksgiving neared, my discontent became evident even to my parents so to cheer me up they let me drive the Maverick to our congregation’s next Wednesday night youth meeting.

The young men and women were going to be meeting in a joint activity – usually an opportunity for low-intensity flirting fueled by cookies and Kool-Aid, but with so much on my mind that evening no amount of sugar (of any kind) could keep me focused on the activity.  I’d finally flunked out of chemistry and while I was able to patch up my schedule with extra English modules the failure forced me to take a hard look at the direction my life was headed.  The war-that-wasn’t-a-war in Viet-Nam was in full swing and the draft was harvesting more and more young men daily, so it was difficult to be chipper when helmets, flak jackets and M16 rifles figured so prominently in my future. Halfway through the meeting I hit my limit of wholesome social interaction and left the church to drive home by myself.

My younger sister Holly had ridden with me to the meeting and was loudly disappointed that I wouldn’t let her ride home with me as well, but I felt a sort of mental itch pushing me to arrange an alternate means of transportation home for her. A chinook1 had blown in and the wildly fluctuating temperatures and winds made for both hazardous driving and a dark, surly mood of my own – and while normally I didn’t mind little-sister chatter, this time I felt a very negative vibe about having her in the car with me. It wasn’t the first time I’d had that kind of intuitive prompting, but I always assumed I was dealing with the after-effects of one too many rounds of cookies and Kool-Aid.

I realized the minute I pulled out of the church parking lot that it was going to be a wild ride.  B.J. Thomas may have been crooning “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” on the radio as I started for home, but the non-radio rain wasn’t nearly so happy as it rapidly changed directions as the gusts from the chinook started to buffet the car. For a moment the wind slowed and when I realized the Maverick was holding the road I carefully inched the speed up to 55 mph. I was relieved that the car was handling well under such conditions, but without my attention being totally absorbed by fighting the elements my mood soon became as capricious as the winds. By the time I was halfway home I was worked up and ranting to God, myself and the universe in general about my lack of prospects and the injustice of life in general.

Then the anger instantly turned into fear.

I’d reached a straightaway near Longmere Lake that was not clear of ice – what looked to be rain-soaked wet pavement was in fact black ice2 and within seconds the car started swerving; in my typical teenage male bullet-proof mindset I was sure I could handle the situation until I swerved into a stretch of pavement dotted with dry patches. For one last moment it seemed like I could keep the car on the road by carefully applying the brakes but unfortunately the weight-saving measures in Lee Iacocca’s masterpiece of sporty-yet-affordable automobile design had been taken a bit too far. As the speedometer eased into 40 mph I slid at an angle into one of those dry patches, the momentum instantly snap-rolling the Maverick into the snow where it slid to a stop.

I was crushed by the sudden silence, then mystified by faint individual sounds

  • The hiss of snow melting against hot metal.
  • That same hot metal clicking and popping as it rapidly cooled.
  • Billy Joe Royal faintly singing praises of Mary Hill plying her trade at Cherry Hill Park.

It was oddly muffled, as if cotton was stuffed in my ears. I was also baffled by the light blinding me as I hung upside down from my seat and shoulder belts; it was much too bright for a stormy winter night. Even after an older couple helped me out of the wreck and drove me home I struggled – the blurry vision and stuffed feeling in my ears conspired to throw me off balance and keep me slipping and sliding as I made the unsteady walk from the car into the house

To my surprise Dad was waiting out by the driveway as we pulled up. As he helped me out of the car and heard the story from my benefactors he showed no surprise – earlier that night he’d had his own mental itch that I was going to run into trouble on the way home, so he figured he’d better be standing by.  On the other hand, Mom was furious that I’d wrecked the first brand new car they’d ever owned but Dad stayed uncharacteristically gentle as he quietly talked her aside while moving me through the kitchen to the ladder, then up to my loft where I collapsed, asleep before my head hit the pillow.

I snapped awake fully alert the next morning, drenched in an icy sweat.  The butterflies in my stomach were acting more like dive-bombers, not because of the wreck but rather fear of what was to follow. This was worst trouble I had ever gotten into…. ever.

