1967: MR. In-Between Finds His Groove

Long before any current television series the phrase Mr. In-Between was the title of a folk song written and performed by legendary folk singer Burl Ives. The tune originally referred to a young adult but my parents thought it to be a perfect description of me1 during the age now referred to as the “tweens”.

“Mr. In-Between / Mr. In-Between, 

Pickings mighty lean / Mr. In-Between, 

I’m too old for girls / too young for women

I’ve looked all around / my hopes are a dimming

I feel like a fish not allowed any swimming

…and it makes a fellow mean.”

To be honest, at that point in my life the part about girls was wishful thinking, but the heart of the message was right on target: at age 13 I was the proverbial fish out of water. When combined with the innate chaos of a screamingly bipolar household, the nomadic life we’d led up to the time of this story had left me with little in the way of a support system, and I trailed sadly behind my classmates in growth, coordination, and relative coolosity. Fortunately by the end of eighth grade I’d learned to blend with my more sophisticated classmates, but then December 25th appeared on the calendar and triggered an existential crisis.

Dad was never able to reconcile his Depression-era childhood with what he felt to be the lavish living conditions enjoyed by his own children. If he had his way Christmas would have had a decidedly Dickensian flavor, but in past years we’d been repeatedly dealt a definite ace in the Yuletide poker game through my Grandma Esther. When it came to her grandchildren her reliability/certainty ran in the same league as death and taxes, which meant if you asked for it you got it.

Period.

 For example the year before she’d send me the Holy Grail of toys in the form of Ideal’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. gun which I must have enjoyed too much as my parents had intervened in the current Christmas wish-list process; chronically stressed/obsessed by social appearances, they ruled that by this point in time (late 1966) I was too old for toys, so the holiday was shaping up to be underwhelming at best.

…until 6:00 A.M. on December 25th when a Christmas miracle arrived in the form of a Westinghouse Lumina clock radio equipped with an adjustable high-intensity study light. Given my Celtic heritage it is all too easy to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, but the wonder of combined timekeeping/entertainment that emerged from the box was so sleek and functional in a sort of Star Trekish2 manner that any attempt at a nickname slid from the off-white and avocado exterior like an egg off of Teflon, and it was immediately dubbed in hushed tones as David’s Neat Clock Radio or DNCR for our purposes here.

Music had always been an important part of my life, but it wasn’t until my tenth birthday that it became my go-to drug of choice. That was the year that I first got my own radio – a small transistor radio slightly larger than a pack of cards and equipped with a leather case and an earphone. That latter accessory was perhaps the most important feature because it meant I was no longer subject to the tyranny of the majority3 and forced to listen to the adult standards endlessly playing on the kitchen radio – I could now curl up on my bunk and plug into Kyu Sakamoto singing Sukiyaki while blocking out the 1940s big band music which continued to echo through the house.

Having my own radio gave me a wonderful sense of freedom, but it came with a price in that it was battery-powered, and on days of heavy listening I could rapidly burn through batteries – by the end of the day I discovered the Beatles I had piles of those little rectangular nine-volt batteries scattered all over my bunk and adjacent floor like spent shell casings around a machine gun nest on the Western Front. Unfortunately when we moved to Sterling the nearest store carrying nine volt batteries was fifteen miles away so I was once again stuck with the kitchen radio…

…until that fateful Christmas morning and the arrival of the DNCR.

Ignoring the other gifts I immediately took this wonder of combined entertainment and time-keeping up to my loft bedroom where I set it up on a box at the head of my bed, switched it on, and left it playing for at least a week. It would be still there playing to this day had my dad not threatened to “drop-kick that damn radio to the burn-barrel if that that ‘ya-ya’ crap wasn’t turned down.” But after a protracted period of testing and adjustment I found a volume setting that was simultaneously loud enough to resonate in my room yet still be “unhearable” in the rest of the house.

 It was also at that time when I began “timestamping” the music in my life. I don’t know if it was the constant access to music through the DNCR or the onset of my mutant memory4 – but from then on the mention of a song title or just the sound of the first few bars never failed to trigger a trip back to the day I first heard the tune. Having that radio playing was like having an old friend – or the brother I never had – in the room with me.

The DNCR became even more important the following Christmas when I came home at the semester break with the absolute worst report card of my life. In my defense I was at the time dealing with:

  • Recovery from mononucliosis5
  • Life as a walking punching bag by a couple of upperclassmen
  • The plethora of  awkward questions swirling about my older sister’s precipitous departure after her sudden marriage to a guy not her boyfriend

…but none of that mattered. I’d embarrassed my mom so I was grounded, all my comics, records and books were taken away, and I was allowed only three hours of television a week. How they missed my radio is nothing short of a miracle, but the omission probably saved my sanity if not my life. I made sure it was out sight and kept the volume turned very low as I took to setting my alarm for the middle of the night when everyone else was asleep and unlikely to hear anything untoward.

 For an hour or two each night/early each morning I was granted a respite from my oh-so-craptacular life. This was long before the advent of Dr. Demento, and with few exceptions parody/novelty records got played at most one time before going to the radio station’s library while the 2:45 standards such as Michelle, For What It’s Worth and MacArthur Park were played so often they could be used as timers for cooking three minute eggs. Fortunately most overnight DJs worked with such minimal supervision that their playlists routinely included records that would never get airplay during normal broadcast hours, including such gems as:

  • Bears – the Royal Guardsmen’s little-known follow-up single to Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron.
  • Runaround Kind – The lone single release from the Hartbeets who at the time were the hottest band in Anchorage.
  • The Ballad of Walter Wart (The Freaky Frog) by Thorndike Pickledish Pacifist Choir.

I eventually stopped caring about what was happening to me during the day at school or even at home in the evening after dinner. It didn’t matter that my loft bedroom was cold and dark and that I could feel every bump and nail head in the wooden platform underneath my skinny mattress. As I snuggled down into my covers I felt safe, secure, and happy while my radio bore testimony of a better world far from Sterling.

When I left Sterling in 1971 the DNCR came with me, and with few exceptions it accompanied me in my journeys all over the country5, and with every move my first action was to plug that radio in and dial up a radio station whose hollow sound and the hiss and crack of the AM signal lent a bit of familiarly to a new home. Now that wonderful device sits in a box on a shelf in my shop (there are very few functioning AM stations in my area, and those that are here broadcast political crap) when a miracle of sorts came about the other day.

I had tried – and failed – to get some work done out in my shop, but after growing weary of repeated failures to hobble around on my crutches I pulled out the DNCR,  plugged it in, and started playing with the tuner, only to be met with a static hiss that was occasionally broken with a snap, crack, and pop.

 But then for a blessed few seconds I was graced with Stephen Still’s pure tenor

There’s something happening here,

But what it is ain’t exactly clear.

There’s a man with a gun over there

Tellin’ me, I got to beware.

It stopped just as quickly as it had started – but the music had played long enough. It was late in the day and the gathering of the shadows emphasized the crisp chill of the unheated shop. The air was rich with the pungent smell of plywood recently pushed through a table saw, and as I sat on the bench my arthritic hips could feel every inch of the surface.

…but I felt safe, secure and happy.

Notes                                                                                                                                         

  1. I had been holding out for No-where Man, but after the “bigger than Jesus” debacle, my dad refused to even acknowledge the existence of the Beatles much less their music.
  2. My other life-changing discovery for 1966, Star Trek caused me pain just one time when I noticed the resemblance between the DNCR’s adjustable study lamp and Sulu’s equally adjustable navigation viewer on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. There’s still a faint scar just to the side of my eyebrow.
  3. Thank you Lani Guinier. We might not totally agree on political matters but you turn a mean phrase.
  4.  Hyperthymesia: a highly superior but extremely rare autobiographical memory that enables a person to recall life experiences in vivid detail. Rare as in only 60 have been officially diagnosed. Best known case is actress Marilu Henner of TAXI fame.
  5. Mononucleosis AKA “the kissing disease”, an infection transmitted by saliva (or in my case obviously) a shared drink. This requires a medical diagnosis, and symptoms include fatigue, fever, rash, swollen glands, and body aches. This is a member of the herpes virus family which may explain the coaster-sized canker sores that plagued me at the time.
  6. To include Idaho, Utah, Virginia, Alabama and multiple locations in Alaska – everywhere except military deployments and m

1970: ‘…the name is Deitrick. David Deitrick!”

Gospel scholars teach that the Savior conducted his ministry while he was in his thirties but based on Matthew 13: 55-57 I think he was seventeen. This particular scripture refers to an incident when Jesus was preaching to the people in his hometown, and their less-than-warm reception was: “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary …Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, a prophet is not without honor, save in this own country and in his own house” ….which is precisely the reaction that I got as young man when returning to my hometown when I accomplished anything!

“Who does this kid think he is?”

