1972 / 1977 Mistaken Identity

Shelly and I were like two ships passing in the night1 – whenever our paths coincided there was always something to prevent any sort of relationship from happening. She was a friend of one of my younger sisters so I’d already known her for a few years when we dated in May of 1974, but when June rolled around I was off for my bicycle penance in New England. When I came home two years later she was one of the first people I looked up…but she was in a steady relationship. That relationship had fizzled by the next summer and when I came home from school in May of 1977 she was very glad to see me until she realized that the young lady she assumed was my “really cute cousin” was in fact my Beautiful Saxon Princess, whom I’d wed three weeks earlier. Shelly was embarrassed…until I told her about an even more awkward case of mistaken identity five years earlier.

August 1972

I’d arrived in Rexburg with little more than the clothes on my back, having worked out at Swanson River until the very last minute. After a sleepless night shivering on a mattress with no sheets, blankets or pillow I went downtown shopping for some bedding, accompanied by my Best Friend to keep me on task and make sure I didn’t get sidetracked by bookshops or record stores.

JC Penny’s was our first stop and I was able to get most of what I needed there but as we’d set aside the entire afternoon for shopping we decided to visit a few more stores – having travelled so light I also needed some shirts as well. I soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to find clothing as quickly as I found bedding because the next two places we went through carried nothing but Western-styled clothing. I had just about resigned myself to playing mail-order roulette when we came on a decorated doorway and stairs leading down to lower-level shop which blessedly sold clothing that didn’t look like it had been designed/manufactured in 1957.

I was in the process of selecting a few shirts to try on when a sales clerk came up to help. After a short discussion about styles and prices he stood, smiled and said “Well – I can see what’s going on here!” Struggling to determine which sin was so obvious I turned red-faced and cleverly replied “Urrkk!” to which the clerk laughed softly and continued “No – it’s obvious you’re here to help your younger sister get set up at school!”

Even more confused I glanced around looking for the little sister who’d somehow stowed away on my flight down from Alaska … then stopped and looked closely at My Best Friend, then looked at the both of us in the mirror. For the first time I noticed that with her sharp nose, hooded eyes and full lips there was a slight familial resemblance, made even closer by my collar-length hair, parted in the middle and sun-bleached from a summer working out on the lease. I’d also put on a couple of pounds so my features were a little more rounded…

He’d been talking about us.

We looked at each other, shuddered then quickly paid for the shirts and left for our respective apartments and when we met up again later than day I had my Ricks-approved short haircut and My Best Friend had applied just a touch-more makeup than she usually did for day-time.

…and we must have been equally creeped-out by the subtle incestuous overtones because the incident was never discussed afterwards.

May 1977

There was a soft group-chuckle at Shelly’s “misidentication”, but as we stood there I glanced over at our reflection in the glass windows in the Nordstrom’s storefront and wondered for the first time if perhaps something subconscious had been at work when I’d first met my wife.

  • I was twenty-five pounds lighter than I’d been five years earlier and with a military haircut my features looked sharp as a hatchet.
  • On the other hand: With her gentle cascade of light brown hair, cute snub nose and water-color blue eyes with the slightly sad tilt My Beautiful Saxon Princess’ features were markedly different from mine – or any member of my family for that matter.

…no one would ever, ever confuse us as siblings.




  1. If Barry Manilow can hork the phrase from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow I can hork it from Barry Manilow.

1972:Vintage Bat-Vehicles


I read once that time is something God created to keep everything from happening at once but right now that invention doesn’t seem to be working. Everything IS happening at once, at least several items of great impact on my life. Right as we’re trying to get the Midnight Son Kickstarter campaign set up my knee has gone out – and not in a minor manner. Lori thinks I have a torn meniscus but all I know is that even the most minor movement to my knee brings on excruciating pain.

…which means I haven’t been able to finish the tongue-in-cheek write-up meant to accompany this “vintage” drawing that  incidentally documents two important discoveries/purchases  I made in 1972:

  1. A hard-bound reprint collection of Batman stories from debut in 1939 to 1971
  2. A set of Higgins ink comprised of ten colors and opaque white

I’d just finished my first year of college and while I was intent on changing my major to art I had yet to take a college art class – or any other kind of art class for that matter. I was just having the time of my life drawing  my favorite images, which in this case included 1940’s era Bat Vehicles

Come Fly Away With Me

Come Fly Away

You could call this Re-run Saturday+1, but then this isn’t a repeat of something I’ve written or created. This poster graced the wall of the room I shared with Scott Dickinson in Lathrop Hall at the University of Alaska in 1972. It did play an important part in my professional development – I was so entranced by the image that I switched majors from pre-law to illustration.

The original poster was close to 24″x36″ but this copy measures 11″x17″. I held on to my first copy for almost ten years but lost it in one of the three  moves we made between 1987 and 1990. This smaller copy actually works well for me as the sloped ceiling in my studio puts hangable wall space at a premium.

