It has been one if those days. Somewhere between all the text on my Facebook turning into Spanish and a tub of Bondo tipping over and spilling in my studio cabinet I sat down with my markers and worked up a color version of Robert(a)
It has been one if those days. Somewhere between all the text on my Facebook turning into Spanish and a tub of Bondo tipping over and spilling in my studio cabinet I sat down with my markers and worked up a color version of Robert(a)
It seems only fitting that given the state of our current social/political world a little bit of gender-bending is in order for the synthetic member of the Fireball XL5 crew. As it is there’s plenty of room for change as Robert’s appearance was pretty bland to begin with and once you substitute Sylvia for Sir Gerry in the dialog department the aesthetic opportunities are almost limitless.
The biggest challenge would be to establish a feminine appearance without taking the Benny Hill route and resorting to chrome-plate T&A. Effective feminization required some basic research into the way evolution has hard-wired men to respond to feminine curves (hint: child-bearing and survival) and how that principle would apply to into cybernetic lifeforms (Hey Bay-bee! Will ya look at the power-cells on that one!) Just make sure that while studying the subject you DO NOT blindly Google “sexy robots” as the results will be most definitely NSFW.
However, if you were to type the name Hajime Sorayama to the search parameters you’ll find examples of sleek feminine form combined with gleaming chrome and streamlined automotive styling that made this Japanese artist the king of the sexy-robot field in the 1980s. He, along with the equally talented British artist Phillip Castle were powerful influences on airbrush artists and other illustrators of that decade but to be totally honest my inspiration was an artist whose work was popular even earlier than that.
His name was Russ Manning and he was a phenomenal illustrator who was tragically cut down in his fifties by Mean OId Mister Cancer. In the Sixties Manning bounced back and forth between advertising work and penciling Tarzan, Korak: Son of Tarzan and Brothers of the Spear for first Dell then Gold Key Comics but my personal favorite was Magnus: Robot Fighter , a kind of Tarzan-of-the-future who relied on martial arts (and the most totally bitching white go-go boots ever) to combat hordes of robotic enablers intent on weakening of humanity into a form of comfortable servitude.
Manning was a master of figure drawing and could draw a better figure with five lines than I could with fifty but was equally adept with mechanical figures prompting me to shamelessly hork the grace and form of his cybernetic aesthetic in every robot or android I’ve drawn … to include Robert(a)
One other important change: Robert was constructed out of Plexiglas but I’ve gone with an opaque exterior. It came to me that being able to see all Roberta’s inner, circuits, wires and structural components would be much like looking at my Beautiful Saxon Princess’s face and seeing all of the blood vessels, bones and sinus membranes under her skin…and while the ensuing suppressed gag reflex had me quickly changing my design I’ve had to work hard at keeping that yucky image out of my mind
…just like you will now be doing for the rest of this day!
I never was a little kid – at least internally. From the time I was able to form coherent thought I was a fifty-year old man in a kid’s body and much more inclined towards pragmatism than my friends. Because of that nature as I approached the precipice of adulthood at eighteen I spent a lot of time trying to develop a good set of mental tools to get me through life, and came up with these half-dozen personal rules:
I figured that by following these guidelines I’d get through life with a minimum of fuss, solving problems efficiently and avoiding the setbacks that my friends encountered, but as Napoleon said “no battle plan survives contact with the enemy”. That inner fifty-year old made it difficult at times to adapt to social trends and mean old Mister Genetics blessed me with autoimmune issues that have had a game-changing effect on every aspect of my life, but I was still able to hang on to #6, that “maybe tomorrow would be a better day”
…but it’s getting more and more difficult to keep telling myself that and I often fear that there are no more “do-overs” in my life, especially with physical issues. I thought ankylosing spondylitis was the major game-changer in my life, but then I fractured my ankle and that became the major game changer…right up until I took a tumble down our stairs and damaged my knee.
