1966: Billy and the Bear

Some people have a “Throw-back Thursday”; I have “Run-it-again Saturday”

David R. Deitrick, Designer

It is the nature of most frontiers to have boom-or-bust economies. Alaska is no different than any other frontier, but in some ways that boom-or bust mentality has permeated throughout the whole population in both mind and heart. It brings to mind a bumper sticker I saw on a car in the late 80s when the state was still reeling from a devastating downturn caused by OPEC’s reduction of the price of oil: “Lord, please give us another boom. I promise not to p*ss this one away too.”  I kind of doubt the driver followed through on that oath; as I said that all –or-nothing mindset is totally ingrained in the Alaskan psyche. Private industry investment, purchasing new vehicles, individuals’ spending money –there was rarely any in between. One night you’re sleeping on satin sheets and the next night you’re sacking out on steam grates.

With the Boy Scouts…

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Stumble Fairy

2018-05-02 Stumble Fairy

…actually I did consider naming her “Stumblina” but the concept is already a few degrees to the side of the core Informal Fairy concept:  impish little ladies garbed in formal attire causing mayhem. With this young lady it was easier to see her doing the stumbling than try to portray her with implements she could use to cause a regular person to trip and fall.

A unforeseen time crunch kept me from finishing this drawing to the same degree as the Vision Fairy but I think the marker work establishes volume well enough.

I think I am going to have all the Informal Fairies in white gowns to be watching for a revised Vision Fairy

2018: Trip to the Eye Doctor

At my age any kind of doctor’s appointment can bring on anxiety. Everyone is so serious and concerned that I can’t help but think that maybe there is a pull-date stamped on my fourth-point-of-contact or that I shouldn’t be buying green bananas. However, as I was going to see the eye-doctor I didn’t imagine there to be too much stress involvedbut because my last visit had been in 2008 this session was going to be a little more involved than usual.

First:   They’d remodeled /reorganized the place, a fact I found out when I ended up in a supply closet while trying to find the restroom.  The second thing I noticed? Other than the doctor the entire staff was female, blonde and had an “eee” name (as in Kristie, Melanie, Lacey etc.). They were all very professional and courteous, but it was a bit unnerving to be surrounded by a small army of petite tow-headed cheerleaders.

As it had been a while since I’ve had my eyes checked I had to go through a whole battery of semi-exotic tests – some of which I’d never had and some I’d never even heard of. The little blond “eee’s”  would patiently explain the name of the test and what it was supposed to detect/measure but unfortunately when you factor the “geezer element” into the equation it became one of those “in-one-ear-out-the-other” type of situations.

As best as I can remember the tests included:

1)    Looking through an aperture at a circular glowing grid that would turn red, blue or green depending on how I lined my eye up. When the grid turned green there was an incredibly bright flash. A Jimi Hendrix soundtrack would have been most appropriate.

2)    Looking into another aperture at a tiny laser-like red dot while a very faint white circle would periodically appear just below. I was to press a button every time the light came on but as the test progressed the circles got more and more faint. At one point I thought the lights had stopped but then a very faint green circle reappeared, so I started pressing the button at what I thought were the correct intervals.

3)    After they took away the button-remote from that last test they had me look into yet another aperture while they flashed a really,  REALLY bright light, so they could take a photograph of the inside of my eye. As I would be driving myself home I’d earlier declined getting my eyes dilated but after than photo flash I had just as much trouble driving as I would have had they used the drops.

4)    The >PfftT< test – a puff of air shot at my eye to detect for glaucoma, which came close to triggering the same response I’d have to a drink thrown in my face…but I managed a smile instead.

With all those tests I was sure some sort of terrible malady was lurking behind my retinas, but it turned out I am doing pretty good for an old guy2 –  no major defects, no “conditions” waiting to pounce. I’m a little nearsighted but inasmuch as there are only three situations3 when I need help with my vision they recommended single-vision (least expensive) lenses which took only three days to make.

I could do with more doctor’s visits like that.

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Notes:

  1. ….until I started to obsess about glaucoma, cataracts, detached retinas and tropical parasites living inside my eyeball.
  2.   I toyed with this vague idea for an eye-pushup joke and Patti McGuire’s Miss November 1976 Playmate fold-out, but it just didn’t work out.
  3. To be precise:  Watching movies, driving and shooting at the firing range

 

 

1969: “Party Hearty…hardly”

One of the first things you learn when starting a running program is this:  The best runners don’t compete with other people – they compete with themselves. Rather than trying to best another person, they try to beat their own time. It’s a good idea in general to set personal standards to measure success. I’ve applied the concept several times in my life, but the most useful personal benchmark has to do with “getting in trouble” and by that I don’t mean life-altering hardship, setbacks or personal challenges – “trouble” as in “Awwwmmmm – you’re in trouble. Mrs. Blinzler wants to see you after recess.”1

In early 1969 I helped organize a party that got me into so much trouble I’ve used it as a gauge for the rest of my life. How did it come about? The same way normally rational people get in unforeseen trouble: Life became too comfortable. Whether you’re reading academic records, scriptural accounts or even bardic oral tradition, one lesson humanity has had to learn over and over is that any time life gets too comfortable we get into mischief. Such self-inflicted shots in the foot can take many forms, but in my case my it wasn’t a golden calf, it my part in planning a beer bust at Jim Kluting’s house on the last night of February 1969.

