Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why Did We Lose Our Common Sense?

I saw an article the other day about a father whose young son shot himself in the stomach with a gun the dad had stolen. The child’s mom had dropped the boy off earlier that day. When the father was awakened by the gunshot he grabbed his son and rushed him out of the home screaming to his neighbors to get help. When the cops arrived, the man took off back inside. One of the cops tried to save the young boy while another pursued the father. Inside the residence the father was caught with not only the stolen weapon that had killed his son, but with a large amount of drugs as well. It’s a horrible story.

As I read this article I began thinking about what the aftermath would end up being. This little boy is dead no matter what else happens, but there are plenty of questions. Did the mother know the type of life the boy’s father was living? If she did, then why would she leave her son in his care in the first place? If she didn’t, then why didn’t she? It didn’t appear from the way the article read that he was hiding his lifestyle choices from anyone that entered the residence. It goes without question that the father will be charged with something, likely many things. But what about the mom? Should she be charged with child endangerment or a similar offense for placing the child in such a dangerous environment?

After thinking about this case for a few minutes my mind started thinking about how something like this might have gone down when I was in grade school. Split parents were not nearly as common back then, and locally we never really heard about a lot of theft or drugs. The fact that the situation was nearly unthinkable just forty years ago made it impossible for me to fathom any answers, so I tried to come up with a similar scenario that seemed more realistic for the early 70s. In this revised scenario the father would have been drinking perhaps and fallen asleep on the couch. The mom would have been gone only to run to the local store to pick up some bread to go with their dinner that night. The gun would not have been stolen, but would have still been left out instead of put away properly. The father in this version would still have been just as negligent about leaving the loaded gun out and the mother would have left the child with a father whom she knew had been drinking and who might pass out. Now what would happen? What would happen is the family and their friends, family, and neighbors would have mourned the death of the child. The father and the mother would not likely face any legal charges even though they would both be similarly negligent. The general consensus would be that they had suffered and been punished enough by the loss of their child.

Then I started thinking about other differences. We had playground equipment at our school. The drive-ins had jungle gyms, slides, and merry-go-rounds as well. We loved playing on them. If we fell off of the monkey bars and broke our arm that was our own damn fault. We chose to play on them and we failed to hold on tightly enough. There was no thought toward suing the school or the drive-in. We went to the doctor and got a cast and dealt with it. These days most everyone is looking for a personal tragedy payday. If someone breaks their arm while playing on the monkey bars at the school, the parents will sue the school. They may even sue the manufacturer of the monkey bars. Then what happens? The school’s liability risk goes up as long as they have the monkey bars. This means their insurance goes up. And it won’t just be at this one school. It will be at any school with a jungle gym because some other kid with sweaty palms might slip and land on his elbow. It’s cheaper to just remove the playground equipment, all of it, because someone could just as easily break a leg jumping out of a swing.

So much of what I enjoyed as a kid, so many of the experiences we learned from as kids have been denied to this current generation because of lawsuits. And these lawsuits were filed because someone decided to be a victim rather than take responsibility. The same mentality has crept into other areas with equally dubious results. Children have been suspended for bringing the one inch long toy weapon that came with their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure to school or pointing their finger and saying “bang-bang” because the schools have a zero tolerance policy on weapons in the schools. Forget carrying a cough drop or some aspirin or Midol. Those are drugs and there is a ban on them as well.

It’s not just in the schools that society has lost its mind. Many kids have snuck around and played “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine”. Today if a child gets caught doing this they may be labeled as a sex offender. Yes technology has made it much easier to show your goodies to people, but trust me it was going on back in the sixties and the seventies too.

It just seems that we’ve lost our ability to use common sense. People don’t want to take any responsibility, and we’re paying for it with higher prices, unnecessary insurances, and fewer playgrounds. I would love to see this generation quit looking for a way to blame anyone but themselves. If you agree with me, start speaking up. If you don’t agree, well, the doctor changed some of my medicines last week, so it’s probably not me talking. It’s the meds the doctor prescribed, so blame him… or the pharmacist… or the drug company.

