CCC*6: The Buzz Lightyear Syndrome

(I’ve been hammering away at this post for twelve years hence the lack of reference to Facebook)

I feel like I am taking a test.”

He was both baffled and concerned. We’d gotten to be good Internet friends, but he was convinced of a hidden agenda while answering my questions. He was writing an article on the role-playing game illustrators of the Eighties and had become intrigued with “the guy who’s work was all over the place but not as well-known as the Larry Elmores and Keith Parkinsons”. We’ve gone on to continue our friendship, but in the beginning he was put off by the times I was less than forthcoming. The sad thing is that he was right. I was testing him to screen out BLS – otherwise known as the “Buzz Lightyear Syndrome”.

Americans are schizophrenic when it comes to celebrities. We made a point of writing the concept of royalty/nobility out the constitution, but we are more obsessed with entertainers, sports stars, and British nobility than any other group on the earth .At the same time, our collective schadenfreude meter pegs out when a celebrity has any kind of trouble and proves to be just as fallible as anyone else. There’s also a fairly short life-span to our interest1. It happens with actors, (when’s the last time you heard about Brendan Fraser in the news?) athletes, (ditto Brian Bosworth) and, sadly enough in my case, artists.

Ego was never part of the reason I got into this business, and both my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I have always been kind and accommodating when approached by fans. Evidently that is an anomaly, as I’ve been told horror stories involving professionals responding quite cruelly to their admirers, and early on we decided to go against the grain and be approachable to any and everyone. For the most part it has worked out well, and we’ve enjoyed meeting, working with, and teaching countless good people, but as time went on we noticed a common cycle of behavior among a small percentage of those approachees.

  1. Lengthy fan mail expressing admiration for my work.
  2. Efforts to establish as many common interests as possible.
  3. Stepped-up attention-bombing via frequent letters, calls, or messages.
  4. Personal visits and a monopoly on time together at conventions.
  5. Separate Contact with family and other friends

….and this is usually the point where unless I was careful, I’d get sucked in. By nature I am a social animal, and working alone in a studio has always been a challenge, so it’s nice to gain a friend with similar interests. Unfortunately, this is also when the relationship hits a tipping point and the new friend starts to:

  • Become overly familiar, often using family nicknames.
  • Introducing me as his “famous artist friend Dave Deitrick”.
  • Drop my name in social or business situations.
  • Make expensive/extensive demands including (but not limited to) free artwork.
  • Use my name to usurp relationships with clients or gain special privileges at conventions.
  • …and eventually the relationship is turned upside-down with the fan becoming dismissive or contemptuous.

That’s when the BLS comes into full function and the person in question disappears off the face of the earth. Oh, I might hear from them eventually2, but in the same way Woody was replaced by Buzz Lightyear as Andy’s favorite toy, I become a nonentity. That sudden change isn’t as painful as losing an old friend from decades in the past, but there’s an emotional toll on myself, my family, and often deep gaps in my personal collection of original art.

It doesn’t happen very often, especially now when we no longer attend conventions and I am retired, but I’ve dealt with the phenomenon enough times to spot a BLS event in the making… and while it’s not as devastating as losing an old friend or relative, it’s unpleasant enough for me to find way to avoid it in the first place, hence the checklist of red flags to watch for during initial meetings. I pay particular attention to how they address me – “Dave” is limited to family members or friends from high school, and the “Joe Cool” use of just my last name will get you the door unless we’ve made at least one night/equipment jump together or spent at least one afternoon door-contacting in New England.

If any of the aforementioned warning signs appear when meeting for the first time I will politely answer any immediate questions then ignore further contact. I hate the fact that I have to do this as it feels like I’m using the velvet rope hung by trendy nightclubs to limit entrance to the “beautiful people”. I also hate to miss out interacting with new people – Some of my best/longest friendships3 started with a fan contacting me, but I am easily distracted and I have to protect myself, and more important my family, from that narcissistic 1% that replaces their toys (er) friends every year.



  1. The two or three year gap between Bananarama, Expose, Spice Girls and En Vogue was enough time for memories to dim to the point that each act was able to bill themselves as “the first all-female superstar vocal group”.
  • One guy surfaced after twelve years to demand that I remove his name from my website. Another one surfaces every ten years to complain because I wouldn’t sign over all rights to a favorite piece of art.
  • Not every short-lived friendship involves the BLE. Friendships develop under many different circumstances, but change is the very essence of life and all too often a transfer, promotion, graduation, or major development in my health puts an end to a relationship.

   *Creative Curmudgeon Commentary

Brews To Go

One of my favorite duties as a platoon leader was “Right Arm Night” – the practice of an officer taking his platoon sergeant (his “right arm”) out for a beer late on a Friday afternoon after a particularly hard week at work. Despite the fact that I am a nondrinker I feel it is one of the best of the army’s traditions and is great for morale and cohesion. My own platoon sergeant SSG Kraft would nurse his beer while I’d knock back a Shirley Temple1 as we’d share ideas just as valuable as the more technical conversations we’d engage in during duty hours.

My platoon leader days are long past but I have friends that I relate to in much the same way I did with SSG Kraft. Some of these men are friends of long standing dating back to my sophomore year in high school, but I’ve also more recent but equally solid friendships with current neighbors, recent students, and fans of my work. The only drawback to this newer group is the manner in which they are scattered all over the country, which precludes a group activity anything like a “right arm night”.

