(This is actually a year late. I started work on in the late August of 2021 but then we all started trading Covid and writing slipped a few notches down my list of prioriites.)
Despite the focus my work requires, it often gets a bit lonely in my studio, so I usually have either music or a movie running while ‘making stuff’. My choices in video skew towards old favorites like the epic historical dramas of the 1960s/70s, but every so often I find something of more recent vintage as was the case when I watched The Gambler Returns: The Luck of the Draw last week. Starring Kenny Rogers as professional gambler Brady Hawkes, the film is one of five made-for-TV westerns built on the storyline and success of Kenny’s 1978 hit single The Gambler and tells the story of Hawkes’ efforts to make his way to a high stakes poker game in San Francisco scheduled to be played on the night before the enactment of the Street Betting Act of 1906 that will ban gambling and eliminate Hawkes’ way of life.
Luck of the Draw includes plenty of horses and gunfights, but it also includes newer technology such as internal combustion engines and semi-automatic firearms that highlight changes in the way of life on the frontier as it closes. More interesting to me though were the frequent reunions with old friends Hawkes meets up with during his odyssey, a group made up of actors and characters from the classic television Westerns I’d grown up watching on our little black and white Zenith three decades earlier. Some of the stars like Hugh O’Brian (Wyatt Earp) and Chuck Connors (The Rifleman) had weathered those thirty years in good shape while others like Clint Walker (Cheyanne) had – in the patois of the movie’s time frame – ‘been ridden hard and put away wet’. As the members of that second group came and went on the screen I had to wonder if it wouldn’t have been kinder to avoid replacing our collective mental picture of them from their glory days
It brought to mind a recent reunion of my own, that of my high school graduation. It was the first such reunion I was able to attend. I was a first lieutenant and a company executive officer midway through a field-training exercise when the first one happened and the second came up while I was attending graduate school 4000 miles away. After that I was too caught up with being a dad, teaching college, running a business and in general living life to catch the next three, but somehow everything fell together in August of 2021 to make it possible for me to attend the 50 year reunion of the Kenai Central High School graduating class of 1971.
At first it seemed as though history would repeat itself as a series of unforeseen events and minor disasters prevented my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I from attending in person, but the blessing/curse of technology allowed me to attend via ZOOM hook-up – and even with that miracle of modern technology I came close to missing out, having lost track of days on the calendar. That confusion continued even after making the connection as I watched a parade of what I took to be the parents of my classmates introducing themselves, but when I glimpsed the reflection of my own grizzled features in my laptop’s screen I realized that those equally grizzled figures were not my classmates’ parents, but were in fact my classmates themselves. There were one or two trim individuals who looked like they’d been sleeping in Tupperware for every one of the 18,250 nights since commencement but most of them were packing as many extra pounds as me, and what hair they had left was as white as mine.
I didn’t care – I was just happy to see them all, even if it was via technology. Attending a school on the ass-end of the world comes with a social awareness different than what you pick up in most schools; it seemed like I was sitting in classes next to cousins rather than strangers with all the of fighting, arguing, and bickering you’d expect in an extended family, but upon closer scrutiny it’s obvious the peculiar social cohesion goes beyond that. There’s been discussion that there are actually two parts to the Baby-Boom generation: the stereotypical, student radical Big Chill group born right after World War II and a second smaller wave made up of those of us born in the first half of the fifties. There’s even been a name suggested for that second group – the Jones’s – but the discrepancies between the two wavelets involves much more than names. There are several factors involved in the formation of the Jones’s mini-boom, formative events quite different that those that molded our older siblings:
Their cultural milepost was Woodstock while ours was Watergate.
They entered a red-hot war-based economy with decent wages and reasonable mortgages while we dropped into an economy crippled by ‘stagflation’ and the oil-embargos of the Seventies.
Most tragically, they saw the British invasion transform popular music while we had to endure the musical travesty known as disco.
