1966: Super-Ball

(You’d never guess by the size of my waistline but I fight a daily losing battle with perfectionism. I like to go back and edit/improve/tweak old posts, like this one first posted a little over four years ago.)

David R. Deitrick, Designer

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One unique aspect about growing up in Alaska was the sense of cultural disconnection we had to deal with – a disconnection that was even wider because we didn’t know it was there. I spent my young adulthood thinking that my youth and adolescence were just like everyone else’s – just colder and darker. There were in fact large communication and social gaps that made life on the Last Frontier more like life on another planet. For example, there were no same-day network news programs on television until I was a senior in high school and even then they weren’t simultaneous broadcasts. The early evening news was videotaped in Seattle then put on an airliner to Anchorage, where it was broadcast after 10 at night. It made watching the Super Bowl problematic; the game was broadcast live on radio so you were faced with either knowing the score beforehand as…

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1972: Transition From Black & White

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

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

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

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

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

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

AH-OOGAH!

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

Then something completely unexpected happened.

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

“No problem” said the brushee.

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

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

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

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

 “Kick his a**!”

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

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

 …which completely shut me up.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

1971: “…then Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls.”

It was Brother Lombard’s favorite quip:

 “Yeah – it was all Batman and Star Trek until Dave turned sixteen and discovered girls

It may have been funny to some members of our congregation upon first telling, but after being retold several hundred times over the next two years it lost whatever wit it once had. I do have to admit that he did get one thing right with the pop culture reference – life as a teenager in   Alaska wasn’t just The Wonder Years with snow and moose; battling isolation and a hostile environment six months out of each year left a kid with a lot of time to kill and it was easy to murder the hours and minutes sitting in front of the tube.

Truth be told, I was very aware of girls all along and at an age younger than most of my peers. It was proficiency in “hustling” that I lacked:  introducing myself to young ladies, chatting them up, securing phone numbers and making dates –  basically becoming Tarzan in a letterman’s jacket. My approach was much more low-key in that I was polite to parents, well-mannered out in public and witty enough to keep a smile on the face of any young lady I kept company with. Maybe it was because I was one of those kids born “middle-aged” and for the previous 17 ½ years I had been the only adult in a bi-polar family of seven, acting as the peacemaker and keeping long-term consequences in sight when everyone else was angry.

You’d think that sense of propriety would go a long way towards building a measure of trust with my parents but unfortunately that didn’t happen. From the very beginning Mom had Puritanical-verging-on-medieval standards when it came to dating and when my older sister left home under clouded circumstances the rules tightened up even more.   While Mom wasn’t as strict with me as she was with my younger sisters it had less to do with any increased trust than the fact that I couldn’t get pregnant – if there’d been a chastity jock strap she would have had me fitted for one on my sixteenth birthday.

 Getting out of the house on a date was like living out an episode of Hogan’s Heroes with me as a prisoner of war and my mom playing the part of Colonel Klink. While there weren’t any tunnels running underneath the homestead I did make a secret passage from my closet to the garage rafters but rarely had to resort to its use –  my escapes hinged on more on quick-thinking than escape & evasion.

The camp house rules for dating or activities with the opposite sex were as follows:

  • Mom had to personally approve each activity in detail at least a week in advance.
  • We were not to date any one person more than two times in a row.
  • A single date had to be followed by two double dates before another single.
  • We weren’t allowed any sort of personal diary.

No debate was allowed on the subject and the penalties for noncompliance were dire, so like any kids I found ways to work around those draconian regulations – I never lied to my parents but I did become quite adept at “editing” what I told them. For example, I’d tell them I was going to a wrestling match while conveniently omitting the fact that A) I was taking my girlfriend and B) the wresting match was in Ninilchik.

Colonel Hogan couldn’t have done it better.

I had a social life – but I paid for it. Subterfuge did not come to me naturally and my technical honesty compounded the “normal” stress any eighteen-year-old encountered while jumping through the hoops that were supposed to be preparing me for a future that could entail either college classes or rice paddies. Instead of becoming part of the path to normal socialization process, dating became a pitfall and an additional source of stress which meant that I didn’t always make good choices. Instead of The Dating Game I was stranded in The Gong Show and the contestants weren’t always a good match.