Now my game, my life has truly changed and while I may not totally housebound I am pretty close to it and my best efforts have not been equal to the challenge. There are a lot of things I cannot due (not for the lack of trying) and I struggle with wondering if I don’t have that many more “better days” left to me. It’s a bitter pill to swallow and while it takes effort to combat that bitterness there are two excellent ways to do so:
That second remedy is why I cherish Thanksgiving – and by “Thanksgiving” I don’t mean the traditional holiday with the Pilgrims, Squanto showing them how to fertilize crops with dead fish and all the emotional baggage the holiday has acquired recently. I’m talking about my own personal “thanks-that-I-am-giving”
…and (despite what I said before) tomorrow very well may be a better day.
One of the last projects I did for Game Designers’ Workshop was the cover for the Traveller: New Era supplement Path of Tears…and like just about every work of art I’ve created there are stories involved in the making of the painting. For example, I’m sharing both the finished art (left image) and the preliminary comprehensive sketch (center image) that had to be approved before I started work – but I’m also sharing my first concept for the cover (right image) that was rejected as not having enough action.
…and then there are the figures themselves.
When the cover was published I took some good-natured ribbing from friends for hubris I was showing by using myself as a model for the central character…except this was painted in 1993 and by that time my sons were teen-agers and accomplished models, so it was my older son Conrad that served as the model for the central character. He just happened to have developed the Deitrick “look” by that time.
You may also notice that the group was a bit more diverse than was expected for a gaming supplement in 1993. GDW was always good about that sort of thing, especially it wasn’t an effort at political correctness on my part but rather my own inherent “there’s room for everyone” mindset that made the original Trek series a favorite when I was in my early teens.
Spanky and Our Gang was just an inch-and-a=half too successful to be considered a one-hit-wonder but their presence in American culture was cut all too short when lead guitarist Malcom Hale died unexpectedly in the fall of 1968. With tunes like “Lazy Day” and “I’d Like to Get To Know You” the “sunshine pop” band’s positive message provided a welcome respite during those times when social upheaval dominated the news media, but I will always remember them best for what was arguably their signature tune “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”.
…which is probably why I’ve been playing it a lot lately.
Sundays are definitely not the same for me at this stage of my life, when making sure that my I-Phone is plugged in and charging has a higher priority than making sure my shoes are shined and trousers ironed for work tomorrow morning – or simply being able to make it from my bed to my papa chair prompts the same sense of accomplishment that completing a 5K did when I was younger. That same physical limitation has also transformed church attendance from being almost a habit into to an eagerly anticipated/much appreciated opportunity for spiritual transfusion on those rare days when we can get there.
…but then again some things are not so different. It’s distressing to see heated demonstrations devolve into street violence, but at least the anti-fa and alt-right aren’t bombing each other like the Weather Underground was in the habit of doing fifty years ago.
Life has stayed the same inside the walls of our home as well. Even though my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I are battling our respective autoimmune issues our feelings toward each other are just as warm – no, even warmer as they have always been and we have children and grandchildren around us that share those same feelings, all of which make our home a haven from the craziness
Sunday may not be the same – it’s harder in some ways but in it’s better in the ways that matter.
Re-run Saturday. One significant omission in the original blog-post was the Edmund Scientific Catalog that Robert Eschleman added to our technical library. Periscope designs became much more ambitious after reading about the ba-jillion different lenses and optical devices listed in that publication.
From its calm exterior you’d never guess that Sterling Elementary School was once a hotbed of naval architecture. During the mid-1960s the seventh and eighth grade classroom buzzed with the production of home-built submarine concepts, occupying all the spare time of a team of crack naval designers consisting of David Deitrick, Wayne McNutt, Dillon Kimple and Robert Eschleman. (There may have been more participants, but those four were the core members of the effort.) There are unfortunately no documents or drawings remaining from those countless boy-hours but I can personally attest to the several tree’s worth of paper we went through during the project.
What started us going? It could have been any number of things. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was in its second year of broadcast and as Star Trek would not start airing until the next fall our attention was firmly focused on inner instead…
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“Colonel – we’ve got more flak holes than fuselage and Skippy is stuck in the ball turret!”
“OK – keep working on getting him out.”
“Pilot to crew: Keep a sharp lookout for enemy fighters. We’re going in!”
“Pilot to bombardier: We’re coming up on the IP.”
“Patches of cirrus clouds obscuring the area sir!”
“Get your boots on Gus!”