As I aged it didn’t get much better; I went directly from being June’s Boy to Holly’s Brother to Lynne’s Boyfriend to Lori’s Husband, rarely having an identity of my own. Respite from this labeling came only during events that kept me away from home for an extended period of time. Only then did I have a chance to reinvent myself and escape from my own inherent tackiness.

The summer of 1970 gave me ample opportunity.

It helped that I had gained a bit of confidence during the preceding spring. I had lucked into taking a beautiful young lady to junior prom and while any hope of post-dance relationship wilted as quickly as my boutonniere the experience of having a Katherine Ross wannabe on my arm for an evening gave a boost to my confidence and relative eligibility with other girls at school.

What’s more my height gained a couple of inches and my waist lost some, I cultivated both a totally bitchin’ set of sideburns and a nice carpet of chest hair but there were issues concerning my teeth. Two front teeth had been damaged when I was eight and were still discolored to a degree. I felt very self-conscious so I had devised various coping mechanisms:

  • I told people I was a vampire.
  • I stopped smiling for school pictures.
  • I borrowed stand-up routines from comedians like Robert Klein and Dave Steinberg, hoping that the jokes would draw attention away from my mouth.

None of which seemed to be effective going into the summer of 1970, which was otherwise stacking up to look like three great months living outside of the aforementioned stereotype. First I was to attend Boy’s State which was followed shortly after by a church-sponsored Youth Conference in Anchorage. When that was over I had an extended gig in Seward working for a contractor replacing the roof on the high school and when that was over – football season!  It was an incredible line-up , but it wasn’t what I had on my mind the most.

You see,  I wanted to be James Bond.

It was just past the crest of Bond-o-mania during the dark times when all the movies could offer was George Lazenby looking like a kid in his dad’s suit but fortunately I had discovered  Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. While Sean Connery definitely had style Fleming’s written descriptions left me with just as much of an impression and as I was trying to solve my dental aesthetics issue Fleming’s use of term “cruel mouth” piqued my curiosity.

 As first I thought that maybe it had something to do with kissing too hard but eventually I determined that it referred to something like the pouting lower lip on the face of Robert Lansing, star of ABC series of Twelve O’clock High). I gave it a try, though I can’t remember how sticking my lower lip out was supposed to hide two teeth directly under my nose. I decided to lose the lip after Mom kept asking me if I’d caught one in the face while playing dodge ball.

Setting up a mock state government in the all-male environment of Boy’s State gave me little time or incentive to worry about my appearance. It wasn’t until I left for the summer’s second event – Youth Conference – that my teeth became something to worry about again.

Youth conference was an annual event when Church kids ages 14-18 gathered together from Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska/Susitna valley for three or four days of workshops and activities. The stated goal of the conference was spiritual growth1 but to be totally honest my own goal was getting acquainted with young ladies and for once I was successful. Early on in the conference I became reacquainted with Ellen, a girl from Fairbanks that I had met at a previous youth conference. With the iconic 007 theme running through my mind I coolly reached for her hand and we paired up, spending the balance of the time being a bit more exclusive than the chaperones may have liked.

They would have been even less happy had they noticed us slipping out the door during workshops on the next-to-the-last night of the conference. Again channeling Sean Connery as best as I could, I suggested that we walk home instead of waiting for rides; earlier in the evening Ellen had not-so-subtly let slip that her host family lived not far from the stake center and as I knew Anchorage fairly well I figured the walk to be a good opportunity to “get better acquainted” and still get her home in a timely manner.

She knew the address was north of our location (“…maybe on West 16th Avenue…) so we set out in the almost-midnight-sun that is a June evening in Alaska. We’d walk a little. We’d talk a little. Tease a little but never getting into any real trouble.  but when I happened to look at my watch I was alarmed to see that it was 10:00 PM! I began to doubt Ellen ’s sense of direction but she stuck to West 16th avenue as a destination until it finally started to get dark, which in summertime Alaska means it is about to rain or really, really late.

At this point we were in a part of town that I didn’t know as well and I started getting edgy, mostly because I didn’t want Ellen to get in trouble. I finally admitted defeat and did something that no one in their right mind will do in Anchorage of 2017…

 I knocked on a door and asked to use their phone.

To this day I have no idea why that lady let me in. Maybe it was the fact that I was with Ellen and we were both dressed semi-nice. Maybe it was the subtle perfume Ellen was wearing. Maybe she was just being charitable. Mostly I think it was the fact that no matter how hard I tried to channel James Bond and have a “cruel mouth” I’m just a nice guy and it shows. Whatever the reason she let us stand in her entryway while I dialed my friends to come get us – and then let us stay there until we were picked up.

 The teasing was merciless on the ride back home and doubled in intensity when we dropped off Ellen and found that she was staying at a place not more than a block away. She’d transposed “east” and “west” and didn’t know Anchorage well enough to orient herself correctly.  

It was all coolness and sly looks the next day as we finished the conference and went our separate ways. Shortly afterwards I started the roofing job in Seward which turned out to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my (then) short life. It was extremely hard and dangerous2 work; between the dislocation and fatigue I was feeling pretty emotional and made an idiot of myself writing letter after letter to Ellen , all of which went unanswered. I called her a month later and while she maintained that she’d written at least one reply it was obvious that I had been a “summer thing”. I folded my ego up and moved on, permanently retiring the “cruel mouth” look in the process.

1972: I was back to Fairbanks to spend the Fourth of July weekend with my Best Friend.  While we were at a formal dance I was left unattended during a “nose powdering break” when a sudden wisp of a perfume I hadn’t smelled in two years prompted me to turn… to find Ellen coolly standing next to me. We had no more exchanged brief greetings when my Best Friend returned from her break; she smiled at Ellen then led me out to the dance floor for a waltz3. I was surprised at her calm demeanor until she hissed through a smile “if she makes one move for you and I’ll scratch her eyes out”.

1976: I ran into Ellen while changing classes at BYU. It was a pleasant surprise but seemed like something out of a Harry Chapin song (“…whatever we had once was gone…”)

2017:  We tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses and while I’d like to think that with my razor/laser memory I am a bit more objective than most but in one instance of looking back there is no nostalgic tint to vision at all. It was better back in 1970. I get newspaper headlines from the Anchorage Dispatch (formerly the Anchorage Daily News) via email and I have been distressed in that the hottest stories of this past year has been the unusually high murder rate.

Of particular concern is a playground area called Craters of the Moon where at least six people were killed there during an alarmingly short period of time in 2016. Why am I mentioning this? Craters of the Moon is just south and down a slope from the house where I made that call from in 1970. Had I knocked on that door this last summer I would have at best gotten a face full of pepper spray and at worst .45 reasons why I shouldn’t have knocked on the door.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

1I put an honest amount of effort into the workshops. It was during a scripture chase there that I first encountered the scripture from Matthew about prophets and home towns that I used in the introduction

2This was before OSHA and child-labor laws put limits on the hours and types of work for kids

3 We were really good at waltzing, having been on a dance demonstration team the previous year.

Music: On The Threshold of a Dream

( I have to warn you what follows is much longer than my usual posts about music…but then this album is one of the most important bodies of music in my life.)

(1) Moody Blues On The Threshold Of A Dream 01 In The Beginning – YouTube

Nothing beats a small town when it comes to rumor-mongering, and the folks running the local music store were being mongered more than usual. They were all members of, or friends with, a long-time Peninsula family, and at various points of time in the summer of 1970 I heard that at least one of them was:

  • Dealing drugs
  • Receiving stolen goods
  • Pregnant

…the last option being extremely doubtful seeing that the group running the store was overwhelmingly male, the only female on staff was a middle-aged aunt that started working in the place well after all the gossip started. I didn’t care – I was caught up making my break between two-a-day pre-season football practice sessions as leisurely as possible, and a post-burger stroll through the store seemed just the ticket.

I hadn’t shopped there since the preceding spring, and the only visible sign of distress was a noticeably large SALE box holding albums marked down to $1.00. Surprisingly enough, there were several top-sellers in the stack, but none of them posed any threat to the prospect of a second hamburger until a tree-branch with ears floating in the middle of a midnight blue square of cardboard caught my eye. Red letters in a modified Arnold Bocklin font skewered me with The Moody Blues and On The Threshold of a Dream – and while none of the songs on the back cover were familiar Moody Blues AM hits, such as Nights in White Satin or Ride My See-saw, all the titles hinted at being listenable, so I forked over a buck and walked out with the album later described by a little sister as “the record with the weird tree on the cover.”

