Flying Puppets and Future Visions: My Introduction to the World of Sir Gerry Anderson

For readers wondering about the dearth of new work: I have ankylosing spondylitis, a particularly painful autoimmune disease much like arthritis and I am currently going through a flare which prevents me from doing anything more involved than getting from papa chair to the loo and back.

Unfortunately, that means that most of my posts will have to be reruns for now….

Thanks for checking in.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

My introduction to the world of Gerry Anderson was gradual and somewhat disconnected. It happened over the span of 15 years and several moves across the North American continent but in the end my entry to a world of future that encompassed everything from Supercar to Space: 1999 was well worth the time and effort involved.

In 1959 we moved to Little Shasta Valley in northern-almost-Oregon, California. It was like we went through a time-warp: The valley was split up into cattle ranches, I went to a one room schoolhouse which averaged a dozen students in grades one through eight, we lived 10 miles away from the closest town and the house we lived in was over a hundred years old. Since I had yet to discover comics and we could receive only one television station’s signal (Channel 7 out of Redding CA to the south) there was very little…

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1970: ‘…the name is Deitrick. David Deitrick!”

Gospel scholars teach that the Savior conducted his ministry while he was in his thirties but based on Matthew 13: 55-57 I think he was seventeen. This particular 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 and 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.

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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.

1962: Gary’s Birthday Party

(This is another one of my earlier efforts that disappeared off the ‘net one it went into my book. It’s taken from our “gypsy summer” when we bounced back and forth between my grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s homes while waiting for Dad to fly back south and take us up to Alaska)

Just about everyone I know tried at least once as a kid to play one parent off another. My spider-sense went off at full volume the first time I heard a friend talk about asking for a “yes” from one parent when the other parent had already given a “no”; that sort of action would have earned me an instantly butt-kicking so the idea never really came to mind. However I finally tried it, but only after being goaded mercilessly (see Wikipedia “peer pressure”). I got caught in the deception almost immediately and was punished “almost immediately” as well.  It wasn’t a kicking my butt got, but it was close enough.

However, due to some analysis and interpretation (a spook even as a kid!) after the swelling went down I reasoned that there could be an alternate method.  By trial and error I figured out that that if I wanted to get permission to go some place Dad was the person to ask.  At the same time you could forget asking him for any sort of “financial backing” – so if I needed money Mom was the “go-to” parent. In fact she was pretty open about the difference between the two types of permission. The system worked well for most of my youth, but sometimes  there were situations  that required special handling- times where I needed both pocket money and the “dad-passport” to wander all over town unimpeded. Such was the situation when I got invited to my cousin Gary’s birthday party when I had to put a little bit of a spin on the usual route to gaining permission to roam around unimpeded.

It was in 1962 when we were living alternately with my Grandma Esther in Grass Valley, California and Great Hilda (my great grandmother) in Nevada City – also in CaliforniaWe were waiting for our Dad to come down and move us to Alaska; he had been hired by the employment service up there and had gone up earlier in the year to get things set up before the whole clan made the move. As I said I was invited to my cousin Gary’s birthday party; Aunt Doris and Uncle Roy had set up a party for him at one of the many ice cream parlors that lined the bottom of the main street as you first got into town. The thing is, there was a statue in a small park a couple of blocks east of there with a  a statue of a soldier shooting what looked to be a machine gun, and I wanted a closer look. I had just moved out of my Civil War phase into a World War 2 phase and up to this point all I had for reference were comics – hence my interest in the statue.

Unfortunately I knew there was no way I could talk anyone into talking me down to look closely at the statue, so this party was my golden opportunity. When quizzed about the logistics of the event I assured my mom that Uncle Roy would make sure I got to the party and when I talked to Uncle Roy I gave a fuzzy answer that basically meant  I’d show up at the scheduled time  – without going into details. I assumed (correctly)that they’d all be too concerned with getting the event going to double-check on me.

The day finally came and I took off for the party. Unfortunately I have always struggled with processing the passage of time and even though it was a down-hill trip it took me a little longer to get to the soldier with the machine gun than I had thought. As I said before I was just then developing an interest in World War 2 and my knowledge was very limited, but even so it didn’t take me too long to realize that the “soldier” with the “machine gun “was in fact a mine worker using a water cannon to loosen dirt and rock as part of the gold dredging process that had been so prevalent in the area in an earlier time.

I fussed and fumed – though my disappointment with the statue was nothing compared to my realization that I had no one to blame but myself. Then with a start I realized that with Uncle Roy’s strong left-brain sense of punctuality the party would have already started and anyone that may have been standing on the sidewalk, waving in late arrivals like myself would have gone into the ice cream parlor for the festivities. I‘d have to figure this out on my own.