As I have written elsewhere, my sophomore year in high school was much better than my freshman year and in some ways it was the most enjoyable of my entire high school experience. I was doing well in my studies, I was part of a tight circle of friends and involved in an after-hours judo program. There was a happy balance in my life – for example while it looked like Star Trek was going to be cancelled in the spring, the Beatles graced us with the White Album just after Christmas.

It was also just after the Christmas break2 we started planning a party. Looking around It seemed like everyone in the school was going out on weekends and getting tanked/smashed/blitzed/blotto/feeling no pain while we just shared Playboy party jokes at lunch time. Even I could see we were missing out on something, so we arranged our own “event” for the last Saturday in February – which took some careful coordination as our average age was fifteen and only a couple guys could drive. Through a bit of low-grade subterfuge and careful planning we ended up with three different sleepovers scheduled for the weekend; the sleepovers serving as marshalling areas for the party supplies which we would then amass at Jim Kluting’s house for the event.

My base of operations would be Spike’s house where  we made liberal use of his father’s liquor cabinet in our preparation, carefully stowing the bottles in my old seventh grade book bag. Our friend Louie had somehow convinced his dad to drive him (and his beer) to the party but the white-hot rumor of all rumors involved the Holland sisters who were reportedly coming with beer of their own as well.

The weekend finally arrived, and the various teams started their preparations. I was a little concerned – Spike and I had jumped the gun by knocking back a beer apiece, but most of mine ended up on my coat and the alcohol that did make it into my system was apparently having no effect. I was beginning to wonder if the party was going to be as “off the hook” as we had hoped.

I started into an emotional yo-yo:

  • YO-YO UP: We got out of Spike’s house with the alcohol undetected.
  • YO-YO DOWN: At the last-minute Louie’s dad backed out on giving him beer.
  • YO-YO UP: The Holland sisters showed up for the party.
  • YO-YO DOWN: They weren’t able sneak any of their dad’s beer out of the house.

Undeterred and primed for a raucous, wild night of hedonistic depravity we showed up at the appointed hour at Jim’s door, which I proceeded to pound on wildly with my fist.

Quiet.

“Did we get the date wrong?”

The door opened to a scene of sedate activity. Jim and a half-dozen early arrivals were sitting at card tables playing various games. Jim’s mom had some Jiffy-Pop on the stove and the tables were laden with such exotic and forbidden beverages as Shasta Orange Soda, Seven-up and for those with even more sophisticated taste there was Coca-Cola. Once again, my literal sense of perception had blinded me to the fact that most of the talk about the “off-the-hook” party had been just that: talk  and that only a few of us really did come prepared for a blow-out.

Spike and I were shortly joined by a few other true believers and our party-within-a-party retired out to the driveway to salvage the night. I ended up with one of the Holland sisters in Greg Matranga’s El Camino where nothing more noteworthy than a little snuggling went on. Oh, we did have a Mason jar full of a screwdriverish mix of Shasta Orange Cola and vodka but drinking it made my lip curl and I gave up when more of the hideous concoction ended up on my coat than down my gullet. I went back in the house, apologized to Jim and his mom, and then Spike and I caught a ride back to his house, a little embarrassed but glad everything had been tied up nicely by the end of the evening.

It was early the next week that I found out I was mistaken when I encountered one of the greatest dangers of the Last Frontier; something infinitely more dangerous than bears, wolves, moose, earthquakes, avalanches, ravenous clouds of mosquitos or plane crashes.

A threat to life and limb that made all of these perils fade next to nothing.

An angry mom with high standards for her kids.

Evidently the Holland sister I had been cuddled up had spilled a single drop of our pseudo-screwdriver on her polka-dot slacks – which was enough to wake her mom up from a sound sleep in the master bedroom on the other side of their home. After grilling her daughters most of the night for information, she started tracking down other party participants to their homes, met with parents and started a cascade of parental discipline that had a significant percentage of the sophomore class grounded within 48 hours of the party.

For some reason she didn’t get my name, but Spike’s mom did call my folks and warn them that a crazy lady from North Kenai had started a witch-hunt. As soon as the call was over Mom and Dad started grilling me about the weekend, but I managed to avoid any real punishment by deflecting my parent’s inquiries in a masterpiece of verbal legerdemain:3

  • “Mom, where would I get money to buy beer?”
  • “Who would buy it for me?”
  • “Do you really think I would do something like that?”

