1968: Confidence

WilliamSmithActor

There are many character actors in Hollywood who specialize in playing “heavies” but to me the most intimidating thespian in Hollywood is William Smith. Anthony Falconetti in the 1970s television mini-series Rich Man, Poor Man is his best known role but Mr. Smith’s career includes over 300 feature films and television productions, my favorites being the 1960s Texas Ranger drama Laredo and 1985 Disney Western Wildside where he was cast against type as good guy gunslinger/deputy Brodie Hollister.

He is an incredible man in both a mental and physical sense, holding several advanced degrees and speaking several fairly difficult languages…while at the same time being able to curl his own body weight. He is very scary looking; a big body-builder blessed/cursed with a dark piercing cold state you’d expect to find on a mafia hit man – TV.com describes him as the greatest bad-guy character actor of all time.

Kind of like my friend Will Satathite

High school did not start out as a happy place for me. I was a late bloomer, gaining strength, speed and coordination equal to that of my classmates only as the academic year was coming to a close. Running was less locomotion that it was a series of barely controlled stumbles and my voice cracked so bad in choir that the teacher routinely sent me on errands to the school office while everyone else was “warming up”. It should be no surprise that within two weeks of school starting I was being regularly pummeled by bullies. Within four weeks my older sister left school to get rather precipitously married, leaving me to explain the situation to all of her friends and classmates. When the ensuing conflict between loyalty and literal honesty was combined with the stress of getting used for a human punching bag, my body was unable to cope and I came down with mononucleosis.

I didn’t make a full recovery until after Christmas and even then life wasn’t that much more pleasant. However, as I got back into the swing of things I made an interesting discovery: While the upscale kids could be extremely judgmental and socially conscious, the thugs would be friends with anyone, provided there weren’t any “personal issues” involved. While he was not necessarily a thug, Will was definitely a tough guy and I found that if I stayed in reasonable proximity to him I was safe from the aforementioned punching. The price of such safety was the occasional shove from Will himself but for the most part any aggression from him involved glaring looks rather than swinging fists.  I was willing to swallow my pride and cower a bit if it meant less punching.

As winter slowly turned into spring, my life became less precarious –and as the second half of the academic year played out, I was able to build a normal life. I could come to school in the morning and be sure that I could retrieve text books from my locker without getting stuffed inside it. I was reasonably sure that I would be able to eat my entire lunch without someone snatching it out of my hands or walking across it with work boots. Waving to a friend in the commons wasn’t an automatic invitation for a punch in my stomach the minute I raised my hand, and I could walk out to the bus at the end of the day without the icy sensation in the pit of my stomach that came with a bully waiting for me in front of the door.

Summer came and school let out. I was fortunate to get work over the summer – a lot of work. I subcontracted for the post office janitor while he took a month long vacation in Texas, I worked as a stocker/bag boy at a local supermarket for another month and at various times over the entire three month break I dug, pruned, filled, and tied back branches as a freelance landscaper and handyman.

I had never had so much money in my life, but what I didn’t realize was that I had gained much more in other areas. My height went up a couple of inches, my waist drew in a couple more and I finally caught up to the level of strength and co-ordination that my peers had all achieved much earlier, though I didn’t realize it right away.

…and before I knew it the summer was over and I would be >gulp< Going Back to School. For the first eight years of my academic career going back to school in the fall had been a wonderful experience but it seemed that during the first few days of my sophomore year there were too many ghosts in the hallways, too many terror-filled memories of the bullying and beat downs…but during those first couple of days I found out something interesting.

No one tried to punch me. No one tried to knock my books to the ground or steal my lunch. I knew that times had changed but I’d passed it off as the side-effect of having a larger circle of friends than I did the year before – but then one day while I was on the way out the back door the enroute to one of the portable classrooms I was startled by a reflection I in the glass. It was me…only a much larger “me” than the self-image I had stored in my mind. I quickly compared that reflection to other reflections in glass (getting to the portables was rarely a quick trip) and I was shocked to see that I was as large – usually larger – than the other kids around me.

Hmmmmm.

That revelation came at just about the same time that I realized Will sat behind me in study hall. I half-consciously slid back into the side-kick role I’d played the year before, resigned to my fate. I would get very little done during any study hall shared with Will, the time instead being spent taking the occasional arm-slug and cowering in his shadow just enough to avoid being noticed by the punchers.

..but then something interesting happened.

It was about a week into the semester and I was trying to get my geometry homework finished but Will was making it difficult. I tried to reason with him, my voice blessedly staying a notch or two above the level of a whine when Will interrupted me with the following:

Deitrick – you’re a big guy. Be bad!”

It took a minute for the message to sink in. Sometimes it was easy to forget that behind the tough facade Will really was a nice guy and it was at this moment that he was demonstrating that friendship. The fact that I had gained size and strength over the summer had never really sunk in for me and Will was acting as what we’d call a life-coach in the decades to come, helping me establish myself socially. For the rest of the day and beyond I contemplated his words and the thought behind them, then slowly scaled back on cower-factor while turning up the machismo just a little bit.