I ducked into the first place. My heart leapt – there was a party going on! My heart sank – everyone was Chinese. I edged my way back out into the street trying to erase any sort of excited expression that would instantly show me up as a fraud in the wrong party and walked up to the next shop.

There was no heart leaping at this place; there had been a party but it was over and the store employees were cleaning up. I walked back outside, my lip trembling and a curse in my heart for the fake machine-gunner/water cannoneer who made me late when I heard the unmistakable sounds of a kid-party at the third parlor up the street.

I ran up the street and inside the door to find a spectacular view of cake and ice cream dished up and party favors sitting out for all the attendees. There was music playing, all sorts of party games going and there was a huge crowd of kids, but then I figured that my uncle Roy knew everyone in town from the mayor on down. As an out-of-towner I wasn’t worried about the fact that I didn’t know any of the other kids, but after an  hour I realized that I didn’t recognize anyone. I didn’t see my cousins or my Aunt Doris and Uncle Roy…and when they introduced the very non-Garyish birthday dark-haired boy I knew that I was in the wrong party. I quietly finished my ice-cream and cake, cleaned up my plates and utensils and edged my way out the door.

At this point I was pretty much of the “screw the party” frame of mind. I was tired, my feet were sore from all the walking and it looked like I was going to be late getting home at which time it would be my behind and not my feet that would end up sore.  I groaned a bit and had just turned towards home when I heard “Gus – GUS! Where ya been?” I had finally ended up in front of the  ice cream parlor hosting Gary’s party and after a short lecture from Uncle Roy about punctuality and manners I tucked in yet another serving of ice cream and cake and scored another set of party favors.

As I was drifting off to sleep later that night I thought back to how the day had gone. Yes, my feet were still sore from all the walking, I was disappointed about the statue, and there was some mild residual embarrassment from ending up in the wrong parties. However on the plus side I‘d gotten two servings of ice cream and cake, I got to hear Happy Birthday sung in Chinese, but most importantly Uncle Roy and Aunt Doris just dropped me off instead of coming in to visit when they drove me home. My mom remained unaware about my little deception and as a result my behind remained unspanked that night.  

1997: Budget Locksmith

(From five years ago. I remember that at the time of this event I felt so very much ” in the future” – but it’s been almost twenty-five years)

David R. Deitrick, Designer

It’s been just over a year since moving  into this home on Bauling Lane with the  anniversary commemorating  the inevitability of Murphy’s law as much as the passage of 365 days occupancy. This structure that was so seemingly completely void of problems or defects started showing those defects on the 366th day, but to be honest, I can’t feel a whole lot of disappointment.  We left our own share of “issues” with the home we sold in East Tennessee nine years ago and one issue in particular comes to mind often: I do wonder what the current occupants think of a utility room doorknob that rattles slightly when turned.

It all came about ten years before the sale when both boys were high school students living at home and Meghan was a toddler.  Conrad and Sean were wonderfully low maintenance kids to raise but life on a freelancer’s income…

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Music: Apocalypse by The Mahavishnu Orchestra

I didn’t actually see Star Wars (known later as A New Hope) until two months after it premiered when my battle-buddy Doug and I managed to escape FT Lewis for an afternoon and make our way into Tacoma for a non-government issue meal and a movie. I’d known about it, having suffered though the novelization the winter1 before and feasted on preproduction art published in Jim Steranko’s seminal trade journal Mediascene not long afterwards. We managed to get the last two seats, so I saw everything from the center of the third row where I was mesmerized by the stunning visuals and breakneck pacing.

…but as much as I enjoyed Mr. Lucas’s masterpiece, it wasn’t the most important piece of speculative fiction that I encountered that year. That honor fell to Larry Niven’s Known Space series as published by Ballentine Books. My Beautiful Saxon Princess and I spent a good part of our leisure time that first year of our marriage scrambling between bookstores in search of those books, which were readily identifiable by their superb Rick Sternbach covers. As for why I preferred the books: I prefer hard science fiction to the softer variety and (oddly enough for a soldier) “space battles” lose their appeal for me quickly as I am more intrigued with problem-solving and dealing with a harsh environment (totally believable for a kid raised in rural Alaska).

I’m not sure of the exact moment Apocalypse got paired up with the Niven books. We were “economically challenged” that first year so books were our main source of entertainment and I always had something on the turntable while we were reading. I’d inherited the record from my roommate2 the year before and being so new this particular record was played a lot…and as it played while I read the ethereal, other-worldly music seemed a perfect fit to the books in both scope and mood,

It still does. Whenever I dive back into Protector or Ringworld I cue this album up, albeit via streaming tor CD these days instead of vinyl.