For the next two weeks Spike and I lived like escaped POWs trying to blend in with the general German population while Mrs. Holland kept up the witch-hunt for other party-goers. I was so spooked at the prospect of Serious Trouble my stomach was constantly upset but eventually life settled back down to normal and I no longer jumped whenever our phone unexpectedly rang in the evening.

I laid low and rode out the clock, spending two weeks holed up in my room entranced by the White Album, then losing six weeks when I fell in then out of love4.  By that time the academic year was coming to a close; final exams and starting a new job with the Neighborhood Youth Corps absorbed all my spare time and thought, but it was our big pointedly non-alcoholic group date/end of school party that painted over the February debacle for good.

In my best neurotic fashion, I over-analyzed the issue in my mind several times over the summer break and came up with the following conclusions:

  • Alcohol was definitely not my friend. The drunken pleasure or “buzz” that classmates were always talking about just didn’t happen for me.
  • Nothing in life was pleasant enough for me to deal with that much trouble again.

Two Years Later

Debbie and I were cuddled up on the bleachers at a wrestling match, the action on the mat taking second place to the simple pleasure of each other’s company. We were also having a good time with other friends sitting in the general area, one of them being the younger of the two Holland sisters who had been at Jim’s party. Pam was now a varsity cheerleader and we were laughing and responding to her routine, and in general having a good time.  During a break she came over to talk but as she ran back out she waved to a middle-aged woman sitting just to the side and said, “Love you Mom!”

URK!

I was sitting within slapping range of the Witch Hunter from 1969!  My distress must have shown because Debbie started asking if I was feeling OK and when my Dad unexpectedly showed up (he didn’t know about Debbie5) I didn’t blink an eye. That familiar yet unwelcome churning in my stomach started up again and I began mentally calculating how quickly I could get to the exit, but then there was another break in the action and Pam showed up at the side of the bleachers.

Again, my distress must have been very obvious because she leaned over and whispered, “Don’t worry, she forgot about the party a long time ago”. All the tension left my body and I settled back down on the bleachers in relief – and thankful that my resolution to stay out of trouble had also kept me out of Mrs. Holland’s radar long enough for the trouble to go away.

…. now I just had to figure out what to tell my Dad about Debbie.

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  1. Why do little kids all instinctly say “Ahhhmmm – you’re in trouble” Why that particular phoneme? Why don’t they say “Ah-oogah – you’re in trouble”?
  2. Most of the dumber stunts I’ve witnessed in myself and friends happened deep in the winter. I think the lack of sunlight has something to do with it. The lack of daylight is supposed to bring on SAD (Seasonal Adjustive Disorder) but I’ve also though it was more accurately expressed as Seasonal Adjustive Dumba**)
  3. It was only later that I realized I probably hadn’t been as clever as I figured. Dad was standing a step behind Mom as they were grilling me, and she couldn’t see him roll his eyes at that last response.
  4. See blog post 1969: With a Little Luck (to be published).
  5. See blog post 1971: …then Dave discovered girls.

The Car-key Fairy

FinishedKeyFairy

Sometime after putting together the Myrmaids concept I came up with a second line of figures called (In)Formal Fairies, a mish-mash reimagining of the traditional gremlin concept but based on female fairies dressed in formal gowns rather than ugly critters that you can’t feed or get wet. I wasn’t able to put nearly as much time and energy into this second concept, so production of the concept paintings ended up spread over several years.

Long story short:  quality is very inconsistent so I’m going back to the drawing board for a new set of images on which to base my copyright application.

However…

I produced sculpts for two of the fairies that have held up well. Occasionally I will sell a casting, but I haven’t sold very many because:

  1. A) I’d like to get the entire set of images finished and under registered copyright first
  2. B) I have to put a pretty hefty price tag on them – there’s a LOT of clean-up work required after casting, not to mention the time involved in quality painting.

Now, do you ever wonder where those car keys went? The ones that you just had in your pocket yesterday? Well, look no further than the young lady imp pictured today. Done up in a shimmering formal gown complete with cocktail gloves, she is getting ready to drop the aforementioned get of keys down a heating vent, where you’ll never, ever  think to look for them…

1970: A Different Kind of Wax Job

It’s kind of creepy the way I keep hearing my dad’s voice. It’s like an episode from The Night Gallery: I’ll be walking along minding my own business when I heard the spectral voice of my long-dead father:

“I can’t believe people will pay that much for a Hershey Bar!”

 Oh, did I mention that this always happens when I am standing in front of the candy rack in the check-out aisle at the grocery store – and that my dad’s comments are coming from my mouth? I am just as bewildered at a Hershey Bar selling for more than fifty cents as Dad was at one that sold for more than a nickel. Inflation is a constant part of life, with the only variable being the relative amounts we’re complaining about.

