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

·       

 

 

Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

Paper, pencils and dice were the only accessories used in the first roleplaying games I experienced many years ago, so it was a big deal when 25mm miniatures arrived to aid in visualizing game events. Scarcity and a wide range in quality made us loath to retire characters when called to do during play, and one friend dealt with the situation by renaming and reusing his favorite figure. His prize 25mm figure started out as “Beowulf” only to become “Beowulf Junior” after one particularly lethal gaming session only go be reincarnated as “Son of Beowulf Junior” and eventually “Friend of The Son of Beowulf Junior” shortly before I graduated and moved away from that area and gaming.

I’m in a similar situation as we start to ramp up for the second book. The existence of other books with titles that play off the Midnight Sun / Midnight Son pun prompts me to rule out a simple “Midnight Son 2” title for the second book in the series but for now that will be the working title for the second volume in the series which will cover high school from 1968 to 1971. I had originally planned the Kickstarter for that book to happen next month (May 2020) but the uncertainty brought on by the Covid 19/Corona Virus pandemic is requiring an extra measure of flexibility in planning, but I did want to give you all a heads-up, hence this post today.

While Midnight Son 2 covers a short time span it will actually be a longer book, reflecting the added complexity in life brought on as we approach adulthood. Some of that added length will also come about by the inclusion of section headings for each individual year, bringing into context the increased influence of current events in my life – especially during the turbulent times of the late 1960s/70s. What follows is the intro for the first section:

1968

 I turned off the television and just sat for a couple of minutes, my mind still spinning from rapid-fire dialog and chaotic change in scenes. I had just witnessed a fifteen-year-old boy’s dream come true – 58 minutes of social and political satire interspersed with counter-culture graffiti and sexual innuendo. It was Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, and while I initially hated it for replacing the Man from UNCLE it was a perfect introduction to the 1960s, or rather that period from 1968 to 1972 which had all the social characteristics of “The Summer of Love” that comes to mind when most people think of the “The Sixties”. It seemed like we were all witnessing the birth of a new exciting world, but all the same it was an unnerving time to be a teenager.

  •  The TET offensive simultaneously terrified and angered an American public already unhappy with the lack of progress and increasing body count of the Vietnam war in general.
  • Every newscast had a segment on riots somewhere in the Lower 48. Whether sparked by unrest over the Vietnam War or the glacial progress of civil rights, riots seemed to be happening everywhere with collective turbulence culminating in the organized chaos of the 1968 Democratic Convention.
  • Hints of a thaw between the East and the West disappeared when Warsaw Pact tanks rumbled over the Prague Spring movement in Czechoslovakia.
  • It seemed like everyone was getting shot. For a while I’d lived with the assumption that President Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 was enough to shock some collective sense into the nation but then Dr. Martin Luther King was gunned down in April followed by Robert F. Kennedy two months later.

 On the other hand:

  •  Manned Apollo missions commenced with Apollo’s circumnavigation of the moon making a nice Christmas present.
  • …we were all very pleased but a little confused when the Beatles released the White Album at Christmas time.

 For me 1968 started out in much the same way as previous years – trying to stay warm while waiting six months for first-run movies to finally hit the local theaters. Our governor Wally Hickel was drafted by President Richard Nixon to serve as Secretary of the Interior and Ted Stevens was appointed to the Senate after Bob Bartlett died during heart surgery. The first mall in Anchorage opened up at the intersection of the Seward Highway and Northern Lights Boulevard, a third television station (KHAR channel 13) began broadcasting and a two inch column at the bottom of the front page of the Daily News casually announced that maybe – just maybe – there was oil to be tapped on the North Slope.

I’d spent most of the school year just surviving and the summer of 1968 looked to be a pleasant change of pace. I had grown an inch or two in height while losing an inch or two from my waistline and gaining some coordination in the process. One of the biggest changes involved what I listened to each day – during the summer I bought a very basic record player and while the sound quality was marginally better than a Kenner Close-N-Play it allowed me to explore music beyond the scope of the 2:45 standards coming over my AM clock-radio. From this point on songs became “time-stamped” to what was going on in life.

…and to reflect THAT very fundamental change in my life each chapter in this volume will be annotated with the song or album that was my favorite at the time, which will again bring some added insight to what was going on during that period.

More Musings From A Would-be Bat

When my sleep cycle gets inverted like this it can often be a week or more before it gets corrected and it becomes easy to slip into depression. I mean it’s already a challenge dealing with the double-barreled contradictory stress of “social distancing” vs. “shelter in place “ without the additional isolation brought on by my inverted rest patterns…

…but then I got to thinking: if I have to adopt the Dracula model of rest and activity I’m in the best situation to do so. I have a comfy bed, good snacks to gnosh (when I AM awake) and my Beautiful Saxon Princess will make sure there are no splinters in my coffin and all the wooden stakes are safely packed away.