For instance, Damen DeLeenherr lives in British Columbia. He’s a family man working in the healthcare industry, but in his free time he’s building a home for his family and plays Battletech. Battletech is a tabletop miniatures game involving giant fighting robots, the development of which I was heavily involved with in the late 1980’s. Damen commissioned a Battletech-themed piece of art a couple of years ago, and since that time we’ve gotten to be such good friends that I think of him as another nephew.

It was Damen’s birthday a week or so ago, and while I wanted to give him a birthday present I didn’t plan very well – anything I found on line would be almost a week in getting to him. The puzzle just got all that more challenging because as the day went by I realized that what I really wanted to do was buy Damen a beer. The resemblance wasn’t screamingly obvious at first but he brings to mind a new millennium SSG Kraft with tattoos and 21st century haircut, and a brew seemed more appropriate than the totally tacky cash option I’d finally settled on…but there wasn’t much I could do to get some suds to him.

Then I got to thinking.

 You can deliver send/receive flowers in the space of a single day – why can’t we do that with beer? Picture a network of brewmeisters scattered all over the globe but linked with telephone and Internet like FTD or Candygram. Place an order through a local dealer before noon and by the end of the day your buddy could be knocking back a cold one. The idea is still in its infancy but I did come up with some names for the business.

Names like:

  • UberBrews
  • PayPabst
  • BudHub

I just have to remember to include Shirley Temples as one of the options.

  1. A nonalcoholic drink comprised of Ginger ale and a splash of grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry. Kraft always maintained that I had more class than most tee-totalers: “While they get soda pop you order a mixed drink!”

(Props to Marty Calderone for nudging me back in front of the keyboard. It’s been extremely difficult getting back into the creative saddle since my “second go-around” but Marty’s words of encouragement have helped immensely)

1970: Kites

(First posted in 2017, this post drew more attention than anything else I’ve published here with a good part of the response coming from the Indian subcontinent)

David R. Deitrick, Designer

I loved being a Cub Scout. When I joined in the fall of 1962 membership in Cub Scouts was the studliest thing a nine year old boy could do, and while wearing the uniform added a certain savoir faire to my game, it was the activities in our weekly den meetings that were the real attraction. I liked learning field craft; I liked learning to whittle. I liked making things with papier mache and I liked making costumes and performing in skits. In short I liked – no, I loved the entire program

…except for kites.

I went through most of the Cub Scout rank and arrow-head requirements like a freight-train until I hit the requirement to make and fly a kite, at which point the aforementioned freight train became completely derailed. While the handbooks had nice diagrams of both traditional diamond and box kites accompanied by precise measurements and…

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Music: David Crosby

Distance in Alaska has been described many different ways:

  • It’s not the end of the world but you can see it from here.
  • It’s as far as you can go without a passport.
  • It’s so far north I can see Russia from my front porch.

…and while she was mercilessly mocked for that third comment, Sarah Palin wasn’t all that off the mark. While stationed at FT Richardson, we experienced more than one incident of real-world jamming by our counterparts stationed in the Far Eastern Military district of the Soviet Union.

Distance to family and friends living in the Lower 48 often seemed insurmountable, and that distance cut in both directions. We were far away from extended family, but we were also at the end of a four thousand mile cultural pipeline that delayed the timely spread of music, books, television and movies, and while I was fascinated by the world of popular music my only readily available source of information was the local newspaper, national magazines, and liner notes on the covers of the albums themselves…which in some instances was pretty sparse.

After wasting a Sunday afternoon trying to figure out who was who on the Déjà Vu cover, I borrowed copies of Retrospective: The Best of Buffalo Springfield, and the seminal Crosby, Stills & Nash album, then by comparing/contrasting cover photos I was able to finally distinguish David Crosby from Stephen Stills from Graham Nash and Neil Young. In addition to satisfying my curiosity, the knowledge helped me with a minor budgetary dilemma as the four of them had all recently released solo albums, and the money I’d been given as graduation gifts was burning a hole in my pocket. I started with the first name in the group and picked up Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name…and in the last fifty years I’ve never stopped playing it. Over the years I’ve jumped on every1 technological bandwagon to roll down the musical highway, moving from records to cassettes to CDs to MP3s, and I’ve had a copy of (and eventually wore out) that album in each one of those formats.

I played through it several times last week when I heard the news that Mr. Crosby passed. From what I’ve read, given the way our outlooks on life were so diametrically opposed2 we wouldn’t have made good buddies, but golly-bob-howdy could that man sing. Like most rock vocalists he was a tenor, but there was a quality, a richness, and resonance that is difficult to describe, though Canadian comic Mike Myers’ penchant for describing Barbara Streisand’s voice as being ‘like butter’ comes close

(I prefer the label ‘vocal umami’ 3 )

Seventies trends in recording only added to the effect of Crosby’s voice. Before Walkman technology pushed everyone into their personal ear-pod existence, engineers would use more imagination in the way music was laid down; the first track on If Only I Could Remember My Name being a good example. Rather than just a straightforward recording the sound moves around – the point of origin for the introductory acoustic guitar work on the song entitled Music is Love seemingly originates in your left ear, then moves to your right ear, before moving back and roosting in the middle of your head…an effect that (at the risk of sounding contradictory/ ironic) sounds even better when heard via earphones.

 But his work is much more than a collection of engineering tricks. Despite a chaotic life filled with tragedy and self-destructive behavior2 he produced five decades worth of wonderful music that was as important for its content as its quality. Subject matter ranged from politics to social issues and again while much of it is diametrically opposed to my own values and world view4 it always comes across as potent and well-thought out.