Music: Reasons for Waiting (Reconsidered)


 Schadenfreude has never had any appeal to me. I’m convinced that taking “shameful joy” in another person’s failure is both pointless and petty, but there is one failure for which I will be forever thankful.   Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull fame gave up learning to play the guitar when he became convinced that he’d never play as well as Eric Clapton and I applaud that set-back for two reasons:

  • We’ve already got an Eric Clapton.
  • Without Anderson’s skill with the flute we’d never have had “Reasons for Waiting”.


Room-mate Roulette is just one of the challenges a college freshman encounters, but it may be the most crucial. The stress involved in learning to mesh with a complete stranger can have a major effect on both your academic career not to mention your entire life so I’d assumed that careful thought and preparation went into room assignments…so please forgive me for being disturbed when I learned that the selection process was only slightly more sophisticated than a dart game.

Unfortunately I had to go throw the dart board twice. The first assignment worked out well : I drew an upperclassman whose part-time job and interest in the outdoors essentially gave me a private room. Unfortunately he dropped out mid-year and I had to go through the room assignment game a second time and ended up with Scott, a fellow freshman with a heavier footprint requiring  more accommodation and coordination, especially in the following areas:

  • Getting up in the morning
  • Turning in at night
  • House-cleaning
  • Laundry
  • Setting the thermostat
  • Female visitors
  • Post-fart courtesy

…and so on. Music was one of the hardest points to negotiate –  Scott favored hard rock (Grand Funk Railroad/Quicksilver Messenger Service/ Led Zeppelin)  while I preferred progressive rock and acoustic groups (Moody Blues/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young/America) Playback volume was sticky issue until we agreed on a head-phone truce which unintentionally kept us from mixing our music  and appreciating what the other guy listened to.

It took the simple act of Scott turning over in bed one February morning to change all that. The sun was just peeking over the Alaska Range to the south and was bathing the morning sky with orange, magenta and purple while a train crawled along the track on the other side of the parking lot, building up speed for the day-long run to Anchorage, the exhaust from its diesels adding to the wisps of ice-fog that had come up from the Chena River. As I was taking this all in I was mug-in-hand, leaning on our chest-high window sill with my toes tucked under the heat register when somehow in the process of waking up Scott pulled the headset cord out of his stereo and the first notes of possibly the most beautiful song in rock music poured out into our little basement dorm room.

The soft acoustic introduction of  Jethro Tull’s Reasons For Waiting  leads into a flute solo so beautiful that my eyes welled up — then Ian Anderson started to sing in his slightly wavering tenor:

What a sight for my eyes
To see you in sleep.
Could it stop the sun rise
Hearing you weep?

 Writing under the pseudonym Stendhal, 19th Century French Novelist Marie-Henri Beyle observed that viewers can be overwhelmed by the sight of an art masterpiece and sent into a state of distress much like a panic attack. What I felt at this particular moment was probably a low-grade Stendhal incident: the music, the view, the warmth from the hot chocolate, being in love – I couldn’t catch my breath

Oh –  I  didn’t mention that I had recently fallen in love? My Best Friend and I had spent the first semester playing at being in love – making those first tentative moves: holding hands, sneaking a kiss, whispering endearments hardly understood, but it wasn’t until the separation at Christmas Break that the relationship really found its depth.

We were in capital “L” Love.

You’re not seen, you’re not heard
But I stand by my word.
Came a thousand miles
Just to catch you while you’re smiling.

Notes from the flute become frenzied and erratic but then acoustic guitar steps back in for just a moment to restore the orderly flow of musical notes.

What a day for laughter
And walking at night.
Me following after, your hand holding tight.
And the memory stays clear with the song that you hear.
If I can but make
The words awake the feeling

Again the flute become frenzied but just at the point of discomfort, the song explodes into a cascade of violins with Anderson’s flute weaving a thread of notes in an around the strings as they underlie the final verse

What a reason for waiting
And dreaming of dreams.
So here’s hoping you’ve faith in impossible schemes,
That are born in the sigh of the wind blowing by
While the dimming light brings the end to a night of loving.

I’d spent most of the previous evening curled up on the couch with my Best Friend watching television, but by the middle of Night Gallery she’d fallen asleep tucked up against the left side of my chest.  As the closing credits ran I looked over at her snuggled up against me and suddenly Stukas started to fly interdiction against my central pump. I’d never really looked at anyone sleeping much less a beautiful blonde and I just marveled at the soft, open look to her features.

Fast forward to the next morning: that memory from the night before combined with scenic beauty, the music –  h*ll even the mug of hot chocolate –  all combined to create one of the most heart-flutteringly joyful moments of my life,  an instant of gestalt wherein the beauty of the moment outshined the factors creating it. I wanted to break the channel-selector off my life  and stay in that moment forever. In my short eighteen years of life I had never felt anything like that particular four minutes and seven seconds.