At that point I found that the guys around me began to be a bit more respectful…

The next week

The day wasn’t starting out well. I had to change a flat on the way to school, I left my geometry book at home and someone horked my lunch which included the ever-so-rare roast beef sandwich. By the time I got to my seat in study hall I was in a foul mood; just how foul became apparent when Will started messing with me by moving my seat around while I was trying to sit down.

“What’s the matter Deitrick? Having a bad day? Are you going to start crying?”

My response was out before I even had time to think about it.

“>Bleep< you Satathite! This is turning into a real >bleep< day! I don’t need any of your >bleeping< >bleep< right now so just go >bleep< yourself!”

I froze. In vain I tried to snatch the words back but Will had already heard them. He transfixed me with that cold stare, leaned forward in his desk and growled.

Had I burned one of the few bridges in my life? The answer was not long in coming.

“Pretty good, Deitrick!”

“You’re coming along nicely!”

1975: Attack of The Casseroles!

It was a marvelous opportunity to start over, to re-energize myself. After spending close to eight months (a third of my mission!) dealing with the challenges of missionary work in Lynn, Massachusetts I was finally being transferred to Skowhegan Maine. That little mill town would prove to have its own set of challenges and rewards, but I loved being there, if for nothing else because people both in and out of the congregation seemed to latch on to me as well. I’d like to think the esteem came from my excellence as a teacher and diligence in the work, but looking back it probably had something to do with pity and the fact that I came from one of the very few parts of the nation that could get colder than Maine.

When I first arrived I was a I was a little unsure– as I left Massachusetts everyone told me that “Maniacs” were very stand-offish and that I would not be accepted for at least the first three months…which kind of confused me when the first Sunday in town had me praying for an arm sling after being rather energetically greeted with energetic handshakes by everyone in the congregation.  I was a bit confused because the members of the Skowhegan congregation were every bit as friendly as the ones I had left behind in the Lynnfield (MA) ward.

The light dawned after my companion and I had been working in the area for about a month and our arrival at meetings on Sunday began to resemble a VJ day ticker-tape parades down Madison Avenue. The nay-sayers in my first area had been correct and my reception had been a bit cool when I first arrived; it’s just that the Maine version of standoffishness had the same warmth as the Massachusetts version of high regard.

…and it wasn’t just the congregation. The townspeople in general were just as warm; merchants would give us discounts, post office personnel would make sure we got our packages quickly, and clergy from other faiths were more likely to trade funny sermon stories than contend with us over scriptural interpretations. There have been very few times/places where I felt so loved, but there was one time when I was almost loved if not to death then to a state where I wished it.

It was in the early spring at the second of two evening events at the church space two weeks apart. The first was a general dinner/social event but the second was an open house than Elder Miller and I had organized. This open house was the proverbial Big Deal – we’d worked overtime the preceding month preparing displays, inviting speakers and scheduling musical numbers, all of which was happening in conjunction with the dinner I was missing while conducting the event.

As I said I was well-loved in that little congregation and shortly was beset by a cluster of Relief Society sisters, each one holding their casserole and ladling a portion of it onto a plate that had mysteriously appeared in front of me. I didn’t want to offend anyone so I took of bite of each one – and I have never encountered such a wide array of tastes before in my life. Most of casseroles had a basic savory taste but some were salty, some were very tart and some obviously prepared by a cook of Italian extraction. A couple of them had an odd, almost gamey taste that I had heretofore only found in venison, but in this case was mostly likely TVP1. I bolted the contents of the plate as fast as I could after which my Miller and I wound up the event, took down the displays, cleaned up the multipurpose room and went home.

I was so tired that I was asleep the minute my head hit my pillow…but less than two hours later I was awake – awake and doubled up with the worst stomach ache I had ever had in my life. The stomach ache soon morphed into nausea and threw up so hard I thought I saw my socks come up. Then the “distress in the lower tract” started and I spent thirty minutes out of every hour on the commode.

It wasn’t until the Relief Society President checked on me the next morning that I figured out that I had contracted food poisoning. It had to have been one of the casseroles at the open house the night before so we checked around to make sure no one else had shared my fate…and fortunately no one had. We considered other possibilities but it always came back to the open house and when we got a second call from the Relief Society president the mystery was solved.

When women in the ward would prepare a hot-dish or casserole for a social they would cook it in a bread pan.  I’m not sure how the custom started; it may have been a cost-cutting measure but then I’d often see a family bring in more than one bread pan so it may have been a way to inject some variety into the meals. It certainly was a savior for families with several small squirmy children that would have had real trouble transporting a full sized casserole dish at the same time.  Lastly, it also may have been a tactic to speed up serving because so many pans could be heated in the meetinghouse oven at the same time.

…which is how my tummy trouble came about.

When everyone arrived for the regular church social two weeks earlier they all placed their bread pan casseroles in the oven, but when it came time to serve the food one of them was left behind – and sat in the unheated oven for two weeks until our open house. At that point the oven was again filled with the small pans, but this time ALL of them were removed and the contents served, including the one that had stayed behind a fortnight.  To my misfortune I was the only one to each part of that dish – I had to eat so quickly that evening that I passed off unusual smell or taste to (again) TVP.