Because of that philosophical depth I’d like to think that he’d have been equally successful in any era but the times had as much to do with his success as his talent. Management by committee didn’t have quite the death grip in creative industries then, and in our New Millennium it’s much easier to get airtime if a song fits the 2:45 format and appeals to the lowest common denominator5.

…but for geezers like me there is also the vinyl dimension that holds my heart. The introduction off compact discs in the Eighties came close to putting a stake in the heart of the phonograph record format. Audiophiles have been stating in recent years that the hiss, hum, skip and pop adds a warmth and subtle dimension to music from records in the same way that soft oil glazes lent the gentle smoky sfumato effect to the Mona Lisa, but for me the appeal of vinyl has what I call the ‘musical time machine effect’.

Once it’s been created, a digital tune is moved around & stored electronically, and there is a point where you have to wonder if there’s anything left of the original music.6 The copy of Music is Love found on my hard-drive had its origin in a CD that I bought in the late nineties and exists as a series of 1s and 0s that transforms into music only with the addition of electricity, and I have to wonder if it’s the same song as the one I ripped from that disc thirty years ago. Sound on a vinyl record is produced when a needle moves along the undulating path or groove made from the artist actual singing and playing which means the music from a record is only one step away from the musician(s) themselves. It also means that music from lines inscribed on the surface of a record can even be heard (with some effort) if you spin the record by hand.

…and when I listen to that original vinyl record the sound is coming from the same source as the first time I heard the album in my attic loft bedroom in 1971. It’s almost like I am reaching back through time to something precious…and as I am closing in on my ‘three score and ten’ mile-marker, that is a comforting thought indeed.


  1. Except eight-track tapes.
  2. He was a heavy drug user and would often say that “If you say you remember the Sixties you weren’t there!”
  3. Umami: A Japanese culinary concept only recently adopted in the western world. A fifth savory ‘taste’ which in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter can be found in foods.
  4. …including an uncomfortable fixation on threesomes in the bedroom.
  5. Songs on this album range from standard length to almost nine minutes long.
  6. Bringing to mind Dr. McCoy’s aversion to beaming between a planet’s surface and the USS Enterprise via transporter.

Twelve Things I Never Want To Hear In My Classroom

As best as I can tell I went for a second round with the ‘rona last spring and I am still as weak as a kitten. I am slowly getting back up to speed but I am doing a lot more “beginning” than “finishing” so new work has been pretty sparse. I appreciate all of you that have continued to read and support this blog and I want you to know that new work is on the way.

Until then I will share some of my older/lesser known work.

David R. Deitrick, Designer

 I’ve been teaching  for the last twenty five years, covering every college level art class except ceramics and photography. One thing that continues to amaze me is the excuses students come up with; as much as art students would like to think they are bohemian and individualistic, the same rationalizations for (basically) ego and sloth pop up year after to year. Now when I teach studio classes I publish the following list  – along with my standard response) so we won’t have to waste any time.


Twelve Things I Never Want To Hear In My Classroom

  1. “I can’t afford good art supplies”. Good art supplies won’t make a bad artist good – but bad art supplies will screw up a good artist every time.
  2. “I’m not done with the assignment” You have to meet your deadline. Period. Art directors value that quality more than anything else you can offer…

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1969 Explorer Encampment

The idea of ‘An irresistible force meeting an unmovable object’ is a paradox that has made its mark through history from 3rd Century China to 2008’s Chris Nolan film The Dark Knight, but other than an epic 1978 clash of wills between my Mom and my youngest sister, it hasn’t been something dealt with in my life. My challenges have more often involved the skewed version –  indifferent effort colliding with half-assed resistance. Such was the case when I was bundled off to an Explorer event at Elemendorf Air Force Base in March of 1969.

The indifferent effort? Exploring – Scouting’s program for older boys aged 16-18. In addition to developing character and civic pride the program was also designed to introduce the young men to future vocations and career fields, but in reality it was just another way for my folks to work more exposure to the Church into my life. There were no uniforms or organization, just a room full of teenaged boys arguing about the Beatles’ White Album or the Jets winning Super Bowl III while a parade of disinterested adult advisors changed out on a monthly basis.

The half-assed resistance? March in Alaska where there is no spring – a period between winter and summer  referred to as ‘Break-up’, a term referencing both the ice on bodies of water breaking up and roads turning into a semi-frozen quagmire created by water from melting snow trapped on the surface by permafrost deeper down in the ground below. Daytime temperatures are warmer and the days are longer, but the snow will still be around for six to eight weeks. It’s a maddening situation not unlike my little sister humming the same off-key tune over and over while I was trying to do my homework, so when a three day activity for area explorers was announced for this particular Spring Break I gladly signed up, especially when the alternative was three extra days staring at the wall. I was also still figuratively on the lam after my involvement in a rather out-of-control party just a few weeks earlier. I’d managed to avoid the wrath of a parent who’d tumbled to exactly what had been going on, but I still spent most of my time with a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach and was prone to jump a foot or two into the air when the telephone rang unexpectedly or an unfamiliar car turned into our driveway.