…and forty-seven years later just thinking about that moment still makes me smile.

Amazon Review “The Protectors”

(I make no secret of the fact that I am a fan of Sir Gerry Anderson’s work, both live-action shows like UFO and the Supermarionation programs like Thunderbirds.  The following is a piece I wrote for Amazon reviewing one of his lesser-known productions)

We don’t go out to eat often but when we do there is always a lively discussion involving restaurants and menu selections. My Beautiful Saxon Princess is a gourmet, savors her meals and is quick to try new tastes. To me food is fuel and I’m not one to experiment –when I acquire a taste for something like a cheeseburger I’ll order it quite often and feel no need to change.

It’s a similar situation with The Protectors, a Gerry Anderson production that offered neither marionettes nor nubile young women wearing purple wigs and silver suits seemingly applied with spray paint – it’s definitely an acquired taste. Starring Robert Vaughn, Nyree Dawn Porter and Tony Anholt, The Protectors is one of that vanished breed of television programs that the British did so well: The half-hour action adventure series. It ran from 1971 to 1973 and  chronicled the activities of a loose network of agents that travelled across Europe fighting crime, defeating terrorism and generally being twentieth century Lone Rangers.

With only 22 minutes to work with there wasn’t much time for character development, though we did know that Harry Rule (Robert Vaughn) still cared very much for his ex-wife, Nyree Dawn Porter’s Contessa enjoyed the privileged life of widowed nobility but also held a very subtle candle for Harry Rule, and Tony Anholt managed to show loyalty and likeability though the façade of Paul Bouchet’s Gallic pride. Despite their brevity the stories were engaging , with occasional innovations in plot and camera work that were pioneering for early Seventies. For example the  pilot episode involved sky-diving but there were some interesting shots made via car mirrors that focused your attention in a very effective albeit low-tech manner.

If I had a complaint it would be budget. Sir Gerry wasn’t given much to work with and money was cut even further with the second series, causing the loss of the strength and wit of the Contessa’s chauffer Chino (played by Anderson regular Anthony Chinn).  Directors were also careful with location shooting, limiting Continental segments to Copenhagen, Paris, Venice, Malta or coastal Spain. At  each of these locations the crew would film exterior footage for several episodes then they would fly back to London for interior filming and editing. To the producers’ credit they spaced the shows out avoiding back-to-back adventures in the same city, but on a rainy day you can zip through your DVDs and piece together what was shot when. I particularly enjoyed the location shots as they let me see the real Europe rather than an idealized version as portrayed in shows like The Avengers that were tailored to appeal to what Americans thought the UK was like rather than how it really was.

So now we’re down  to my regular closing question: Does The Protectors consist of the finest visual literature?


Is it fun?

That would be a resounding, echoing “YES” – but a qualified “yes”. The Protectors might not be everyone’s favorite, but if you have an appreciation for well-written short form video, a desire to see an honest glimpse of Europe forty years ago, or have a hankering to hear Robert Vaughn  deliver dialog in the way only he could, then The Protectors is the cheeseburger for you.

(Episodes of The Protectors are available from Amazon in both DVD and streaming format. YouTube clips are pretty sparse but I managed to find one episode – not my particular favorite of the lot but enough to give you an idea of what the series is like.)

1972: Transition From Black & White

The more things change the more they stay the same. In this case the  “same” part was the fact that It was autumn and I was standing with a pretty girl in the waiting line in front of the campus cinema. The changed part? Twelve months earlier I had been taking Molly Dunham to see Castle Keep showing at the University of Alaska student cinema. Now I was taking my Best Friend to see The Wizard of Oz at the Manwaring Center at the Ricks College student cinema.

Also changed? I was really, really not-happy. Not necessarily “unhappy” but there were several places I’d rather be than Rexburg, Idaho.  I had spent the previous academic year at a state school with no real restrictions and my transfer to a faith-based conservative school with precise dress, grooming and conduct codes was something that would have not happened had I not been following my Best Friend, who’d chosen to attend Ricks long before she met me.

The dress and grooming standards weren’t the only drawback though. Up to this point my life had been spent on the Left Coast – California, Alaska and a brief interlude in Washington State. Going to school at Ricks College was like living in an Archie comic and whenever we were on the road I kept looking for signs that read “Welcome to Idaho – Please set your clocks back twenty years”.  People were nice enough but quirky.