The rain soaked us during the second afternoon practice, and washed out all thoughts of that new record, so it wasn’t until I painfully climbed up to my loft later that afternoon that I recalled the purchase. I was too sore to climb back down the ladder, but one of my sisters blessedly retrieved the record and cued it up on my stereo while I laid on the carpet and tried to mentally will the lactic acid out of my muscles. That mental effort almost blocked out the cosmic hum at the beginning of the first track leading into a restrained synthetic crescendo, but the subsequent ethereal catechism alternating the question/response of human to computer dashed all thoughts of passive listening:

I think

I think I am

Therefore I am I think

Then in the dystopian mood of speculative fiction popular at the time those tentative words are pushed aside by a mechanical voice identified elsewhere as the Voice of Establishment:

Of course you are my bright little star…

Human and computer trade words until both are abruptly supplanted by a third voice that contradicts the mechanical response with wise words ending in a phrase typical of the times:


…and keep on thinking free.

I sat there stunned. I had been expecting some pop kissy love song, but was instead blindsided by philosophical commentary that I would have expected from an episode of The Prisoner or an Arthur C. Clarke story, but before I could gather my thoughts I was musically slapped on my other cheek by the fanfare of guitars and drums of the second track, Lovely to See You. It was an irrepressibly upbeat tune that quickly dispelled any dystopian mood left by the poetry that opened the album, but just as my toe started tapping along with the beat, the song smoothly blended into the slower cadence of the more melancholy third track entitled Dear Diary, which sounded so different from the preceding selections that I flipped the record cover to see if I’d inadvertently purchased a greatest hits or K-tel collection.

The change was so abrupt that I stopped for a moment to extract background information from the stunning gatefold album cover and equally dynamic lyrics booklet. However I became almost immediate confused when the grid-like arrangement of individual portraits and figures in the group photo facing each other across the open interior didn’t match in number. Determined to solve the mystery, I read down the roster:

  • Justin Hayward: Guitar
  • John Lodge: Guitar
  • Ray Thomas: Flute
  • Graeme Edge: Percussion
  • Mike Pinder: Keyboards (organ & Mellotron®)
  • Tony Clarke: Engineer

Armed with this knowledge, I went back to connect each band member with the songs they wrote/performed, and in the process pieced together the fact that Tony Clarke wasn’t a member of the band, but instead was the guy that organized things and got the music recorded correctly. It was a job that I knew little about, but even with that lack it was obvious the wonderful sound quality and the superb manner in which the songs all worked together more than deserved acknowledgement. It was a complex task as each song was a reflection of its author’s personality, which explained the buzz-kill brought on by the somber Dear Diary as it followed the extremely upbeat Lovely to See You.

The acoustical whiplash continued with the quasi-country tune Send Me No Wine on the third track, which in turn seamlessly led into the electric introduction of To Share Our Love, a number that quickly had me wondering if I’d taken one too many hits to the helmet during practice earlier in the day. I could swear I was hearing two songs playing at the same time; a mid-range tune and an almost-falsetto parallel song with a slightly different but supporting message, but it turned out that was exactly what was going on when I checked the lyrics booklet. It was fascinating stuff, but the complexity came with an almost physical effect, which combined with the consequence of back-to-back practice sessions earlier in the day made me extremely tired. I considered just turning off the stereo and going to bed, but in my truest OCD manner I held on till that last track on the first side…and I was glad I did because So Deep within You was a perfect stopping point.  While the song itself was an entreaty for communication, Mike Pinder’s commanding tone made me think of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission clips at epic movies – it was a good time for a short break, which was perfect because I needed time for proper digestion of:

  • The cheese and mustard sandwich that I made in lieu of a supper that had gone cold.
  • The fundamental question haunting me, “What the hell am I listening to?

…after which I wasted no time getting back to the music that had me so enthralled. Until recently my album purchases had been limited to “Greatest Hits” compilations or Beatles albums, which given the chop-job Capital Records did to the original EMI playlists, weren’t that far removed from that first category. On the Threshold of a Dream was something completely different: none of the tracks fit the 2:45 AM radio hit format and each song sounded completely different from all the others, yet fit together to tell a story that the listener felt rather than read.

By this time serious fatigue had set in, causing me to start the “bob & nod”, so after placing the needle down on the “B” side of the album I crawled up on the bunk built into the sloping wall of my loft. I had meticulously read the lyric booklet, so it was obvious that the careful acoustic guitar chords and soft vocals that started Never Comes the Day marked it as a Justin Hayward tune. He was already my favorite out of the bunch, but I wasn’t prepared for the effect the song had on me as it built to a crescendo:

If only you knew what’s inside of me now

You wouldn’t want to know me somehow

I sat up so quickly that I damn near knocked myself cold on the low ceiling tover the bunk, so I laid back down and let the music wash over me. Taking to an entire album so quickly was a novel thing for me, but Never Comes the Day was hitting so close to home that it was almost uncomfortable. At seventeen I had reached a crossroads where self-fulfillment intersected with transpersonal commitment, leaving me frantic for a way to balance finding my direction in life with responsibilities for, and expectations of, those around me. Mr. Hayward was coming up with some pretty good ideas, and he making music that seemed like answers to me, words that were “stealth scripture” – necessary knowledge or truth from a Higher Power that would have been otherwise rejected by an audience had it been presented via traditional organized religion.

…then once again one song faded into the next, and I was listening to Lazy Day, another folksy Ray Thomas tune that seemingly extolled the delights of a lazy Sunday afternoon before introducing a parallel lyric line bemoaning the tedious sameness of workaday life. The tune was very similar in tone to his earlier song on the first side, and while I loved his work on the flute, I wasn’t sure if I’d want to spend much time Mr. Thomas in person. In those pre-Prozac® days I was just beginning to recognize depression’s effect on my life, and the downbeat nature of Ray Thomas’ work wasn’t helping…

I almost didn’t pick up on the soft singing and acoustic guitar work of the third track, Are You Sitting Comfortably, another Justin Hayward composition that washed away any angst the previous track may have brought on. I had just started learning about my Celtic heritage and the idea of a historically correct King Arthur, so the lyrics about Camelot, Guinevere, and Merlin the Magician combined with Ray Thomas’ haunting flute was particularly meaningful to me. It was all very happy-making, but as the track ended on a high flute note seamlessly blended into Mellotron music I fell again into a Moody Blues blindside attack:

 When the white eagle of the north is flying overhead

 And the browns, greens and golds of autumn lie in the gutter dead

I don’t know if it was Graeme Edge’s rich baritone voice, the faint Mellotron keening in the background, or the powerful lines of the poetry itself: I sat up a bit too quickly and bumped my head a second time in response to poetry that could have been tailored for me personally. The album was rife with multiple levels of symbolism, but these spoken words combined dream imagery with the cycle of both an individual day and the entire year, which in turn brought to mind the changing of the seasons, and my favorite time of the year — fall.

I hadn’t felt that way before moving north. California’s climate is temperate to an extreme, and autumn had just been something on a calendar involving new crayons, new television shows, and Halloween. The idiosyncrasies of the South Central Alaskan climate are such that fall starts in early September with the countryside exploding into yellow, gold, orange, and the occasional splash of red, and it’s the only time of year with reasonable weather set against a backdrop of equal parts of day and night. Starting school meant regular days for a while, but there was always the specter of winter and the menace of long nights lurking just over the horizon.

Then as softly as a sundown the backing Mellotron merged into a subtle introspective melody entitled Have You Heard?

Now you know that you are real

Show your friends that you and me

Belong to the same world…

By now the blended transitions are expected and the music eases into the beginning of The Voyage before slowly transforming into something like the soundtrack to a movie, musically taking you through a magic door. A hauntingly slow minor key melody is joined by a flute, then jumps into a rumble, conjuring dream images of running through dark forests, narrowly escaping barely seen dangers, but then the rumbling becomes less intense as piano notes move up and down the scale, the intensity slowly increasing to a more forceful, more frenetic level, before dropping off to a reprise of Have You Heard and returning full circle to the cosmic whistle with which the album began.

I was stunned. I had never heard anything like it – ever. While it was true that I had previously enjoyed both Rubber Soul and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, neither Beatles masterpiece so thoroughly embraced the idea of the concept album as the album I had just heard – or reached its level of meaning. The music had touched me on several levels, becoming important enough to warrant going through two vinyl copies, two cassette copies, a compact disc, and a download, giving me ready access to its stealth scripture throughout my life.

Quite a bargain for just a dollar, eh?

KCHS Class of 1971: 50-year Reunion

(I’ve never been able to attend any of my high school class reunions. It wasn’t a deliberate choice – it just always seemed work or teaching issues got in the way. I thought that we’d make it this year for sure but then a late-breaking medical situation ruled the trip out and all I could do was give thanks that we hadn’t bought our airline tickets yet.

I’m still trying to stay involved by working on the preparations to include composing the text  below which will be used for the main invitation. They’re going to set up an online presence so at least I’ll be able to see everyone, but for now I’m just hoping the horse will sing and we can make the trip in August)

1971

  • The Rolling Stones were playing sold-out concerts.
  • Star Trek re-runs were playing on TV.
  • The nation was involved in controversial conflict in Asia.
  • I was looking forward to the future and my own jetpack.