The event was known officially as an Explorer Encampment and was sponsored by one of the more active Explorer posts in Anchorage comprised of guys I’d gone to church and school with in Anchorage five years earlier. While encampment events would be split between Elemedorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson we’d be bunking at an unused squadron barracks on Elemendorf. As a service brat, the Spartan environment was reassuring rather than unsettling as it was to most of the other guys, and as we settled into the barracks Wednesday night I was looking forward to a couple of days respite from randomly ringing telephones. It prompted a thought that maybe a change of venue might provide me a little respite, but then sounds of shuffling cards and murmured bets started up in the next locker bay.

I’d forgotten about Blake Townsend.

Free agency figures prominently in our faith but so does adherence to very specific standards of behavior that most teenagers would find excessively restrictive, but in Blake’s case it wasn’t a matter of resistance as much as it was a personal challenge. Wednesday night lesson on pornography? Blake had PLAYBOY snapshots tucked inside of his scriptures. Guest lecture by a state trooper on drunk driving? Blake had two beers stashed in his coat pocket. Three day Explorer Encampment designed to foster citizenship and character? Blake had set up a portable casino, which at this point consisted of a poker game with two players: Danny, a member of our Explorer post from home (not the sharpest knife in the drawer) and Stevie, a kid from Anchorage wearing a field jacket and prone to waving around a Marine Corps K-BAR knife given to him by an older brother upon his return from Vietnam.

As was his habit, Blake had shared his plans with me beforehand, though whether it was to shock me to or gain an accomplice I’d never know. I was just as indifferent to ‘the rules’ as he was, but my inner fifty-year old man balked at the crassness of his theological guerilla warfare – if you disagreed with the prohibition on alcohol don’t get blitzed on Friday night and then sit piously in church on Sunday thumbing your nose at both doctrine and worshippers. Blake’s floating card game added to the internal Stukas dive-bombing my stomach. I really didn’t like the card playing, but I wasn’t firm enough in my convictions to stand up to Blake, so I just avoided the issue by pulling a pillow over my head and trying to sleep.

Thursday / Elmendorf Air Force Base

After a mega-caloric breakfast at the dining facility downstairs we were taken to the ramp area to see static displays of various types of aircraft and a lecture on the training pipeline for pilots, then after waiting the requisite thirty minutes after lunch we went to the fieldhouse and the base swimming pool. The highlight of the day was our visit to the cavernous blue-lit Alaskan Air Command headquarters with its wall-sized situation map which through the miracle of 1960’s slide projector technology would update every fifteen minutes.

Walking around the base triggered early childhood memories of walking around NAS Alameda with my Dad and I found myself feeling at home for the first time since we’ve moved north from California seven years earlier. I liked the discipline and sense of duty – and the jets were just totally bitching –  but I couldn’t rid myself of the idea that the uniforms made everyone look like bus-drivers so ‘Air Force’ dropped down several spaces on my list of possible future vocations.

When we returned to the barracks that evening I found that Blake’s casino had grown in scope. Instead of a simple draw poker game he had recruited one of the Anchorage Explorers to run a blackjack game while he continued to run the poker game. While not much money changed hands Danny had managed to gamble away all of his money and Stevie had managed to cut himself with his knife. Once again I rolled over and let myself be lulled to sleep by the soft sounds of shuffling cards and murmured comments like

‘Call, deal or fold’.

Friday / Fort Richardson

We’d been fed so well on Thursday that Friday’s breakfast was almost an afterthought before we loaded up and bussed over the FT Richardson where our day started with a demonstration of setting up camp in an arctic environment. The afternoon was spent watching an M551 Sheridan Armored Reconnaissance vehicle go through its paces while the evening was divided between a tour of the post’s wildlife museum and a lecture/demonstration by a Green Beret trooper.

Seeing this guy was like hearing dog whistle and I sat up and started paying close attention.

This particular Special Forces sergeant was attached to brigade headquarters after recently returning from back-to-back tours in Vietnam. It was a struggle to keep up as he started to rattle off his qualifications – not because he kept toggling between three languages in which he was fluent, but because he looked so totally freaking bad-ass in his tiger-stripe camouflage uniform and beret while running through function checks for the half-dozen foreign weapons displayed in the table in front of him.

I briefly tried challenging him with my second-year Spanish skills but his rapid-fire reply stunned me back into silence and I spent the rest of the time listening intently. Between Roger Donlon’s book Outpost of Freedom and Dickie Chappelle’s coverage of SF basecamps in National Geographic, I already had some idea what the Green Berets were all about, but I couldn’t tear myself away from what this team sergeant was saying.

His comments on duty, teamwork and bravery struck a resonant chord as I sat contemplating them during the ride back to our barracks on Elemendorf, even when Blake moved to the seat behind and started taunting me about avoiding his portable casino. My first thought was to just slouch down in my seat and pretend to sleep, but then the sergeant’s words echoed again and I thought: ‘If that guy can face down a battalion of Viet-Cong with just a ten man detachment I can stand up to Blake Townsend’.

I turned around.

‘Why do you have to screw everything up like this? You can drink anywhere? You can gamble anywhere? Why do you mess up a situation where people are trying to do the right thing?’

What followed were two minor miracles.

  1. Blake Townsend was at a total loss of words.
  2. His face manifested five different emotions all at the same time.

His face hardened into a scowl and he started to reply but then I heard the voice of our adult leader, Al, come from just over my shoulder in response to Blake: ‘Dave’s right. If you can’t stand the heat, get the hell out of the kitchen. Find somewhere else for this crap’.