All of which made the KCHS class of 1971 appear out-of-step with our older and younger class mates starting in the fall of 1967 with our freshman year faculty sponsors throwing their hands up in the air at our first class meeting (“we’ve never seen a class with such an attitude”) to comments by former upperclassmen in the 1980s (“your class was just funny that way – not funny “ha-ha” but funny-“yeesh”). Maybe that “collective individualism” is why I’ve felt a fraternal attachment to my classmates even though I hadn’t attended any of the earlier reunions – the fact that something about being born in 1953 has us all marching to our own drummers.
We still seem to be marching to those drummers though that cadence has taken us over some rough existential terrain:
We’ve taken a beating – out of 150 that walked across the stage only 120 are still alive.
We’ve taken a beating – most of us have been married for a LONG time.
We’ve taken a beating in that we have a higher than average number of veterans.
You could also read the effects of those difficult journeys in the lines and worn expressions of the faces I could see via the ZOOM hook-up. Even though we are relatively young and yet to reach the biblical allotment of ‘three score and ten’ there was a moment when I began to rue the use of the video link that, as was the case with The Luck of the Draw, it would have been kinder for some to be only remembered from their glory days…but in the end I was glad for the link. Despite those lines I could still see that:
Carey is still gracious and beautiful.
Jim is still quick on the uptake with a wickedly funny comment.
Rick still looks like he could bench press an engine block.
…and I was glad to have had the chance to see my cousins one more time.
“…then he just threw down the stadia pole, screamed ‘THEY’RE ALL WATCHING ME!” and took off running down the road. I don’t think he stopped running before he hit Fairbanks and the department had him flown back down to the Lower 48 by the end of the week.
”…and with that comment break time was over and the formal lecture resumed. The course was called SnowHawk, a week-long orientation course teaching the principles of arctic and mountain operations to new arrivals in the command. As I was both an officer and a home-grown Alaskan the instructors dealt with me a bit differently, seeking me out at breaks to get my input.
That latest anecdote dealt with a summer job the instructor had worked on before joining the army. The job involved making surveys of federal property up in the Brooks Range, and the stress of long daylight hours, isolation, and basic exhaustion had basically unhinged the screamer in the story. Hallucinations followed, prompting him to constantly scan the surrounding wilderness for the mysterious watchers that he knew were stalking him.
The story brought on a chuckle, but as the class resumed I continued to think about it. Truth be told, hikes and camping trips out in the wilderness had always had a slightly spooky feeling, especially when we were in the area that had burned out the middle of the Kenai Peninsula during the epic 1947 fire. As the forest was still taking baby-steps towards recovery the trees were much lower than normal, and half-burnt snags were scattered everywhere, giving a surreal flavor to the surroundings and scant protection from winds off the mountains to the east. Between the alien landscape, the constant moaning of the wind, and the isolation, it was easy to let your imagination get the best of you. This eerie atmosphere was exacerbated by my preference for speculative fiction in both print and media. After watching the series premiere of The Invaders I spent the entire night wide awake, sitting up in bed grasping a baseball bat, convinced that aliens would make a beeline for me up in my attic loft while completely ignoring my sleeping parents and sisters in the house below.
But with the same logic as “your paranoia does not rule out the possibility that someone is out to get you!” these imaginings did not rule out the existence of things that go bump in the endless Arctic night. While there’s been a paucity of Bigfoot sightings, we do have home-grown cryptids like the Lake Illiamna monster and the Kush-da-ka1, and as a teenager I saw something over the Chugach Mountains that looked and moved like a UFO.
…so there is definitely a spooky side to life on the Last Frontier, and a good portion of the fiction I have started to write involves that “oooheeeyooo”2 influence; stories that are not fully speculative/otherworldly, but also not fully anchored in reality. In any other by setting, I’d identify them by the classic television series The Twilight Zone, but even that analogy isn’t completely accurate. Dawn and dusk during the Alaskan winter is unusual; while the actual hours of daylight are short, dawn and dusk are lengthy, and bathed in an 0therworldly orange and magenta. These colors have figured prominently in my art, and now they’ll be part of my written work – from here on out I’m using the term The Magenta Zone when referring to these slightly scary stories set in Alaska.
(Second in a series of short stories tied in with the upcoming Gun Kingdoms III book. Picks up directly after the events in my previous story Dog Watch)
“Now this is going to hurt you more than it will hurt me.”