“Can you still see the target?”
“I said get your boots on NOW!”
…and just like that I went from 25,000 feet over the armament plants in 1943’s Schweinfurt Germany to 3 feet above the living room floor in 1965’s Sterling Alaska. For some reason KENI TV had decided to run the second season of Twelve O’clock High on Sunday afternoons. For an equally mysterious reason my dad chose Sunday afternoons to go out and get firewood.
Oh, and did I tell you that it was the middle of winter?
I’d learned long ago that there was no point in arguing discussing the matter; after pulling on my work boots and grabbing my coat and gloves I’d slog out to the pick-up where (with any luck) Dad would have the heater already going. Riding in Dad’s 1941 Ford truck was one of the very few positive aspects to our firewood expeditions – I loved that old bucket-of-bolts and would eventually earn my license by driving it all around the pastures surrounding our house. The other slightly positive factor was the proximity of dead trees to cut: we lived in the middle of what had been the big fire of 1947 when a good part of the Kenai peninsula had been burned out – so there were plenty of cuttable dead trees fairly close by.
While this trip took us only a couple of hundred yards up the road it was still physically challenging as years of harvesting left most of the suitable wood at least fifty yards off the road. It was not an easy hike – after negotiating the earthen berm left from the road’s construction there were enough fallen logs, hillocks, and depressions in the ground to make the trip between cutting site and truck more of an obstacle course than a stroll in the woods.
…all of which contributed to the blue funk I was wallowing in. In addition to the hike I was cold, the chunks of wood were heavy, and to be brutally honest I was kind of creeped out being around Dad (not that anything hinky was going on) – I just didn’t know him that well.
Dad had spent twenty years in the Navy, retiring when I was about five and during those five years I rarely saw him – he was just this guy in a uniform that showed up about every six months. Unfortunately when he finally did become a full-time parent not much changed. As I have mentioned before my dad wasn’t so much “raised” as dragged up; his birth father abandoned the family when Dad was an infant only to be replaced by a physically abusive step-father, so my father had little opportunity to observe much less develop parenting skills. I think that shortcoming bothered him more than he let on because his first five or six post-service years always entailed jobs that entailed a lot of travel away from the family.
He was gone a lot until we moved to the Kenai Peninsula where job duties and our living arrangements kept us all in close proximity for the first time. As the fifty-year-old-man-in-a-twelve-year-old’s-body that I was it didn’t take me long to figure out his past absence was a major factor in my discomfort, but that was information that I shared exactly one (1) time with my mom who unfortunately was in the middle of one of her bi-polar spells. It took time, effort and an icepack to extinguish the resulting metaphorical flames.
…but for the moment I was tired, cold, my feet were wet, and there was a butt-load of wood left to haul from the cutting site to the truck. A year earlier I would have been sniveling and crying at my cruel fate, but from the lofty perch of my 12-almost-13 years there was no way I was going to give in to tears. I think it surprised Dad – he’d started out gruffly giving instructions, but as visibly started to tire his tone of voice started to soften a bit.
He asked if I was OK, mistaking my silence for whine-control, but when he saw the determined look on my face his expression hardened for a moment – then softened again. Then told me that I’d moved a lot of firewood, almost as much as a grown man would have and when his chainsaw stalled he called me over and explained the process as he manipulated the choke, then asked for my input and had me try pulling the start cord a couple of times too.
Then he inexplicably stopped trying to restart the chainsaw, packed it back to the truck and started helping me with the rest of the cut wood. I was mystified – when we piled up the last piece the truck wasn’t nearly as loaded down as usual, which I most definitely did not comment on for fear of spoiling the moment and somehow prodding him into cutting and sawing again. Instead of more cutting and sawing something incredible happened – he started the truck up, briefly instructed me on the functions of the clutch, brake & throttle, then asked me if I wanted to drive the truck back home!
The trip back to the house felt more like riding a severely gaited mule than a truck, but eventually I made it back to the house driving all the way in first gear. After stacking the wood, we went in to hot chocolate and oatmeal cookies, with Dad and I bantering in “guy” talk with like he never had before…but then Mom started setting the table for dinner which was my cue for cleaning up and getting my stuff together for school the next day.