…at which point a third miracle occurred. Blake sat back in his seat, tucked his cards and other his gambling paraphernalia into his pockets and remained silent for rest of the trip back to our barracks on Elemendorf AFB where he remained silent and detached until our trip back home the next day….and I found that my internal Stukas had stopped the airstrikes on my stomach.

In a perfect world that would have marked the end of Blake’s badgering, but between Hurricane Camille, Vietnam, and Richard Nixon’s inauguration, 1969 was far from perfect …and neither was Blake. He still made it a point to badger me about being a ‘goodie-goodie’ but the comments weren’t quite as barbed and ended quickly when I replied in the negative. It took me years to snap all the Legos together, but it was at that point on that dark bus traveling between Elemendorf and FT Richardson that my spine got shiny and peer pressure lost its terror for me.

2022: Roger That!

Better writers than me have discussed at length the vast differences in the current “childhood experience” and that of generations past but in many ways not much has changed. I wasn’t a helicopter parent per se but I was involved and always had a pretty good idea where my kids were and what they were doing. Kids in times past did get outside a little more often but my grandson Jayden spends as much time as possible “ow-side”. The biggest difference is that when he goes outdoors he has a nifty little two-way radio clipped to his belt.

Communication with the radio between Jayden and his folks is pretty casual but as the eternal platoon leader I sat down and gave him a short block of instruction on RTO (radio-telephone) procedues to include the proper use of the words “over” and “out” and the fact that you read books, not radio transmissions.

…and it’s amazing the difference that instruction made.

When his mom or dad calls Jayden is your typical fourth graders sounding like a member of the Vienna Boys Choir, but when Papa calls his voice changes. I can hear in his words that:

  • His voice deepens
  • His chest expands
  • Belts of machine gun ammo magically appear draped around his chest

The only thing that keeps him from the full SGT Rock transformation is the fact that he has yet to hit puberty and can’t raise any stubble on his chin.

1968: Foundation

Visitors to Soldotna Alaska find themselves in a small but well-kept little town, something they usually don’t expect in a frontier community. Set amidst a dense spruce forest next to the Kenai River, the town possesses an up-to-date hospital, two high schools, and a top-notch emergency services department, making it look more like a place you’d find in the Pacific Northwest, northern New England or Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It’s only during the metrological extremes of the two solstices that dramatic differences to the Lower 48 manifest themselves.

 It was also much different fifty years ago when I was a teenager living there.

It was September of 1968, and I was standing in a lot just off Sterling Highway which served as the main drag through a Soldotna smaller than it is now.1 It was a marvelous day, absolutely stunning in the way only September on the Kenai Peninsula can be – crisp and cool with a slight breeze offset by the sun beaming down from a cloudless sky. I felt as good as the day seemed, having slept well the night before and fueled by a sumptuous breakfast with what I assumed would  be hours before me uncluttered by homework or chores.

…which was why I was bewildered I found myself standing in a recently cleared lot along with my Dad, our good family friend Al Hershberger, his son Greg, and Greg’s friend Earl; the five of us eyeballing a wooden framework carefully laid out and squared up on the ground in front of us. Instead of driving over to Wildwood Air Force Station to witness my high school’s nascent football program tested against one of the Anchorage schools, we would be pouring concrete footings for Al’s new store.

My mind was a goulash of emotions. September was one of the few months in the year that felt ‘normal’ enough to spend a lot of time outside. It wasn’t too warm or cold, night and day were of equal length, and after a totally wretched freshman year I’d been surprised by a pleasant beginning to my second year of high school. I’d initially been disappointed to ‘lose’ such a promising day, but there was always the possibility that I’d roll seven/eleven with Dad and have a decent time working alongside him. I got along after a fashion with Greg and Earl, but the real treat would be working with Al. He was one of the very few members of our little congregation that gave me any sort of credibility, and in return I ranked him in my personal pantheon of respect just short of Captain Kirk level2…and he’d most likely slip me a couple of bucks when the job was done.

The needle on my teen-age snark-o-meter inched down a notch or two when Al gathered us around while we were waiting for the cement truck to arrive, and explained in detail the preparations he’d made beforehand, the sequence of events that would occur when the truck arrived, and the clean-up/wrap-up we’d engage in when the pour was completed. It would be many years before I recognized that speech as a frag order; a brief set of instructions small unit leaders would issue to their troops before operations– hardly surprising as Al had been a sergeant in the Army in WW2 – another reason I held so much respect for him.

I’d seen cement pours from a distance, and I was curious, but I felt a bit of anxiety as we waited for the truck. I knew I could work hard but was still terrified that I’d cause damage to the pour or (even worse) injury to one of the others through my ignorance of the process, and I found myself wishing anew that I could be sitting in the bleachers watching the game, though to be honest I knew very little about football other than the fact that my stocky Welsh coal-miner’s build supposedly made me a good candidate for either tackle or guard. The game’s marginally controlled chaos was appealing to a fifteen-year-old – I liked the idea of running around bumping into people, using military-like organization and tactics. Unfortunately it was the first year Kenai Central High School would field a team, and while I was interested in the sport I didn’t quite have the confidence to hitchhike the twenty-five miles required for the preseason two-a-day practices3.

Suddenly a thunderous ‘BA-BA-BA-BA’ of jake-brakes4` assaulted our ears, andheads to see the cement truck slow for a turn into the lot. Al’s thorough briefing insured that we all snapped into action to work as the driver rotated the pouring chute over the frames, and the five of us wielded rake, shovel, and wooden scrap to spread and smooth the concrete …which contrary to my expectations did not flow like pancake batter.