My heart was beating like a drum and my mouth was dry – what would my parents do? How bad would I get smacked around? Would they send me away to boarding school or would they just kick me out on the street? My heart raced even faster as I started through a mental checklist of dire possibilities but skipped a beat when I realized someone was climbing up the ladder to my loft.

Dad.

I flinched, pulling my head down between my shoulders, my eyes clinched shut waiting for the inevitable smack alongside my head…but when it never happened I opened my eyes to see dad sitting on the edge of my bunk, a faint smile on his face.  He said “Gus – let’s go for a drive” to which I immediately murmured something about not wanting to be around cars right then, but he gently interrupted If you don’t go out now you’ll never drive again” with such finality that I promptly slid off the bunk and into my boots, then followed him down the ladder and out to the red station wagon, ignoring the fusillade of retinal daggers that mom launched at me on the way.

My stomach went into free-fall again as I struggled to manipulate the “three on the tree” manual transmission into reverse with more difficulty than usual but as I white-knuckled the car out of the driveway and up to the highway my stomach slowly backed away from the brink of a rather epic hurl. It wasn’t much of a trip – we drove past the wrecked Maverick into town, bought some gum at Big K then drove back home, the atmosphere steadily warming until we were trading weak jokes from the latest Boy’s Life as I pulled up and parked at our front door.

The whole incident left me with more questions than answers. For example, other than overhearing dad making phone calls the following week to arrange for recovery and repairs I heard nothing further about the wreck – we just all got back into the pre-accident holiday preparation drill as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

I did pick some new insights into Dad’s nature through the experience.  I’ve said before that Dad and I were on the same planet but lived in different worlds and a good part of that separation came from the mixed signals he gave me – in any kind of family council it was made very clear that I was expected to be the Good One in the family, the moral compass and stalwart church member. However, when was just the two of us together I got the feeling that dad was disappointed that I didn’t raise more hell.  “You’re a prude just like your mom” he would say, then launch into some story of his own rather “active” youth and early years in the navy. Did this uncharacteristic kindness come about because he could relate better to me when I was in trouble because it put me in a situation he was well acquainted with?

…and the mental itches that both Dad and I had to contend with earlier that evening? It was a little eerie in those pre-Internet/pre-smartphone times to find out that Dad had known I was in trouble at least fifteen minutes before I got home…

It was even more spooky when I thought about that mental itch of my own.

I had been prompted to find alternate transportation for my little sister that night and it was a good thing that I followed that prompting. The last thing I remember as I crawled out of the wreck was the sight of the front passenger side seat. I don’t know if it was because of the direction of travel during the crash or a quirk of the Maverick’s unibody construction –the car roof had folded sharply down into a wedge pressed firmly into the surface of the front passenger seat. Holly would have been killed if she’d been riding with me.

It was the last time I equated a flash of inspiration with indigestion.

 



1: Chinook: Native American term for windstorm of very turbulent warm, moist air that blows in from the sea. Most noticeable during the winter because of the extreme contrast to usual weather conditions.

2:Black Ice: Clear ice that reforms on a road after a rapid thaw. Much more slippery than usual because of the thin covering of liquid water that invariably forms on its surface.

 

“…in today’s episode we learned…”

From 1962 through 1989 Filmation Associates was a powerhouse in the American animation industry. Under the leadership of Norm Prescott, Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland Filmation was a major player  in the Saturday morning – then weekday afternoon  – cartoon line-up  and while they produced some original material they were known mostly for licensed features such as Superman, Fantastic Voyage, Star Trek and most famously He-Man. The company took some heat for using production shortcuts such as reusing stock footage and rotoscoping but the fact is they were working with incredibly small budgets and were the last animation company to cut costs by sending work offshore, preferring to keep local artists employed and feeding their families.

What is not generally known is that Filmation started out making instructional videos for churches and other religious groups, which is one of the reasons why there was always a sort of lesson or moral to each episode (“In today’s adventure Orko and Battle-Cat learned not to tap-dance in a mine-field”}.

Occasionally I will be told that some of my autobiographical blog posts end like a He-Man episode – with a summation or lesson winding up the story.

Thank you for noticing that.

I have no desire to preach, but I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way in my life – which means that I’ve been repeatedly knocked on my kiester. Fortunately, I have been able to get back up each time I’ve been knocked down but unfortunately I lack ownership of a functional time machine there is little I can do about changing what happened in my life.