Nocturnal Soundtrack

It was a sound that brought tears to my eyes.

After tossing and turning for most of the night I struck my colors and made a hasty retreat to the studio with the faint hope that my Beautiful Saxon Princess would get some decent rest once I was gone. I curled up on the old loveseat next to my desk and fired up my MP3 player (yes, they still exist) hoping the companionship of my old musical friends would take the edge off the physical and emotional discomforts depriving me of sleep.

That relief came but not through the music but rather through the sound of the room itself. Without the background accompaniment of CD player, computer, room fans and my grandson’s Hot Wheels re-enactments of NASCAR events my studio manifests a very subtle soundtrack of its own: wind rustling through the trees, the low almost inaudible rumble-hum of the clothes dryer and the moan of the wind through power and phone lines. It’s beautiful sound that I very rarely hear now, a sound that would lull to sleep every night I spent in my attic loft back in Sterling…

…and for just a few minutes I was free of the pain and anxiety that I joust with nightly as I near my sixty-seventh birthday…

Before you start…

sean's comic…let me warn you that you’ll never guess which Traveller supplement this illustration appeared in or which unpublished Metagaming project it was intended to be used in (but was subsequently “eighty-sixed” when Howard  left the company.) I wasn’t art for the program book of some convention that named me as Artist Guest of Honor and it wasn’t a self-promotional portfolio piece I came up with during a slow week…because it’s NOT my work .

It was drawn by my son Sean during a middle school art class.

Proper dad-ship rests on the idea that a father does everything in his power to launch his kids successfully in life and Sean when started high school he was manifesting all the skills and knowledge necessary for a creative career not just equal to but surpassing mine. I’m not kidding – his drawing skills at sixteen were better than mine were at thirty, but when he started college he knew that as much as he loved art he needed an income more stable than art could provide. After spending twenty-five years watching me battle with the vagaries of a freelancer’s life he chose the path that I often wish I’d taken and kept creativity as an avocation instead of a vocation, a hobby to help alleviate stress rather than creating it.

…and he still manages to routinely add to an already impressive body of work.

Parley LaMoine Howell (1933-2020)

1980

“That’s some book-case you’re making David”

 “Thanks”

 “Are you sure you don’t want to add another support on the front:

 “Yes Dad”

(tap/tap/tap)

“You may want to consider adding that support to the front. Conrad is starting to walk, and he may grab onto it and – “

A reply of ultimate snarkiness was on the tip of my tongue but as luck would have it my Beautiful Saxon Princess chose that moment to step in and inform us the coals were just right for barbecue and took her father by the arm to start grilling. I shot a dark look at my father-in-law’s receding form: It was bad enough that in two days I’d be facing a medical board ruling my flight status without getting a critique on every second nail I drove into MY bookshelf…but then he was a civilian paper shuffler and hadn’t a clue about my situation, or ( I suspected) a care.

1991

David, are you sure you don’t want to go with us?’

“Yes, I’m sure”

(pause)

“ Did I tell you that we got a new engine for the boat and new upholstery for the seats?

 “Yes”          

 “Did you see the forecast? It’s going to be perfect weather”

 “I know”

(pause)

“ David are you sure –“ at which point my Beautiful Saxon Princess (well aware of the signs of an impending eruption of Mount David) stepped in with a Bundt cake to distract her father from his efforts to persuade me to join in a water-skiing expedition that afternoon.

I sat back and reached for an unbroken pencil and fresh sheet of paper. He didn’t have a clue – I was hanging on by my fingertips to an MFA program with an open hostility towards middle-aged professionals who also happened to hold reserve commissions in the military. My young family thought of the trip to my in-laws as a vacation but I definitely needed time to work on a research paper on Tlingit raven rattles, a topic that was both politically correct enough to get me through the semester as well as obscure enough to discourage thorough examination.

1997

“David, are you sure you want to measure out the stud lines from that wall”

 “Yes Dad”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David, don’t you think we should measure out from this end”

 “No Dad. Measuring from this end puts most of them under floor joists”

(hammer/hammer/hammer)

“David are you – “ at which point Fate in the shape of My Beautiful Saxon Princess intervened with a tray of sandwiches and drinks prompting me to drop the hammer that I’d been gripping hard enough to emboss fingerprints.