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Notes

1. The only shaky point in our engagement was when I elected to stay in and read rather than take my betrothed to dinner on Valentines Day. I was totally oblivious as I had plenty of books for my Beautiful Saxon Princess to read while I finished the book.

2. Lonnie Magnusson a.k.a. the one non-family member that I had lived with the longest prior to marrying Lori (one year at Ricks College and another at BYU after serving our respective bicycle penances.)

1966: Super Ball

(I’m not sure why or how it happened but when I published my book a couple of years back a large number of my autobiographical blog posts were deleted from this blog, so I’m going to go back and republish that missing material…which is just a complicated way of saying: “If you think you’ve seen this before you probably have!)

One unique aspect about growing up in Alaska was the sense of disconnection we had to deal with – a disconnection that was even wider because we didn’t know it was there. I spent my young adulthood thinking that my youth and adolescence were just like everyone else’s – just colder and darker. There were in fact large communication and social gaps that made life on the last Frontier more like life on another planet. For example, there were no same-day network news programs on television until I was a senior in high school and even then they weren’t simultaneous broadcasts. The early evening news was videotaped in Seattle then put on an airliner to Anchorage, where it was broadcast after 10 at night. It made watching the Super Bowl problematic; the game was broadcast live on radio so you were faced with either knowing the score beforehand as you watched the game or spending the early part of the day with card pinned on your lapel that read “Don’t tell me the score!”

Regular television shows were broadcast two weeks late, and pop music got air-time anywhere from a month to six weeks after debuting in the lower 48 – which had something to do with the practice back then of getting music to the stations – demo records went through the mail to radio stations and it just took that much longer to get from Los Angeles to Anchorage than it did from Los Angeles to Portland.

Oddly enough though there were some fads that made it north quicker than others – most likely they were brought up by people flying back and forth for work or vacation. My sister Robin got a copy of “Cherish” by the Association when a suitor mailed her a copy over a month before it was first played by Ron Moore on “The Coke Show” in Anchorage.  My only early jump on a fad was the Super Ball – by Wham-0!

Though Wham-o attributed the super ball’s amazing performance to a miracle substance called Zectron, they were really made from a synthetic rubber called polybutadiene. Invented by chemist Norm Stingley, polybutadiene required a complex process to manufacture, including molding for 15-20 minutes at 320 degrees F while compressed under a pressure of 1000 pounds per square inch .The result was a rubber ball with an extremely good grip that would instantly increase or reverse its spin depending on how hard and at what angle it hit the floor. It also had 92% resiliency which meant it would bounce 75 times for 30 seconds when dropped from 6 feet….and it wouldn’t just bounce over your head – the package said you could bounce it over your house!

…and that’s what got me into trouble.  

It was early in the spring of 1966 – “break-up” as we called it in Alaska. There weren’t many places I could use my new Super-Ball – after several disasters I figured the best place to bounce a ball with 92% resiliency was the concrete basketball court just outside and to the side of Mr. Hall’s eighth grade class room at Sterling Elementary. On the first sunny day after the snow had melted off I went out during lunch-time recess to try out my Super-ball on the concrete.

I threw it down. It bounced back up close to the height of the basketball backboards. Impressive, but not higher than what I estimated the roof of our house to be. I tried throwing the ball down, this time jumping up before releasing the ball on my way down.  There was an even more impressive bounce, but again not high enough to match the rebound as portrayed on the package. As literal as I was it never occurred to me that there may have been a little artistic license in the illustration and I was determined to meet or beat the bounce on the package. I concluded that if the ball were thrown down from a higher point the added distance would increase the velocity of the bounce to the magic house-high altitude so I went back into the school, found a folding chair and brought it out on the concrete basketball court. I then stepped up on it, jumped up off it as high as I could and on the trip down I threw the Super-Ball down as hard as I could.

You know that bit about men never experiencing pain as bad as the pain women go through with labor pains? Well, I beg to differ. In addition to any extra velocity my Super-ball’s “extremely high coefficient of friction came into play” which meant that when it hit the ground the spin was reversed and bounced back up in between my legs.

Wax popped out of my ears.

I couldn’t breathe.

I couldn’t move.

I think I began to see through time….

I don’t remember how I got back into the classroom but the next clear memory is of sitting at my desk with my head laid down on top while I tried to breathe in short shallow gasps. I also remember that for the rest of the day I spoke in a key at least two octaves higher than usual, prompting me to wonder if this was the sort of thing that could halt puberty. I also remember a great deal of pain radiating from my crotch.