…so maybe these little observations can help other people avoid some of the mine-fields I’ve tap-danced in.

Orko1

1970: Requiem for Harvey

I don’t think it has ever been easy for a young man to learn proper boundaries with authority figures. I’m sure that there was more than one 19-year-old Roman legionnaire making bunny ears every time his centurion turned his back, and plenty of lewd comments were made just out of earshot when Shaka Zulu paraded his retinue of wives in front of the unmarried warriors’ regiment…but I do think that learning proper boundaries was a little more complex for for those of us coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Challenging the establishment seemed to be a required subject in any course of study and a required component of every other comedy show on television. The mixed messages I got at home just complicated the issue – it seemed like every day I’d hear my dad talk about telling off someone at work and my mother seemed to be constantly calling other parents to task for the misdeeds of their children.

There was a good reason why Eisenhower chose the 29th infantry division to lead the assault on Omaha Beach. They were young, green and had no idea what they were getting into. I was the same way when it came to learning about talking tough.

Harvey Stroud was somewhat of a mystery to me. He looked like a battered Chicago precinct captain with a perpetual scowl that convinced me to avoid any sort of situation that required us to be in the same room. He was the principal of Kenai Central High School during my freshman year, but left the following summer for the same post at a much smaller school forty miles down the road. The next time I heard anything about him was the fall of 1970 when it was announced that he had died; several rumors as to cause of death circulated around the school but the only solid information dealt with the memorial service that was going to be held in our gymnasium. For some reason the news was never announced over the loudspeaker so it was a bit surprising when a school bus pulled up two hours earlier than usual one afternoon…and doubly surprising when students poured out of the bus and into the front door.

I was in Miss Mahoney’s short story class1 when the bus pulled up – that is, me and my ego. I was doing quite well in the class because it combined two of my strengths- literature and drawing.  Each short story report was to include an illustration and while the stuff I came up was nowhere near as good as the card, game and book illustrations I created years later, it was still dramatically better than the work of my 10th and 11th grade classmates. I was definitely the big fish in the little pond.

I had turned in my work and was kicking back as unobtrusively as possible in the back row alongside the windows when the bus pulled up. As the rest of the class rushed over to see what was going on I heard someone query Miss Mahoney about the bus, but before she could respond I piped up:

“Oh, it’s just a pep bus from Ninilchik for Stroud’s funeral”

The room went silent, then one by one my classmates started to snicker. My ego inflated just a bit more. The Smothers Brothers couldn’t have said it better. Robert Klein couldn’t have said it better…and neither my mom nor my dad in one of their ranting commentaries could have said it any better.

“Ha-ha-ha-ha!” It was Miss Mahoney. “That was really funny. Take a walk!”

“What?”

“I said take a walk. Get out of my classroom. Now!

>POP<

There went my ego.

Rumor had it that Nora Mahoney spent a tour of duty with the United States Marine Corps before teaching so I offered no excuses or smart talk. I slunk out of class, making some weak joke as I left but I was too caught up in basic survival to come up with a more memorable quip. While I hadn’t been a particularly good kid during high school I hadn’t been an overly bad one and getting kicked out of class was a rare experience for me. I had just hit on hiding in a restroom adjacent to the new cafeteria when the loudspeaker squawked something unintelligible about an upcoming football game.

Football practice! My salvation!

If you’d seen me play football you’d take issue with the game ever being my salvation. As I have written elsewhere I was a late-bloomer when it came to physical strength and coordination so I was not a star player…which would be an advantage in this situation. I could go to practice and blend in with all the other muddy jerseys, let whatever turmoil my comment made burn itself out and get back to real life the next morning.

It was late enough in the season for the rigid discipline of practice to relax a bit. After getting suited up we were to go out and run four easy laps around the field, go through some basic calisthenics, and then practice the repertoire of plays scheduled for the coming game. After slinking into the locker room I quickly got into my gear and trotted out to the field in the middle of four or five other players, and as we reached the track circling the field and started running I broke into a sly grin.

I’d made it!

“DEITRICK!”

There was no mistaking that voice. It was Coach. The head coach. Coach Gordon Prentice. Gordy P. The – I abruptly shut my internal monologue down. My smart mouth had already gotten me into trouble once and I didn’t need a repeat performance.