However, that quirky behavior wasn’t all bad.  Going out at night was a lot less stressful that it had often been at home when any kind of weekend evening activity could involve navigating around people in various degrees of chemically-induced mental/emotional impairment. That impairment took different forms depending on the chemical involved; if weed was involved people were laid back and pleasant, but if there’d been some heavy-duty drinking, chances were someone would eventually start swinging. As sweet as she was my Best Friend was clueless to these kinds of situations and was baffled at my change in demeanor when walking from the car to wherever we were going. One minute I would be making my usual bad puns but once I was out the door I was as taciturn and alert as John Wayne in Fort Apache (“I don’t like it Cookie. The Indian drums have stopped and it’s too quiet out there!”).

I’d had to deal with some ugly situations with drunks interfering with other dates and there was no way I was going to let something like that happen to my Best Friend, so going to and from most of our activities were more like tactics exercises than anything else. I expected the situation to be much the same in Idaho but fortunately during the few weeks we’d been in Rexburg had been pretty peaceful and pleasant.

…including this particular trip to watch Judy Garland prance around with Munchkins at the student cinema on the third floor of the Manwaring student center. We arrived early but there was already a number of students waiting in line down the hallway. The hallway was a bit unusual:  To accommodate rooms of various size and configuration doors leading off this hallway were set back in varying depths with some of the doors flush with the wall and others inset anywhere from six inches to two feet. We’d parked ourselves in front of one of these inset mini-alcoves when the door at the end of the hallway crashed open and a very cowboyish-looking guy walked in. As he moved down the hall and past the line of people waiting for the movie he brushed shoulders with another young man standing a couple of spaces ahead of us.


My inner alarm system kicked in at what I figured to be an imminent fight. As the adrenaline started pumping I turned and swept my Best Friend into the alcove behind us, then stood in front with my hands up, ready to push the combatants away if the inevitable fight started to move in our direction.

Then something completely unexpected happened.

“Sorry – I warn’t watching whar I was going” said the cowboy.

“No problem” said the brushee.

“David, what is going on?” said my Best Friend, her muffled voice echoing from the alcove behind me.

I was totally bewildered as the two shook hands and the cowboy kept walking down the hall. I could feel little mental fuses and circuit breakers in my brain burn out and pop. The situation had resolved itself in a manner completely foreign to my experience  – Instincts kicked in and I started to loudly berate the young man in the line ahead of us.

“What are you doing you >expletive deleted<?”

 “He just ran RIGHT into you!  And your girlfriend too!”

 “Kick his a**!”

 A slender hand reached around, grabbed the front of my overcoat and gently pulled me around and away from the others in the line. While she straightened my lapel and brushed non-existent dust off my shoulders my Best Friend quietly said:

David, we’re not in Fairbanks anymore. Things are different here and different doesn’t always mean bad…or worse.”

 …which completely shut me up.

 …and I stayed quiet because I had a lot to think about. The parallel between what had happened outside and what was happening on the screen was sledge-hammer obvious.  I’d come from an environment that was just as black-and-white as the scenes in Kansas up on the screen and I while I wasn’t ready to say that Idaho was “color” in comparison to my home in Alaska, I was finding that “quirky-but-nice” might be just nice.







1995: Hobbits and Half-backs


The first time I heard the term “bucket list” I thought it was some sort of new hobby. People collect coins, stamps, matchbook covers, bottle caps so I figured that buckets were the new hot collectible, as in: “See here –  that’s a 1937 Sears Allstate Portable Pond 150. The one with double-riveted flanges for the handle attachments and the sealed seam. With a minimum of scratches, it could go a hundred bucks easy on eBay!

 I eventually discovered The Bucket List was a movie starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman as two older men with a list of experiences they wanted to go through before they “kicked the bucket” (died). It’s not a new concept – while I haven’t used that specific term I had been keeping a similar list the summer of 1967 when I vowed to one day French-kiss Diana Rigg…and I have learned in my life that any goal-setting exercise can alternately be a good or bad thing – achieving a goal on your personal bucket list isn’t always as fulfilling an experience as it appeared to be when you first thought of the goal.

Some things change.

In the fall of 1972 the second and third leading items on my bucket list were the Lord of the Rings saga and the Washington Redskins (spot #1 being firmly locked up by my Best Friend). Every spare moment would find me with one of Tolkien’s works in hand and totally engrossed in the saga of the Fellowship of the Ring – and while my classmates were drawing still life compositions and Western landscapes my sketchbooks were filled with orcs, elves and halflings…

…and despite being very well-read I couldn’t tell you much about current events or even campus activities, but I could rattle off statistics for the “Red-Rams” at the slightest provocation; “Red-Rams” being a short-lived nickname the Washington team acquired when head coach George Allen did some fast talking/trading to acquire a large number of veteran players from the Los Angeles Rams, the team he coached before moving to the Redskins.