  • Bachelorette #1 should have had a staple in her navel. She could put any Playboy Playmate to shame: Beautiful, petite yet curvy as a Coke bottle and blessed with long luxurious brown hair cascading down to the small of her back – the kind of girl that you expect to have “Mattel” embossed on her tush.  Sadly, there was no real connection in terms of personality and after three dates of one-way conversations we went our separate ways.
  • Bachelorette #2 was also a knock-out with the added advantage of having been a good friend before we became romantically involved. Unfortunately, she lived fifty miles away and taking her out entailed cover stories that were harder to support when things went wrong. In the end logistics won out over love and we reluctantly reverted to “good friends” status.
  • Bachelorette #3 was a recent move-in and younger-than-usual, both of which aggravated her innate teen-age angst for which she would compensate in unexpected ways. For example, for one big date she wore an oversized wig then spent the evening constantly adjusting it to the exclusion of everything else.  Unwilling to find out what other unconventional grooming changes were in the works I hastily withdrew from the relationship

At that point I was close to giving up.

Not that I had much faith in long-term relationships to begin with as it seemed like people all around me were getting divorced. The idea of a permanent commitment to another person seemed bankrupt and became little more than a point of contention with my locker-neighbor Carey, who was counting down the days to her own nuptials soon after our graduation in May.

It was during one such bicker-fest that I met her locker-mate Debbie, a junior and recent transfer from Oregon. Dark haired and leggy with a Jane Leeves vibe (before there was a Jane Leeves) Debbie had already turned the smart-kid’s mafia a** over teakettle with a razor-sharp intellect and a GPA to match. My interest was piqued but she showed no interest at all – for that matter she wouldn’t even talk to me and Carey refused any aid in the matter at all: “She’s a nice girl Dave and she wants to have a family someday. You don’t ever want to get married so all you’d do is break her heart.”

BAM! Usually it was at least ten minutes before the inevitable shut-down but this time I was shot out of the saddle right away. I slunk off to class, but when I went to my locker the next morning Carey and Debbie were already there taking much longer than usual to stow their lunches and retrieve books. I nodded hello as I started rooting around in my own space, but something clicked when Carey managed to loudly mention the up-coming Valentine’s dance three times during their morning conversation – so I wasn’t totally surprised the next morning when Debbie was at the locker by herself. I immediately looked around for the neon sign flashing “SET-UP/SET-UP/SET-UP”, but no man ever went to his doom happier than I was. After some small talk I politely asked if she would go to the dance with me to which she smiled for the first time and simply said “Yes”.

I couldn’t tell you whether the Valentine’s dance was a success that year – all I know is that we walked in, I turned to ask her to dance and the whole universe changed.  By the end of the evening we were an item, but within days it was apparent that we were the only people pleased by the arrangement.  Her mom didn’t want Debbie in an exclusive relationship with me, the smart kid mafia was incensed that I had poached one of their own and one of my own close friends took a totally random dislike to her – none of which changed the fact that I was totally smitten with this wonderful young lady who inexplicably liked me.

On my part the attraction could have been due to any number of things – she was drop-dead gorgeous, she was extremely (but not insufferably) intelligent, her singing would bring tears to my eyes – and she “got” me.

  • She understood why I drew.
  • She understood why I wrote.
  • She understood why I preferred the Moody Blues over Creedence Clearwater Revival.
  • She understood why I thought Robert Klein was much funnier than Flip Wilson.
  • …and she got all my terrible puns.

It was the first time I could completely drop my guard, be myself and be happy in what should have been a lengthy rewarding relationship. Unfortunately, when you grow up in a bipolar household “happy” doesn’t feel normal. Even though by this point in time my mom’s dating rules minefield had been defused it had been replaced with the objections of family and friends and it seemed like the relationship was doomed. There was no big blow-up but by the time I graduated we were no longer an item and at some warped level I thought that I was happy for getting out cleanly…

It was only later that I discovered how wrong I had been. All my spare time had been taken up with navigating through high school graduation and starting my summer construction job, so it was early June before I got a chance to sit down and look through my yearbook. It was then that I found out that my exit had been far from clean –  between the stereotypical “remember cutting up in (fill in the blank) class” and “don’t ever change” dedications I found a short note written in a perfect cursive:

Dave:

To a real nice guy. I’ll never forget you, ‘cuz ya see, I’m in love with you.