That wasn’t the worst pain of the day though. I guess when I went in to “recover” some of the other guys decided to try out my Super-Ball as well. The deepest pain came during that discussion when they all agreed that the Super-Ball “bounced higher than a house” when Ticky Powell tried bouncing it.

Ticky – or more formally Robert Powell. One of my best friends, a dead ringer for actor Andrew Prine and not bigger than a kitten. Seriously – he measured maybe 4’6” and possibly weighed 65 pounds soaking wet but somehow put me to shame with my own Super-Ball.

The pain radiated all that much sharper…..

1963: Rendezvous X 2

I’m old enough for polio to be a common health hazard in my youth, but rather than contracting that dread disease I contracted Greystoke’s Syndrome, an ailment that played havoc with my reading comprehension. It’s a condition common to children reading at a much higher level than expected – as a fourth grader I regularly read books written at a high school level and often came across words that I had rarely heard spoken, putting me in the same situation as John Clayton II, Lord Greystoke. Also known as Tarzan, young Greystoke taught himself to read by deciphering the small library his parents left behind when they were killed upon arrival in early twentieth century Africa. He rarely understood the spoken word as well as the written form, but fortunately I had an advantage the King of the Jungle lacked: my fourth grade teacher Cora Blinzler

Mrs. Blinzler was old school in the purest sense of the word and put great stock in proper classroom decorum maintained by percussive discipline, BUT she encouraged my extracurricular pursuit of knowledge as much as she could given her 30+ student class load. She spent extra time helping me develop my already prodigal reading skills, but despite that extra help I continued to struggle with penmanship and pronunciation: I eventually solved the first problem by turning from cursive to block lettering, but my continued mangling of verbal pronunciation destroyed words even worse than my horrible handwriting:

  • Idiosyncrasies became “Idio-crass-knees”
  • Taciturn became “tack-turn”
  • Hors d’oeuvres was mangled into “hour doves”

It was while I was her student that I encountered one of those mystery words when the subject of the up-coming Fur Rendezvous began appearing in conversations and broadcasts shortly after Christmas break. I didn’t immediately make a connection between the “Ren-dez-voos” I was reading about and the “Ron-day-voo I heard about on the radio until the week before the event kicked off, when I learned that both terms referred to an annual festival featuring cultural, sporting, and social events unique to our locale, combined with a general thumb-to-the-nose to Old Man Winter. The only down side was the lack of any kind of school holiday, but there would be a lot of interesting things to do and see during evenings and on weekends.

Mom in particular gushed about the way Fur Rendezvous would be a perfect opportunity to learn about our new home, but I was less than enthusiastic about giving up my weekend to look at what I assumed would be a dog show. I was still recovering from a foot fracture sustained during a sledding accident, which made the simple act of getting around difficult. But even more pressing was the animated cartoon issue – Mighty Mouse was aired on Saturday afternoons, and while he wasn’t a particular favorite, his show was the only weekend cartoon we had. Unfortunately my artistic entreaties fell on deaf ears, and Saturday morning I dutifully climbed into the back deck of our Falcon station wagon as my family eaded downtown for the Ren-dez-voos.

I silently cheered “movie” when we filed into the Sidney Laurence auditorium, but my elementary school funk returned when I learned that we were there for an exhibition of native dancing and not a movie. Confusion continued as the exhibition began – I knew about square dancing from school, and I knew about the Twist from American Bandstand, but I was clueless when dancers in Native American garb came on stage. I’d seen enough Westerns to expect lots of jumping and yelling around a fire but these guys were just kind of shuffling around.

We hadn’t had time to remove our coats so I was getting hot and restless as we sat in the dark. “Restless” soon morphed into “fidgeting” which brought on the reaction that any other nine year old would have had in that situation: passive/aggressive resistance, as in kicking the seat in front of me…but within just a few minutes I was surprised to find myself kicking in time with the soft drum beats from the dancers on stage. I was also surprised that I could just about understand the story they were acting out, and I deduced that one guy was some kind of wizard as he wearing a totally bitching mask that could change faces with a quick pull on a cord…

…but just as the story was getting good we had to leave and go find a decent place to watch the races. With the first Iditarod a dozen years in the future, “race” meant the World Champion Sled Dog Races that ran on a track laid out amidst the buildings, streets, and forests of a much smaller Anchorage (40,000 in the 1960 census). After twenty minutes of stop-and-go driving followed by as many minutes of shuffing through the snow, we found a good spot along Chester Creek close to the site of where the Sullivan arena would be built twenty years later – and as the start point was downtown on Fourth Avenue we still had at least an hour to go before any of the entrants would pass.