Then Life happened and my fascination with both the Redskins and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were sidelined by the challenges and rewards of:

  1. continued academic studies
  2. missionary service
  3. marriage
  4. fatherhood
  5. work in an oil field
  6. service as an army officer
  7. teaching college
  8. freelance illustration and design

 Working in # 8 is what indirectly led to this post: in the summer of 1995 my good friend Robbie Reeves was able to obtain a pair of tickets to a Washington Redskins exhibition game in Knoxville, Tennessee, but oddly enough from the very minute he told me about the tickets I struggled with mixed emotions. To be honest my ardor as an NFL fan had cooled quite a bit after watching a particular New York Giants / Washington Redskins game in 1985 – when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor fell on Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman’s leg and created a second knee joint.

However, there was still enough residual ‘skins mania left in me when Game Day (or rather night) arrived to compel me into crowding through the stadium with a ba-jillion other fans to take our seats before the game started. Unfortunately, there were no real seats but rather little numbered spots on raised cement rows the size of a sheet of typing paper  – and with no back support whatsoever.  The weather was also very hot and muggy and people around us were already getting drunk through their efforts to “keep hydrated” but as parched as I felt there was no way I was going to drink anything; liquids work their way through me very quickly and with everyone crammed on those little squatty seats getting to a bathroom was a wish more than a reality.

We left at half-time.

The next day I was back at my desk, working on a project that also took me back to 1972, namely a  collectible card game based on Lord of the Rings.  I was a late but fervent convert to the works of JRR Tolkien, when I was stuck with a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit as my sole diversion on the Anchorage-to-Seattle segment of my journey to enroll at Ricks College.

I had been spending the previous couple of years hiking through works of a more gritty nature; books by Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft so Tolkien’s work seemed at first to be on a level like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels …. but as I read further I began to appreciate them as the literature that they are. My Best Friend and I spent the balance of the semester racing each other through the trilogy, and when I finished my drawing class homework I’d turn to decorating insets in her basement apartment’s suspended ceiling with scenes from the books.

It may have been that my fascination with Tolkien was fueled to a large measure by my Best Friend’s interest in Tolkien, but even if my hobbit mania cooled a bit after our break-up I was still interested enough to enjoy the subsequent publication of the Silmarillion and the animated adaptations in the late seventies. There was enough lingering interest for me to consider submitting a portfolio for work when Iron Crown Enterprises announced plans for their Middle-Earth role-playing game in the mid-1980’s, but with a powerhouse like Angus McBride churning out cover work I conceded defeat.

So, it was a stroke of luck when Lori and I were asked to work on their collectible card game project and we soon became the “go-to” people for saving cards that had less than desirable paintings submitted. However, when ICE started soliciting bids for work on the follow-up booster set we held off; the polite term is “a lack of confidence in their business model” which basically meant I wasn’t sure we’d get paid.

When I voiced my concern to Lori I surprised us both because it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d taken work on under hinky conditions…but while there is something to be said about working on something you love, by 1995 Middle-Earth was no longer something I loved enough to risk a loss.

So what happened?

Had the Washington Redskins and the Lord of the Rings been replaced by other avocations and interests? Not really; I’m not one to jump from hobby to hobby; when I develop an interest, I tend to hang on for a long time. My cold reaction to added Tolkien-related work was due to something else in the equation, something that wouldn’t have been any kind of influence or factor at all 10 or 20 years earlier.

I’ve been told that your forties are the old age of youth and your fifties are the youth of old age. I was 42 when these two “bucket” topics re-entered my life, a life that was less wrapped up with entertainment and hobbies as had the case been in earlier years. By the time I was 42 I was much more concerned with making a living for my family, making sure that their needs were taken care of and making sure they all knew they were loved. Do I miss those days when nothing could get me more hyped than a new Moody Blues album or a blockbuster movie like Star Wars? Kind of…. but movies come and go, and the Moody Blues haven’t had a decent album since Seventh Sojourn….

….my wife, kids, and now grandkids?

They’re for keeps.


Throw-back Thursday


It’s been awhile since this drawing saw the light of day. I drew it in the spring of 1972 and is noteworthy in that the young lady with grey-alien eyes was one of my first female figures. It was an exciting time for me; I’d just decided to change majors to “commercial art” and had purchased my first Rapidograph pen just two months earlier. I am sure I was trying to use my Best Friend for a model and to her credit she just smiled and said something like “cool monsters”

1972: A Different Kind of Bug Dope


Going off to college was not the first time I had travelled away from home alone. By the time I left for the University of Alaska* I had flown between Alaska and California by myself on three different occasions,  had been to several church youth conferences and attended Boys State.  As a dependent of a retired Navy chief petty officer I had also spent a lot of time visiting military bases shopping, seeing movies, swimming at the pool and receiving medical care. Living away from home as part of a large institution held no terror for me.