…but I do remember when $20.00 was enough money to keep a teen-aged boy in comics, records and the occasional date over a two week period – which was very convenient because that’s what I made with my part-time job in the fall of 1970. Every two weeks Donny (now just “Don”) and I would sweep, mop and wax the floors to the Big K supermarket for twenty bucks.

I’d worked at Big K as a bagboy/stocker two year earlier, but Don was currently employed there part time and I imagine that combined experience at the store gave the owner Kearlee confidence to let us work unsupervised every other Sunday evening. I’d show up at 6:00 PM (Don would already be there having just finished his regular shift) and we went to work just as soon as the regular crew locked up and left. I was surprised at that trust when I started the job and to be honest at first we both periodically checked the front door expecting to see Kearlee or his mother Madge peering through the glass to check on us.

…but again, they trusted us to do a good job – and we did our best to do so. We’d start by lifting all the separate bins, boxes and racks up on top of various counter-tops and platforms scattered around the store. Once the floor was cleared we’d sweep then mop the place after which we’d take a short break and have a snack while the floors dried. Part of the compensation package had been the consumption of one (1) candy bar and one (1) can of soda but as the weeks went by we began to interpret that particular term of our oral contract. I don’t think I would have ever tried YooHoo chocolate beverage or those tiny pickled ears of corn had I not grown tired of all that Seven-Up and Snickers I knocked down while waiting for those floors to dry

As it took between fifteen and twenty minutes for the floor to dry we each had to pick a suitable perch to spend that interval; Don would sit on the check-out counter listening to football scores on the radio, but my favorite spot was over by the periodicals where I would look through the comics and paperbacks. I would also take the opportunity to educate myself on current trends in men’s fashion, European automotive trends and sophisticated humor by “reading just the articles” in one particular large glossy magazine, the one with the cover we’d scan for

  • a hidden bunny logo
  • the number of stars in the “P”

Then it was time to wax – and if you’re ever looking for a good forearm workout I would suggest waxing a floor. It’s hard enough putting the wax down (a process more like scrubbing than mopping) but running a buffer entailed more wishing than actually controlling. I’ve had more luck getting another man’s dog to fetch for me than I have getting a power buffer to go where I want it to go. There’s a definite art to running a buffer; if you conscientiously tilt the handle up and down while varying speed you can use the circular motion of the brush to move the device either left or right with a minimum of effort.

…at least that’s what the book says, because I never mastered that particular art. Along the baseboards of each aisle you could find bump and scuff marks left as the buffer repeatedly outsmarted me and slammed left and right much harder than desired.  I always made sure I had an applicator bottle of liquid black shoe polish handy, so I could conceal the worst skids.

Waiting after the wax application took even longer than the post-mopping delay – in fact we spent more time on the job waiting than we did actually working. Unfortunately, the old proverb about “idle hands” and “mischief” proved to be all too true. I don’t know if it was fumes from the wax or just being awake too late at night – that second waiting period was when we were most likely to get into trouble.

Every week we’d try to think up of something new, but the post-wax follies usually fell into one of three categories:

  1. Midnight tag: turning all the lights out then trying to get the drop on each other while sneaking up and down the aisles
  2. Pranks calls: We’d dial the 262 Soldotna prefix then dial the second of four numbers at random. Even though jokes were pretty tame (do you have Prince Albert in a can?) it was still a safer activity back in those pre-caller ID times.
  3. Racing: Getting the shopping carts rolling down the aisles as fast as possible, sometimes while standing/leaning like a dog musher over the handrail but often sitting in the basket itself using a broom to push off.

Category 3 almost proved to be our undoing – by early October racing each other in the carts had gotten kind of stale, so in the spirit of all teen-age boys everywhere we went looking for something larger and faster, which in our case was the dolly used to move cases of canned goods  around the store, It was a thick platform mounted on heavy-duty solid rubber wheels with an upright fixed handle at one end. It measured about six feet long by three feet wide…and it was heavy. Between the weight of the dolly and the ball-bearing wheel mounts it moved very easily; if you pushed it with a running start and hopped on you could also get it going pretty fast.

It had been a particularly long night and by the time we were done it was after midnight when we decided to conduct time-trials with the dolly. Don made the first run and was miffed when I beat his time by several seconds, so we decided on a second heat. Again Don went first and made good time but evidently he was not going to leave anything to chance: I started my second run in good order and was looking to beat Don’s time again when he yelled “MADGE IS AT THE DOOR!” and without a second’s hesitation I rolled over the right side of the cart, knocking over a stack of canned goods while the cart careened to the left into a row of shopping carts, knocking them over.

A bit of explanation is in order: Madge was the owner’s mother and part-owner of the store. To say that she was stern and demanding was an understatement; she is the only person ever to boo Captain Bligh in the movie Mutiny on the Bounty, not for being the villain but for not being strict enough with the crew in the first place. She was an iron lady and kind of scary – which is what Don was counting on when he spuriously called out her name, knowing that whatever reaction I had would be strong enough to ruin my chances for beating his time with the dolly.