Good luck attorney

Love, Debbie

I can still feel everything about the exact moment I read that inscription:

  • The ache in my back where I was leaning against the side of my bunk
  • The sharp acrid smell that came with wooden walls warmed up by a summer sun
  • David Crosby’s rich tenor woven that of Nash and Young in “Music is Love”
  • The total shock that came with her declaration

It was the first I’d heard the word “love” directed at me since we’d moved to Sterling seven years earlier.

I wish I could say that I immediately ran out, found her and reconciled on the spot but that didn’t happen. It was more like a Harry Chapin song; we did briefly date again later that summer, but I was off to college before any rekindling was possible.  Any subsequent chance of a do-over was obliterated a year later by a prank on the part of a buddy that went bad with craptacular results and finally in the spring of 1974 I learned that she was married.

Why is this an issue with me over forty years later? Part of the interest is fueled by nostalgia. Part of it is just one of the on-going hazards of being blessed/cursed with this laser-sharp, steel trap memory…but part of it is gratitude. Lori laughs when I tell her that she wouldn’t have liked me much had we met when I was eighteen instead of five years later but it’s true. Like my parents I wasn’t so much raised as dragged up and I am not joking when I say that I had a thin exterior layer of “thug” when I was eighteen.

But at the same time….

Call it good luck, a blessing from God or the planets being properly aligned – starting with Debbie and every intervening girlfriend between her and Lori I was completely outclassed by each young lady in question – and I knew it. No matter how cool a pose I may have been putting on inside there was always a nerd-boy spazzing out as in “Hummana-hummana – I CAN’T FREAKING BELIEVE SHE LIKES ME!” so and I would try as best as I could to refine my manners, curtail the fart jokes and generally try to be someone worthy of the girl I was matched up with.

What this means is Debbie was the homeroom teacher in husband school …and for that I will always have a soft spot in my heart for her. I have no idea where she is now though I occasionally check face book and do a Google search. I did get a scare about ten years ago when I found an obituary notice for a “Debbie Witt” but the dates didn’t match up.

I just hope she’s happy and doing well.

GoldGreen600dpi-CC

Redesigned XL5 Jetbike

2017-12-02 Reworked XL5 Jetbike

They’re the first thing you see on an episode of Fireball XL5

“OK Venus?”  “OK Steve”  “Right…let’s go!”

SteveVenusJetbike

Some guys my age like to golf all the time. Other guys work in their gardens. Me – I like to re-design things just for the h*ll of it. I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Fireball XL5, if nothing else but for the fact that it was my favorite show during 5th grade at Woodland Park Elementary in deepest, darkest Spenard…and it was time to give the jetbike a reworking….

Sea Turtle

ColorSeaTurtle600

It took me a moment to do the math.

The other day a student asked me it there had been one single person, place, thing or critter that I had drawn more than any other and it took me a little time to figure it out. Thirty years ago I would have had a very quick answer – soldiers, starships or giant fighting robots – but now things are a little different. I actually do more drawing for demonstrations in class than at my drawing board for money.

…and more often than not I’ll draw a sea turtle, putting it  to double duty as I first draw the image then ink it with brush or pen. I think I did my first sea-turtle demonstration for my very first illustration class during the Spring 1989 semester at Kenai Peninsula College and it’s become a tradition for me over the years since then.

This particular sea turtle will be part of my collection at jimmo.shirts this Christmas.

Digital Drive-by

Does the illustration look familiar? It was one of a half-dozen illustrations I did as covers for the Aliens sourcebooks from Marc Miller’s epic science fiction role-playing game published by Game Designers’ Workshop. I also did covers for the Aslan, K’Kree, Solomani, Droyne and Vargyr volumes, all of which seem to be reproduced in this line of T-shirts.

These totally unlicensed T-shirts I might add.

We’ve moved a half-dozen times in the thirty years since I did this work so I don’t have access to who-agreed-to-what but so far no one of the principals involved in the creation of the work have been contacted/consulted/PAID from Marc Miller on down. I wish I could say that this shocks and surprises me…but it doesn’t. After teaching college  – also for thirty years – I have no illusions about business ethics in some of my students entering the work force.