While I was not overly concerned about living away from home, I was unsure about the social conditions As my departure date neared I would mentally try on different situations, wondering what the rooms would be like and whether or not I would run into old friends from Anchorage or other former Boys State delegates.  This was 1971 and the entire country was still reeling from the massive cultural changes of the Sixties – network news would have you think there was open warfare on every campus and in every urban center in the country. However, with the usual “bullet-proof” mindset that every eighteen year old male meets uncertainty I pushed on, confident that I would cope.

At that time most students from Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula took the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks. It was a sweet set-up; it was before the Parks Highway so the train halved your travel time to Fairbanks, and  if you kept your ticket it could be redeemed for a return-trip ticket at Christmas time. Despite my relative experience the first couple of weeks were pretty tough but eventually life became a bit less uncomfortable especially after I became smitten with a young lady at Church.

I fell into a comfortable routine and found the classes to be not as difficult as I had anticipated, though my grade point average from the year could lead you to think otherwise.  I was amazed at the size and diversity of the university’s physical lay-out and at every chance I was off exploring the classroom buildings, dormitories, the athletics facilities, and the library and arts complex.

As I was exploring I noticed a couple of things.

  • The summers in interior Alaska were much warmer than South-central Alaska, and had all that many more mosquitoes because of the added warmth
  • There was music playing everywhere, with two albums in particular getting heavy play:
    • “James Gang Rides Again”: by (obviously) the James Gang
    • “Tapestry” by Carole King.

The bug problem seemed to be well in hand; almost everywhere I went I encounter the aroma of Buhach Insect Repellant Powder. Buhach Insect Repellant Powder is the commercial version of Buhach Pyrethrum, a natural pesticide derived from the Chrysanthemum flower. Most of it comes from East Africa and 60% of the commercially prepared version is sold in Alaska

It wasn’t until after the first heavy snow-fall in October and we all started spending most of our leisure time indoors that I found out that I was mistaken, that what I had assumed to be Buhach was in fact another “medicinal herb” that was quite popular at the time…and that I was faced with a decision.

Vocalist David Crosby said once that if you remembered the Sixties then you weren’t there and while usage was not as universal as he would like you to believe; in certain sectors of the population there definitely was near-universal consumption, such sectors including the student bodies of post-secondary educational institutions, like the University of Alaska.

There finally came a point when I had to take a position on the issue and I chose not to participate. It was a hard choice to make but I had two very impelling reasons, one of them very noble and the other total self-serving.

  • The selfless reason: The young lady I had become smitten with had extremely high standards and made me promise not to partake. Being the kind of person that I am and given the direction our relationship was taking I was not going to lie to her.
  • The selfish reason? My former brother-in-law lived in the area and spent a lot of time on campus. I have no doubt that If I would have partaken he would have found out and I would have been his b*tch forever under the threat of ratting me out to my parents.

So I went through an academic year as the token “straight” of my dormitory. There were some rough moments at first but when it was established that I was in fact not a narc we all got along OK. It has only been just the last couple of years that I realized why everything got so laid back towards the end of winter.

My roommate and I inherited some lumber from a couple of guys living down the hall that had to leave rather precipitously (see 1972 Subterranean Spring Break). Dorm rooms by definition are sparse and uniform in layout so we used the lumber to make a raised bunk for me with a little lounger underneath furnished with a fishnet hammock and a chair liberated from the lounge. Sometimes we’d have friends stop by to visit late at night and we’d have great conversations, my roommate sprawled on his bed, me up in my bunk and our visitor(s) ensconced in our little lounge area.

Invariably someone would bring out the medicinal herbs, and while I didn’t partake I didn’t raise a fuss when someone else did, figuring it was a live-and-let-live situation. As I was recently describing this situation to a friend he stopped me in mid-description and said “Wait. You were up on a bunk and your buddy was sitting right below you, lighting up? Spike -did it ever occur to you that hot air rises?”


Postscript: (a semi-connected event the following summer) I had just gotten up for work and was walking out to my car when I passed my sister’s room and smelled the odor of “medicinal herbs” burning. I turned, kicked her door open and snarled “WHAT THE H*LL ARE YOU DOING SMOKING THAT STUFF IN H-“ then looked down mid-sentence to see my terrified little sister kneeling down and trying to light a little pile of Buhach Insect Repellant.

* I am fully aware that the proper name for this particular institution is “UAF” or “the University of Alaska Fairbanks”. That was not the case four decades ago; we were THE University of Alaska. Period.

1972: Subterranean Spring Break

There are very few times when the words “Alaska” and “spring break” appear in the same sentence, but the University of Alaska does indeed have a spring break. At least it did when I was a student at The University of Alaska (This was when there was only one university and several community colleges). We got two days off in March, which coupled with the regular weekend gave us a four day spring break. The problem was there was no place to go and as it was a holiday there was no food service. You’d think that we’d have been starved into docile inactivity during that week but as you will see it was one of the most exciting weeks I spent on campus that year.