” GET OVER HERE! “

“NOW!”

The black hats at jump school couldn’t have locked my heels any tighter than he did. I stood perfectly rigidly still as he leaned over and continued at a much lower volume – always a bad sign.

“You know, you might think that because you’re not playing all the time no one notices what you do. Well, you’re wrong. I don’t know why it is but these younger guys watch you like a hawk, especially the guys in PE class. You need to think about them and the example you’re setting for them the next time you think about making a smart remark.”

As he went on with his corrections I made sure to look repentant and nod my head at the right moments. By this time most of the team had finished their four laps and were gathering for calisthenics so when Coach Prentice was done I started to trot over in that direction.

“Oh – and be sure to get all four laps in before we’re done with warming up,” at which point I veered back out to the track and started to pick up my pace at a dead run. After finishing my run, I wheezed my way through the balance of practice, then carefully avoided all “how was your day” inquiries on the ride home. I came close to aspirating a hamburger patty when dad went into one of his “so I told him” stories at the dinner table but after coughing my airway clear I beat a hasty retreat to my attic loft where I spent the rest of the evening listening to the Moody Blues and trying to mentally reorder reality to avoid any consequences the following day.

The next morning, I kept a low profile, carefully sidestepping any faculty members that knew my parents. I jumped a bit higher than normal at the first bell; there was no avoiding Coach as I was his aide in PE during the first period but all I got from him was an abbreviated repeat of his lecture on setting a good example as I left the locker room.  My outlook brightened a bit and by the time I got to my second class of the day I was actually smiling –  it looked like I was going to leave yesterday’s indiscretion behind.

“Sociology/Contemporary Issues/Modern Problems” – it was called one of those names, though for most of us my second period class was known simply as “The class you take to avoid Anderson’s Government class”. Tom Ackerly (AKA “The Ack”) was the instructor for the class as well as history, geography and assistant football coach. The Ack was a recent transplant from Florida and more than one foolhardy soul had taken his ursine build, calm demeanor, and soft southern accent as signs of weakness, only to find that when they engaged in a duel of wits with The Ack they were essentially unarmed men. He had a razor-sharp intellect, an even sharper wit, and I had finagled my way into at least one of his classes each year…

…. which meant exactly nothing when I caught his icy stare as I edged through scattered desks to my regular perch. I inwardly groaned as we started working in teams on a group project – “I am never going to live this down” – the despair only deepening when The Ack motioned me over to a seat next to his desk, where I braced myself for an encore of Coach Prentice’ admonition from the previous day.

“Pep bus for Stroud’s funeral eh?”

He cracked the faintest of smiles and said, “That’s a pretty good one” – and as my jaw dropped he went onMahoney told everyone in the teacher’s lounge last night. Everyone figured it was the best joke we’d heard since our last paycheck.”

By the end of the day it looked like I’d dodged the bullet. My comment was no longer front-page news as the entire student body was collectively frothing at the mouth over being assigned student numbers. The measure was meant to streamline attendance reporting and record-keeping but was taken as a dehumanizing establishment plot to enforce conformity and reduce individuality (2).

…at least that’s what I said to one foxy lady after another as I hand-lettered student numbers on their t-shirts “as a protest!”. Later in the year it was determined that the numbers ultimately served little purpose other than giving students something to get worked up about, which that day conveniently drew attention away from my snarky remark.

I walked away from the incident having learned three valuable lessons:

  1. Everyone – even my parents – must cope with stress in daily life. My mom and dad’s stories about telling people off and talking big were a way of blowing off steam and I need not take their comments too literally.
  2. Avoid snarky remarks in general unless you’re in trusted company.
  3. If there’s no way to stop the remark – make it funny.

 


 

  1. The year before English classes were radically changed for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that students were free to put together their own program.
  2. Popular entertainment was full of stories of a dehumanizing dystopian future. On the radio we listened to “In The year 2525” by Zager&Evans and we were all reading the pessimistic novels that would end up as the motion pictures “Soylent Green” and “Logan’s Run” just a few year later.