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

 

[MG1]

1976: “What Gang Did You Run With?

swanson river

The first missionary I ever met made the best observation about the experience that I would ever hear:

  • He couldn’t wait to finish the best two years of his life.
  • He was glad he went on a mission but didn’t know if he’d do it again.
  • Two years goes by a lot faster than you think.

I thought about those comments on the long flight(s) from Boston back home to Alaska and as the hours went by I came up with a couple observations of my own:

  • I had knocked on approximately 100,000 doors during my two years in New England.1
  • Going home from a mission was as scary as going out in the first place.

Any major change will bring on anxiety but it didn’t help that I was leaving the best area and companion of my entire two years of bicycle penance. Many of my missionary peers  considered Fall River (MA) to be one of the toughest to work in but I found the maritime climate pleasant and the extensive Portuguese influence intriguing2. In a similar vein I must have been friends with Elder Phil Haslam in a former life. I couldn’t have picked a better “last” companion – With our similar interests and talents we didn’t tract as much as put on a portable door-to-door comedy act that brought greater success to our labors than a more conservative approach.

My passage home was for the most part uneventful; I did go through a slight moment of disorientation when I was given my formal release3 but all too soon I was crumpled on the bunk in my attic loft bedroom, totally exhausted and jet-lagged but mentally agitated about the next phase in my life. I wanted to achieve my bachelor’s degree and a commission as second lieutenant in the army as soon as I could but I had a formidable obstacle to overcome first:

Swanson River Oil Field.

By the end of the coming week I would be back at work for Chevron USA at the Swanson River Oil Field and I had mixed feelings about doing so. I had worked on the field twice before –as a roustabout for Chevron in 1972 and a general laborer for Northern Oil Operations in 1973. My time there had been a “qualified” success. The first summer I was an adequate worker but I failed to get hired back the following year and was able to get on with Northern Oil scant weeks before my return to school in the fall.4

I hoped that during the intervening years I’d changed for the better –between ROTC and my mission experience I had developed an elevated level of discipline, industry and initiative.  I decided that I was going to apply those lessons when I returned to the oil field and a job that paid extremely well, a job that I wanted to keep coming back to every summer until I finished my studies. My only hesitation was a social concern as most of the people I would be working with had life styles  much more hedonistic than mine. I wondered if there would be mockery or harassment, but given the emotional gauntlet missionaries have to run daily I figured I could handle anything in the locker room.

I needn’t have worried; while TH Auldridge was still the roustabout gang foreman, there had been a 90% turnover among the crew during the preceding three years. There were extensive changes among the production operators, mechanics and other workers on the field as well so it looked like I would be making a fresh start.

TH and his family were also our closest neighbors so I’d hitch rides with him a couple of days each week.  I was hesitant about riding with him to begin with – he had been pretty gruff that first summer on the lease, with an endless litany of corrections about everything from the way I put my paycheck in my pocket to how I addressed other men on the job. It turned out to be a much different situation this time around – he took interest in my mission experiences and plans for the future and in turn shared stories about his service in World War II and his subsequent career in the oil field.  The closest he came that summer to a critical remark was when he told me “a man don’t need to run while he’s working” when I would hustle between the tool truck and work in progress.

I came to see him in a new light as I did other more seasoned men like the head mechanic Ken Slater. My mother and younger sisters belonged to the same Girl Scout troop as Ken’s wife and daughters and I’d spent an evening or two in his home when I was dating a young lady they’d taken under their wing.  That familiarity may have been the reason he was slower to accept my changes as genuine, but that hesitation left the day he stopped by while I was working at the shop located by the field main office.

I was using a steamer to clean some heavily encrusted valves that TH wanted to repurpose for repairs on a washed out line.  As Ken started talking to me I could hear just a trace of a familiar accent in his voice that I hadn’t noticed in years past. I knew that the Slater family  had moved to Alaska from California but there was almost an east coast inflection to the words he spoke. Finally my curiosity got the best of me and I asked him where his home had been – where he’d grown up.