There was another major drawback to spring break: as a high school student my Best Friend still had to go to school – and keep weekday evening study hours so I was left with my dorm buddies for evening company and entertainment during the break. By this time differences in the value of certain herbal remedies had been resolved so I was getting along well with my room-mate Scott as well as Bernie, Marty, Jeff and other members of the Lathrop Hall basement group. Not that there weren’t still some important differences of opinion: I had absolutely no interest in researching the flammable qualities of flatulence so I had to come up with another activity to pass the time (heaven forbid studying) and as luck (literally) would have it I was presented with one the first night of the break.

I took a slightly different route home from my Best Friend’s house that night as few times during the previous week I had the unnerving experience of being trailed home by a lynx. It’s a common thing and the cats never attack but it still creeped me out to see a pair of shining eyes following me at a fixed distance as I made my way along the shortcut through the woods – that’s  what had me following the sidewalks back to Lathrop Hall. The change in route also took me to the front door instead of the back and as I neared the entrance I noticed that the padlock on the metal door securing the entry to the campus utilidors was missing. The door was located on a low metal box about ten feet square and after a quick scan around I pulled up on the handle – which opened with a slight creak!

I was in!

(For those of you who don’t know what utilidors are– it’s a tunnel system usually found on large spread-out installations like a college campus or military base. The tunnels house electrical lines, steam-heat pipes, water and sewer lines that run from the main physical plant complex out to all the other buildings, eliminating duplication of  heating systems in each building and providing all-weather access to maintenance of all the lines. I had explored the utilidors under my high-school the year before but they were very limited – nothing  like what we discovered under the university.)

I didn’t stay long, quickly climbing back out and bolting inside the dorm to my room where I told the guys about the situation. We immediately geared up, though unfortunately we were short on any sort of light-producing devices ( I think we had two candles) I put on one of my dad’s old flight suits and  filled the pockets with “stuff” like a pocket knife, matches, string, hard candy etc.  I don’t know what I was thinking but for some reason survival equipment seemed appropriate at the time. Once we were all equipped we made our way to the entrance, darting from the front door to the open hatch one at a time like escaping POWs heading for the wire in “The Great Escape”

It was dark. As our eyes adjusted we found that was a little bit of light filtering from the glass windows in the doors that connected the tunnels with each one of the building – just enough light to allow some rough navigation through the passages.  That was one of our first discoveries – that the glass-windowed door in the bottom of the stairwell connected with the utilidors. All of the buildings were connected in that fashion – but unfortunately they were just about all locked as well so there would be a limit to our travels.

The first night’s expedition was limited. . We followed the tunnel down the slope (the tunnels followed the general lay of the land over them) to the athletics building where our big achievement for the night was getting into the observation room adjacent to the pool. The room had a window looking out in the water which was used for filming and critique of the swim teams. It was an eerie sight – there were low-level security lights above the water but all we saw was a silvery undulating “ceiling” as we looked into the pool.

These limitations might seem as though they would be very discouraging but you have to remember that this was 1972 and heroic fantasy (Lord of the Rings, Conan and the like) was very popular. Running through those tunnels was like living out a Robert Howard short story and I half expected bejeweled skeletons swinging swords to come lurching out of a niche in the wall.

We went back into the tunnels and headed up the hill, past our entry point and beyond. We stopped at several buildings, hoping to find an unlocked door but found them all secured. Disappointment was keenest at the basement of Chandalar Hall, one of two residence halls on campus that were girls-only. As the male-to-female ratio on campus ran a little worse than 3 to 2 I was the only guy in the bunch with a steady girlfriend so the others went through every conceivable contortion at the locked door window trying to catch a glimpse – or even just a reflected glimpse of the bare boobs and pillow fights that Playboy would have us believe prevailed amongst coeds behind locked doors.

We decided to explore just another 50 feet and leave the rest of the tunnels for another night. We passed by a very promising air-lock-like door to find the bottom of a flight of stairs at the next break in the tunnel wall. This time there was no locked door and we started up the staircase only to be surprised that it kept going up past where we assumed ground level would be. We kept going on, assuming that  we’d become disoriented by the slight up-slope we’d being climbing as the tunnel followed the contour of the terrain of the campus above – but when I spied a small window to one side I quickly figured out what was going on.

We were 20-30 feet above the sidewalk. Somehow we’d gotten into the old clock tower and the aforementioned terrain disorientation had kept us from realizing where we were. It was all quite funny until we remembered that a) the carillon bells were housed just above us in the tower and B) it was about five minutes before the hour. Not wishing to be anywhere around when all that noise started we ran down the steps to the tunnel and were piling out of the entrance behind Lathrop Hall when the bells actually did start to peal.