The young man sitting on the examination table visibly blanched, and a shudder rippled through his body from the end of his ponytail to the soles of his feet.
“Not to worry cadet. Just a bit of sick bay humor”, continued the doctor, mentally cursing his feeble attempt at bedside manner. Holding the torn fabric back with his mid-arms, the doctor stitched the wound while applying a balm with his upper set, all the while continuing with his commentary, “For as much as they smell, loopies leave fairly clean wounds. Keep the stitches sanitized and make good use of the healing potion I’ve given you and the rot won’t set in”.
The young cadet stood up, straightened his spectacles for the umpteenth time, and then left the sick bay, a subdued “Thanks” trailing behind him. The four-armed doctor then turned his attention to cleaning up the detritus left from treatment, putting implements and medicines away with his upper arms while mid-arms swabbed down the examination table and laid out new linens. “So young”, he thought. “The cadets we get now seem to be little more than children. Was I ever as green as young Mr. Gilgamesh?”
He continued to wipe down and restock the containers and bottles scattered around the compartment, pausing only when a low rumble from somewhere further aft in the boat shook the sick-bay slightly. Before treating the young cadet’s wound he’d been swamped with several senior petty officers suffering from what seemed to be food poisoning after dining with the Captain. It had been a special occasion, and judging from the brilliantly-colored but evil-smelling liquid splattered on the deck, the cook had apparently taken a chance with a rather exotic dish for the festivities. Fortunately only selected members of the crew had attended the banquet and sampled the exotic cuisine, and so far there had been no gastric complaints outside of that group.
With the compartment clean, the doctor sat back down, and his thoughts returned again to the young cadet.
Nana had always loudly maintained that his peculiar anatomy was a blessing from heaven, but Trevor Norridgewock considered his extra arms a curse. The valley was blessedly free from the bigotry and insults that plagued those with physical differences in other places and times, but there were constant subtle reminders that others viewed him less favorably. It had started early on when classmates complained that his extra appendages gave him an unfair advantage on the playing field, and clerks never shifted their gaze from him when he went shopping, some of them confessing later that they wondered if his mid-arms were pocketing goods while his upper arms were involved in a transaction. Most distressing was when his invitation to the cotillion was rejected with, “It’s hard enough watching where two hands are drifting during a dance, much less contend with four”, so his early departure to the academy came as a blessing rather than a sad development in his life.
At first, attitudes outside of the valley were different enough for him to wonder if he’d been overly sensitive when younger, but despite the lack of open prejudice he couldn’t help but notice the slight hesitations and diverted glances that came with every social interaction, so it was just easier to avoid the parties and concerts that came with academy life. As it was, the isolation was actually a blessing as it allowed him to concentrate on his studies, but upon graduation a career at sea seemed the best choice given the limited social interaction in a ship’s company.
His reverie was broken by the bustle of a burly master-at-arms supervising two crewman as they man-handled a crumpled and broken figure through the hatch and up onto the examination table. This definitely was not another case of food poisoning – Trevor recognized the man as Boothroyd, a crewman assigned to monitor a cargo compartment just down the passageway, and he was bruised, broken, and definitely quite dead in a manner that suggested attack by a small kraken or large bear. The doctor recognized the master-at-arms as Petty Officer Calderoni, and while one of his men placed Boothroyd’s effects on the table, Calderoni informed the doctor that they’d found him buried underneath a mountain of sacks of mealy-corn in the port cargo hold while making their rounds.
As the doctor wrote his report, Calderoni rifled through the dead man’s effects and held up a sheathed knife. “He was one for always talking about his knife and what a fine edge there was on the blade,” he said softly. He sheathed the blade and continued, “Cleaning and oiling it every time he used it. Going on about how his blade put your scalpels to shame”. Trevor smiled slightly sideways as he went about examining the body. How could such a powerful man be so soft spoken and easy going? Scuttlebutt had it that Calderoni could lift a tusker in each hand for exercise, common wisdom second only to the “Can animals talk?” rumor, but for now the doctor was just glad Calderoni was easy-going and considered the doctor to be a friend.