I really couldn’t blame anyone for the incident. The members of the congregation were guilty of nothing worse than enthusiasm and I probably should have paid closer attention to what I was eating. Unfortunately I am by no stretch of the imagination a gourmet of any type. For me food is simply fuel and my idea of haute cuisine is extra vinaigrette sauce on my Jimmy John’s #5 so a moderate difference of aroma raised no warning flags.

The bottom line was that everyone really liked/loved Elder Deitrick – and if two hours of tummy trouble was the price for that esteem I would call it the bargain of all bargains.

———————————————————————————————————————–

1 TVP Textured vegetable protein – an economical meat substitute that was very popular during the recession-ridden Seventies

 

1970: The name is Deitrick. David Deitrick

Gospel scholars teach that the Savior conducted his ministry while he was in his thirties. Based on Matthew 13: 55-57 I think he was seventeen. The scripture refers to an incident when Jesus was preaching to the people in his hometown, and their less-than-warm reception was: “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary …Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, a prophet is not without honor, save in this own country and in his own house” ….which is precisely the reaction that I got as young man when returning to my hometown when I accomplished anything!

“Who does this kid think he is?”

As I aged it didn’t get much better; I went directly from being June’s Boy to Holly’s Brother to Lynne’s Boyfriend to Lori’s Husband, rarely having an identity of my own. Respite from this labeling came only during events that kept me away from home for an extended period of time. Only then did I have a chance to reinvent myself and escape from my own inherent tackiness.

The summer of 1970 gave me ample opportunity.

It helped that I had gained a bit of confidence during the preceding spring. I had lucked into taking a beautiful young lady to junior prom and while any hope of post-dance relationship wilted as quickly as my boutonniere the experience of having a Katherine Ross wannabe on my arm for an evening gave a boost to my confidence and relative eligibility with other girls at school.

What’s more my height gained a couple of inches and my waist lost some, I cultivated both a totally bitchin’ set of sideburns and a nice carpet of chest hair but there were issues concerning my teeth. Two front teeth had been damaged when I was eight and were still discolored to a degree. I felt very self-conscious so I had devised various coping mechanisms:

  • I told people I was a vampire.
  • I stopped smiling for school pictures.
  • I borrowed stand-up routines from comedians like Robert Klein and Dave Steinberg, hoping that the jokes would draw attention away from my mouth.

None of which seemed to be effective going into the summer of 1970, which was otherwise stacking up to look like three great months living outside of the aforementioned stereotype. First I was to attend Boy’s State which was followed shortly after by a church-sponsored Youth Conference in Anchorage. When that was over I had an extended gig in Seward working for a contractor replacing the roof on the high school and when that was over – football season!  It was an incredible line-up , but it wasn’t what I had on my mind the most.

You see,  I wanted to be James Bond.

It was just past the crest of Bond-o-mania during the dark times when all the movies could offer was George Lazenby looking like a kid in his dad’s suit but fortunately I had discovered  Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. While Sean Connery definitely had style Fleming’s written descriptions left me with just as much of an impression and as I was trying to solve my dental aesthetics issue Fleming’s use of term “cruel mouth” piqued my curiosity.

As first I thought that maybe it had something to do with kissing too hard but eventually I determined that it referred to something like the pouting lower lip on the face of Robert Lansing, star of ABC series of Twelve O’clock High). I gave it a try, though I can’t remember how sticking my lower lip out was supposed to hide two teeth directly under my nose. I decided to lose the lip after Mom kept asking me if I’d caught one in the face while playing dodge ball.

Setting up a mock state government in the all-male environment of Boy’s State gave me little time or incentive to worry about my appearance. It wasn’t until I left for the summer’s second event – Youth Conference – that my teeth became something to worry about again.

Youth conference was an annual event when Church kids ages 14-18 gathered together from Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska/Susitna valley for three or four days of workshops and activities. The stated goal of the conference was spiritual growth1 but to be totally honest my own goal was getting acquainted with young ladies and for once I was successful. Early on in the conference I became reacquainted with Ellen, a girl from Fairbanks that I had met at a previous youth conference. With the iconic 007 theme running through my mind I coolly reached for her hand and we paired up, spending the balance of the time being a bit more exclusive than the chaperones may have liked.

They would have been even less happy had they noticed us slipping out the door during workshops on the next-to-the-last night of the conference. Again channeling Sean Connery as best as I could, I suggested that we walk home instead of waiting for rides; earlier in the evening Ellen had not-so-subtly let slip that her host family lived not far from the stake center and as I knew Anchorage fairly well I figured the walk to be a good opportunity to “get better acquainted” and still get her home in a timely manner.