I slept most of the next day, and then spent part of the evening visiting with my Best Friend before our next foray underground. Because she was my best friend  I’d end up telling her everything going on in my life…but she wasn’t very happy my current antics.  Her father was on University staff and in the past there had been some dinner table dialog about students caught in the utilidors and subsequently disciplined severely when they were found to have “lifted” camera equipment.  I changed the subject as quickly as possibly and tried not to look too anxious as I left her house and headed back to the dorm for another expedition.

We were dismayed to find three more “explorers” waiting to join up with us. Two of them – Tideman and Carrini –  were from our floor and most welcome but the third guy was from another dorm and not particularly trusted,  but as  his flashlight and spare batteries were a definite improvement over our candles we took him along.  I was much better prepared information wise as well, having had combined notes from previous nights’ experience with a campus catalog map which was in turn double-checked against surreptitious day-light survey of the school grounds .

I was most interested in the “airlock doors” we’d passed the night before. They were extremely hard to open and at first I thought they were bolted or secured in some manner but after getting through the first one I found there was a strong air current moving that you had to open the door against – which did nothing but pique my interest even more.  Each time we went through another door the current got stronger until we reached a small cube-shaped room with a grill in the top which lead me to believe that the tunnels were part of a ventilation system at some unknown campus location.

It was not unknown for long. I popped up through the grid in finest Whack-a-Mole fashion to find myself in the middle main hall of the student center. Formally known as the William R. Wood Center it was commonly known as the ‘Copper Center” because of the cupreous siding on the front of the building. It was brand new having just opened that semester and was mildly controversial because of the large open interior spaces and “modern” decorating motif designed to combat the long winter nights and cabin fever – conservative critics felt like all the open space was a waste of money. The design included a small platform with dining table sitting atop of an artfully designed 20 foot tall metal framework and staircase which we alternately called “The Stairway to Heaven” or ‘The Stairway to Nowhere”.

The grating I came up out of was located at the bottom of the framework, putting me in the exact middle of this large open area. I was saved by immediate discovery and apprehension only the fact that it was A) well after midnight on a holiday and B) most of the people in the area were baked so bad their eyes looked like a road-map of Los Angeles. The minute I gathered my senses I popped back down the hole and made my way back to the main tunnel, my egress all that much faster with the air currents now acting as a tailwind.

We pushed past the entrance to the clock tower and found a branch that appeared to lead us to the new classroom building being built in front of the old student center. At first we figured that as work in progress there would be no locked doors to that building but in fact the tunnel was boarded up with plywood instead. Bent but not broken  we turned down yet another side tunnel which took us directly to the library sub-basement…at which point I started to get nervous.

There was a lot of (what was for 1972) lot of hi-tech equipment stored in that area, along with large numbers of books on carts to be reshelved the next day. I thought back on the story about the students getting the ax over the stolen cameras and opted to head back to the entrance along with all but two of the party, after which I crashed for the night.

The next day was a repeat of the day before. Bernie and I walked the campus grounds measuring off distances and correcting my map. Early that evening I went to visit my Best Friend again and in typical boorish jock manner scared her with a story about being caught in the tunnels the night before and how I was awaiting expulsion. She failed to see the humor in my story but succeeded in demonstrating a surprising strong right arm when she punched my right arm in bad-joke-retaliation.

Again we assembled in our room and like soldiers on the Western Front preparing for a trench raid we secured our gear, prepared our lights and filed stealthily out to the unlocked access hatch….to find a massive brass lock sealing it securely shut. Given the substances some of the guys had been fortifying themselves with during these incursions finding the lock there was literally a buzz-kill but we had no tools and other than scrambling down the grid below the Stairway to Nowhere we knew of no other access points so we called it a night. It was just as well – it was 1:00 AM Sunday morning; the cafeteria would be back up and running for breakfast and I definitely wanted to have something before hiking back to my Best Friend’s home to catch a ride to church with her and her family.

It wasn’t until later that week that we found out what had happened. It was obvious something was up when the entire floor was blasted awake at 6:00 AM by the stereo in Tideman and Carrini’s room blasting “Lowdown” by Chicago. They were heading back to California (early) and while I was elated when they gave me their bunk-bed components I was mystified by the sudden move. It wasn’t until sometime later when I found out the real story during one of the dorm floor’s “herbal remedy” sessions. That last night when the rest of the group (including me) came home early Tideman and Carrini actually got as far as the campus fire station…and a campus fireman. The tunnel they were in made a sharp left turn into the station’s basement and before they knew where they were they had almost run over a guy. He was startled enough that they got back into the tunnels and far enough down them that they were able to get back home without being caught. Did they get away scot-free? I don’t know – but there was a short note in the campus paper soon after restating the zero-tolerance policy about the utilidors, warning dire consequences for those who may be caught down there

…though at that moment I’d have freely taken those ‘dire consequences” if it meant escape from the umber-colored laser stare that I did get from my Best Friend while reading that particular notice.