 2021

  • The Rolling Stones are still playing sold-out concerts.
  • Star Trek re-runs are still playing on TV.
  • The nation is involved in controversial conflict in Asia.
  • …and I’m still waiting on that jetpack.

Fifty years went by in a flash leaving us all with the feeling that there is an eighteen year-old trapped inside our sixty-eight year-old bodies screaming “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED”. Fortunately you will have the opportunity to compare notes with other “trapped eighteen year-olds” by attending the 50-year reunion of the KCHS graduating class of 1971.

  • When is it happening?   Saturday August 7th 2021 from noon until dark
  • Where is it happening?  Jeff & Carey Matranga’s place on Forest Lane, Soldotna
  • Who’s invited?               You and your families
  • What’s going on?          Potluck dinner, yard games, water games and socializing

Plans are brewing for a ZOOM/on-line presence and more information about food will follow. We also need help in getting the word out. In those fifty flashing years we’ve scattered all over the country and right now we’ve only reached about one-fourth of the class. Feel free to forward this notice or reply with the information and we’ll handle it here from reunion central.

Please RSVP to careylfoster@outlook.com or (907)252-4640

Fiction: Gospel According to Saint Ticonderoga

Way too early in the morning…

>CLICK<   Whrrrrrrrrr.

The heating element glowed bright orange against the inky dark. At the same time the little fan in the compact electric space heater wheezed into live and did its best to push back the near-freezing cold of my small attic loft. It would take a crowbar get me out of bed.

>CLICK< “I am a lineman for the counteeee!”

There goes the clock radio. Must be time to get up for school but it will take a crowbar AND a stick of dynamite to get me out of bed today.

“GUS!”

…. or Mom.

“Your dad couldn’t get the truck started so he had to take the station wagon. You’re going to have to ride the bus today.”

“Oh great”, I thought as I slumped into my seat at the breakfast bar. “Why don’t I walk through a pack of wild dogs with a steak tied to my throat instead?”

“I didn’t think it got that cold last night but there’s Alaska for you!”

I looked down at the cold congealed oatmeal and tried not to gag, then passed on the meal with my stomach rumbling, leaving the table only after finishing the fight scene between Captain America and Mr. Spock that I had been penciling on my placemat. After a perfunctory kiss-on-the-cheek, and the obligatory lecture from Mom about neglecting my homework in favor of drawing superheroes, I trudged out the driveway and across the road to the designated bus stop, which felt a bit colder than expected. I was going out a little early – fresh snow tended to muffle sounds and the last thing I wanted was a surprise arrival and a frantic dash to the bus before our dim-bulb driver Johann took off again after the regulation three-minute wait.

The walk out warmed me up a bit, but the chill mounted an immediate counter attack. I had dressed as warmly as social conventions allowed but the chill kept coming, so I hopped up and down hoping the exertion would lend a little more warmth

 Still Cold.

I tried hitting snowballs with a stick but failed to connect even once, and concluded that with an RBI average of .000 no baseball team – not even the New York Mets – would sign me up for any position more skilled than towel-hander-outer.

Still cold…and for some reason getting colder.

It was then that I noticed streaks of color low in the sky, kind of like the aurora borealis, but running toward red and yellow instead of the pale greens and blues you would normally see. I was mystified: while actual daylight at our latitude was only about six hours long, we had extended periods of dusk and dawn that filled the sky with magenta and orange streaks…but they weren’t due for at least another hour. Come to think of it, the northern lights were something I usually saw late at night rather than early in the morning. It was definitely a mystery, but I was too cold to think about it and was toying with the idea of dancing the Funky Chicken in place as a better method of getting my circulation going when I was startled by a resonant voice calling to be from behind.

“Augustus!”

I spun around and almost stumbled into a man standing behind me in the snow. Man? More like a wizard from the cover of a Conan paperback. I tried to shake off the startle, but I was too creeped out by his glowing pupil-less eyes to completely settle down…but at least I wasn’t cold anymore. 

With increasing urgency his deep echoing voice rang out again “AUGUSTUS!”

In my mind I cleverly quipped “So, do you carpool with Batman?” but what came out of my mouth was more along the lines of “URK!”  I cleared my throat, then meekly said, “Actually, just ‘Gus’ will do”.

“Augustus,” he continued as if he hadn’t heard me – “Favored child of the gods of creation– heed my words. I bear a sacred gift for you – a token of honor from the Old Ones!”  From out of a deep pocket in his gold-trimmed red robe, he pulled out a box the size of a Dune paperback sliced in half length-wise and made of what looked like cedar, but with gold threads running through and along the grain. There were lids on both the top and bottom of the container, though the latch to the bottom looked like it had been wired shut.

He handed it to me and said, “To you I give this most precious gift from that mystic patron of dreams made real, even the Old One known as NoshWiggi. Use your gift this day to grant form and life to your grandest dreams and secret thoughts. Use it well, but remember that such grace and largesse deserve a modest offering in restitution. I will return at sundown to assist you in rendering this ever-so-small courtesy for the superb gift NoshWiggi gives to you – the power to made tangible your most precious dreams and desires!

I took the box and held it, tracing the grain of polished wood, and feeling its weight. I opened the top lid to find a slightly tarnished pointed cylinder sitting in a velvet lined slot, red and gold light flickering around it like the St. Elmo’s fire that I had read about but never seen. A small card printed with almost-unreadable script was tucked into a side crease of the velvet cushioning, but I shoved it into a pocket intending to read it once I got some place with decent lighting, and for now all I could see was the little cylinder puking red and yellow sparks.

“It looks like a pencil.”

“An astute observation Augustus. Use it well.”

At that point I heard a subdued rumble, and turned around and jumped when I saw the bus rolling to a stop behind me, the snow muffling its approach just as I had thought. The door opened, and a cloud of warm, moist air wafted out.

“Git-onna-bus-wipe-yer-shoossit-down-no-smokin-no-eatin-sit-down!”

I lurched into my regular seat; the occupants on each side surprised to see me on the morning run. Across the aisle three hulking figures were playing penny ante poker with much more zeal than the stakes merited. One of them threw his cards down in disgust and turning from the game, spied me and smiled. The smile resembled that of a wolf eyeing a lamb at dinner, and to anyone else it would have been terrifying, but that lupine look of glee meant I was talking to my friend Wayne. He’d been the Damon to my Pythias in junior high, the Rowan to my Martin, but high school had done what no amount of tissue stuffed in Linda Knight’s bra had been able to achieve – it had split us up. While I took college prep courses like Principles of Biology and Plane Geometry, Wayne was studying Principles of Petty Theft and Covet Alcohol Consumption 101…. but while we weren’t best buddies any more we were still friends and our occasional conversations were just as warm as ever.

“Hey dumbass!” I said.

“Hey dickhead!” he replied, “you slumming today?”

“Station wagon wouldn’t start, so yeah, I’m slumming. And starving. You got anything to eat other than your mom’s gut bombs?”  His lunches were the epitome of homestead haute cuisine, the most frequent dish a sandwich assembled from Spam and Velveeta with a dill pickle slice and Miracle Whip on white bread – not something my poor stomach needed to contend with so early in the morning, but I was starving.

“NO SMOKIN NO EATIN NO SMOKIN!” Johann’s garbled Nordic bellow startled me for minute and I asked, “Does he get a bounty for busting kids for smoking?”  The bus bounced over a small ridge left by the snow plow. I went on, “Seriously – you got anything to eat? I’m starving my ass off”.

“Mom let the gruel get cold again eh? Sorry. Not even Spam and Velveeta this morning.

I turned back toward the front of the bus and slid down into my seat. It was going to be quite some time before lunch. I started to grope around my coat pockets for a piece of gum or a leather strap to chew on, but instead of Juicy Fruit my fingers jammed up against the cedar box, which I’d momentarily forgotten while distracted by my rumbling breakfast-free stomach.

I opened the lid just a crack and slid (for a better word) the large pencil out of the box and held it in my classic cramped grip. I had no sooner grumbled, “Grandest dreams and thoughts? I’d settle for a cheeseburger!” when the pencil shuddered and took on a slight glow. I started experimenting, moving it around and found a slight resistance to each move, much like what happens when moving a spinning gyroscope…but as I waved the pencil around it left a glowing sparkly line in the air that quickly faded away unless crossed with another line.

I whispered “Hey– keep Johann distracted for me,” then started tracing the outline of a cheeseburger in the air behind the seat in front of me. Adding outline and shading made the image flicker and periodically coalesce into something with volume, but it wasn’t until I penciled in the final edge of sliced cheese that my drawing took on full form and substance – a hot, juicy cheeseburger popping into existence in front of me and immediately falling to the floor.