She knew the address was north of our location (“…maybe on West 16th Avenue…) so we set out in the almost-midnight-sun that is a June evening in Alaska. We’d walk a little. We’d talk a little. Tease a little but never getting into any real trouble.  but when I happened to look at my watch I was alarmed to see that it was 10:00 PM! I began to doubt Ellen ’s sense of direction but she stuck to West 16th avenue as a destination until it finally started to get dark, which in summertime Alaska means it is about to rain or really, really late.

At this point we were in a part of town that I didn’t know as well and I started getting edgy, mostly because I didn’t want Ellen to get in trouble. I finally admitted defeat and did something that no one in their right mind will do in Anchorage of 2017…

I knocked on a door and asked to use their phone.

To this day I have no idea why that lady let me in. Maybe it was the fact that I was with Ellen and we were both dressed semi-nice. Maybe it was the subtle perfume Ellen was wearing. Maybe she was just being charitable. Mostly I think it was the fact that no matter how hard I tried to channel James Bond and have a “cruel mouth” I’m just a nice guy and it shows. Whatever the reason she let us stand in her entryway while I dialed my friends to come get us – and then let us stay there until we were picked up.

The teasing was merciless on the ride back home and doubled in intensity when we dropped off Ellen and found that she was staying at a place not more than a block away. She’d transposed “east” and “west” and didn’t know Anchorage well enough to orient herself correctly.

It was all coolness and sly looks the next day as we finished the conference and went our separate ways. Shortly afterwards I started the roofing job in Seward which turned out to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my (then) short life. It was extremely hard and dangerous2 work; between the dislocation and fatigue I was feeling pretty emotional and made an idiot of myself writing letter after letter to Ellen , all of which went unanswered. I called her a month later and while she maintained that she’d written at least one reply it was obvious that I had been a “summer thing”. I folded my ego up and moved on, permanently retiring the “cruel mouth” look in the process.

1972: I was back to Fairbanks to spend the Fourth of July weekend with my Best Friend.  While we were at a formal dance I was left unattended during a “nose powdering break” when a sudden wisp of a perfume I hadn’t smelled in two years prompted me to turn… to find Ellen coolly standing next to me. We had no more exchanged brief greetings when my Best Friend returned from her break; she smiled at Ellen then led me out to the dance floor for a waltz3. I was surprised at her calm demeanor until she hissed through a smile “if she makes one move for you I’ll scratch her eyes out”.

1976: I ran into Ellen while changing classes at BYU. It was a pleasant surprise but seemed like something out of a Harry Chapin song (“…whatever we had once was gone…”)

2017:  We tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses and while I’d like to think that with my razor/laser memory I am a bit more objective than most but in one instance of looking back there is no nostalgic tint to vision at all. It was better back in 1970. I get newspaper headlines from the Anchorage Dispatch (formerly the Anchorage Daily News) via email and I have been distressed in that the hottest stories of this past year has been the unusually high murder rate.

Of particular concern is a playground area called Craters of the Moon where at least six people were killed there during an alarmingly short period of time in 2016. Why am I mentioning this? Craters of the Moon is just south and down a slope from the house where I made that call from in 1970. Had I knocked on that door this last summer I would have at best gotten a face full of pepper spray and at worst .45 reasons why I shouldn’t have knocked on the door.

——————————————————————————————————————–

1I put an honest amount of effort into the workshops. It was during a scripture chase there that I first encountered the scripture from Matthew about prophets and home towns that I used in the introduction

2This was before OSHA and child-labor laws put limits on the hours and types of work for kids

3 We were really good at waltzing, having been on a dance demonstration team the previous year.

 

This was the soundtrack of those times…..

1970 Natural Gas

Warning: I spent a good part of my young adulthood working at the Swanson River oil field, so it should be no surprise that I am writing about natural gas. However, please note that even though propane figured prominently in my work as a roustabout, I will be writing about another variety of natural gas: methane, and not the type of methane that cows produce from digesting hay. I’m going to be writing about flatulence, a normal body function that many people feel uncomfortable discussing so I am giving fair warning: If you don’t think fart jokes can be funny then you may want to give this post a pass.

I was seventeen before I started to date on a regular basis. It wasn’t that I was shy or didn’t like girls – on the contrary I found it easy to fall in love daily with a different young lady but it was hard maintaining an active social life with all the  rules I had to follow. Mom saddled us with a complex set of  restrictions on dating that would have taken a Talmudic council years to decipher. For example, every solo date had to be followed by at least three double dates, we weren’t supposed to date any one person more than two times in a row and we were supposed to bring our dates to our house and introduce them before the event.

…which all worked about as well as you think it would when all five siblings devised ways to get around the restrictions. My favorite tactic was not passing on all the information regarding an evening’s activities; for example I’d tell my folks that I was going to a wrestling match but would conveniently forget to tell them that I was also taking my girlfriend Debbie with me. I discovered early on in life that I was a most inept liar and didn’t get as nervous if what I was telling Mom was technically true.

This lack of social experience meant that as a senior in high school a date could still generate a fair level of anxiety, especially if my date was someone I didn’t know very well or conversely someone I really, really liked. Fortunately despite that inner turmoil I was always able to somehow project a calm exterior even as my stomach was constantly churning, the proverbial butterflies acting more like dive bombers – what PeptoBismol TV commercials would innocently refer to as “Distress in the lower tract”.