 I was familiar with the competitors in the same way that I knew about sports figures in general: I knew some names but not much else. I was pretty sure that Bart Starr was a quarterback and Gordy Howes played hockey, but the only athlete I really knew anything about was Willie Mays, and that was because he played center field for San Francisco Giants – Dad’s favorite baseball team. Unfortunately, lack of knowledge about the mushers aggravated the disconnection I felt towards my new home and friends – while my buddies could swap names and statistics, the only racer I could recognize was the returning champion, Roland “Doc” Lombard, who while also an outsider, had the grace to be based in Massachusetts  (which actually got snow in the winter) rather than my sunny native California.

However, there was one nameless racer who stood out – a man in his thirties from someplace up in the Interior. There was a strikingly different cadence to the way he ran behind the sled that included an odd kick, and as he passed us I could see his face was set in manner that left no question about his intent. We learned later that he was an Athabaskan native from Huslia, a small town located up in the interior along the Koyukuk River, and that he was contending with and triumphing against serious physical problems. I was struck by his courage as was the rest of my family, and even though we would only attend one more Fur Rendezvous as a family there was always a positive comment when this particular racer would show up in the media.

The mushers passed quickly and I was surprised when Dad called us back to load up the Falcon to make our way home to deepest, darkest Spenard. It had been a much better day than expected and I wasn’t even miffed when I found out I’d missed Mighty Mouse. We’d had a lot of fun, and the day also proved to be the first real distraction to the disorientation that came with moving to Alaska. Despite its status as the “Last Frontier” we were living in an urban environment more developed than any other area I had lived in up to that point. At the same time it was also the only part of Alaska I knew about, the furthest I had been out at that time was a fishing trip to Bird Creek twenty minutes south of town. We still felt ourselves to be transplanted Californians, our only prior connections to the Last Frontier being Dad’s deployment to Kodiak Naval station with a P2V Neptune squadron in the 1950s and Mom’s great-uncle Ned who’d been a participant in the Klondike Gold Rush at the turn of the century. The Fur Rendezvous we’d just experienced had been a blessed jumpstart to an adjustment to our new home in the north. It could have been the displays, the dancing, the dog races or just the fact that it was one of the rare weekends my family spent together without someone getting hit, but by the end of the weekend we felt just a bit more connected to Alaska.

Decades later

Even if genealogy hadn’t been actively encouraged by our faith, Mom would have been a fanatic in the art of tracking down ancestors. She’d always loved mysteries – and mysteries combined with family history were both entertaining AND a welcome distraction to the heartbreak of watching her beloved “innocent-shepherd-turned-sailor” slowly succumb to the ravages of Parkinson’s disease. She was sitting at the kitchen table with pedigree charts and family group sheets scattered all around when she was startled out of her genealogical reverie by the loud ring that only pre-touch tone telephones can produce. Like others of her generation she picked up the receiver automatically (“if it’s a phone call it must be an emergency!”) but when she heard the unfamiliar voice she started to hang up…until she caught the faint hint of an accent in the voice.

 “Hello?”

There was an odd roll to some of the vowels that could have come from the Yukon Territory.

May I speak to June Laird please?

Maybe the Great Lakes?

“HELLO?”

“Laird is my maiden name.” said mom as she shook off her distraction: “My name is June Deitrick now. May I help you?”

The caller introduced herself as middle-aged woman named Rose researching her own family lineage which appeared to include the aforementioned Uncle Ned. That revelation triggered a torrent of names and dates between the two ladies – a benign sort of mania peculiar to those who have been bitten by the genealogy bug…but after ten minutes Mom could no longer contain her curiosity:

 “Please forgive me but I’ve always been interested in languages and your accent baffles me. If I didn’t know better I’d think you were an Alaskan Native.”

Rose paused…

 ‘Well, maybe that’s because I am Athabaskan and I’m calling you from Huslia…”

It turned out that Uncle Ned’s sojourn into the North had involved a lot more than just prospecting for gold. When the Klondike proved to be less-than-profitable Ned headed west to the Koyukuk area in Alaska where he made an attempt at prospecting before turning to running a trap line and supplying wood to passing riverboats…but then the story of Uncle Ned gets hazy. Most of Mom’s notes from her conversation with Rose have been lost and those that survived are nearly indecipherable (Like mother/like son: penmanship was not her strong suit). What we can figure out gives us all the ingredients for either a soap opera or a Gary Cooper western:

  • Ned, or Ed as he was sometimes known, had a family with a local Athabaskan woman.
  • A feud over trade concessions developed between Ed and his son-in-law Viktor.
  • Ed killed Victor in self-defense after the younger man attempted to murder him.
  • Though found innocent, Ed rode off into the sunset, leaving the Koyukuk for the Lower 48.