 

StrikeAPose1969

 

1961 Snakes

BlackSnake1

Given my interests you’d think that the 1981 release of Raiders of the Lost Ark would have been a red letter day for me, but to be honest I was less than thrilled. Oh, the movie was great but unfortunately one aspect of the film was very disturbing and totally terrifying to me – and there were plenty of “eewww/eeekk” moments in the movie to choose from:

  • Giant bowling ball chasing Indy down the mountain?                        (Yawn!)
  • Face-melting-eyeball-rolling ark opening scene?                                  (Eh…)
  • The mechanic getting buzz-cut in half by the airplane propeller?     (Next!)
  • The snake scene?
  • The snake scene?
  • The snake sceeeaaaAAAAAAHHHH!!!!!!

I’ve been caught in a thunderstorm cell while flying on instruments but stayed cool enough to fly my way to safer skies.  I’ve had a tie-in fail during a climb and fell about 15 feet before my safety rope caught but still finished the climb. I was threatened with a shotgun while tracting in New Hampshire but kept my composure enough to wish the man a good day and “God bless you”…but just viewing that brief scene with all the snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark was enough to cause me to:

  • wet my pants
  • scream like a little girl
  • run away continuing to scream

Where did this terror come from?

The first incident happened in the early 1960s while visiting my cousin Gary at his home near Grass Valley (CA). His house sat on a gentle hill among several fenced-in pastures  dotted with boy-climbable trees. The trees were in turn surrounded by small holes dotting the ground but I thought little of them as we were cobbling together a tree fort that looked more like a nest than a fort. We took great care in stocking the place with “supplies” like scraps of rope, empty feedbags and horseshoes that served us in great stead as our treetop refuge became an airplane or a sailing ship during those long summer afternoons.

It was during one of those sessions (I think were fighting off imaginary Chinese pirates from the Disney movie Swiss Family Robinson) that I noticed a couple of black sticks at the bottom of the tree that hadn’t been there when we first climbed up. Suddenly one of the “sticks” briefly curled into a kind of question mark then slowly inched up to the angled tree trunk.

SNAKES!

Looking back they were probably just black or bull snakes but at the time I was sure they were rattlers or cobras.  One of them started to slowly slide up the trunk, its tongue flitting in and out as its head turned left and right, all of which convinced that the snakes were coming for us – and not just for a simple bite. I was convinced that Gary and I were the chef’s special on the day’s herpetorian dinner menu but was much too frightened to consider our only possible means of exit – jumping to the ground.

Determined to not go down without a fight, I reached for one of the horseshoes and let fly, only to have the missile impact a good three feet to the side of the snake. The second one I threw was at least aligned properly with the target but it hit the tree just above the snake and also bounced clear of my scaly target. Gary threw our third and last horseshoe which hit one of the serpents just exiting the hole at the base of the tree, but that first snake – which by now had assumed monstrous proportions – was still moving upwards towards us.

By this time I was crying serious tears as Gary was toggling between berating me for cowardice and feeling real concern for my safety.  Suddenly he pointed at the brush line along the fence and yelled: “Hey Gus – look!” As I instinctively looked away from the tree I felt a hand shove me firmly out into a much shorter fall than I had anticipated from which I landed and rolled in cloud of dust. I made my own little trail of tears as I ran crying to a safe distance while Gary followed me out of the tree and then quickly dispatched the three snakes with a hoe that had been leaning on an adjacent fence post. From my new perspective I realized that the snake would never have been able to get to us, but the incident had made an indelible impression on me.

The second incident happened not much later at our own home in Little Shasta Valley in northern California. Late one afternoon my sister Robin and I embarked on great journey – a bicycle ride of two or three miles to visit friends from school. The route to their home made a long lazy loop up and along county road to the east then down our friends’ driveway to a cluster of wooden buildings that included their home, barn and storage area. The sun was low in the western sky as my sister and I started to coast down off the ridge and as my eyes began to squint the view of the driveway began to lose detail. For a second thought about walking my bike to the bottom of the hill but primary school chauvinism kept me from choosing the safe option in front of my sister and the other girls from school.

…and so it was that I didn’t see the stick lying across the road until I was on top of it. My first thought was “OH NO – FLAT TIRE!”  but that inner monologue was cut short by a curious thumping and a hiss that was much too loud and went on too long to be coming from a bicycle tire. I twisted around and looked down and found to my terror that the stick had in fact been a large snake and when I ran over it had become entangled with the spokes of my rear wheel.