This “distress” had me rivaling the local production fields in terms of the volume of natural gas I would be create – and while it was socially acceptable1 to vent in the company of your buddies any sort of sound was a sure ticket to Singlesville when out on the town with a young lady, so I would try to just hold it all in as best I could, a challenging task depending on what I ate for supper. On days that my dad made his signature Navy bean soup I would end up feeling like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon in danger of over inflation. I would often wonder what would happen if I fell asleep at the movies while my insides were churning thusly – would they find me floating just below the theater ceiling, gently bobbing and bouncing along in the warm air stream from the heating system?

Consequently I got very clever at finding times to “balance my production system”. For instance, in those days it was common for girls to get in the car on the driver’s side, and then scoot across to the passenger side, the scooting distance being proportional to how much they liked the driver.  I would thrill my dates with what they took as old-fashioned manners by opening, holding, and closing their door, then walking around the back of the car to my own seat. What I was really doing was using that time to adjust pressure…a tactic which could backfire (in more than one way) if for some reason the car windows were rolled down.

Dances were no problem; music was provided by live bands of differing expertise but they’d all play as loud as possible so you could stay safely vented during  something loud and raucous like “Whole Lotta Love”  or “Born to be Wild” as long as you took care to keep moving in large enough circles. Theaters were a bit trickier but could be managed if I wore enough Brut and waited for on-screen explosions or gunfights. It was only when activities were quiet and the setting intimate that the aforementioned “distress in the lower tract” became distress in general.

…which was exactly what happened to me in early December of 1970 while on a double date with my football buddy Walt. The original plan was to catch a double feature at the Kambe theater then get a burger and fries at the local kid hang-out2 While Walt was driving all over the peninsula picking up me, my date and his date a chinook3 blew in leaving the roads covered with puddles of warm water standing on alternating patches of pavement and ice. Legitimate safety concerns forced a change in plans from going to the show to hanging around at Walt’s date’s house while “listening to records”.

…which was much less passionate than the football team had wished for but kind of nice nonetheless.  I hadn’t had many opportunities to  kiss a young lady more than two  times in a row and the evening’s activities had me feeling quite smug ….until I started to feel the first tell-tale bubbles of that dreaded “distress in the lower track” at which point date-terror took hold me of me. I was trapped: There were just the four of us in a 20”X 40” rec room and there was no dog to blame.  The loudest background noise was the record player which unfortunately was playing the Crosby, Stills and Young, music made up of soft tunes driven by vocal harmony possessing absolutely no ability to mask unfortunate noises. It wasn’t going to be an easy night and I couldn’t help but look at Walt with envy as he sat across the room with his young lady, all cuddled up and looking the very picture of cool-osity. He was a year younger than I was but much more successful as a lady’s man. Nothing seemed to faze that guy.

I bought some time by feigning an upset stomach from wolfing down a bad hotdog earlier in the day but that dodge had limited range at best. I had to limit myself to just two faux bathroom breaks lest my date become overcome with maternal instinct and trade-out kissing for tending to my ills. It also didn’t help that my first visit to that basement comfort station induced more fear than relief when I bumped my head walking in. I thought that my floating methane balloon nightmare had finally come true when in fact the bathroom door had been trimmed shorter than usual in order to fit the space under the staircase.

After my second bathroom visit I found that if I just flexed all the muscles between my navel and my knees the pressure would kind of “poof’ back up into my stomach – but then that would  bring on sharp gas pains that brought on tears which my date could not help but notice. With the luck of a falling cat landing on its paws, I gained points with my date when I explained away the tears as an emotional reaction to Stephen Stills’ inspired lead vocal on “You Don’t Have To Cry”.

The night finally came to an end – well, actually it was the father of the house that brought it to an end when he  stomped down the stairs and told us that A) the roads were now in much better shape and B) our parents would be worried so we needed to get home, though as we subsequently slipped and slid all over the highway  I was pretty sure that there had been another choice: C) “I want you two to get the hell out of my house!”. The remaining three of us were all quiet on the drive home and not a word was said until we dropped off my date. At that point Walt turned to me and said “What were you doing in there? I damn near blasted my britches that last time you were in the bathroom! “

The shock startled a garbled “Wha-?” out of me as he continued “Yeah – the nervous farts. I get them every time I take anyone out. Anyone. They start while I’m driving to pick ’em  up and don’t let up until I’m on the way home”,  punctuating his statement with a long drawn-out bbrrrraaappppp that should have ripped his undershorts. As we drove the rest of the way home he shared several other examples of date-terror that were all too familiar to me.

Summer 1976

I was back in town for the summer working out at Swanson River, trying to save money to go back to school after a two year break for my bicycle penance. It was a Friday night and I was participating in a progressive dinner organized by our YSA (Young Single Adult) organization. Progressive dinners are such that appetizer’s are served at one home, salads at another, the entrée at a third place and desert at a fourth. It was a nice way to end a work week but I had put in a lot of overtime and was very tired. By the time we got to the third home and the main dish I was not too sure where we were.