I caught it on the first bounce, then wolfed it down, my hunger trumping whatever bacterial contamination that may have survived on the icy bus floor. Wayne had no sooner growled out “Damn – that looked real,” when Johann looked up and gave me a suspicious glare in his rear-view mirror while barking out a few more verses of “sit-down-no-eatin-sit-down!” but when he looked back at the road I started drawing breakfast for Wayne as well. Every couple of minutes Johann would sniff loudly, convinced that someone on the bus was smoking, but when Wayne grabbed a hapless freshman’s lower arm and coerced him into a noisy version of the “Why are you Hitting Yourself?” Game our Nordic transit captain ceased his search for smoldering tobacco and focused on yelling at Wayne to stop tormenting the younger student.  

Wayne was licking the grease off his fingertips as the bus turned off the highway into the school’s entrance lane. “Totally bitching burger Gus. You always come up with the weirdest stuff but this time you hit the jackpot!” to which I responded by coming up with another burger Wayne could pack away for lunch. Yes, it was weird – and more than just a bit bewildering – but I wasn’t going to worry about it. After a breakfast that good I knew it was going to be the best day of 1968 ever.

First Bell

Johann hadn’t exactly set a new world land speed record getting to school this morning, but then with a 25 mile bus route he rarely did. I didn’t walk to my locker as much as bolt, so I had little time for socializing other than fending off the inevitably caustic comments from the wrestlers that were homesteading the heat registers right outside the gymnasium doors. Hoping to at least make eye contact I glanced towards Tim’s locker only to be stunned by the sight of a statuesque blond wearing dark glasses and a black leather jacket standing next to him as he rustled through his books and papers, apparently looking for something. A passing jock in a letterman’s jacket started to sneer, “He always hustles the new chicks before they find out who–” but his comment ended with an “OOF!” when I “accidentally” elbowed him in passing.  When I glanced back towards Tim’s locker he was gone so I set out to find Neal.

Only a fresh bear kill would have been easier to find that Neal’s locker. The door was wrenched open, his lunch was smashed into the back wall and his books scattered on the floor to each side.

“Finnegan?”

“Of course.”

“What does that guy have against you? This has to be some kind of psychological fixation with him.”

“I don’t know,” he sniffed, “Maybe he had identity issues – I mean a Korean kid with an Irish first name? I tried talking to him once, but it just seemed to make him more obnoxious than he was before.”

“My dad says the Koreans are the Irish of the Orient – something about their hot tempers I guess, but still–” and I was cut off by the slam of Neal’s locker door as a smattering of sparks trailed to his hand – which I passed off as the static electricity that we all struggled with during the cold and dry mid-winter months…but then I could have sworn I saw just a trace of red and gold sparkles before Neal pulled up his coat zipper as we both took off running for our first classes.

I slid into my desk only seconds before the tardy bell rang and felt quite proud of myself until I looked around at the other students in my Spanish class, all of whom were holding blankets, sombreros, maracas, or some other Latin American artifact. “Oh no!” I groaned inwardly. “I forgot to bring something Spanish!” so when Miss Gardill started taking roll and marking off artifacts, I begged full bladder and ran around the corner to the boy’s bathroom. After insuring I was alone I pulled out the electric pencil and used it to draw a small figure of a bull, modeled after the one souvenir that survived our trip to Tijuana in 1961, then dashed back to class with the faintest trace of red and gold sparkles trailing behind me.

Second Bell

By mid-morning it was obvious that something odd was going on. For one thing I was running across red and gold sparkles everywhere I went and I’d been whisking them away like mosquitoes ever since I talked to that guy with the weird eyes. Eventually I figured out that creating a drawing with the magic pencil produced the little glowing bits in the same way using a pink pearl eraser leaves you with all those little rubber crumbs. The more luminous flecks I saw floating around the hallways, the more sure I became that I wasn’t the only guy with one of those magic pencils.

…and when you go to a high school situated on the ass-end of the world you run out of new things to see by Thanksgiving break. It was the first week in December and in since getting off the bus I’d seen weird crap that you wouldn’t expect in Disneyland much less Kenai, Alaska.

Among the stories I heard between first hour and lunch were reports of:

  • A submarine periscope coming out of the drain in the girls’ locker room showers.
  • A Roman legionnaire’s helmet and short sword sitting on the teacher’s desk in world history class.
  • The floating Nomad robot from Star Trek drifting around the oil-change pit in auto shop.

I drew the line at the story about Finnegan Kim getting chased by Klingons down the freshman locker hall with his pants around his knees, as I couldn’t imagine Kim getting pushed around by anyone. I thought I saw the weird-eye guy across the commons by the smoking area, but he was bundled up in an army surplus parka and passing as a stoner while drifting with the flow in the hall during class change. He kept his distance, but he had that creepy half-smile Uncle Les would get when I was a little kid and he’d talk about gladiator movies. As cool as the magic pencil seemed, something wasn’t right, and since I had study hall for third period I decided to dig out the little card that had been packed in the box and start studying it.

Third Bell

It was written in a flowery language that made me think the writer had been using the Bible or Shakespeare for reference. All the “thee’s”, “thou’s”, and “shalt’s” were confusing and I had a hard time figuring out the first two lines, until the effects of family scripture reading with The King James Bible kicked in and I was finally able to understand. Even so, when I got to the third line I was baffled – “This can’t really mean what I think it does” – but I remembered the last creepy look the old guy had given me out in the hall, and then I recalled the leer on Uncle Les’ face the day he found out that a seven year old boy could run faster than a middle-aged man with his pants down around his knees. I read on until my stomach felt like I’d just jumped off the high dive as I realized exactly what the third line meant…

Lunch


My multiple pencil theory was confirmed when I slid into the seat of our regular lunch table and found Tim and his latest paramour surrounded by a cloud of what looked like red and gold mosquitoes. I turned to Tim’s silent companion – and with a quick “excuse me” – and as gently as possible – removed her shades to reveal no eyes, but rather just blank concave spaces on each side of her perfect nose. Any other time I would have been terrified, but I just turned back to Tim and said “I thought she looked too much like a Vargas girl”.

“You know I’ve always had a hard time doing eyes.”

This vision of ultimate female foxiness wasn’t a new move-in – she was a drawing. A blond bombshell of a drawing, but a drawing nonetheless and my thoughts instantly descended to the lowest common denominator.

“You are one sick puppy. Have the two of you – you know – done ‘it’?”

“OF COURSE NOT!”  His outburst scattered napkins and startled people sitting around us. “No we haven’t done anything. It’s not even possible. You think I have problems drawing eyes? Crap on a stick Gus – how can I draw something I’ve never seen.” He slumped in his seat and continued. “ Hell – I only turned fifteen three months ago and the only “reference” I’ve had access to are my cousin’s Barbie dolls and a Playboy I stole from Dad…and they don’t show anything down there.”

Neal strolled up trailing a cloud of sparkles and sat down. I handed them both a penciled copy of my translation. “Okay – so you both have the magic pencils and we’ve all been having fun – by the way, nice touch with the Klingons Neal – but have you taken the time to read the note the pencils came with?” I pushed my own card along with my penciled edited version across the table towards them and they both started reading silently.

Tim is prone to moving his lips when reads, but when his mouth snapped into a tight straight line that you couldn’t stick a pin through I knew he’d reached the third line. Neal on the other hand – I’ve read descriptions of a person’s face “turning ashen” but with Neal it was more like an image on a color television screen that had the color level down. His face noticeably lost vibrancy until it was just short of cadaver level. He looked up and as if on cue both of them turned to me.

“OK…as my dad is always saying, ‘There ain’t no free lunch’. When we took the pencils, we entered into a contract. There’s a price for the pencils and unless we return them AND everything we created with them by sundown Mr. Weird-Eyes gets to–”

“That’s OK! Neal interjected, his hand held up like a stop sign. “You don’t need to say it out loud. My stomach is upset enough as it is.”

“Yeah, it’s pretty grim but I still think we have a chance. If we really hustle during class changes we can round up and erase all the stuff we drew – be even better if we could each ditch at least one class to give us a margin… Our deadline is sunset…I checked and it’s at 3:45 today but school gets out at 3:30.” I paused, then continued almost wistfully, “I just think it stinks that we have to give up the pencils. Just think what we could do with them!”

At this point Tim finally found his voice, which was not surprisingly shrill, “You wanna know what I think? Okay, so I like to draw. I really, really like to draw. But I’m also going to really, really like ‘doing it’ and if I have to choose between drawing and ‘doing it’, the pencils are history.”

Fourth Bell

As our art teacher was prone to spending most of the period in his office “burning incense” it was easy enough to slip out for recovering and erasing as quickly as possible. The three Klingons proved to be so much of a challenge that I recruited Wayne to help us chase them down one by one and “rub them out”. Surprisingly enough, Tim took the erasure of his synthetic girlfriend in stride, explaining his lack of angst with the simple statement that he “hadn’t written a script for her yet.” It looked like we’d almost make the deadline, but as we were waiting to be let out of class the public address system crackled out an announcement that interrupted a yardstick and eraser baseball game I was losing with: “Attention all students! Buses will be held until 4:00 so students will be able to attend a mandatory pep-rally for the basketball team immediately after school. Let’s get ready to give a real Kardinal send-off to the basketball team as they leave for their first away game of the season in Homer!