(For details consult Sidney Huntington’s 1993 biography Shadows on the Koyukuk)

What does all that mean? Evidently Rose was my Mom’s second cousin through Great Uncle Ned, which means that all those years ago when I was taking classes at the University of Alaska (in Fairbanks) there could have been “shirt-tail relations” among the Native students I was sitting next to in my classes.

It gets even better.

Remember that one young musher we cheered so hard for during that championship race – the one with the special kick? That young man was Rose’s brother, and that kick became well known as the trademark move of world champion dog-musher George Attla. We didn’t know it at the time, but when our little family of disconnected California beach bums went to that Fur Rendezvous in 1962 we were rooting for that one tenuous but very real connection with our new home in the North that I’d always hoped for.

The connection I’d always hoped for had always been there.

1980/2021 Good Night Felix Knight

( I’ve run this post a couple of times but after the week I just went through it seems most appropriate to run it again. It’s impossible to convey the fear, desperation and frustration that comes with a life with chronic pain, but just to give you an insight: when the government tightened up across the board on opioid prescriptions a few years back the suicide rate amongst chronic pain patients made an immediate uptick of 5-7%)

This is a hard one to write.

Felix Knight was an army buddy of mine back in the early 1980s. To be totally accurate he was more of a church/Scouting/army buddy of mine; we were both serving at the same base but saw each other more at church and Scout meetings that we ever did while in uniform. I don’t think that I ever saw him without a big smile on his face, but that big smile hid a lot of pain.

A decade earlier he had been an Army aviator serving in Viet-Nam, flying the OH-6 scout helicopter (a.k.a. “loach”). As was the case with most Hughes Aircraft products the OH-6 was extremely survivable; in the case of a crash the rotor blades would detach and fly away from the fuselage, unlike the OH57, a Bell product whose blades would dip down and across the pilot’s side window during a crash. The egg-shaped OH-6 fuselage was also designed for “crash attenuation”; the tail boom would also break off upon impact, allowing the fuselage to dissipate crash energy by rolling around unencumbered.

All these factors contributed to Felix overall survival, but he didn’t escape the crash unscathed.  He had been approaching a landing zone that had been hacked out of triple-canopy forest, and when his helicopter crashed he was hurt quite badly (especially in his back) when the aforementioned survival features of the OH-6 were impeded by the close-set tree trunks. The Army subsequently attended to his needs, but the reality of Army life meant that he could no longer fly. What’s more, he was reduced in rank (and pay)  from Chief Warrant Officer 2 to Staff Sergeant and put to work as an office.

I interacted with Felix mostly in connect with Boy Scouts; he was the scoutmaster and I was his assistant Scoutmaster. There were many Wednesday nights when he’d call to say that his back was giving him a bad time and if it were possible for me to run things at the troop meeting that night. I’d faithfully fill in for him and deal with the boys on my own, but there were many nights when the air would turn blue in my little Audi wagon as I’d drive home complaining bitterly about having the whole program shoved off on me. I mean, his back couldn’t hurt that bad – to the point that he couldn’t still show up and help me a little…and I was annoyed at the way his voice would kind of tremble but still sound cheerful when he’d call. I mean, I’d already agreed to run the whole show. He didn’t have to get all theatrical on me.

The last time I saw Felix was in 1982, so he wasn’t around when I had my own service-related injury. It was a night parachute jump with full equipment and I had the misfortune of first getting caught in a wind-shear ( change in wind direction part-way down)  then landing in a freshly plowed field, all benefits of that plowing being negated by the muddy areas where the adjacent irrigation ditches overflowed. Instead of a “parachute landing fall” (or “PLF”) I had a “PFL” – a “poor f***ing landing”).  I ended up with two compressed discs and some herniating with a third but I was young and buff enough to keep up with my duties, no matter what .  

No, it wasn’t until I contracted Ankylosing Spondylitis some years later that I the light finally clicked on. ( A/S  is a autoimmune condition of the spine involving progressive joint immobilization and eventual immobilization and went undetected for years because of my jump injury. There is no cure and it is extremely painful) Then the arthritis got into my hands and feet, twisting and inflaming the knuckles and making both complex artistic activities and simple everyday chores an exercise in misery.

The “ light came on” late one night as I was rocking on the side of the bed in severe pain and wondering what to do after being rebuffed by a fellow church member I had just asked for help with activity. He had refused then intimated that I “was using health problems” to avoid my responsibilities…and while those words hurt, they were nothing to the pain I felt when I thought back to when I said those same words about Felix.

Few things in my life have prompted me to cry like I did that night.

I haven’t seen Felix in over 40 years. I hope that he has been able to find some comfort and relief from the constant pain. Mostly I hope he has forgiven me. It’s going to be a while before I forgive myself.