As the hosts led us to the dinner table set up in their rec room I started thinking about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and all the balloons for some reason – and then I stopped and took a closer look all around. While he room had been painted and had different furniture,  it was the same infamous basement rec room from December of 1970.  The house had changed owners a couple of years after that event – hence the redecoration –  and for a split-second I thought about sharing (part) of my story with the new owners , but thought better of it and tucked into my dinner.

…but on the way out I did take a couple of minutes to look at that shorter-than-normal basement bathroom door.

___________________________________________________________________________

1Not only was it OK to let one rip around the guys, the situation often gave way to a competitive situation where each guy tried to best the others when letting one rip….and don’t even get me started on the topic of matches….

2Bookeys

3Native term for a sudden thaw/subsequent ice storm

2017: Jayden and the Onion

Though it was not one of Paul Newman’s top-grossing movies The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean has always been one of my favorites. It may be that I was biased having been totally enamored of Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid that had come out a few year earlier, but I’d like to think that the writing in Judge Roy Bean had merit on its own. If nothing else the villains were engaging – from Mel Tillis’ stuttering murderer to Snake River Rufus they were all colorful and interesting.

My favorite was Bad Bob, an over-the top albino gunman that was meaner than mean and not afraid to show it.  It wasn’t enough that he was violent – he’d stress his villainy in small ways like drinking scalding coffee right out of the pot. The gesture that won me over though was when he started to eat an onion like an apple – which had me grimacing and squirming in the seat.

It was so off-the-wall that I shameless stole the trick – and it eventually became part of our family folklore. If the boys were getting overly rowdy I’d thump the table to get their attention, and then take a bite out of the middle of an onion in my best Bad Bob style.  It helps that I like onions, a taste not shared by most members of my family. I especially like it when Lori is browning them in butter in preparation for making potato soup – for some reason the aroma is very soothing to me.

…which brings us to my grandson Jayden.

Anyone who has spent any time with a three year old knows that it isn’t when they are making noise that they are up to something– it’s when they get quiet. It’s just like an old ‘50s western:  “I don’t like it Cookie– the Indian drums have stopped and it’s too quiet out there”.

That’s exactly what happened yesterday afternoon when Jayden got home from daycare. It became deathly quiet in the house so I put up my tablet and began searching, expecting to see him with one of my electronic devices completely disassembled or in the process of creating a mural with my markers. Instead I found him under the table in the dining room.

I use the term “found” loosely because he is Special Forces good at using indoor terrain that I couldn’t actually spot him. All I could do was zero in on that disembodied toddler voice

“Jayden?”

“What Papa?”

“What are you doing?”

(Silence)

What are you doing?”

“I eat un-un like appo Papa”

It took me a second to translate from Jaydenese to English but when I finally peered around a chair my suspicions were confirmed. He had a fair-sized onion and was munching on it “like an apple” in truest Bad Bob style.

I don’t know if I have ever felt closer to that boy than at that moment

World’s Finest

2017-01-02-wf-blog

Latest in cut-paper sculpts and a miracle that it is finished at all. I started this almost a year ago but as most of you know this has not been an easy year. Even as I look at it now I can find a half-dozen rookie mistakes but to be honest I don’t give a rat’s (bleep). I’d rather be a couple of thousand miles northwest of here at a small chapel in Soldotna, Alaska waiting for my mom’s funeral.

The World’s Finest team ( Batman/Superman) has been one of my favorites from the Day One of my interest in comics. I was not sure I would like the current Batman V. Superman movie but when the flow of action moved away from the stereotypical “mistaken hero throw-down” to fighting Doomsday I stared to like it.

Batman: “Don’t worry – I’m a friend of your son’s “

Martha: “I know. I could tell – you know, the cape”

As it is with all my cut paper work you really don’t get the depth with regular photography, and with this particular piece you’ll be missing even more. You’ll note that Superman’s eyes are glowy-red, like he’s either just used his heat vision or is warming up to do so soon. When I box-frame this work I am going to melt two little holes in the protective Plexiglas.

…right in Superman’s line of sight….

 

…a dilemma

I normally take time to craft my word-crunching but today this is being shot from the hip – these aren’t normal times. As I posted on my Facebook page a couple of days ago two prominent members of my circle of family, friends and associates recently passed away and while I am glad they have moved on to a better existence I am sad, because one of them I hadn’t talked to in close to twenty years.

This all happened right about the time I read an article about not letting trivial things cause separations like this and I honestly strive to not get bogged down in petty issues – but what do you do with toxic relationships?  The people who invariably meet you with sarcasm and/or criticism not matter what you do?

I am of an age where these passages are becoming more common all the time and I would rather be on good terms with everyone, but  I am not up to having people balance their emotional checkbooks  on my account.

NuperDan

blog-nuperdan

It’s the closing of the year – and as this particular year has been a most challenging one  I am glad that I can close it with this paper sculpt…as in “At least I got this one done!”