…and just like that the spell was broken…
If this incident had been a script for an episode of The Waltons my relationship with Dad would have changed for the better and from then on we would have become close buddies as well as father and son but unfortunately The Waltons would not be on the air for another seven years and our relationship didn’t change much. There were other non-video factors at work – in addition to his own self-doubt about fatherhood Dad had to operate under a set of strict guidelines my mom had given him regarding me, guidelines that guaranteed a permanent gap.
She had watched her older brother struggle with alcohol for most of his life, a condition that in my mom’s very black-or-white manner of thinking was brought about by excessive family pressure to excel in everything he did. Her favorite example was when he would play the first half of a football game (both offense and defense) then play the tuba with the marching band at half time, THEN go back for the second half, again playing in both directions.
She was convinced I would follow that same path, so she told Dad that she didn’t want him forcing me into any kind of sport or interest – that I had to approach him to instigate the activity. It didn’t matter if it was just playing catch or collecting stamps – I had to express an interest first. When you connected the dots between Mom’s restrictions and Dad’s own inner demons it was easy to understand why my father and I existed on the same planet but lived in different worlds.
Unfortunately, this was decades before even the idea of family counseling, and in our textbook bi-polar home the situation remained an open secret and was never discussed. Nevertheless that particular day we went chopping firewood together was a start. The door had been opened just long enough for me to see what Dad was really like and from then on, other doors were opened from time to time. We could be framing a shed, camping with the family or even just standing on the roof adjusting the T.V. antenna; I’d catch his eye, he’d look back and his expression would relax just enough for me to know that the door was open and for at least a couple of minutes the words “father” and “son” were not just titles.
Few things are as mysterious as kid-logic – the oft slightly warped reasoning children give for their opinions and explanations of events around them. The intensity of our opinions as children was usually an inverse ratio to our actual knowledge. Debate between the merits of “Combat!” vs. “Gallant Men” had less to do with the fighting in France vs. fighting in Italy than it did with the fact that no one alive could walk or talk in a manner more totally cool than Vic Morrow, the actor portraying SGT Saunders in “Combat!”
For example, the totality of our knowledge and experience with high school was limited to Archie Comics leavened with an episode of “Dobie Gillis” on TV. Nevertheless, attendance at East Anchorage High School would have been a fate worse than death for me, my buddies or any of the other students at Woodland Park Elementary School in the early-mid 1960s. Everyone knew that East was a windowless quasi-prison styled after an inverted coffee cup and that the students also had to attend class on Saturday. We were slated to attend West Anchorage High school – the Harvard of the north.
This rivalry and bickering extended to every aspect of our lives:
It even extended to airlines, which may seem odd for our age group – but completely logical when given our neighborhood’s proximity to Anchorage International Airport and Alaska’s incredibly high rate of aviation-related activity. In those regulated days of air travel there were actually a lot more airlines and many of the major players passed through Anchorage enroute to the Orient or over the North Pole to Europe. Because they serviced such far away destinations the big guys like Northwest or Western didn’t hold our interest quite as much as the small regional airlines did. London was a mythical place where John Steed and Emma Peel fought cybernauts but Palmer was a town that I had actually visited once, so it was real and the smaller planes that went there were easier to understand than big jets.
I was a die-hard Cordova Airlines man while my best friend Mark Davis favored Pacific Northwest Airlines (also known as PNA) and at that point the bickering began again:
The debate took a practical turn over Christmas vacation 1965. Most childhood friendships fade away when kids move, but circumstances conspired to keep Mark and I in touch after my family moved down to the Kenai Peninsula southwest of Anchorage a year earlier. One such circumstance was a medical specialist’s appointment my mom had scheduled at Elemendorf Air Force. We were in the middle of a unseasonably warm storm known as a chinook that made highway travel extremely dicey so mom was going to make the trip by air …and with tickets only $7.00 a trip she could easily afford to take me along with her. I jumped at the chance – it was a visit with my best friend, I loved to fly and with Christmas Day itself already over there was little to do but squabble with my sisters.