A conference with Captain Trinidad via speaking tube followed the examination, and after a brief discussion, Trevor was designated as the investigating officer in the matter of Boothroyd’s death. Within minutes he was standing in the port cargo compartment’s hatchway silently taking in the scene: the space was not much larger than his sickbay, and other than a lamp mounted on the bulkhead next to the hatch, unlit. The only bare spot on the deck was where the unfortunate crewman had lain, the deck being otherwise covered with the toppled sacks along with scattered mealy-corn kernels from a single torn bag.
The doctor felt a slight pressure against the side of his leg as he studied the room, and looked down to see Nick the dog standing next to him, equally engrossed in the scene. When a quick glance confirmed they were alone, Trevor reached down to the terrier with a mid-hand and scratched the dog’s head while asking, “Do you know anything about this?”
After a brief spasm of reflexive leg-kicking Nick replied in his fractured canine patois, “’s hard to say. Boof-roy and Toe-leo fought sometime. Both liked the same bitsss.”
Trevor sniffed then replied, “First off: we’ve already discussed this Nick. Two-legs don’t use that word for females – at least polite two-legs. Second: I’d heard about disagreements between the two but nothing seriousenough for murder”. He paused to pick up the empty mealy bag with an upper hand while continuing to scratch Nick between the ears with a mid. He sniffed again then continued, “Where is Toadleo’s duty station?”
The terrier pointed his nose at the back bulkhead and simply replied “De udder one”, indicating the cargo compartment on the other side of the back bulkhead. After scooping up Nick in his mid-arms and the torn sack in an upper hand, Trevor walked back to the sick bay to drop Nick off before walking around to the starboard main corridor and the storage space that mirrored the compartment where the death occurred. Inside the space he found Calderoni with his two assistants flanking a visibly distraught Toadleo.
As the doctor entered through the hatch Calderoni nodded, and then with a slight smile said, “The captain told me you were the investigating officer but I think this will be an easy one. Boothroyd and Toadleo both fancied the same bargirl back in port. I think Boothroyd was making headway and it looks like Toadleo wanted no rivals for the lass.” He pointed up to a small open hatch at the top of the bulkhead separating the two cargo spaces. “Judging from appearances and the loud sound we all heard earlier it appears that Toadleo climbed up the stacks in here, reached through the emergency hatch to the other hold, and pushed the mealy-corn bags down on Boothroyd.”
Toadleo’s swarthy and dark-haired appearance betrayed his South Coast Arcansi origins but now his face was deathly pale and he was breathing in short gasps. “I never done it. Never. Boothroyd and I had our differences but we’s still shipmates. I traded fists wif him but murder? Never! ‘Sides, Mitzi made ‘er choice and there was no more trouble ‘tween us.”
Trevor and Calderoni turned away for a brief conference, then Toadleo was led off to the brig while the doctor returned to the sickbay where a long line of green-faced crewmen waited in the passageway outside. Whatever had contaminated the captain’s banquet had now made its way into the general ship’s mess and inflicted a good part of the crew, but before he saw the first man in line, the deck started to tilt and the speaking tube whistled. With so many sick the captain had taken the Hammerhead up to cruise on the surface until enough hands recovered to safely submerge again. At the same time, in an effort to forestall losing any more crewman to the mysterious illness, the cook was issuing sausage and cheese in lieu of a hot meal.
After working through the waiting line the doctor removed his coat and sat down to eat, but after treating the largish group of dyspeptic mariners, Trevor was unable to gag down either comestible. As emergency rations, they’d been in storage for quite a while, and after slicing into both of them he found the cheese to be moldy and the sausage rancid. Cleaning his utensils got him to wondering if the grease from the sausage would make a good lubricant or rust-preventative, a thought that caused him to pause and reach for the torn mealy-corn sack, but he stopped short when a half-heard whisper echoed in from the passageway.
“Betcha hexaminin’ Petty Officer Rose wit four hands is fun!” Trevor looked up to see the master-at-arms literally filling the hatchway, his face cocked in the ever-present half-smile. The doctor wondered if Calderoni was smiling at his underling’s attempt at humor before reasoning that a man who can straighten a horseshoe with his bare hands could smile any time he wanted to.