That simple discovery triggered a bit more angst than you’d expect as I was midstream wading from kid-hood to functioning proto-adult. My first reaction was to whine and snivel about the extra work required to manipulate the heavier-than-expected cement, but then Dad idly made a comment about the day’s game that knocked me on my philosophical fourth-point-of-contact and triggered one of those TARDIS moments wherein time moved at a regular pace while slowing down all around me, and dramatically speeding up my thinking in the process:

  • Despite the unexpected work I was having fun.
  • If I’d gone out for football I’d be sweating/working far more than I was at that moment.3
  • I’d physically changed that summer, adding an inch or two in height and losing an equal amount around my waistline. Maybe it was time to make a similar change in my thinking.

Then the TARDIS effect twinkled away and the sights and sounds of the job returned. While Greg and Earl bantered to the accompaniment of shovels scraping, Al used a short length of two-by-four to groom the surface of the pour after setting large bolts at regular intervals around the outside perimeter of the cement. The whole job went a lot faster that I had anticipated, and after a painless clean-up, Dad and I headed home, stopping briefly at Gladys’ Bake Shop where I set a new world speed-eating record wolfing down a hamburger with one of the dollars Al had surreptitiously slipped me just before we left.

The balance of the day was moderately pleasant with Dad and I spending the thirteen-mile drive back to Sterling trading jokes from the latest Boy’s Life. Contrary to my expectations, I was still able to go to the football game that afternoon, and in an uncharacteristic exception to the ‘just-one-activity-a-day’ rule, I got to go to a dance that evening as well, but that wasn’t the real pay-off.

That day was the birth, the foundation of my personal work ethic. I’d like to say that from that time forward I never again griped or sniveled about working, but anyone who’s raised a teenage son knows that I’m either memory-selective or lying. What I will say is that from the moment of my epiphany while working on Al’s cement pour I slowly started to change. It would still take a year or two before I was able to fully integrate my dad’s ‘make your job a game’ vocational credo, but there never again was a time when I didn’t pull my own weight on a job…or complain too much about it afterward.


1. Located close to where the east entrance to the Peninsula Center Mall parking lot currently connects to Sterling Highway.

2. The only reason I don’t include Al in my “Board of Directors” is the fact he was more family that friend – and that once I left home in 1971 we weren’t in contact all that often

3. Jake brakes: technically known as a compression release-engine brake. Secondary brake on a diesel truck that manipulates engine RPM to slow down as opposed to regular brakes mounted next to each wheel.

4. I played football later on in high school. I tell people that the only thing that kept me from going on and pursuing a career in the NFL was the fact that I wasn’t any good at the game.

2021: Reunion

(This is actually a year late. I started work on in the late August of 2021 but then we all started trading Covid and writing slipped a few notches down my list of prioriites.)

Despite the focus my work requires, it often gets a bit lonely in my studio, so I usually have either music or a movie running while ‘making stuff’. My choices in video skew towards old favorites like the epic historical dramas of the 1960s/70s, but every so often I find something of more recent vintage as was the case when I watched The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw last week. Starring Kenny Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes, the film is one of five made-for-TV westerns built on the storyline and success of Kenny’s 1978 hit single The Gambler and tells the story of Hawkes’ efforts to make his way to a high stakes poker game in San Francisco scheduled to be played on the night before the enactment of the Street Betting Act of 1906 that will ban gambling and eliminate Hawkes’ way of life.

Luck of the Draw includes plenty of horses and gunfights, but it also includes newer technology such as internal combustion engines and semi-automatic firearms that highlight changes in the way of life on the frontier as it closes. More interesting to me though were the frequent reunions with old friends Hawkes meets up with during his odyssey, a group made up of actors and characters from the classic television Westerns I’d grown up watching on our little black and white Zenith three decades earlier. Some of the stars like Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp) and Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) had weathered those thirty years in good shape while others like Clint Walker (Cheyanne) had – in the patois of the movie’s time frame – ‘been ridden hard and put away wet’. As the members of that second group came and went on the screen I had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to avoid replacing our collective mental picture of them from their glory days

It brought to mind a recent reunion of my own, that of my high school graduation. It was the first such reunion I was able to attend. I was a first lieutenant and a company executive officer midway through a field-training exercise when the first one happened and the second came up while I was attending graduate school 4000 miles away. After that I was too caught up with being a dad, teaching college, running a business and in general living life to catch the next three, but somehow everything fell together in August of 2021 to make it possible for me to attend the 50 year reunion of the Kenai Central High School graduating class of 1971.

Kind of.

At first it seemed as though history would repeat itself as a series of unforeseen events and minor disasters prevented my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I from attending in person, but the blessing/curse of technology allowed me to attend via ZOOM hook-up – and even with that miracle of modern technology I came close to missing out, having lost track of days on the calendar. That confusion continued even after making the connection as I watched a parade of what I took to be the parents of my classmates introducing themselves, but when I glimpsed the reflection of my own grizzled features in my laptop’s screen I realized that those equally grizzled figures were not my classmates’ parents, but were in fact my classmates themselves. There were one or two trim individuals who looked like they’d been sleeping in Tupperware for every one of the 18,250 nights since commencement but most of them were packing as many extra pounds as me, and what hair they had left was as white as mine.