1967/68 Fiddlin’ On (Under)The Roof

When quizzed about my initial interest in comics my autopilot response is “Detective Comics issue 327 featuring The Mystery of the Menacing Mask ”, the Batman story by Carmine Infantino and Gardener Fox that introduced “The New Look” and saved the title from cancellation. In reality, interest in mysterious avengers was kindled five years earlier with The Mask of Zorro, Disney’s 1958 black-and-white retelling of the Zorro (Spanish for the word “fox”), sword wielding crusader righting wrongs and fighting oppression in the Spanish California of the late 1700’s. I loved the mask, I loved the swordplay, I loved the horses – but what really intrigued me were the secret rooms and passages which served as an 18th century version of the Batcave. These areas were accessed through a hidden door in his chambers where the foppish Don Diego changed into his mask, cape, and black garb before descending a stair to the cave where he stabled his black stallion, Toronado, and riding off into the night.

For days afterward all I could think about were those secret rooms and passages. On the surface the allure was the basic “ooo-wee-ooh-ooo” factor that comes with every unusual element in a mystery, but there was also a hint of empowerment offered long before that term became trendy. There were so many times when navigating through a screamingly bi-polar household made clearing a minefield seem like a parlor game, which made the ability to move around unnoticed, or just hiding an option to explore in every one of the eight homes we occupied between my cinematic epiphany and our final move to Sterling – options that included locations such as:

  • The laundry chute in the rambling ranch house in Little Shasta Valley.
  • A tunnel dug in a lot next to our duplex on Garfield Street in Anchorage.
  • Stairs to the cellar in the hall closet of our Barbara Drive home in Spenard.

…but it wasn’t until our travels finally rolled to a stop in Sterling that I unexpectedly found a true, functional, secret passage. While our home with attached garage looked like it had been plucked from an Anchorage subdivision, it was in reality a small homesteader’s shack repeatedly modified; the changes hidden by clapboard siding nailed around the exterior. All those changes left odd spaces and loose boards that that offered ample opportunity for further modification, but it wasn’t until I moved into the attic loft Dad and I built in 1966 that I was able to take advantage of the situation.

My loft was essentially a wooden box sandwiched between the top of the original cabin(s) and the overall roof. For the first year or so I was too scared to explore the space around my room as I was convinced aliens would use it as a base for their conquest of the Last Frontier, but I eventually gained enough nerve to explore the rest of the attic. Whenever possible I was scrambling over the gritty surface texture of the original shingles, and testing my luck by carefully making my way from ceiling-joist to ceiling-joist, ever mindful that a mere one half inch of fragile sheetrock separated me from the rooms below.

My survey of the entire attic took about a week, and during those explorations I found my secret passage. A plywood panel at the junction of the house and garage yielded a space which was easy to hammer and pry-bar, allowing access to the area above the rafters in the garage – and while it was unfinished, the sheets of plywood and old double mattress stored up there provided me with (at last!) a secret hideaway. More importantly, I was now provided with an unobserved entry/exit way from my room through the attic(s) to a stack of discarded cable spools, crates and stepladders piled rafter-high in the garage. Unfortunately by the time I’d gotten everything set up there wasn’t much of a need for a secret exit. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with hitchhiking so any activity worthy of the consequences of a foiled sneak-out would have to be within walking distance, and there were only two of those: the annual spaghetti feed and the Halloween party held at Sterling Elementary, but by the time they came around it was too cold and dark to warrant the risk.

It was a quite a different situation the following spring. Life had finally become tolerable after surviving the beat-downs, family crises, and a wicked case of mononucleosis that plagued most of my freshman year, but I’d reached a weekend where it was all but impossible to cope with the boredom of a slow Saturday afternoon at the homestead. It was also one of the last “buddy” episodes involving my friend Wayne as we had both traveled far enough on our respective paths to have little in common. Where we had once shared interests in music, hobbies, and television, we now had just one connection, i.e. girls, as in Playboy Playmate pinups and the party jokes printed on the non-Playmate side, so it had been a bit of a surprise when he showed up early that afternoon, when his new thug-friends were otherwise occupied, so we spent an hour or two listening to music:

  • “The Mighty Quinn” by the Manfred Mann
  • “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding
  • “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses)” by John Fred and his Playboy Band

It was thoughts of the aforementioned pinups brought on by the name of that last vocal group that got us surreptitiously making our way out of the loft and into the attic proper where I kept my “library”. The climb up to my loft had become quite a challenge for mom, but she still made random visits and I didn’t want to risk discovery of any imagery of the female form, much less any of the less-than-fully-clothed variety. There was also the lurking menace of my three little sisters, Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather. With both Mom and Dad gone for the day their chief entertainment revolved about tormenting us, and the risk of one of them popping up through the hatch unannounced and spotting our contraband was as much a concern as a mom-visit, but the fortuitous appearance of a rather ragged cow moose in the front yard drew their attention away long enough for us to A) make a quick trip to my girlie-magazine stash in the attic and B) a equally quick move through the missing plywood panel and eventual access to the aforementioned secret hideaway above the rafters in the garage.