The speaking tube whistle preempted any conversation, and the doctor was surprised to hear the captain’s voice inform him that Toadleo had escaped. While being escorted to the brig he’d taken advantage of an unsecured hatch to stun his escort and exit to the main deck. On his way out he’d grabbed a boarding pistol clipped next to the hatch, and had taken cover in the captain’s gig secured in a recess on the main deck. Searchlights on the conning tower could keep the area illuminated but the vents, davits, and stanchions littering the deck cast long shadows that made the crouching Toadleo difficult to observe.
Trevor stood up and put his jacket back on, an otherwise simple task complicated by the need to get four arms into twisted sleeves instead of two. As he stepped out of the sick-bay he paused for a moment and addressed the whispering deck hand, “For your information, Petty Officer Rose is the captain’s best diver, and I’d no sooner take liberties with her as I would you”, before heading toward the hatch and leaving the crewman to wonder how additional arms enhanced one’s hearing.
The doctor followed Calderoni to the portside conning tower hatch where his assistants were keeping watch on Toadleo in a textbook example of a standoff. The boat was cruising in less-than-friendly-waters, but between the need to vent the cloying odor of projectile-vomit, and repairs needed on damaged hull plates, submerging the Hammerhead was not an option. Neither was rushing the escapee; while the large-caliber boarding pistol fired only single-shots, Toadleo could fire and reload three times before they could get to him, and as most of the crew were still immobilized with food poisoning, the task would have to be accomplished with just the small group gathered at the hatch.
Holding up a pink envelope Calderoni quipped, “I could always disguise myself as a letter-carrier and jump him when I deliver this!” A faint trace of perfume followed the packet as he handed it to the doctor. Somehow Nick had gotten ahold of the letter and brought it to the Master-at-arms, and as Trevor scratched the terrier’s ears with a mid-hand he held the envelope in an upper and read the writing on the cover. The doctor’s eyes widened imperceptibly at the address, then he briefly knelt down, whispered something to the dog, and abruptly stepped out of the hatch into full view of the escapee.
“Are you daft doc? He’s a desperate man! He’ll shoot you down just like he killed Boothroyd!”
“No he won’t – because he’s not a murderer!”
Trevor slowly walked toward the gig, stumbling slightly when the big boarding pistol roared and clipped a neat hole into the air intake he just passed. He paused to think, “If they ever develop a metal that can hold up as a repeater for a caliber that big my job will get much busier.” He then walked a few more steps before halting a dozen yards from the crouching escapee.
“Not one step closer Doc. I’ll put an ‘ole in you in a ‘eartbeat.”
“No you won’t Toadleo. You may be a brigand but you’re not a murderer.”
The seaman’s laugh was more like a bark. “Ha! Duhn’t matter. Theys think I am. Remember? I’m a South-Coaster. We carry knives! We steal sweets from toddlers and fart in airlocks, so ‘course I’da killed ‘im.”
Trevor’s reply was equally terse as he imperceptibly eased closer, “…and I’m a four-armed freak. A natural pickpocket that no proper lady should be seen with. We both know those stereotypes aren’t true, just as we both know that you didn’t kill Boothroyd. But if you try to fight your way out you’ll just reinforce every lie that’s been told about you, me, and every other person who looks a little bit different.”
“How do you know I didn’t kill Boothroyd? I’m a pirate remember? Uh…Arrgh…Rawor! I’m a mean one I am!”
“Nick is a more convincing brigand that you are.” The doctor held up the pink envelope. “This is why I know you didn’t kill Boothroyd.”
From their vantage point Calderoni and his party flinched as the doctor walked closer to the escapee, only to be amazed when Toadleo stood up from his cover and handed him the boarding pistol before walking with the doctor back to the open hatch. Trevor then made a most contradictory announcement that a) Toadleo would return to the brig without any more trouble and b) Toadleo would shortly be absolved of all charges. The announcement came with a most nerve-wracking silence – the doctor had never seen the massive petty officer so keyed up, and for a moment Trevor feared the tension built up during the stand-off would explode into violence, but after repeating the promise that Toadleo would be compliant the tension quickly dissipated. As his two assistants led the escapee aft to the brig, Calderoni followed the doctor to the sick-bay where two shots of medicinal brandy relaxed him enough to sit still for the doctor’s explanation.