All of a sudden the ease with which we’d been cleaning up made perfect sense. There’d been tons of people running around the school with red & white banners and crepe paper – evidently the teachers and staff had passed off our antics as part of the preparation for the pep rally.

We were so totally screwed.

Fifth Bell

It was open reading today and as usual Tim and I were sitting next to the window at the back of the portable classroom whispering behind the covers of the science fiction paperbacks we were all reading. Wayne was sitting nearby– and after determining that he was also subject to the contract after his breakfast of cosmic cheeseburgers that morning, he became an energetic participant in the clean-up.

“Did we get everything taken care of?”

“I think so, I hope so. This guy is starting to kind of scare me.”

“There’s no ‘kind of’ about it.” Wayne broke in “I mean, I don’t mind punching it up with anyone but I think this guy might be out of my weight class. I think these Old Ones are the Lovecraft variety rather than the Sunday School version, and we need to–”

TAP -TAP

It was the guy with the creepy eyes and the Uncle Les expression peering through the window next to us, but it seemed like only the three of us noticed him or heard him say, “Augustus, it is good that you have availed yourself of the incredible potential granted you by the ever-powerful NoshWiggi. Such power should be enjoyed to the fullest, given the gravity of the offering you will be inevitably giving up to the Old Ones”.

Sixth Bell

I drifted through Geometry, interacting with my teacher only when he called me to task for gracing my homework with a sketch of a topless Wonder Woman for which I narrowly avoided detention as her coiled golden lasso strategically obscured all the interesting parts. “That’s about as close as I’m ever going to get”, I thought as I contemplated our impending doom. At the last class break Neal shared an important discovery: the magic pencil tips glowed when close to or aimed at one of the drawings. It was definitely good news. We’d been pretty thorough, but there was still one drawing left to erase. Unfortunately it was on the other side of the gymnasium and it and the halls on each side were starting to fill up with students heading for the pep rally.

Final Bell

♫ Oh when the Kenai Kards walk down the street

They look a hundred per from head to feet ♫

It was our school’s fight song, accompanied by the arrhythmic thump-thump of bouncing basketballs and a roar from the crowd as the team entered the gymnasium. Tim and I pushed through the hall and met up with Neal and Wayne, all of us slightly out-of-breath and flushed after crowding through the hall.

♫ They got the smile, the style the winning way

And when you look at them you feel you want to say ♫

Weird-eyes was there as well, slowly walking across the commons, and while it was ever so slight, that creepy smile was just a little wider as he mouthed out something completely drowned out by the crowd, but looking like “very soon now”. Wayne pulled me around by my collar with a terse “just let him ‘bite me’”, to which I started to answer, “Yeah, well I think that’s already part of the plan” when Neal met back up with us.

 ♫ You’ll say that there’s a team I’d like to know

They have high school spirit pep and go ♫

Straining to be heard over the roar of the pep rally he yelled, “We’ve narrowed it down to somewhere in our locker hall. We have to check each one”, at which point Wayne handed each of us a short crowbar-like length of iron.

“WHAT THE HELL WAYNE!” Then marginally softer, “these look like burglar’s tools!”

“You want to keep your stuff or not?”

CLICK-SLAM

We split up and started working from each end of the two sides of the hall using the pencils like mine detectors and prying open the doors to lockers that gave any sort of indication…which invariably turned out to be bits of red/gold sparkle that had stuck like cockleburs to coats and scarves.

CLICK-SLAM

♫ GO-GO! ♫

CLICK-SLAM

“We’ve only got five minutes!”

♫Sportsman ship that can’t be beat! Can’t be beat! ♫

CLICK-SLAM!

“What the hell? This is my own locker?”

Wayne stood dumbfounded in front of his open locker on my side of the hall and about twenty feet away. He seemed almost frozen as he held up the one single drawing that we had yet to erase – the cheeseburger I’d drawn up for his lunch. He was also the only one of us without the means to erase it.

Just over his shoulder I could see Weird-Eyes, his ratty old parka replaced with the gold-trimmed red robes he wore at our first meeting and in each hand carrying what looked like a yardstick with a long blade at one end and an over-sized treble-prong fish hook at the other…and if he grinned any wider his face would split apart.

I turned back to Wayne, “THROW IT TO ME!”

“WHAT?”

“THROW IT TO ME. I’LL HIT IT. LIKE HITTING A BAT WITH A BALL!”

“NO! YOU SUCK AT BASEBALL!”

“YOU WANT TO KEEP YOUR STUFF OR NOT?”

♫ The team from Kenai Hi-i-igh! ♫

The cosmic cheeseburger arced through the air, passing a clock on the hallway wall that read 3:44 and down where I swung and made the impossible hit. The burger burst into a cloud of red and gold sparkles followed a split-second later by all three magic pencils and the creepy-eyed guy.

“♫ YA-A-A-A-A-A-A-A-Y!! ♫”

Later

The bus-ride home was anticlimactic, the sole subject of discussion between Wayne and I being the awful smell Weird-Eyes and the pencils made when they popped out of existence. (I suggested sulfur while Wayne flatly stated, “milk farts”.) It was dark when I got off the bus and as I looked towards the northern horizon I could see the aurora starting to ripple with the usual pale greens and blues…and then suddenly a cold wind started swirling snowflakes around my feet…

I whipped around to find another Conan paperback cover wizard guy standing behind me in the snow. He had the same weird eyes but his ears were slightly different and instead of the morning guy’s red and gold robes, everything was aquamarine and silver. I paused for a moment wondering why they always had to sneak up on people, but when I started to push past him towards the house he held up his hand, and with a flourish offered a box similar to the one from this morning, only this one was filled with a gleaming substance that could have been either wax or clay.

He called out with a deep echoing voice, “AUGUSTUS!” and broke off a piece of the wax clay and started kneading it in his hands as he continued, “To you I give this most precious gift that  the mystic patron of dreams made real, even the Old One known as ReebSnorboc.” He was working the clay and as he spoke he formed a rudimentary bust of a woman. His voice rumbled as he went on, “Use your gift this day to–”

“OOF!”

– – – – – – –

My mother really hates it when we track snow into the front room so as I got to the porch I carefully kicked the snow off my boots, went inside, pulled up a chair to the breakfast bar and asked, “Mom – do we have anything to eat?”

“Sweetie, Dinner is only an hour away but help yourself to an apple”, she suggested, but then asked, “Did someone get off the bus with you?

“It looked like you just pushed someone down into the snow.”

__________________________________________________________________________

(I write in a style known as ‘creative nonfiction’. Everything in my autobiographical writings actual happened –though sometimes I’ll tweak the time frame to make a better story. This is pure fiction – the first fiction I’ve written I’ve written since 1971 – if you don’t count the totally bogus/inflated efficiency report I wrote on SSG Rogers just to get him transferred the hell out of my platoon.)

© David Ralph Deitrick 2021


1971: Descendant of Beowulf

(I had to simplify things for the title to  this last peek at my upcoming book – I had so many friends, cousins and sons that I had to resort to sketching wiring diagrams before typing up the titles) 

It was a commercial made up of clones with Robert Redford’s doppelganger putting his best Sundance moves on Katherine Ross’ twin sister while a sound-alike band sang a jingle set to the tune of Santana’s “Evil Ways”:

You got a smoke that’s something else Win-chester.

A whole new taste and straight your way.

It’s something else Win-chester”.

Cigarette advertising on television was officially banned as of January 1,1971 but the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was pushing the issue with Winchester – a small cigarette-sized cigar that used a loophole in the new law to continue their on-air promotion of tobacco products. It was a maneuver that would become more common as we got deeper into the “Me Decade” of the 1970’s, a narcissistic side-step of accepted norms in an effort to increase profits.

Other developments in 1971 included:

  • Broadcast standards for language and subject matter were pushed further with the premiere of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking comedy/social commentary All In the Family.
  • Resistance to the Vietnam conflict increased to a 60% disapproval rating and triggered bombings in the US Capitol with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers, a government document that revealed that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied about the conduct and progress of the war.
  • The Uniform Holiday act put all federal holidays on Monday.
  • To the delight of young people all over the country the age to both vote AND drink was lowered from 21 to 18.

Events for the state of Alaska likewise ranged from the monumental to the trivial:

  • In December President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law.
  • Nuclear testing continued at Amchitka Island out at the end of the Aleutian chain.
  • Public television finally arrived in the state with the establishment of KUTV channel 9 at the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks.
  • …and a new shop building was opened at Kenai Central High School located across the parking lot to the south of the main building. In line with the trend at the time toward vocational education the new complex included an auto shop, a carpentry shop, a drafting classroom, and a student supply store.