2020

Parley LaMoine Howell passed away a few days ago, joining his wife and sweetheart Velma who’d made her own exit from the earthly stage a little over a year ago. Despite the Huntsville (AL) venue we were able to participate in the funeral via a Facebook Live broadcast (take that mean old Mister Coronavirus) and as we sat in the studio listening to the services several conclusions came to mind:

  • This guy was the bomb! He started college at Gonzaga University on a basketball scholarship, was a pivotal designer for the Lunar Rover used in Apollo program and in three different states was a major factor in the growth and leadership of our faith.
  • This guy was good. In the forty-two years I’d been married to his eldest daughter I’d never once seen him lose his temper or speak sharply to anyone in general but to me in particular when I was acting like a fourth-point-of-contact. He was sincerely Christ-like, and I had no doubt that if he was handed a glass of buttermilk it would revert back to grade A whole milk just because of his proximity.
  • I had sadly misinterpreted his intent those times he had been so insistent. What he’d really been saying in 1980 was “I know your medical grounding is difficult to deal with but you’re still valuable to me”. In 1991 he was saying the same thing about the challenges for graduate school I was facing, and in 1997 he just wanted to make sure our home was snug and well built.

…and lastly:

  • If I was ever going to be serious about weight loss we had to come up with a different way to defuse interpersonal conflict.

Hollow Days

The other shoe has finally dropped.

After close to a week’s anticipation the first diagnosed case of coronavirus has been reported at the local hospital. I’m not a phone-addict so I don’t have a solid, up-to-the- minute report on Clarksville’s collective reaction to the news, but in here in the Singletree subdivision the reaction is…hollow.

Everyone is still sequestered in their homes and while there are still a few people going to work no one is on the street: no kids playing, no joggers, no shade-tree mechanics -no sixty-six year old geezers hobbling along trying to get some fresh air. The noise level has been noticeably reduced but I wouldn’t say things are quiet. “Quiet” has a happy connotation – as in you become quiet as you’re falling asleep for a nap or silently waiting for the movie to start. Quiet is a voluntary state you enter in preparation for something good.

The lack of noise here is very different. The yells, clatter, rustlings and bustlings that make up the low-level chaotic soundtrack of a regular day has been gutted by a nervous anticipation, leaving us with a hollow quality of life – and sound. There are only two other times in my life that I’ve felt that “hollowness”:

  • The day after the Great Alaskan Earthquake of March 1964 while living in Anchorage
  • The day after the 9/11 attacks

With time there were better, less “hollow” days after both of those events, especially when people pitched in to help each other. Here’s hoping the hollowness goes away after this one in the same way.

“Hello?”

“Anybody there?”

I’m a semi-shut-in (if that’s a thing) so I’m used to my horizons being clipped short and using Amazon for shopping…but from where I stand it’s not just the mall, church of my grandson’s school that seems deserted – it’s feels deserted here as well. I can’t speak for all of my other word-crunching friends but for me personally – I’ve never had such low readership figures, looks, likes whatever you call it. I hope it’s just quirk brought on by the virus and that as time goes on we all get back to reading and commenting.

To better days!

XL5 Re-boot: Roberta’s Jetcycle

2020-03-10 Robertas Jetcycle

I’ve personally had to battle severe mobility issues lately so it should be no surprise that the subject would manifest itself in my work as I was going back through my XL5 designs. In the original series Robert would use a regular jet-bike just like the rest of the crew but after I replaced legs with the “uni-ball” that option is – well – no longer  an option.

,,,then it occurred to me that given her modular construction Roberta could be plugged into the jet-bike rather than riding it which would save weight/mass/maintenance. I’m not sure where the unplugged parts would be stored while she’s flying around – there would be plenty of room on Xl5 and possibly room for internal storage on this vehicle.

 

2020: Sleeping Booty

Though it’s a condition notable enough to warrant a proper name (paresthesia) having one’s arm or leg go numb from sitting in one position too long is rarely a precursor for anything medically serious. Having your leg “fall asleep” may be uncomfortable but it is common enough to have inspired its own Benny Hill fart joke:

She: “That meeting was far too long. We were sitting so long my little bottom went to sleep”

He: “I know – I could hear it snoring”

 I didn’t make the connection between the sitting and the numbing until I was midway thorough seventh grade and I finally realized the sensation was not some sort of exotic malady or extra-terrestrial parasite devouring my nervous system. It became a source of entertainment on those days when the slurred speech and red nose our teacher brought back from lunch signaled that the rest of the day would involve educational movies – I would periodically tuck one foreleg under another until numbness set in, then unfold them to trigger pins and needles tickle-y enough to keep me awake through the second reel of “A World without Zinc!”