“I had my suspicions when I checked the two cargo spaces. The only thing out-of-the-ordinary in the port space was the one torn mealie-corn sack, and the bags in the starboard space were stacked far too neatly – anyone climbing up to the emergency hatch would have made a shambles of the uniform stacking.”
“Toadleo coulda restacked ‘em!”
Trevor held up his hand, “There wasn’t enough time between the sacks falling and apprehending Toadleo”. He then stood up and reached for Boothroyd’s knife while holding the torn mealy-corn sack in his mid-hands. “Neatly stacked cargo isn’t the only factor to consider. This greasy cloth tells the rest of the story.”
“Like all the other crewmembers who avoided food poisoning Boothroyd was issued cheese and sausage from the emergency rations. Both items were issued in bulk form and had to be cut into manageable lengths. Again – like most crewmen, Boothroyd carried a knife. A rather handsome one to be honest, and one that he took great pride in maintaining. As I discovered during my own dinner, cutting the sausage would have left a lot of grease on that blade, and Boothroyd would have lost no time in cleaning his knife…”
Trevor held up the torn sack. “…using the only cloth available. It appears that in order to clean the knife he wiped the blade along the side of the sack, accidentally cutting into the fabric as he did so. Sitting under the not-inconsiderable weight of all the other sacks it was only a matter of time before the cut-bag burst and toppled the entire stack.”
“…and crushed poor Boothroyd in the process”, finished the Master-at-arms. “But there’s still the brawl in the tavern. Couldn’t he…”
Trevor raised both upper hands again. “If you still have doubts, take a look at the pink envelope. It’s from the young lady in question and it’s addressed to Toadleo. Judging by the copious amount of cologne it’s been bathed in I am forced to conclude he had already won that earlier battle for her affections.”
“Why fight a battle you could lose when you’ve already won the war?”
Midnight came fairly quickly and Trevor was still completing his log when the eight bells signaling the change in watch-keeping rang. Judging by the reduction in retching and frantic trips to the head it appeared that the food poisoning had run its course, so it seemed safe enough retire. He closed his journal, locked the supply cabinet, and started to head for the corridor and his own cramped quarters.
As he turned to the hatch he stopped short when he spied a small furry head leaning in over the threshold. Trevor knelt down and once again scratched the terrier between his ears, then asked, “Does everyone know you can talk? I thought I was the only one.”
“Dere’s a couple more.”
“When did you get that envelope? How did you get that envelope?”
“Not so many sick now.” Nick neatly sidestepped the question. He continued, “But Rudy wiw stiw bwame ‘is farts on me!”
“and they’ll still call me a four-armed freak, but we can let the mid-watch handle it!”
As a kid I thought God was a schizophrenic being who toggled between New Testament (Friendly) and Old Testament (Scary) versions. With all His talk about love and forgiveness I really liked New Testament God but Old Testament God literally scared the hell out of me, as in Deuteronomy 5:9 when he says “(I) am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation…” That sounded nothing like the heaven I aspired to and uncomfortably close to life at home with a mom that remembered every real or imagined transgression with crystal clarity…for several decades as it turned out. However, that memory for error wasn’t the only aspect of my family’s genetic heritage that seemed never-ending: personality traits and practices have been repeating through 3rd and 4th generations, no more so than in the case of “mailing off for stuff”
The First Generation: Entertainment for my dad centered on the occasional movie and (more often) radio programs. In a case of life imitating art my dad’s childhood existence centered on a ring much like the decoder ring featured in the classic holiday film A Christmas Story. Dad’s Depression childhood was spent on a ranch in Southeast Idaho which meant money was so tight that Ovaltine was considered a rare luxury so he had to wait much longer than Ralphie did in the aforementioned film.
I think it arrived just as he was leaving for boot camp.