1970: Or Classmate of Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

(carrying on with excerpts from my next book)

Can they do this?

Can they legally print a picture like this?

It was the LIFE magazine retrospective covering the previous decade and the image in question had been taken during the height of craziness surrounding the Democratic National Convention the previous year and in the middle of the crowd it depicted a shirtless young man “flipping off” the photographer/viewer. It was a photo that captured the essence of the times and while it seems a fairly tame image for current standards that conflict between content and reaction was a perfect metaphor for the era as the media had us all convinced that the freight train of societal change was threatening to derail at any time.

It definitely looked like things were changing, with some changes definitely on the plus side:

  • Earth Day was established on April 22d of that year.
  • The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
  • The federal government put an end to commercial whaling.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was signed into law.
  • We got Monday Night Football!

…while other changes were not all that great:

  • Both superpowers continued with above-ground nuclear tests with one of the main sites being (gulp) – the Aleutian Islands.
  • The space program stumbled with Apollo 13’s near disaster.
  • Militant groups including the SDS and the Weatherman Bomb were setting off explosions in cities and universities.
  • The invasion of Cambodia dramatically broadened the scope of the war in Southeast Asia.
  • At Kent State in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on student protestors with fatal results.

As for the Peninsula; without the influx of fire-fighting money like we had the previous summer, 1970 seemed economically stagnant – at least for young people. The school district was able to scrape together enough money for the high school to insure that the cafeteria where we’d been eating sack lunches for the past year was finally going to have a functioning kitchen, but other cost-cutting measures threatening to severely curtail operations and activities.

It was in response to a vote on proposed school appropriations that the four-page broadsheet dubbed “The Peninsula Clarion” started appearing in everyone’s mailbox. No one knew who was publishing it, but it was obvious that whoever they were, they really, really, really did not want the school bond to pass.

1969 – or Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

Continuing with the preview of my next book I am sharing the introduction of Chapter 1969:

There began to be an odd type of symmetry in current events:

 Spring brought a smile to young men all over the nation as President Nixon initiated “Vietnamization” of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Christmas brought mixed emotions to those same young men as the government replaced the draft with a Draft lottery eliminating deferments and spreading conscription on a more equitable basis across economic classes

  • New York teams managed to book-end the year by the Jets winning the Super Bowl and the Mets “losing last place” in the World Series
  • In July the crew of Apollo 11 rocketed to the Moon over the same weekend that Senator Kennedy dove back under the water three times to rescue Mary Jo Kopechne.
  • The following month the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate & friends at the direction of Charles Manson in August came close to overwhelming three days of “fun and music” at Woodstock barely a week later

 Even if there hadn’t have been 250,000 people marching on Washington DC it was obvious that Dissatisfaction with the Vietnam conflict was continuing to build…which made Richard Nixon’s secret plan to pull the nation out of the conflict a major factor in his electoral victory over Hubert Humphrey and George Wallace in his election to president the previous fall.

 Local developments included:

  • A late-winter freak build-up of ice in the lower Kenai river caused flooding in lower-lying areas of Soldotna
  • The same dry conditions created Swanson River Kalifornsky beach road and several smaller fires along the highway to Anchorage. For the entire summer There was a yellow cast to the sunlight, and everyone smelled like bacon.
  • The Don’t Make Waves Committee (later Greenpeace) began protesting of nuclear testing in the Aleutian Islands
  • …and according to her account Hilary Clinton spent the summer in a fish cannery in Valdex

·       

 

 

My Personal Board of Directors: Charles R. Marriott

One of the best moves I made on the 17th of October 1972 – the day I decided to start keeping a journal, and though I’d had several false starts during high school I’ve been able to keep writing ever since that day forty-seven years ago. I started out using a blank book, then switched to typewritten pages during my bicycle penance and eventually made the jump to digital media in 1986. At one time I would write at least weekly but since I started blogging I add to my journal maybe once a quarter. I’ve never begrudged the time and effort in all that writing, my only regret being that I didn’t start and continue when I first got the idea in the fall of 1969; had I done so I would have had more information with which to write about Charles Rodney Marriott.

Thought I only knew him for nine months, Marriott definitely holds a seat in my personal Board of Directors, and by that I mean that group of adult men who advised and coached me through the rough spots and junctures in life and in general made up for the lack of guidance from my own family. I shy away from the word “mentor” as the only Mentor I knew of was a member of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents – a Tower Comics character of minor interest, being one of the second string of heroes ignored in favor of everyone’s favorite Dynamo. I learned the meaning of the word when I reached college but the definition was confusing – the idea of someone actually taking time with me was utterly foreign. It was also a word used overmuch and without a lot of real thought by people that I should have been able to trust, so I’ve adopted the “board of directors” to use instead.

Charles Rodney Marriott was a former Marine hired as an English instructor at Kenai Central High School in the fall of 1969, having served for thirty years and retiring as a warrant officer after having served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. As a service brat I was happy to have him as an instructor but looking back it was an unusual choice on the part of the school district given the unrest over the war in Vietnam and changes in society in general.

It was a time for interesting changes in our own little academic world as well: that fall the English classes were radically re-organized for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Instead of taking one class from one teacher for the entire school year students were to enroll in a different module every nine weeks. There were some guidelines – you had to take a set number of classes in three categories (literature, composition and oral skills) but other than that, students were free to put together their own program. Marriott was my instructor for two classes: Newspapers & Magazines during the second nine week grading period and Motion Pictures for the fourth.

I wasn’t sure what to expect out of the Newspapers & Magazines class other than we each would be getting copies of Time magazine and the New York Times national edition each week. I assumed that we’d just be reading articles and making reports on what we read so I was surprised when he showed up for the first class pushing a film projector into the classroom. We then spent the next week watching movies about the production and dissemination of propaganda. The films were ‘50s era productions made by the Department of Defense to counter Communist propaganda but despite the hyperbole they were effective in teaching us about propaganda techniques such as “Glittering Generalities”, “Jumping on The Bandwagon” and “Poisoning the Well” that are found in propaganda from both sides of the political spectrum – but I was truly baffled when the films stopped as I had no idea what we’d be doing for the other eight weeks of the grading period.

That’s when we went back to those issues of Time and the New York Times; we took the propaganda techniques we learned about in the films and tried to find examples in the news stories…and were collectively horrified to find those tricks and techniques in all the stories. We expanded our search to other publications and found that the pattern continued, and Mr. Marriott would have us discuss what we found while managing to stay fairly objective about what we found.

It was at this point in my life that I stopped taking news reports at face value and started to analyze each message as best I could as a sixteen year old from Sterling, Alaska. Even now I mentally filter every new story I watch or read through those analytical tools, tools that eventually got me starting to seriously think about intelligence and security careers in the military.

(OK, OK so it really all started with Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuriyakin from The Man from UNCLE but Marriott’s class was a BIG plus!.)

As he was one of a team teaching the Motions Pictures class took from him later in the spring he didn’t have quite the same impact but he still would take time to talk to me personally about my life and my future plans involving military service – I think my status as a Navy service brat made it a little easier for him to be candid with me. Unfortunately a low grade classroom scandal about R-rated cartoons a student drew on a chalkboard prevented him from gaining tenure and he left KCHS rather precipitously after just one year, not even leaving a photo in the yearbook at his departure.

I saw him just one more time when he stopped by the locker room during two-a-day football practice the following August and for the next almost-50 years I had no idea what happened to him until I started research for this post. It turned out that he married Ruth Kilcher (pop star Jewel’s grandmother) and ended up living less than twenty miles from me when we lived in Knoxville until he passed away in 2005. Finding that out was a little tough to deal with, knowing that as I was teaching my teen-age sons about analyzing news stories for propaganda techniques the guy that taught me literally lived just over the river and through the woods. I would have loved introducing my sons to him.

…and I hope that as he read those local newspapers, magazines and watched local TV coverage he may have seen the stories that were written about our “family of artists”. I hope he was able to connect the dots and figure out who I was, and able to feel a measure of pride and credit for the contribution he made in my life.

     (Special Thanks to Glenn Tauriainen for assistance in research for this story)

1970: A Non-combatant in The Sexual Revolution

I handed the magazine back to Wayne, then sat for a minute trying to gather my composure. I’d heard about Penthouse but hadn’t actually seen a copy until that morning on the bus. Playboy was one thing, but this new book was overwhelming; not only were the photos a bit more “European”1, a letters section titled “The Forum” described activities that I’d never heard of and probably transgressed criminal law as well as the law of gravity on occasion. To be honest I was feeling more queasy than turned-on and at that point tried to cleanse my visual palette with another recent literary discovery, National Lampoon.