…and as for the name. When he first discovered superheroes Jaden couldn’t correctly pronounce “M” or “S” so “Superman” became “NuperDan”. It stuck, and now our favorite Kryptonian exile has been permanently dubbed “NuperDan” in the Deitrick home.

Look for this as part of a larger “World’s Finest” paper sculpt due to be out in February.

1969: Sisyphus and Light-weight Tactical Vehicles

jeep

I wasn’t too terribly surprised.  “Sisyphus” came up during a discussion on Classical Greek Art and no one knew who he was. When I said that he was a character in Greek mythology (with the eternity of pushing a boulder, the steep hill, the rolling back down and getting hit) most of the students swore I was describing a plot from either a Roadrunner or Scooby-Doo cartoon. I was on the edge of one of my typical snarky remarks when it came to me that as a college freshman I wouldn’t have automatically made the connection myself because the idea of forever pushing something uphill would bring to mind something much different than eternal flames and guys dressed in over-sized towels, something that happened fairly recently, as in my third year of high school.

…which was definitely not working out the way I had planned. My sophomore year had been GREAT; there’d been this great circle of friends to hang out with, some qualified success with young ladies, I’d earned fairly good grades, and participation in an afterschool judo program. Then fall of 1969 rolled around everything changed:

  • My circle of friends unraveled
  • My romantic prospects had moved to the Lower 48,
  • A series of major forest fires was threatening to burn us out
  • Chemistry was seriously kicking my butt.

Then out of nowhere (or to be more precise New Mexico) came a 5’7” reprieve in the form of Jim.

Jim had been an important arc in the circle of buddies that had “unraveled” the summer before; in his case a family tragedy triggered a family relocation to the Lower 48. His subsequent return was as therapeutic as his departure had been devastating. In a sea of nodding acquaintances Jim was a true friend – a “foxhole buddy” as we’d say years later in the army. The emotional roller coaster that is adolescence is miserable if you face it alone, but with Jim I had someone who would watch my back, share ideas and smuggle Playboy in and out of each other’s houses.

…and then there was the drawing….

People ask me if I always drew as a kid and the answer is  “Yes”  I drew a lot but not to the professional standards that guys like Jim did, Whenever I saw him with a pencil I would stop and watch, frantically  mentally recording each stroke that seemed to effortlessly flow from his pencil. It was time well spent, because what I learned from him was enough to get me into a college art program which in turn lead to a successful illustration career.

…But I digress.

Jim was back on town, but things were a bit different. His extended family was now living together on a large lot at the back of a subdivision located along the highway between Soldotna and Kenai, Alaska. It was more of a compound than a house and was comprised of a large mobile home surrounded by a couple of outbuildings, three cars, two pick-up trucks and a jeep all clumped together – in other words a typical rural Alaskan domicile in the 1960s.  I would also like to add that I use the term “subdivision” rather generously; the area had been surveyed and roads marked out but very little of anything had been developed and no one was actually living in the area other than at Jim’s place. That meant that there wasn’t really anything to do or anywhere to go when I dropped by for my first visit since Jim’s return and when baleful grown-up stares propelled us out into the grey and dripping Alaskan October, there wasn’t much to do other than mill around the vehicles haphazardly parked around the place

It was cold; my feet were soon wet and once we ran out of Raquel Welch jokes there was nothing for entertainment other than the steady quiet patter of the rain falling around us. It was quickly getting tiresome and while the plan had been for my folks to pick me up late that afternoon I couldn’t see letting my socks get that soaked. I mumbled some lame excuses for leaving early, but just turned to head for the highway and hitchhike home the door to the trailer flew open and the adults walked out to the car and drove off to destinations unknown.

  • “ALL RIGHT!”
  • “The kill-joys are gone”
  • “WOO-HOO!”
  • “We can really raise hell now!”

 The steady quiet patter of the rain resumed; when it came to actual items for a hell-raising agenda we were both stumped, but just as the hitchhiking option began to surface again we both happened to glance in the same direction.

A jeep.

I don’t remember who actually owned the jeep, whether it was registered, had license plates or if it even ran. After the end of World War II the United States Army had swept over the Last Frontier like an olive-drab clad Santa Claus distributing countless small to medium sized items of equipment for which transportation back to the Lower 48 exceeded the item’s cash value. Scattered all over the Kenai Peninsula were several Quonset huts, jeeps and small tractors whose titles and documents would not have borne serious inspection;  with so much of this kind of equipment readily accessible we were all fairly mechanically inclined and getting that jeep running proved to be an easy task.

Ten minutes later we were racing down the road to the highway, intent on doing some serious four wheeling in the proto-subdivision on the other side of the highway. We figured that getting that far away from the house would lessen our chances of discovery…and it also had a series of totally bitching interconnected gravel pits that would add to the adventure – for while chronologically we were too-cool-for-school high school juniors, in our hearts we were bouncing up and bouncing the sand dunes and cliffs of North Africa while reenacting favorite episodes of the 1966 ABC TV series The Rat Patrol!