Second Generation: I had a similar experience with plastic army men advertised on the back of comic books, specifically a set comprised of competing yellow and blue armies from the Roman Empire. Unlike Dad, I had to contend with a visual hook rather than an aural one and the stunning illustration penned by comic stalwart Russ Heath was like crack for a fifth grader. I did a little better than dad as far as fulfillment goes – delivery was promised in “six to eight weeks” but when you tacked on the extra time required for any parcel or letter heading to Alaska I was fortunate indeed that the fratricidal legionnaires got to me before high-school graduation.
My son Conrad had the typical Third Generation experience in that his Holy Grail was not doomed to a lengthy post-office delivery but was offered as a prize in a school fund raising project to be delivered when the campaign was concluded and all the money turned in. The object in question was a wind-up flying bird featured prominently in the prize catalog and annotated with the warning that it was “Not sold in any stores” which made the situation that much more desperate. Unfortunately the threshold for awards in that catalog was so inflated that the sales required for the award for one of those birds could equip Sterling Elementary with its own aircraft carrier so that particular wind-up flying bird never came in for a landing at our house.
…and now we’re at the Fourth Generation and my grandson Jayden. Like most seven-year-olds he is fascinated by cars, with an eclectic taste that runs from Lamborghini to Tesla. He plays with them often, conducting road rallies on every flat surface in the house, so it was inevitable that one of his cars would get trod on and broken. The Bauling Lane axiom “Papa can fix anything!” was immediately put to the test but for once it didn’t hold so like everyone else in COVID-beset America I ordered a replacement on-line. I didn’t think much of the action until I found Jayden sitting on the front porch ten minutes later waiting for the Amazon delivery man and his new “Lammorgeenie!”
…which leads me to wonder what the next development will be. No doubt Jayden’s son will be frustrated that it takes more than three minutes for the replicator to make that decoder ring he just ordered.
Clarksville is located in the No Parking /Tow Zone of Tornado Alley so warning sirens and verbal warnings echoing from downtown loudspeakers are no surprise on a stormy April evening. It’s an unnerving sound much like the albino plague victims in The Omega Man chanting “Nevvillle” as they ring around Charlton Heston’s apartment building and as it drifts with the wind it puts all of us on edge.It bothered my grandson Jayden more than anyone else last night: he will be eight in June and he’s starting to notice details in life that up to this point in life he had been oblivious to. He was also just coming off the medication he takes to combat the severe attention deficit/hyperactivity he battles daily so his reaction was even more pronounced.
He bounced around our bedroom, stopping by the open window screen at each lap to listen to those spectral voices warn everyone to “seek shelter now”. At first he would only stop for clarification or explanation of terms used in the warnings, but on the third stop he decided to take a more proactive stance. He has a marginally-functional smart-phone handed down to him after an upgrade and while it doesn’t work as a phone he can use it for games and camera work. He loves taking pictures and making videos but this time he put his phone to a more altruistic use.
He decided to broadcast his own warning announcements:
“Dere’s a reawwy bad storm coming everybody!”
“Everybody better get a good pwace to hide!”
“It’s reawwy scary so be careful of any tornadoes next to your house”
He’d record his messages in as loud a voice as he could muster, then hold the phone up to the screen and play them back with the volume turned up as high as it could go. His expression was stern as a only a second grader can achieve but at the same time I couldn’t help but smile at the speech impediment that is endearing even as it fades.
… but something else added to my grin: even while totally terrified he was doing his best to protect his family, friends and neighbors, showing a level of transpersonal commitment rare in someone so young. I was also thankful that he had a support system in depth, that in his time of fear he had parents and grandparents to reassure him.
It made the stormy night not so scary, even with the sirens and loudspeakers.
I am of a generational vintage that encouraged its members to alter reality, when in addition to weed and alcohol many of my peers experimented with LSD, peyote, and even dried banana skins in an effort to “get outside their heads”. That concept had little appeal to me – I may have a inherent twist to the way I view life, but it’s my twist (thank you) and I’ll keep it the way it was issued to me.