He hadn’t planned on quite as strong a reaction and now we had a mess on our hands – in addition to stacking the cans back up and pushing the carts back into line we had big black skids from the dolly’s wheels to remove and sticky syrup to clean up from a broken jar we hadn’t noticed at first. We did our best at cleaning the mess up, but it was extremely late, and we were both tuckered out. When we finished putting the cleaning equipment away and locked up we were both very uneasy…and wondering what jobs we could find when we inevitably got fired over this escapade.

Monday was Don’s regular day off so when I showed up at the store after football practice he was just as much in the dark as I was regarding Kearlee’s mood. We shuffled up to the checkout counter where he was working and mumbled something about the floors while doing our best to avoid eye-contact. Kearlee opened the register with a >DING<, handed us each a twenty-dollar bill and said, “Hang around a minute – I want to talk to you two about the floors.”

We stepped over to the side, alone with our thoughts for what turned out to be a very brief moment when Kearlee stepped over as well and started to speak

“I noticed something different about the floors when I came in this morning”

(Communal inward groan).

“Yep – I don’t think I’ve ever seen you two fellers do a better job on these floors. I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do a better job for that matter. Good job the two of you!”

It was at that moment that I learned it was actually possible to get a Charlie horse in your face. I had been so prepared for a verbal blast that think I pulled a cheek muscle changing expressions so quickly. We nodded thanks and quickly left the store, rolling our eyes and mouthing comments to each other, not daring to actually speak for fear of laughing hysterically.

The guardian angel that watched over us that night continued to do so until December when the store closed and moved to a newer and larger location a mile or two down the Spur highway. Unfortunately, my job didn’t move with the store; The change in layout and size required the use of a waxing machine and Kearlee decided to introduce one of his  sons to the business by taking care of the floors. I was OK with that – I would soon be working construction and making a lot more money, but I was always thankful the mopping & waxing job came about when it did. It  kept me in records and dates for most of my senior year – and provided one of the best laughs in my life.

 

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1978: Halloween

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Halloween78

Folks who have grown up with movies featuring  ultra-photo-realistic computer-generated imagery can be rather jaded about it and have a hard time understanding the incredible impact Star Wars had thirty-six years ago. At the time I was  an industrial design student and I was keenly interested in the preproduction work on the vehicles and costumes. That intense interest kept going for quite awhile, to the point that when Halloween 1978 rolled around it seemed only natural that we should base our costumes on something from “a long time ago in a galaxy far away”.

Right off there was good news and there was bad news. The good news was Lori’s outfit was going to be easy, a simple white gown that could be stitched up from an old sheet. Between that and her hair being long enough to work into Princess Leia’s trademark cinnamon bun braids she was set. For…

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“Hello? Hello?”

It doesn’t  matter that all our phone numbers are registered with the National Do-Not-Call center. At least once an hour we get a call from someone who wants to talk to me about:

  • Refinancing my mortgage
  • Changing my credit card
  • My upcoming Medicare selections this spring.

Nothing seems to deter them. They use carefully composed scripts to make it appear as if we have a pre-existing business relationship  – that and the use of several different numbers seems to be ploys to avoid getting reported ,  but I’ve come to believe the registry to be a toothless threat anyway.

Ignoring them doesn’t seem to accomplish much so I’ve devised other tactics:

  • The easiest? Quickly answering and disconnecting the call
  • Repeating “Hello? Hello?” as if the receiver was dead
  • Talking very slowly and asking the caller to spell every word.

Those work well but there are times when a particularly dogged caller will persist through those tactics – and at that point I pull out the big gun: after I listen to their spiel I tell them I’ll continue to listen if they will answer a question of mine first:

” How do you get rid of a lot of blood – and I mean a lot of it soaked into your carpet?  A cow’s worth…or someone something else? Purely hypothetical question and all that of course!

They never call back.

1971: “…until I met my two good amigos…”

Note: As I’ve said many times – I wasn’t a bad kid, but I wasn’t a particularly good kid either. This post is about one of those times that I definitely wasn’t being a good kid.

Saying that my family grew up with music is a major understatement.  If the radio wasn’t playing Mom would be working out her stress by pounding playing the piano, and we all sang or played instruments to varying degrees of success. We also had a good selection of records to listen to, a wide but eclectic library of music ranging from the Sons of the Pioneers to Grieg’s Peer Gynt, My favorite record was a greatest hits album by Jimmy Dean and my favorite song on the LP was titled “Nick O. Teen and Al K. Hall”:

Oh, I never gargled, I never gambled, I never smoked at all

Until I met my two good amigos Nick O. Teen and Al. K. Hall

 Not only did our faith restrict their use, alcohol and tobacco were forbidden topics of   conversation in our home. Even as a small boy I thought that to be odd and even a bit hypocritical as my father’s smoking was an open secret and several members of mom’s extended family fought – and usually lost – a lifetime battle with demon rum. Whenever the subject of alcohol did come up my mother was quick to warn me that if I took even a single sip I would instantly turn into a hopeless alcoholic because of my genetic heritage.