A freshman sitting on the seat ahead of me clicked on a smuggled transistor radio which hissed out at low volume the 1968 party anthem “Bottle of Wine” by The Fireballs. Nothing could illustrate the change society was lumbering through than that song and the group that sang it. Five years earlier they had taken Billboard’s #1 spot with a very innocuous bouncy tune titled “Sugar Shack” which told the traditional boy-meets-girl/falls-in-love/marries-her story. In the midst of the sexual revolution seven years later things had changed. Really changed. Playboy was telling us that rather than holding out for marriage the girl next door wanted to be naughty.  Penthouse was telling us the girl next door wanted to be nasty.

… which other than providing eye-candy did me no good. Granted, from birth I had been a fifty-year-old man in a kid’s body, but I was subject to the same leaping libido that every other teenager had to deal with, and it didn’t help that in the midst of all these changes I lacked any kind of guidance. My parents gave the traditional “birds and the bees” talk a clean miss and the church wasn’t much better. Those lessons always got shoved to the back of the schedule and eventually forgotten. Leaders in the congregation were just as vague, limiting inquires to “Well, Dave, how are your morals?” Again, literal thinker that I was, I figured they were asking about my morale, so I’d respond, “Well, I’m feeling pretty positive about life, so I guess I’m OK”.

It was against this setting that I was faced with one of high school’s milestones – The Prom. I’d endured two and half years of lurid tales about activities during and more importantly after the prom, but for the moment the issue  was not “what to do” but “who to take”. For guys with on-going relationships, getting a prom date was a slam-dunk, but for unattached guys it was arduous task. This was supposed to be one of the major events of high school experience, a rite of passage to be shared with someone special, but at the time there was no one special in my life. Generally speaking my prospects weren’t bad – I wasn’t a nerd-boy outcast but I also wasn’t a sit-at-the-cool-table Big Man On Campus. I had plenty of friends who were girls, but none likely to make the flip from friend-is-a-girl to girlfriend – but as  fate would have it an answer fell into my lap – or rather, it bumped into me when I ran into Bachelorette 12 (hereafter referred to as B1) in the hallway one day. Conversation was not her strong suit and we hadn’t talked much since the Earth Science class we shared during our freshman year but somehow a game of verbal badminton started up as we lobbed the obligatory small-talk questions back and forth:

  • I asked her how school was going.
  • She asked me if I liked being a teacher’s aide in PE.
  • She said she liked my sideburns.
  • I weakly joked that I liked hers3 .

…then I heard a voice asking her if she wanted to go to the prom. I looked around wildly for the guy trying to cut in, then realized it had been my voice doing the asking. I was equally bewildered when she quietly said “yes”, and we suddenly became a semi-couple planning our big night at the prom.

It was also when I started getting a lot of “wink-wink-nudge-nudge-say-no-more” comments from friends, acquaintances, my charges in physical education, and even guys I normally never talked to. Did I mention that B1 was drop-dead gorgeous? She was like a scaled-up Barbie Doll with elfin features, cascading waist-long brown hair and a Coke bottle figure…and usually clad in skirts short enough to have been made in a belt factory. One buddy observed that she was so perfect “she should have “Mattel” stamped on her a** ” then laughed that I’d know if that was the case soon enough.

Sex. The topic that would just not die. I’d spent a lot of time in the boy’s locker room where a lot of talking had gone on. According to the other guys, KCHS was a hotbed of illicit sex, with most of the female students following the lead of the ladies gracing the magazine I’d been reading when the story opened, but there seemed to be little in the way of consequences. Birth control pills had only been in common use for about five years, and in those pre-AIDS days only truck drivers and sailors would admit to carrying condoms. Math was not my strongest subject but even when you factored in that one week out of the month that the young ladies were hors-de-combat it still seemed like KCHS should be awash in out-of-wedlock infants – to the point of requiring a day-care wing off of the cafeteria4.

All that receded into the background as preparations for the big night were being made: coordinating clothes, ordering a corsage, making dinner reservations and double-checking transportation. Finally Prom-day arrived and as was the case with all big events there were both good and not-so-good developments:

The good:

  • Instead of the rattletrap station wagon I would be using the good car.
  • Dad was going to fill the gas-tank for me.
  • My tax refund had arrived so money wouldn’t be a problem.
  • No zits!

The not-so-good:

  • I had a 12:00 midnight curfew.
  • Mom and Dad wanted to meet B1 and take pictures.
  • I’d finally figured out how far away B1 lived and how long I’d be driving that night.

At one fell swoop prom was transformed from a bacchanalian love fest to a road rally of grueling proportions. By the time I drove to pick her up, drove back home for pictures, drove to the Royal Redoubt in Kenai for dinner, drove to the school for the dance, drove her home, and then got back to my home (by curfew) I’d be putting over 150 miles on the odometer that night. I would be spending so much time behind the wheel that there’d be little time for any hanky panky…which had me thinking that my folks were not as clueless about the birds and the bees as they had seemed earlier.

The first leg of my trip went well enough as I drove to pick up flowers and then on to B1’s home. I was pleasantly surprised to see her clad head to toe in pink satin with her wavy brown hair held back in ringlets by a tiara. With her clothes, my fairly new suit, and flowers for both of us, we got some nice pictures after which we sped to the Royal Redoubt for dinner, then on to the school for the dance. As we walked in I was astounded how much a little crepe paper and colored lights could transform a cafeteria into a tropical island paradise, but then some evil person cued up “Crystal Blue Persuasion” on the sound system and my suppressed vomit reflex brought me back to reality.

Without further ado we went out on the floor and started to dance…while I may not have been much of an athlete at the time, my inner Celt definitely knew how to cut a rug. The cut of B1’s formal limited us to mostly slow songs and while I am not a “bear-hug” slow dancer I do snuggle up a bit, which in this case nearly caused an injury when her petite size put the spines of her tiara right at eye-level for me.

…then it all seemed to be over much too quickly, and it was time to go home. I stayed calm until we got into the car, at which point I started into my repertoire of obscure historical puns which meant I was extremely nervous. It was bad enough that delivering B1 to her house then getting home by curfew would require time travel, but I also had to contend with B1 herself sitting next to me and basically being stunning. The smell of her perfume, the rustle of satin and whissst as she adjusted her wrap – hell, even that damn tiara all conspired with her innate foxiness to turn my knees into rubber and made me oh-so- thankful I wasn’t driving a standard transmission that night.

Then as we pulled out on the highway and headed south she snuggled up against me kind of under my right arm. As we quietly talked about the dance she leaned her head on my shoulder (requiring yet another tiara dodge) and I could feel her breath on my neck all of which had my inner monologue cycling through, “What do I want? What does she want? WHAT DO I DO” ,when she abruptly  nodded to a road5 leading off the highway to the left and said “Hmm? I wonder where that goes to?”

BINGO!

By this time it was dark, and as I turned to B1 and strained to make out her expression in the dim light of the instrument panel I saw what seemed to be a beckoning smile, so I leaned in to kiss her…right on the bridge of her nose. I sat back, looked at the make-up smudge on my lapel then up at the wistful look in her face. She leaned in against my shoulder, reached up for my wide-as-a-glider lapel and simply said, “Oh Dave” in a way that made me know that for me those letters to Penthouse would continue to be fiction…and I was relieved. We talked for a while until a reference to the magazine slipped out, a slip that I feared would destroy the mood until B1 wrinkled her nose and said, “Tell me about it – my sisters are always shoving Cosmo6 in my face!”

We shared a quip or two on the subject as I pulled out of the subdivision and took her home, and I thought about it as I covered that last stretch to the ranch. By its very nature the whole boy/girl sex issue was perplexing, especially with all the social changes that had come about in the past five or six years but relying on the magazine’s “philosophy” would just confuse the issue even more.

Through it all I learned that:

  1. The development of any relationship can’t be rushed.
  2. Most stories are just that…stories.
  3. My best reality check ever is the thought of missing B1’s lips and kissing her nose.

 

__________________________________________________________________________________

Notes:

  1. Un-airbrushed photos taken “south of the equator” which at first glimpse destroyed my friend Mark’s dream of someday becoming a “lady’s (bleep) barber”.
  2. Bachelorette 1 introduced in 1971…and then Dave discovered girls.
  3. Wispy little locks of hair from roughly her temples to just short of her earrings. I loved them then and I still do now – check my sketch book and you’ll find them on every girl in the book.
  4. It was like the stories guys told about fighting – every guy that admitted to fighting also swore “he’d never started a fight but he’d never lost one.” Again, simple math meant (given our fairly small student body) if all these guys were winning all the time there must be one or two bandaged, scarred and toothless wretched young men who habitually lost to everyone else in the school.
  5. See 1969: Sisyphus and Light Tactical Vehicles. It was the road into the same subdivision Jim, and I pushed his jeep all over in.
  6. Cosmopolitan – a magazine wherein Helen Gurley Brown advocated an outlook for women that was basically a mirror-image to Hugh Hefner’s philosophy for men.