At this point my memory goes uncharacteristically foggy. Somehow I had gotten off my bike before it careened into the ditch running along the side of the road – my internal camcorder picks up again with an adult whacking the snake with hefty chunk of wood. I also don’t remember how got home because I wasn’t about to get back on a bike spattered with snake blood.

That’s when I started playing inside more often – and while I felt understandably sad at leaving my friends when we left for Alaska the next summer I was secretly delighted at the move when I found out there were no snakes in the Last Frontier. As I filled out the balance of my growing-up card learning a new set of outdoor perils ranging from bears to moose to mosquitoes I gradually forgot the sheer terror I had once felt when confronted by anything long, skinny and fanged, venomous or otherwise

1973

My first impression of Southeast Idaho was that it looked very much like Little Shasta Valley. Rexburg and its environs had that same high desert, quasi-volcanic look we had in Northern California. There was that same smell of sage in the air, the same isolated stands of juniper trees and the night air rang with the same “yip-yip-yow” that the coyotes serenaded us with back on the ranch.

Past that observation my attention was focused entirely on course work at Ricks College so it wasn’t until the spring semester when I developed interests in both rappelling and black-powder shooting that I got out and away from town. The rocks and soil in the area had dried out enough to allow safe climbing and I found myself with a group of friends on a ridge ten miles south of town where we’d found both a suitable overhang to set up a rappelling point and an adjacent ravine where I could mark out a firing range. I had just started the long and involved process that is loading a cap-and-ball revolver when I heard a “YIP!” sounding like the aforementioned coyote coming from the group up by the ropes.

One of the girls thought she’d seen a snake. A &#@! snake!

KA-THUB!  My heart jumped

Every stick, shadow, crevice and hole became suspect as I walked up to the rappelling point, revolver at the ready. As I reached the others my friend Doug chuckled and said “Relax – it was nothing – maybe a stick or a shadow. Its way too early in the season for snakes to be out – too cool and wet yet”….but as the little knot of people dispersed he whispered to me “Keep an eye out. I saw a rattler on the way up from the car. I just didn’t want to scare the girls”!

KA-THUB-KA-THUB-KA-THUB

As with my earlier ophidian-related experiences I remember little of the balance of that afternoon, other than fact that I emptied my revolver twice at assorted sticks and shadows on the way back to car

1994

There’s an old saying that a freelance artist wakes up unemployed every morning – and if you want to succeed you have to think that way.  If I wasn’t actually at the drawing board I was collecting on invoices to present clients or prospecting for new ones and rarely took more than a day off at a time – but with both sons working on their Eagle rank at Scout Camp I felt that Skybox and Upper Deck could wait.  I went to camp with my boys and had a great time up until the day I walked up to the environmental science station where Conrad and Sean were working on their merit badges.

Oh, I thoroughly enjoyed the collection of paw print castings and the leaf identification board, but when one of the attendants handed me a little yellow corn snake the boys went deathly silent. My sons were well aware of my phobia and expected a harsh response and a dead little corn snake.  The other boys took their cue and shut up as well, leaving me in the middle of a ring of silent boys, all with their eyes on me in the center holding the  snake.,

KA-THUB, KA-THUB

Once again I went into TARDIS time where events inside my brain were moving much faster than they were in the outside world; I looked around at the boys;  there expressions running from concern to fear to slight amusement. I thought to myself: “OK, there’s a snake draped over your hand and forearm. A &#@! snake. On you. You’ve also got a number of young men watching you like hawks. Young men that are taking their cue in life decisions from watching you.”

A &#@! snake!   “Did I mention that you’re on the north side of forty now?”

A &#@! snake!   “Do you think that maybe it’s time to give up this irrational phobia?

A ….snake.          “You know, he’s kind of cute.  The little face. The way he’s wrapped across my forearm – it’s not a smooth curve but rather kind of …well, graphic.”

 I will always be grateful to the young man who handed that snake to me. That moment of Zen-like awareness was enough to break the terror that had chained me for years. From that point on I haven’t been quite so terrified of snakes…though to honest I’ll still walk as far around them as possible if I happen upon one in the path ahead.