…which of course made it extremely interesting!

I was thirteen when I first tried smoking during a week spent in Anchorage visiting  my best friend from fifth grade Mark. Mom was apprehensive about letting me stay so long, fearing that I would learn bad habits from my buddy… and she was absolutely right. By Tuesday night I was going through Marlboros, Winston’s,  and Camels with the best of them, completely clueless about possible connections between the smoke and lung cancer because I wasn’t really smoking-smoking, I was just puffing – sucking the smoke just inside my cheeks then blowing it back out. When Mark caught on to what I was doing he badgered me into inhaling a full drag, where upon I immediately choked, coughed and barfed. Nothing can cool my interest quicker than vomit so my smoking days ceased right then and there.

Alcohol came along a little later when I was a sophomore; my friend Wayne and I each knocked back a couple of beers one night when I stayed over while his folks were in Anchorage on business.  We acted like we were drunk, but we really weren’t – the alcohol really didn’t do much for me, so I never acquired a taste or motivation to seriously imbibe later on.  About every six months I would have a beer and still get that same lack of effect, but as the end of my senior year approached  I decided to make a serious attempt at getting blitzed, just to see if it was possible.

Graduation was a night of surprises, the first being the lack of hassle from my folks when I told them I was taking off with Bill Powell for the night, ostensibly to be all that better prepared for a  canoe trip down the Kenai River  the next morning. I had a little bit of money gleaned from graduation gifts and as the drinking age in 1971 was eighteen, I had no problem converting a good part of that money into beverages.

Suitably equipped we went out looking for girls, but unfortunately for me  Bill got lucky rather quickly requiring me to ride shotgun with John Gordon for the rest of the night. I would periodically sample my store of beverages as we cruised around until we ended up at a party in someone’s basement several miles south of Soldotna. I was totally stoked – this would be the first major party I’d ever been to, my first out-of-control soiree.

I was underwhelmed. It was crowded, smoky, and the noise was far too loud for my liking.  Between the cranked-up stereo and people yelling I had a hard time chatting up any of the young ladies in attendance and it all got very boring, but then in quick succession someone yelled “FIGHT!” ,  another person yelled “THE COPS ARE COMING” and the basement instantly emptied. I started running to John’s car but had a hard time negotiating the several driveways situated between the party site and the car. Back then the Sterling Highway was raised on a compacted gravel base several feet high to cushion the effect from frost heaves, so driveways would make an angle up to connect with the highway. During my escape that night I had to run up the side of one driveway then down the other, repeating the process as I searched for the car, bewildered because I had no idea there were so many connections along this stretch of the highway.

Earlier in the evening we’d heard a rumor that another party was in full swing in Kenai but it now was close to 2:00 AM and John wanted to go home. As he dropped me off at Bill’s house I saw that Bill’s  car was nowhere in sight, and as I had no idea what he’d told his parents about the evening’s planned activities I quietly crept into an unfinished addition to the house,  curled up under my blazer and slept the best I could.

As soon as Bill showed up the next morning we started preparing the canoe for our river trip, but after an hour of indifferent preparatory work we realized we were both too tired from the night before, blew off the outing and I hitched-hiked home. Mom was slightly suspicious when I slept another 6 hours that afternoon but blessedly said nothing, so I was able to quietly continue recovery from my adventures .

I stayed sprawled on my bunk after I woke up later that afternoon, and thought about how much I had spent, how much I had consumed and what benefits I had derived and made sort of a primitive cost analysis:

The night before I had knocked back:

  • A six-pack of Olympia beer
  • A bottle of apple wine
  • An undetermined amount of Mad-Dog 20/20

…and what did I get out of the experience?

  • I had a hard time walking straight
  • I had to pee really bad

I never got that pleasant buzz that everyone talked about, in fact there wasn’t much of anything that had been pleasant that evening. Maybe my stocky build required more alcohol for effect, but as far as I was concerned drinking just wasn’t worth the money and never had a drop after that. It was not the first time that I encountered something that was neither as good nor as bad as I anticipated beforehand.

Postscript:  About six weeks later my family went to dinner at the J-Bar-B restaurant which was located close to the party site, so I had a chance to check out my escape route during the light of day. There wasn’t a single driveway between the party site and John’s car so something else had been making me bob and weave….

 

1962: Arctic Armor

Mention the Trojan War and most people think of the contoured body armor worn by all the combatants – breastplates, greaves and armbands made to look like the ideal version of human musculature. You look so good in it that you don’t want to take it off – even for a lunch break or a trip to the “loo” – which is exactly why Michael Keaton would routinely “hold it” rather than change out of his body suit of similar construction during the filming of the 1989 version of Batman.