However, there are times when my reality has been changed without my intent, and it hasn’t been pleasant, to include ta miserable session I’ve just gone through. In an effort to more effectively deal with the symptoms that accompany ankylosing spondylitis one of my prescriptions was changed to a medication I hadn’t used in almost fifteen years, a medication that had disastrous side effects. To simply say that it brought on depression would be like saying the Great Chicago fire was a weenie roast. I would end up in a pit of despair so dark I didn’t want to just die – I wanted to be erased, and what was maddening about it all was I could think of no reason why I should be feeling so extraordinarily bad.
Fortunately, there was a light at the end of this particular tunnel. My Beautiful Saxon Princess literally (and lovingly) hovered over me and a miracle in scheduling got me in to see the doctor to get a change in medication. Once the change was made I was able to “dial it back” from soul-crushing despair to the regular day-to-day ennui that accompanies life as a sixty-seven-year-old with a chronic illness and I’m back to scribbling, sculpting and writing stuff like this.
…and I’ve also walked away with some very valuable insights:
I’ll never, ever take this particular medication again
Looking back I’m wondering if particularly bleak periods of my life may have been the result of this drug more than the craptivity of the situation itself.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken a look at this page, and I was surprised to see that the last time I posted anything was the 28th of last month – and while I long ago came to grips with the way time sprints even faster with each year, I was saddened that I haven’t been able to keep up with the race. I always figured that whether I was sitting at my desk in the studio or balancing a keyboard on my lap while curled up in my papa chair I would always be able to write.
Well, it looks like I may have been a little overoptimistic, but then I’ve had my share of distractions, with most of them involving health issues to include:
An upcoming Mohs treatment to deal with a trace of basal cell carcinoma on the tip of my nose.
An upcoming second injection of Covid-19
A change in pain management for my never-ending battle with ankylosing spondylitis is not going well.
…all of which means a marked uptick in pain, anxiety, and depression. I’m hoping that I will make my way through this particular rough patch, but I always wonder if this is the point at which I become bed-ridden or worse. I try to fight the fear but sometimes it gets ahead of me and all I can do is drift through the day and continue trying…which includes typing out something out like this.
In the same way marching a unit soldiers requires “marking time” – keeping step in the same place – to keep the parade running properly writing notes like this will hopefully keep me functioning until better days.
I was talking about the Tom Hanks movie Saving Private Ryan with a young friend of mind and it seemed like we were having a good discussion with a lot of give and take as we shared our individual thoughts and opinion. I’ve always been a fan of large-scale historical epics and while Ryan wasn’t as lavish a production as The Longest Day or 55 Days at Peking I was most impressed with the attention to detail (no M48 Patton tanks doubling for German Panthers) or Tom Hank’ compelling portrayal of an all-too-human army captain caught between a perilous mission and profound combat fatigue … but a comment made mid-discussion by my young friend startled me into a socially awkward silence of a minute or two.
He didn’t care much for some parts of the screenplay – that he felt like the early scenes in the movie depicting the carnage at Omaha beach really didn’t “further the narrative all that well” and that he was unhappy that there was such an elevated level of violence.
Fortunately, my voice produced a bored “Really?” while my internal dialog screamed “Then why the hell did you go to a war movie?” as it came to me that we’ve turned into a nation of movie critics. The word “entitled” tends to get overused, but it seemed appropriate – if we don’t like reality we can change it and still call the result a historical film depicting real events.
…and yes I realize that:
It’s just entertainment
movies have always tweaked history
…but this Color-forms(t) approach to screen-writing seems counterproductive but then this whole line of reasoning may be just me in “cranky old-man” mode. One of the reasons I’ve avoided organized fandom is the way viewers will quibble about scripts which leads me to think that if we’ve not become a nation of critics we’re become a nation of screen writers convinced that we’re much better screenwriters than the person with their name on the credits-crawl.
This excessive analysis kills the viewing experience for me For example I am binge-watching Star Trek: Enterprise and I am just now starting season three and the Xindi story arc. Many complain that this season-long story arc “ruined” the show, but as I’m watching it I’m thinking of it almost as a historical record of events chiseled in stone rather than sketched in pencil…and that I need to wade through the bloodbath on Omaha beach before traipsing across the Normandy landscape looking for a lost paratrooper.