Like most other aspects of my life the novelty off the condition decreased when other more interesting aspects of puberty began to manifest themselves but since then there have been at least three times when the unexpected onset of Paresthesia had quite an impact on my life:

May 1971: Hidden Lake (Alaska) Graduation was mere days away when I joined with a small mob of young men from our congregation for a weekend of camping at Hidden Lake; a truly epic campground in a land that is the very definition of epic. I faintly recall that there was some sort of spiritual theme to be discussed during the outing but most of the time was spent running up and down the rocky cliffs that surrounded the campground, paddling canoes in Hidden Lake itself, and climbing the gently sloping face of Hideout Hill that faced to the north. It was as physically tiring as two-a-day football practice had been or airborne training would prove to be in the future, and when I dropped on my cot one night I was asleep before my head hit my pillow.

…but vague nightmares about giant snakes scared me awake early the next morning, and as I scrambled to escape my dream serpents I realized with sheer terror that something was holding me firmly to the cot. It wasn’t until I fought my way awake that I realized what was really going on: when I threw myself onto the cot the night before I had absent mindedly draped my right arm over the cot’s header bar and slept so deeply that I had stirred little if any through the night, causing my right arm to not just “go asleep” but to go into suspended animation. A reading list that included way too much Conan and John Carter of Mars generated the serpentine dream images to account for my arm’s immobility.

March 1977: Camp Williams (Utah) Similar to my sojourn at Hidden Lake only by weekend scheduling and an outdoor venue, the tactical exercise in which I was participating was designed to prepare us for advanced training at FT Lewis WA later that summer – and because of my size, strength and generally annoying gung-ho attitude I was assigned to carry the squad’s M60, a Cold War era machine gun based on the WW2 German MG42.

The scenario called for my squad to set up an ambush for another group that collectively lacked any sense of direction, leaving us to stay hunkered down and waiting much longer than expected. Following the old soldier’s tradition of getting sleep whenever possible I rested my head on my arms which were crossed over the cover and feed assembly of the M60 and promptly fell asleep.

…only to be abruptly kicked awake seemingly moments later by my squad leader. Our opponents had finally fumbled their way along the darkened path to the kill-zone in front of us, but when I reached for the trigger my right arm fell to the ground beside the gun, my arm having gone totally numb while folded on top of the M60. Harsh whispers and a second Vibram-soled kick convinced me to try making a left-handed shot but rather than squeeze the trigger for doctrinally correct three-round bursts I loudly pow-pow-powed through an entire belt of blank cartridges. During the post-ambush critique I was “smoked” for lack of fire discipline but then immediately praised for my aggressive attitude as manifested by all my yelling. Little did the lane grader know that it wasn’t an aggressive mindset but rather a reaction to the “pins & needles” sensation caused by restored circulation that was aggravated by the vibration and recoil of the machine gun.

February 2020: Clarksville TN Aging brings on a plethora of ailments both major and minor, but one of the most annoying is the microscopic capacity to which my bladder has shrunk, which means I visit the hallway bathroom several times a night. As a way to pass the time we stock the bathroom with reading material (in this case a Kindle) and it is not uncommon for me to get caught up in a story and continue reading long after the need for diversion is gone.

That was the case early one morning when I realized with a start that judging by the page count I’d spent more than an hour “distracted”. I clicked the Kindle off and started to stand up…and that’s as far as I got because not one but both legs had gone to sleep. I tried to stand a second time but was met with the same results, so I tried to pull myself up by grabbing the vanity, only to abruptly let go and thud back down to the seat when I found that the vanity wasn’t as securely fastened to the wall as I’d thought.

I started to panic, but then in a flash of inspiration I grabbed the fabric of my right pajama leg and started to bounce the leg up and down in an effort to get the circulation going and some strength restored. After what seemed forever the feeling began to return to my leg, so I leaned on my cane and started to stand up when

BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG!

 David, are you OK in there? It’s been a long time. Are you sick?”

Most people revere the inventor of the bathroom fan for providing a convenient white noise to mask otherwise embarrassing noises during routine visits. I praised his name to Heaven for drowning out the high-pitched “EEEPPPP!” scared out of me by my Beautiful Saxon Princess’ abrupt knock on the bathroom door. I murmured some clever retort (URKK!) as I adjusted my T-shirt and sweatpants and then shuffled back to bed, my sweetheart helping me prop myself into my slightly contorted but customary sleeping position.

…but as I was falling asleep I had enough presence of mind to make a short list of corrective measures to be taken in the hallway bathroom first thing the next morning:

  • Securely nail the vanity to the wall.
  • Change the settings on my Kindle to show the time.
  • Get a railing mounted to the wall so when paresthesia strikes again I can still pull myself up.