We took an early morning flight out of Soldotna City Airport, flying out on a Cordova Airlines DC 3. I was so entranced by the orange, magenta and pink hues of an Alaskan mid-winter sunrise that I didn’t mind a bit of turbulence left over from the chinook and when the colors no longer kept my attention I started blasting Messerschimtts out of the sky with a mock machine gun I had cobbled together out of a fountain pen, a large spring-type binder clip and length of 10 gauge copper wire that I picked up from who knows where. It was a wonderful dreamlike flight.
It was the trip back that got scary.
It had been a perfect visit with Mark –meaning we argued for three days straight about those weighty matters only a twelve year old boy would really understand:
The details of that last debate came to mind quite forcefully as our visit ended and I rode with Mom out to the airport, checked in and boarded a Cordova Airlines DC3. We would be flying home at night which wasn’t nearly as pretty as a day flight – and from the wind picking up it looked like it would be a lot more turbulent as well. As I was buckling my seatbelt the pilot walked past – his face looked like it had been chipped out of granite, making wonder if he’d flown a plane like this during Normandy jumps Mark and I had argued about during the visit. When we took off and the DC3 started to porpoise up and down as the landing gear clunked up I began to pray that he was as experienced as he looked. It was going to be a wild ride.
South-central Alaska looked a lot different from the air fifty years ago than it does now – a lot more empty. Anchorage was about a quarter of its present size, and the Kenai Peninsula was even more sparsely populated. When you fly the route these days the dazzling glare of the Anchorage area at night keeps you illuminated as move southwest crossing Turnagain arm – and then it’s only 10 minutes or so before you’re over yard lights which slowly transition into the lit-up minimarts, schools and streetlights of more populated areas like Kenai or Soldotna proper.
We took off and flew into darkness.
There were some tiny points of light but they were few and far between. Occasionally there would be a bright flare on the horizon when natural gas would vent during operations at the Swanson River oilfield or related oil-industry sites on Cook Inlet. There would be occasional points of light which were most likely small dings and scratches on the Plexiglas window next to my seat.
Then the serious turbulence rolling off the mountains hit us and it got very scary as the DC3 started rocking and a-rolling with a vengeance. As we neared the oil fields those natural gas flares got a little more personal and the view out of the window took on aspects of something between Mordor or Germany during the World War that had just barely ended twenty years earlier. That started me wondering again if any of our flight crew had flown a DC3 under WW2 and when that thought came to mind I could relax a bit.
I gripped the armrest and closed my eyes, only to snap them back open at Mom’s comment to a cabin-mate that I might be scared. My twelve-year old ego goaded me into trying to sound nonchalant as we talked but the onset of puberty robbed me of even that little shred of dignity. Then Mom stopped in mid-sentence, pointed up and out of our window and said “Look – it’s the Big K greenhouse” – I looked out at total darkness, and then glanced almost straight down to see the brilliantly lit facility directly below us and replied ”I’m looking, I’m looking!” In those brief seconds between Mom’s comment and my response the plane had banked/rolled more than 60 degrees!
…and blessedly at that moment the drone of the engines changed and I knew we were almost there. Before we knew it the plane was making its final approach and landing at Soldotna Airport and we were on solid ground again. Ever the comedian I made a big show of hugging and kissing the ground after we deplaned but to be honest there are few times when I have ever been so thankful to be on the ground again – and especially so close to home and my own bed. Weather conditions had gotten so bad that the balance of the trip to Homer had to be cancelled for the night – and PNA hadn’t flown at all that evening!
We were home and safe.
During her life my Grandmother went from “if man were meant to fly God would have given him wings” to “that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. There’s no denying that the world has changed radically in the last century but there was a time in my life when I thought 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 actually have been a lot of changes in my life but most of those changes have been 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 Kenai Peninsula has become a very popular vacation site. The spot at the confluence of the Kenai and Moose Rivers where Jesse, Spencer and I could leisurely spread to fish now holds at least 65 “combat fisherman’ every day and hour of the season.
In 1965 in order to be considered a true angler at Sterling Elementary you had to have two things:
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 Manship-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 work-day 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 fairly 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 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 didn’t 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 fairly 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:
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 have to hope that as I continue to age the brain cells I lose will be 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!