He grew quiet, started to fidget a bit then began; “It’s not something I talk about very often. I grew in a rough environment. There was a lot of poverty, a lot of despair and I wound up running with a gang when I was a teenager.” He continued “I doubt if you’ve ever heard of the place – it’s so far away from here. It’s a town on the southwest coast of Massachusetts called Fall River”.

I replied casually: “So….did you run with the Flint Street Gang or the Tecumseh Street gang?”

It was the classic deer-in-the-headlights look. Ken stood there tongue-tied, his eyes darting left and right then quietly said “What?”

For a millisecond I was torn – do I mess with his head or do I let him off – but respect won out over snarkiness. Instead of laughing I smiled and told him that less than a month earlier I had been in Fall River living on the more peaceful end of one of those streets. He chuckled and said that I was the first person he’d met in twenty years who knew where Fall River was located, not to mention knowing individual street names. We continued to chat for a couple of minutes then he left for the compressor plant and I finished cleaning the gunked-up valve.

I’d driven to work that day and without a passenger or working radio I was alone with my thoughts on the dusty commute home. When I was younger my quick wit had been the only defense in a bipolar household so the street gang response had happened automatically. I’d put Ken in an awkward situation and in earlier years I would have drawn out the moment for maximum amusement, but this time was different – I’d eased Ken’s bewilderment almost immediately. Was it only because of the respect I had for a great mechanic, father, and man of faith?  Was I feeling empathy for his discombobulation after twenty-four months of being on the receiving end of verbal harassment myself?

…or was there a third option? When I got home from New England all I heard at first was how different I looked. True – I had shed 30 pounds since 1973 and I was a better worker, but perhaps the most important difference was something that was not readily visible.

…maybe I had grown up just a little bit


 

1. During August of 1975 I kept track of the number the doors we knocked on in one hour. I multiplied that number times the average number of hours we went tracting each week then multiplied that by the 104 weeks I spent as a missionary… and got approximately 100,000 doors.

2. A local humorist dubbed the Braga Bridge over the Taunton River as the longest in the world because it stretched from Massachusetts to Portugal.

3.As the district president was conducting my release interview I slowly realized that I’d been in that room back when another family had owned the house – it had been my friend Mike’s bedroom. President Lind figured I was just happy to be home but I was trying not to laugh  as I sat there in my suit, white shirt and tie and trying not to think about sitting in that same place in 1971 knocking back beers while listening to “Funk 49” by the James Gang.    Isn’t repentance great?

4. At the time I was told that the summer hire positions were to be given to minority applicants as part of a Federal equal rights quota. To his death bed my father maintained that I was not hired as a form of retaliation against him for his union activities, but when he broached the subject 6 months before I came home he was told that as long as I had improved my driving habits I was welcome back.

An Editorial Note Concerning Names

I learned a long time ago that my razor/laser memory was not someone everybody has – or appreciates. There have been times when old friends & companions have been less than enthused when I visit, particularly those who A) sowed a lot of wild oats when young and B) are now pillars in society. Others have just moved on in life and prefer move on and leave the past behind.

This situation prompted me to adopt the Dragnet model of naming characters i.e. “the names have been changed to protect the innocent”. If you’ve read a post here and recognized yourself written with another name please know that odds are I haven’t forgotten you –  I’m just showing some respect. If you’d rather have your real name used drop me a line and I will make changes.

Douglas SkyShark!

2017-07-02 Douglas SkySharkIt’s pretty obvious that aviation and aircraft rate fairly high on my list of interests (obsessions?). I  like classic aircraft best – mostly 1930’s and early World War 2 “stuff”- but I like some of the odder concepts that came out right after World War 2 when the superpowers were in a  race to see who could be first to put pilfered German technology to practical use.

Of course American designers came up with some interesting concepts on their own. The Skyshark was an attempt by Douglas Aircraft to combine turbine technology with contra-rotating propellers to get a really, really fast naval attack plane  – but unfortunately technology available in the late 1940s was not equal to the task. Once more a beautiful concept was shot down by ugly fact when the gearboxes between the engines and propellers routinely disintegrated into bits of metal during acceleration so the United States Navy wisely went with the A1 Skyraider as the attack plane of choice.

Of course that doesn’t deter me from making whimsical drawings of the plane (in imaginary insignia/markings ) in my sketchbook …