I didn’t care – I was just happy to see them all, even if it was via technology. Attending a school on the ass-end of the world comes with a social awareness different than what you pick up in most schools; it seemed like I was sitting in classes next to cousins rather than strangers with all the of fighting, arguing, and bickering you’d expect in an extended family, but upon closer scrutiny it’s obvious the peculiar social cohesion goes beyond that. There’s been discussion that there are actually two parts to the Baby-Boom generation: the stereotypical, student radical Big Chill group born right after World War II and a second smaller wave made up of those of us born in the first half of the fifties. There’s even been a name suggested for that second group – the Jones’s – but the discrepancies between the two wavelets involves much more than names. There are several factors involved in the formation of the Jones’s mini-boom, formative events quite different that those that molded our older siblings:

  • Their cultural milepost was Woodstock while ours was Watergate.
  • They entered a red-hot war-based economy with decent wages and reasonable mortgages while we dropped into an economy crippled by ‘stagflation’ and the oil-embargos of the Seventies.
  • Most tragically, they saw the British invasion transform popular music while we had to endure the musical travesty known as disco.

All of which made the KCHS class of 1971 appear out-of-step with our older and younger class mates starting in the fall of 1967 with our freshman year faculty sponsors throwing their hands up in the air at our first class meeting (“we’ve never seen a class with such an attitude”) to comments by former upperclassmen in the 1980s (“your class was just funny that way – not funny “ha-ha” but funny-“yeesh”). Maybe that “collective individualism” is why I’ve felt a fraternal attachment to my classmates even though I hadn’t attended any of the earlier reunions – the fact that something about being born in 1953 has us all marching to our own drummers.

We still seem to be marching to those drummers though that cadence has taken us over some rough existential terrain:

  • We’ve taken a beating – out of 150 that walked across the stage only 120 are still alive.
  • We’ve taken a beating – most of us have been married for a LONG time.
  • We’ve taken a beating in that we have a higher than average number of veterans.

You could also read the effects of those difficult journeys in the lines and worn expressions of the faces I could see via the ZOOM hook-up. Even though we are relatively young and yet to reach the biblical allotment of ‘three score and ten’ there was a moment when I began to rue the use of the video link that, as was the case with The Luck of the Draw, it would have been kinder for some to be only remembered from their glory days…but in the end I was glad for the link. Despite those lines I could still see that:

  • Carey is still gracious and beautiful.
  • Jim is still quick on the uptake with a wickedly funny comment.
  • Rick still looks like he could bench press an engine block.

…and I was glad to have had the chance to see my cousins one more time.

1966: A Friendly Umbrella In a Stormy Life

I turned off the TV and reluctantly admitted to defeat.

 Batman was terrible.

I had been a “bat-fan” since the summer of 1964 when Julie Schwartz had Sch-rewdly rescued the comic from cancellation by making just three changes:

  • The chest emblem changed from a generic bat figure to a bat superimposed on a yellow disc which could be trademarked.
  • The current team of artists was replaced by comics’ superstar Carmine Infantino.
  • Tales of aliens and costumed supervillain antics were replaced by more realistic detective stories.

This fundamental change was dubbed “The New Look”, and when I first learned about it I assumed it would be like Peter Gunn with capes and Batarangs. Unfortunately, producer William Dozier had been introduced to the Caped Crusader via the goofy 1950’s incarnation and the 1940’s Columbia serials Batman and Batman & Robin, both bearing little resemblance to any of the more serious eras in the books. It didn’t help that the Anchorage station carrying the Bat-series aired the first two episodes out of order, making it difficult to understand what was going on.

I tuned into that first episode shivering with anticipation. Events of the yet-to-be seen first episode were recapped with a voice-over narration over a series of still photographs, which led me to conclude that I’d be watching a puppet-show like Fireball XL5 or Supercar. Then the animated opening credits ran, and I readjusted to the idea of an animated cartoon like Jonny Quest, but when the credits cut to an opening scene of a less-than-buff middle-aged man in a costume that only faintly resembled my hero, I knew that I was screwed. I suffered through the rest of the episode, tuned into the second/first/? Episode broadcast aired two nights later and forced myself to continue to watch the show, fervently hoping for a change in quality, but by Easter I’d given up hope.

…which was why I was less than excited about the announcement in March of a new show called The Avengers. The story was buried in the middle of the weekend edition of the Anchorage Daily News and held little real information about the upcoming show other than it would star Diana Rigg1 and Patrick McGee. This Rigg lady could be either the Wasp or the Scarlet Witch, and if Mr. McNee would be playing Captain America I hoped he’d been hitting the gym a bit more often that Adam West did. With my luck, Iron Man would be portrayed by a now elderly Jack Haley wearing his Tin Man outfit from The Wizard of Oz.

It was all so depressing.

Not that I had much to be happy about at the time. I was heading into the Summer of No Bedroom, and I was feeling like a refugee in my own home. The previous winter my mom had decided I was too old to be sharing a bedroom with my little sisters, and that Dad needed to make a bedroom for me. Space was at a premium, so by the process of elimination the attic became the site of my new digs, and we got a good start in late February, but by late spring construction had come to a halt. Unfortunately, this happened after I’d already been moved out of that room I was sharing with my three little sisters.