…and before you get started:

  • Yes, a cool rainy Alaskan autumn feels nothing like a North African summer
  • Yes, the TV show blatantly tweaked a British success into something more palatable to Americans
  • Yes, with my surname I should have been the bad guy

To a physicist time is constant and immutable; to teen-age old boys time is totally elastic. It felt like we drove all over the place for hours but given the small amount of fuel and the slow speed of the jeep we couldn’t have spent more than an hour. Unfortunately when the jeep stalled and refused to start again time was no longer our friend in any of its forms. While it was true we knew enough about jeeps to get one going we didn’t know much about batteries – and the battery in this jeep was as dead as dial-up. As long as we’d kept the engine running we were OK but once it died nothing short of another car and a good set of jumper cables would ever get that jeep going again

…and was at this point we began to wonder just exactly where Jim’s folks had gone and when they’d get back.

We started pushing. Not only did we have to push the jeep up out of the gravel pit, we had to keep on pushing with a lot more effort than we’d expected. It was then that we realized that as part of the lower Kenai River drainage area the whole area had a slight downward slant to the west.

We were headed east.

There weren’t many alternatives so we kept pushing. It was slow work made even slower by the frequent side trips down driveways and roads made whenever we heard the sound of tires on gravel.  We alternated in threats to quit and took turns narrowly avoided getting run over when gravity won and the jeep started rolling back down the slope to the highway. However, this one time Lady Luck smiled on us and we got the jeep back and parked into approximately the same position minus most of the mud and we passed the hour waiting for his folks to get  home planning on our next excursion into the gravel pits and unfinished roads across the highway.

Sadly, that second trip never happened.  By end of the following summer Jim was gone again, when his family moved to Fairbanks for better employment. By the end of the summer after that I was in Fairbanks as well, but while I was attending college, Jim was a Marine stationed in some foreign locale and eventually we fell out of touch.  In what has become a common occurrence in the Internet Age Jim and I managed to link again some twenty years later and since that time we have kept in continual contact …though no jeeps have been involved.

I have no idea what happened to the jeep. The subdivision that Jim’s place was located has been moderately developed but the one on other side of the road – where the gravel pits were located? It has disappeared – at least in its 1969 configuration. I first found out about the missing streets in the 1980s but wasn’t until I returned home for my father’s funeral in 2003 that I finally figured out what happened when in a quirk of serendipity the funeral home was located at the very spot where Jim and I had pushed the jeep across the highway.

I had arrived early for the viewing and in an effort to both quell the jitters of my dad’s passing and satisfy my curiosity I drove around and checked things out. It was light enough for me to get  a good look at the lay of the land and the way it was bisected by the roads and creeks and after checking the map and what landmarks were left I discovered that the subdivision had been moved.  Well, not literally physically moved, but at some point the subdivision plan that we had driven over in 1969 had been changed, with roads being realigned and areas backfilled or dug away. The area was now a very pleasant family-friendly location but bore little resemblance to the rugged terrain over which we had re-fought the North African campaign some thirty-five years earlier.

You might wonder why that happened; what with that subdivision having been one of the first to be developed in the area.  You’d assume that those first planned areas would persist in some form or another but what most people don’t realize is just how tentative those first plans are even when stakes have been set, earth has been moved and gravel dumped. Those first surveyors’ stakes can be just as temporary as the pencil marks that mark their location on a plat.

Progress makes its mark everywhere, but it can thoroughly obliterate a new developed frontier’s first tentative attempts to tame a wilderness. On the day of our wild ride that area was still pretty wilderness-y with the paved highway having been in existence not much more than a decade  – but now as I sat in the rental car I was hemmed in by a built up retail area with a convenience store, print shop and the aforementioned funeral parlor.

Dealing with the death of my father was hard and confronting the passing of a frontier wasn’t much easier.  Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can’t go back home again”,  a sentiment debated  in the 1971 Moody Blues song “You Can Never Go Home” and the 2015 Bon Jovi tune “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?”,  but on that evening in 2003 it wasn’t so much “you can’t go home” as it was “home really doesn’t exist anymore”.

Morning Palette

The scene was as startling as it was mundane. As I walked to my car from the clinic this morning I glanced at the field across the road – straw leaning in the slight wind with a tree line in the middle distance and the sun peaking through a cloudy sky. I thought:  In summer I have to flee from the oppressive heat but at this time of year the sun is my friend!

Then the right side of my brain automatically thought:

  • Naples Yellow
  • Payne’s Grey
  • A touch of umber

Thirty minutes and a pharmacy trip later I was turning off the main drag onto a side road that would take me home. As I climbed up a short curving stretch of uphill road I looked at the late fall I took in the trees with yellow and oranges splashes of color scattered over green foliage that seemed determined to hang on to the bitter end…and the simple beauty took my breath away

I thought: Clarksville is beautiful. It’s true I miss the rugged landscapes of my home in Alaska and it’s quite easy to get me going about New England’s innate beauty, but there are times where this plain little town is the most beautiful place on earth