1970: The Great Escape

In military terms I am conducting “retrograde” operations with Ankylosing Spondylitis, an auto-immune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis which is very painful and prone to periodic flares. This latest bout with the disease has kept from doing much of anything so I’m falling back on reruns again…and as the historic 4th Avenue Theater in downtown Anchorage is rumored to be scheduled for demolition this summer its only proper a cinema-related post should be this week’s offering

David R. Deitrick, Designer

1963

As much as I loved the sweeping epic motion pictures of the Fifties and Sixties I did not see “The Great Escape” when it first came out. Oh, I saw all the previews and was extremely interested in the subject matter but wasn’t able to actually see the movie because I was on the losing side of an ideological divide as vast as  Crown & Colonists or Union & Confederacy.

I was a Fourth Avenue theater kid and the “The Great Escape” was being shown at the Denali.

In those days before the Good Friday earthquake  there were just two movie theaters in Anchorage and they were located at the two ends of Fourth Avenue. Kids from the west side of town went to the Fourth Avenue theater while the kids from the east side went to the Denali….and never the twain did meet.

 1970

 “You’re…

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“…oops!’

I recently wrote a post about my family’s trip to Fairbanks (see 1967: Second City). In that post I referred to the Tom-Tom, a drive-in/kid hang-out just east of the downtown area, Since then I have been informed that while the alliteration was correct the content was not, and that the name of the place was actually the Tik-Tok drive in.

Sorry for any confusion.

1965: Piscine Product Design

(This was published in a slightly different form a couple of years back – I’m in the process of putting togeether a second/expanded edition of my book and this was one of the sections that has been reworked)

 During her lifetime my grandmother went from “If man were meant to fly God would have given wings” to “That’s one step for man, one giant leap for mankind!” .In her all-all-too-short “three score and ten” the world changed almost beyond recognition and when she talked about those changes I wondered if all the really cool stuff had already happened before my time,

 I was mistaken.

 (I promise to not queue up “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel at this point.)

There have actually been a lot of changes in my life, but most of those changes were subtle. For example, when we moved to Sterling, Alaska in the summer of 1964 most people – including many Alaskans – had no idea where Sterling was located, but since that time the area has become a very popular vacation site. In 1965 the same stretch of riverbank at the confluence of the Kenai and Moose Rivers where my friends and I would leisurely spread out to fish now holds at least 65 “combat fisherman” every day and hour of the season.

However, in 1965 location was far from being the sole requirement to be considered a true angler. Veteran Fishermen from Sterling Elementary had to possess two other items:

  • A fishing license (depending on your age)
  • A Lu-Jon lure

I’m sure you know what a fishing license is, but you may not understand the majesty of a Lu-Jon Lure. Shaped like a streamlined abstract Paul Manshipesque vision of a salmon, these lures were silver in color and sold for a dollar. They trailed a treble-hook behind them (yes, they were legal but then so was snagging!) and we knew they were irresistible to anything with fins. However, these silver treasures were nothing in comparison to gold Lu-Jon lures…in fact the mere idea of a gold Lu-Jon still takes my breath away 50 years later. The difference in color no doubt was a matter of what color lacquer was in the spray-gun when the workday started at the factory, but through some quirk of distribution the gold ones were rare in Sterling. Scoring a gold Lu-Jon was akin to winning the Irish sweepstakes. They were unbeatable.

Fishing technique was basic – you cast the lure out as far as you could across the water, then you would vigorously yank the pole back, winding the line up as fast as possible. No bait was used – as I said snagging was legal, so your goal was to make as many casts and get your line out as far as possible to increase your odds of getting a fish. My sister Holly still stoutly maintains that the reel and line would moan “llluuuuuu-jjoooonnnn…. llluuuuuu-jjoooonnnn” during all that yanking and rapid-reeling. I missed that soundtrack as my buddies and I were too busy talking, sharing the Playboy Party jokes that Jesse was reading to us from the back of the pin-up of one Belgian lass by the name of Hedy Scott a.k.a. Miss June 1965…though we really didn’t understand the jokes or the shapely Miss Scott all that well at the time.

Google turns up pictures of a small orange carton that these lures were supposed to be sold in, but I never saw them come in anything other than a plastic zip-loc bag – which is the real subject of my story. My first Lu-Jon was given to me by an older fisherman, so the first time I actually bought one of my own I was surprised to find that the local store sold them in Zip-Loc bags. That might not mean much – but I had never seen a Zip-Loc bag before….and while the Lu-Jon lure was a real prize, that Zip-Loc bag was stunning. I did not know the name for the field yet, but I was already interested in product design, and I was captivated by the beautiful simplicity of the closure/lock process. It helped that it was made of a heavy mil plastic – nothing like the flimsy sandwich bags that use Zip-loc feature now so there was a very satisfying zip and pop when opening and closing the container. I knew of nothing else like it. There were some forms of plastic wrap available, but we all took our sandwiches to school wrapped in wax paper.

As I think back to that moment two thoughts came to mind:

  • While I grouse about finances, the fact is that by owning a car and more than one set of clothes I am far richer than 75% of the world’s population. Even now there are third world countries where something like that heavy-duty Zip-Loc bag would be considered a valuable tool to be carefully maintained and secured when not in use.
  • I miss being able to totally focus on something like a Zip-Loc bag the way I could when I was young. Between naiveté of youth and the lack of all the electronic distractions of current times I was unencumbered enough to zero in on anything with the precision of an electron microscope.

I don’t know if I can personally eliminate income, inequality, and hunger referred to in thought #1 but I try as best I can with the resources that I do have. As far as the second concept goes: Is there any way to regain that Zen-state of focus? We have so many electronic distractions with “cool stuff” that it is hard for anything to hold my attention for long. I just must hope that as I continue to age the brain cells, I lose the ones that are infatuated with flashy, noisy electronic things. Maybe at some point I will regress to that second childhood everyone talks about and I will finally be able to figure out if the gold or silver Lu-Jons work the best!

XL5 Re-boot: Roberta’s Jetcycle

Still moving pretty slow so I’m reprinting another XL5/Roberta image…

David R. Deitrick, Designer

2020-03-10 Robertas Jetcycle

I’ve personally had to battle severe mobility issues lately so it should be no surprise that the subject would manifest itself in my work as I was going back through my XL5 designs. In the original series Robert would use a regular jet-bike just like the rest of the crew but after I replaced legs with the “uni-ball” that option is – well – no longer  an option.

,,,then it occurred to me that given her modular construction Roberta could be plugged into the jet-bike rather than riding it which would save weight/mass/maintenance. I’m not sure where the unplugged parts would be stored while she’s flying around – there would be plenty of room on Xl5 and possibly room for internal storage on this vehicle.

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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.

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.)

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.