The move had been inexplicably caused by Mom and older sister Robin securing summer jobs just as school was ending. They’d be working at a fish cannery in Clam Gulch about 30 miles south of Sterling. The original idea was that we’d spend the work week with them, and then return home to Dad for the weekend. Unfortunately this proved to be unworkable, so the new plan was that the younger sisters and I would stay in Sterling while Mom and Robin would shuttle between the ranch and the cannery. The situation seemed a winning proposition when A) Mom promised to pay me for babysitting, and B) Robin uncharacteristically allowed me to crash in her room. Unfortunately my fortunes just as quickly reversed when A) Dad halved the baby-sitting rate2 and B) Robin revoked crashing rights in her room. I also lost use of the living room couch because each trip would include two to three fellow cannery workers tagging along for showers and laundry, and they would be crashing at the house overnight.

After trying (and discarding) the living room floor, the top of the clothes dryer and the cargo space in the station wagon as sleeping quarters I began to panic. But then a Classics Illustrated adaptation of Robinson Crusoe gave me an idea: I’d make my own home. We were having a relatively dry summer, so I made myself a room at the back of one of the outbuildings by stacking military surplus pallets together. Modest insulation and cushioning was provided by four-foot square pads stuffed with what we suspected to be horse-hair, and a garden hose stretching from the back kitchen door provided a modicum of communication with the rest of the family during the night.

…which seemed to last forever. Granted there was enough sun at 10:00 PM for reading comics, but sleep didn’t come easy knowing that both bears and moose could be wandering around the ranch just out of sight in the brush. Even worse than the big critters were the little ones – mosquitoes, and an even tinier and more voracious flying pest we knew only as the “no-see-um,” made a bug-buffet out of the smallest bit of skin left uncovered, and I’d invariably wake up looking like pin cushion.

Oddly enough, my sole window of respite came on Saturday nights when the younger kids were down for the evening and the teenagers & adults were either doing laundry or out on the town giving me a chance to sprawl on the couch and watch TV. This worked out kind of nice as it also give me a chance to see the aforementioned Avengers television series that I had lost interest in when it became clear no superheroes were included in the cast.

Equally confusing as the first Batman episode aired the previous January, the inaugural episode of the Avengers opened with a man fleeing across a giant chessboard neatly bulls-eyed in the back by a throwing knife, while a voiceover with an upper-class British accent announced:

“Extraordinary crimes against the people and the state have to be avenged by agents extraordinary.”

“Two such people are John Steed – top professional and his partner, Emma Peel – talented amateur”

“Otherwise known as The Avengers.”

Then the  camera cut to the two coolest-looking characters I’d ever seen in my thirteen years of life, specifically a fortyish man equipped & umbrella sipping champagne with a slim leather-clad brunette who moved like a cat1 The title card (THE AVENGERS) flashed then was followed by a flawlessly composed series of BW stills and the most totally bad-ass TV theme EVER!

The episode itself bore little resemblance to any other detective or spy show I’d seen and involved mechanical men attacking various characters with following episodes featuring similar fantastic story lines set against the background of a particular aspect of British life. I didn’t learn until decades later that this was a calculated move on the part of the producers – The Avengers was an existing show retooled to maximize sales to the United States by featuring stereotypical versions of English settings, characters, and life that appeal to “potato farmers from Idaho” as expressed in another British export years later3.

I wouldn’t have cared had I known at the time. I was just then beginning to understand that the British made up the bulk of my ancestors4 instead of just being people with odd accents playing the bad-guys every other week on The Wonderful World of Disney. I soaked up every nuance of British history and culture that The Avengers showcased each week while repeating the dialog to myself in hopes of acquiring the slight drawl and soft R’s of the British accent.

…and that theme music! I wouldn’t realize it until years later, but the music established the characters, their relationship, and the setting, every bit as much as the plot and dialog.

  • The music opens with brass fanfare that would easily fit into a military parade.
  • As the fanfare recedes a harpsichord starts a rhythmic repeating pattern, reflecting John Steed’s conservative Edwardian style.
  • At the third repetition of the harpsicord’s pattern, a string section joins in reflecting Emma Peel’s fluid manner and Carnaby Street style.

The harpsicord and strings smoothly blend, symbolizing how the two leads interact, while echoes of the brass introduction punch through occasionally at just the perfect moment, symbolizing the action that is interspersed just as stylishly in each episode.

…and just as I’d get totally caught up in the show it was over and time to shut the television off and head out to my fort and bedtime. But despite being located a hundred feet from the house it didn’t scare me so much anymore. With the “almost” midnight sun of June, July and August, the likelihood of critters sneaking around in the few small trees and underbrush around the house soon lost its terror for me, but it could have been lonely.

No one ever used the garden-hose intercom I’d so laboriously installed, nor did anyone even come out to the fort to inspect my sleeping arrangements, but I was OK. I’d just dust on a coat of OFF! Insect repellant, snuggle down in my blankets, and go to sleep to visions of bowler hats and jumpsuits while a harpsicord and a string section wove a musical backdrop as I was “avenging” with my friends in England instead of sleeping in a fort made of pallets and barrels in Sterling, Alaska.



  1. That same summer I came across a year-old issue of PLAYBOY featuring Belgian lass Hedy Scott as the centerfold/Playmate. Given her uncanny resemblance to Diana Rigg. my friend Jesse and I nearly came to blows over whether or not Scott and Rigg were the same person.
  2. Unfortunately, it was a pattern that would repeat itself for the next thirty-seven years. Dad couldn’t resist the temptation to take advantage of me in every business or financial agreement we ever made.  
  3. As Time Goes By – an excellent BBC rom-com that aired 1992-2005.
  4. I am well over 75% British. Those maps that come with the results that testing firms send you with the colored dots showing the location and number of DNA matches? Mine are clustered in western England and the Canadian Maritime provinces.