We had just started our formal debate on the merits of the curriculum vita of Nancy Harwood (Miss February) as opposed tp that of Gale Olson (Miss March) when the ear-piercing screams of Flora, Fauna, and Merriweather echoing like bloodhounds in pursuit of a fox broke out from the garage below us.

(Why were they screaming? There were always screaming. They would ring the downstairs landing to the loft access and keen for hours. It was like the albino zombies in The Omega Man chanting “I’m telling Mom” instead of “Neville! Ne-e-ville”.)

 The moose had left the front yard all too quickly, and upon returning to the ladder-in-a-closet entry to my attic loft they were all-too-briefly puzzled by our disappearance before fanning out to search the house and garage. Wayne and I did our best to remain hidden and silent but between the relentless searching of the three little girls and the finite interior space of our home, we were discovered within minutes.

I don’t know if it was the hypnotic effect of tthe sight of two brunette beauties au naturel, the soporific effect of the late spring sun heating up the space directly under the garage roof (or more likely) the mortal fear of my Mom’s Celtic wrath – at that point I stopped thinking rationally. Somehow I became convinced that our best course of action would be to dash back through the connected attics into my loft bedroom and then somehow convince my sisters – and by extension mom – that we’d never left my room, so after a brief side trip to stash the pinups I sped over the old rooftops, across the rafters, and through the back entrance to my loft with Wayne closely following behind me. Unfortunately, the requisite hop from rafter to rafter over sheetrock wasn’t quite as automatic with my friend, and as I hit the door a muffled crump caused me to spin around just in time to see sunlight erupt through the attic darkness around Wayne’s lower body.

He’d stepped through the sheetrock ceiling.

I scuttled downstairs to the dining area to meet with the never-to-be-forgotten sight of my friend dangling by his armpits between two rafters while his feet and legs bicycled in mid-air. I worked as quickly as possible to get him down and the worst of the debris cleaned up, but before I knew it almost an hour had passed, and even worse, mom’s station wagon was pulling into the driveway. In a colossal feat of legerdemain I managed to get Wayne out the door just as Mom was coming in, but the lady had a gift for noticing detail that would put and eagle (or Joe Friday) to shame and I I was sure she hadn’t missed a thing as she watched him walking briskly toward the highway and a thumbed-ride home.

I braced for the worst. My parents had only recently and reluctantly abandoned percussive discipline with me, but the poor grades I’d earned during the previous nine week grading period had already brought on severe restrictions of entertainment and social life, and I couldn’t think of how it could be made worse.  What really scared me though was Mom’s silence; after I took the bullet for Wayne and told her that it had been me who’d fallen through the roof, she just sent me to my loft and waited in the now-drafty dining area to confer with my dad when he came home. Listening to dad fix the ceiling was much like the unnerving swish/thud of the guillotine that French aristocracy had to endure while waiting for the world’s shortest haircut, but eventually it grew quiet and I was summoned to Mom and Dad’s bedroom for sentencing.

The first item of business was that despite my protestations, Mom knew that Wayne had been the ceiling-busting culprit instead of me. She’d made that determination based on:

  • My little sisters’ testimony.
  • My well-known lack of sufficient upper-body strength needed to suspend myself in the rafters for forty-five minutes.
  • My (almost) clean trousers as opposed to Wayne’s denim jeans covered with white chalk from the sheetrock he’d stepped through…

I waited for the ax to fall…but it never did. With a slight smile she made the comment that while I wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer I was loyal, and with the uptick in my GPA when report cards were issued the following week, even that first observation was moot. Thrilled with the stay of execution I continued to keep my grades up for the rest of the school year, but the improved GPA wasn’t the only change to stay in effect: the “percussive discipline” never came back, and from that point forward Mom started to deal with me as a person rather than a Neanderthal, taking time to talk with me rather than at me.

It was kind of nice, and for the first time in my life I stopped looking for an easy escape route whenever Mom started a conversation…

1970: Requiem for Harvey

A repeat from four years ago and a chapter to my next book , which REALLY is going to the press soon. It seems like any kind of creative effort, be it visual art, sculpture or writing takes an every increasing toll on me…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

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…

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