Do a little research and you will find that the people besieging Troy were actually Mycenaeans – predecessors to the Greeks with a much less impressive military wardrobe. Instead of form fitting suits resembling Michael Keaton’s Batman armor, Mycenean technology limited their suits of armor to cylindrical components lashed and riveted together in less-than-totally-functional armor. As they marched to battle they looked more like the Michelin Man than Batman.

I ended up in a similar situation during my first winter in Alaska. None of our family members anticipated weather-related clothing problems – after all we had extensive experience with chilly winter weather after surviving  three entire years in the Little Shasta Valley located on the California/Oregon border. We got at least four or five days of snow a year which often persisted through the night to a second day, so we weren’t exactly rookies when it came to be dressing for warmth.

Indeed, Mom’s expression was the very essence of smug as she showed me a picture of my first Alaskan winter coat as sold through the JC Penny’s catalog.  She was delighted; the listing showed a roomy and well insulated olive-green winter coat complete with vinyl shell and detachable hood, cut long enough for coverage to my knees.  I was not equally entranced – a garment made of polyvinyl plastic might work fine with my Rocky and Bullwinkle Color-forms set but that trendy acrylic wash rendering didn’t fool me for one second – It was one of the most hideous, least functional garments I had ever seen and for some reason I took to calling it simply Ugly Coat.

I should have taken note of the small inset black and white photo of an Oriental boy modeling Ugly Coat in the catalog because it would have given me a better sense of size and cut –  not even the Army would ever give me a garment that fit so poorly in so many places. Rather than reaching my thigh the bottom of the garment barely overlapped the waistband of my trousers. The hood was so small that I had to tie the drawstring under my lip and none of the zippers or openings were lined to keep out the wind…and as I was still sporting the bright red hair of my toddler days donning that plastic monstrosity had me looking like a Spanish olive stuffed with a pimento.

…but lurid color would prove to be Ugly Coat’s smallest drawback – as daily temperatures plunged well past the mild chill we’d experienced in California I found  that in arctic weather vinyl freezes stiff and becomes very difficult to bend – and will eventually crack at bending points.  By Christmas time I looked like a Landsknecht mercenary wearing looted, slashed clothing as I moved about in the snow, my shirt and trousers flapping through the long cracks in the vinyl.

I considered just staying inside all the time but with only a single Mighty Mouse program on Saturday TV, , the only thing close to weekend kid video entertainment was mocking commentary that we made for  the announcers on ABC Wide World of Sports.  It started out as pure sarcasmm , but as I watched over the weekends I slowly developed an interest in winter sports, By Thanksgiving I was eager to master as many events as I could, unaware that Ugly Coat was going to spend the next five months working to keep me from doing just that.

Our family’s “all for one /one for all” motto meant that no one was going to get decent skates anytime soon, so a lack of suitable equipment forced me into a reasonable facsimile of skating through running and sliding on the ice in front of the 11th Avenue/ E Street chapel. If I left the building right as Sunday School ended I could get in ten minutes of faux-skating before we left for home; The smooth leather soles of my Sunday shoes were nice and slippery, and I soon learned that by adjusting my stance and center of gravity I could  stay both vertical and cover a good distance.

Unfortunately, the day came when the temperature took a nose-dive and I had to wear Ugly Coat over my church clothes. The closing “Amen” had barely left our lips as I hit the front door at a dead run, my legs  churning even before I reached the front sidewalk – but as I launched into my slide I discovered something was dreadfully wrong: It was almost impossible for me to move or bend in that frozen vinyl shell.  Any sort of course correction was impossible and within seconds I was in serious trouble, spinning and sliding along towards a frozen berm to one side.

I softly chuckled in relief.  “A nice soft snow bank” I thought to myself, magnanimously accepting second place in Olympic Sidewalk Sliding. I should be so lucky. I hit the berm sliding backwards and the heels of my feet hit the edge of the sidewalk and caused me to do the splits…the Chinese splits. My legs shot out sideways, my kiester hit the icy pavement and I pulled muscles in places that I didn’t know I had muscles…or even places.  My folks took me home immediately and put me in a tub of the hottest water I could stand but neither hot water or liberal applications of Ben-Gay seemed to help. I couldn’t walk properly for the next ten days and to resort to short hops and sideways shuffles to get around the house or classroom.

The three weeks spent hors de combat after the Chinese splits incident cut heavily into the time available for marking winter sports off my list, but my prospects got better when we started sledding after our weekly Cub den meeting.  Bobsledding was another favorite from the ABC Wide World of Sports and while there wasn’t a total hardware matchup a regular runner sled seemed a suitable substitute, especially when I was teamed up with Robby Gray.

Robby  was as thin as I was hefty, but our den chief Calvin had us stacked on the sled in such a way that disparity in weight was put to good use during our downhill run.…which again proved to be false hope from the very first starting push. As we slipped, slid and pirouetted down the track it was obvious that once again I was in first in line for  the “agony of defeat” category. Robby was able to bail out in time but once gain Ugly Coat proved my undoing. A strategically placed crack in the vinyl snagged on a corner of the wooden seat just long enough to ensure that my full weight was behind my right foot as it hit the fence post at the bottom of the run.

From that moment on I made my discomfort very verbally apparent but after three days of percussive counseling Mom relented and took me to the emergency room where she was horrified to discover her diagnosis had been incorrect. I really WAS hurt, despite her curt sniff to the charge nurse that I was making a mountain out of a molehill.  Initial inspection revealed that the “little baby bruise” was in fact one or more broken bones in the flat of my right foot. After a subsequent inspection by the doctor an Air Force medic slapped a plaster cast on my leg to support a considerable injury consisting of three broken metatarsals, during which my mother cuddled me in her lap and whispered sweet little maternal wishes of reassurance in my ear. (1)

As we drove home all I could think about was the upcoming four weeks that I would be spending in a cast, watching the hours of sunlight lengthen while the snow steadily melted. It seemed like my luck had run out when the day before my cast was to be removed an article in the Anchorage Daily Times announced that the Lake Hood skating area had melted past the point of safety.

I was undeterred and remained sure that I could mark “ice skating” off my list with just a few more sessions on the family rink3 Use of the word “rink” was charity of my part; what we had was in fact three large uneven blogs of ice blobbed together, the whole thing looking like a giant frozen amoeba. The idea that people would groom, and smooth ice never occurred to me (2) just as I had never thought to flatten and level the ground underneath the ice – I just found a part of the lawn that was closest to being level and started to haul buckets of water one evening. It was used only on nights we couldn’t get to Lake Hood and now looked to serve as a last-ditch substitute since the weather was getting warmer.…in fact the undulating surface of the rink added an element of novelty; any one could skate on level ice but only a real sportsman could negotiate our bumps and swerves – at least that’s what I was telling myself on that last night of the 1962-63 winter sports season.

…but to be totally honest melting ice wasn’t the only reason I liked to skate on the family rink. In my ignorance I had committed the most heinous of sins when getting my first pair of skates – instead of getting those bastions of testosterone-laden footwear otherwise known as hockey skates I’d picked up a pair of figure skates.

…. otherwise known as “girl skates”

The simple act of owning them was bad enough, but possession also capped off the preexisting charge of insufficient fourth-grader misogynism brought about by my excessive number of sisters and a fleeting romance earlier that winter(3). A confined and bumpy skating area was a small price to pay for protection from such withering retorts as “TWO-LITTLE-LOVEBIRDS-SITTING-IN-THE-TREE / K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”. Lacking those crude distractions, I could slowly circumnavigate the small splotch of ice, the chill tweaking my nose, the Northern Lights presenting a light show and-

KA-SNICK!

 THUD!

“OWWWWWW!”

I’d been so caught up in the beauty of the night sky that I had failed to keep a proper look-out and hit one of the mid-rink ridges at an awkward angle. I tried to retain my balance, but Ugly Coat’s stiff frozen polyvinyl chloride carapace prevented any attempt at a wind milling recovery and down I went to fall flat on my behind on the ice.

I should be so lucky.

Instead of a flat fall one of my legs had buckled and folded underneath me, the sharp trailing end of the skate blade on that leg passing through the only break in that area of Ugly Coat’s vinyl shell. Lloyd Bridges on Sea Hunt couldn’t have skewered a shark with a spear gun any better than that skate blade pierced my “cheek” that night.

Memories of my transit indoors from the rink are fuzzy but one thing I am sure of: that coat was gone. I must have ditched it in the garbage barrel on the way in and until the weather got warmer I relied on sweaters and long underwear and played indoors as much as possible.

I was also very involved in the purchasing process of my winter coat the following year. It was made of thick but pliable-under-all-temperatures cotton, had a looser fit but thicker insulation and truly did reach down to mid-thigh. The hood was an interesting design – it normally lay like a short cap across my shoulders and upper back, but the zipper ran from my neck to the apex of the hood, turning into something resembling an elongated point on medieval serf’s hood. It gave a slight “pixie” vibe to the garment but I didn’t care.

It might be 100% total dweeb wear, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t out to get me.

 

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  1. “…if you ever tell anyone I HAD YOU walking on a fractured foot for three days I WILL KILL YOU!”  …did I mention she was very proud of her status as a registered nurse (vs LPN) with a four-year degree from a WW2 Army cadet program?

2. I thought “Zamboni” referred to a recipe for Italian veal.

3.  See 1963: A Question of Cooties

 

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