Our Computers Were Cardboard With Magic Marker Lights

When I was a kid one of my favorite toys was a computer. It had all the world’s knowledge at its beck and call and could hold intelligent and witty conversations with you. It could do all of that provided that you remembered to turn on your imagination. My computer was actually a part from a plastic model kit of a giant insect attacking a city.

I don’t recall which insect kit it came from as there were four or five different ones and I had them all at one point. The kits included a cardboard backdrop and were really pretty cool. They were also pretty fragile. Some insects had very thin plastic legs. Some of the destroyed cityscapes included downed electrical towers with plastic latticework and thin plastic power lines. Thin and plastic usually meant easily broken. My killer bugs were soon consigned to the trash heaps or sold off in a yard sale to make money to buy more toys and model kits, but this one little plastic building had survived and to my child’s brain looked an awful lot like what I thought a computer should look like. Not the modern laptop or tower system mind you, but the old room size units that had to be fed data on punch cards and reel to reel tape. That was what a computer looked like.

I called this hand-sized chunk of plastic HAAL, like HAL from 2001, but with an extra A. HAAL stood for Hydral Any Answer Litrox. I think I had heard the word hydraulic which inspired the Hydral part and Litrox came from a package that contained a watch I wore at the time. It might have been the name of the company for all I know. HAAL wasn’t the only computer I had a kid either. There were the computers that powered my spaceship. In a previous life they had been shoe boxes, but I added colored lights and switches with magic markers. I had an R2 unit that was an old bucket with a piece of paper wrapped around it and designs drawn on it. I was working on it with a friend and we hoped to make it look just like the one in Star Wars. Sadly it never happened.

I’m not sure why these old computers came to mind today, but I couldn’t help but share them. I think I still have HAAL around here somewhere. I also have all of the old HAAL comic strips that I wrote and drew based on this hunk of plastic. Today kids share YouTube videos and other digital media, but back when I was in junior high school my friends and I all wrote and drew our own comic strips and comic books. I probably created over 100 different HAAL strips. One day the school art teachers took a fellow artist and me to meet a true local cartoonist. We both took some of our work with us. One of the things I took was a collection of HAAL strips. The artist looked over our work and when he got to HAAL he looked at it and commented, “That doesn’t actually look like a computer. It looks more like a building.” Damn it. I forgot to turn on the imagination switch before I showed them to him.

The Oscars Was My Childhood’s Super Bowl

I was a very unathletic child with asthma and coordination issues. There was no male role model in the house to drill the love of sports and loyalty to a sports team into my DNA. What I grew up with was a love of reading and of watching movies. I discovered the Oscars during the ceremony that saw Jaws nominated for best picture and lose. I didn’t actually stay up to watch the whole ceremony, but I flipped over and saw Jaws win a technical award and was pleased. I had probably caught a few minutes of some earlier broadcasts now that I think of it because I remember wondering why Million Dollar Duck wasn’t nominated or some of the other animated films I had seen that year. But I remember the Jaws ceremony as much more important to me. I was shocked that it didn’t win best picture.

It was a couple of years later that I became hooked on the Oscars. Star Wars had been nominated for best picture. I was certain it had to win. I had never seen a film that made me as happy as Star Wars did the first time I saw it. It was up against Julia, The Turning Point, Annie Hall, and The Goodbye Girl. Before the ceremony aired, I got to see The Goodbye Girl and Annie Hall. Annie Hall just didn’t connect to the 14-year-old boy living in Spring Hill, West Virginia. It had some funny moments, but I would need another year before I learned to appreciate Annie Hall, although I did develop a fondness for Woody Allen’s other films. The Goodbye Girl was a different story. I saw it at the old Saint Albans Twin Cinemas and immediately fell in love with it. If Star Wars didn’t win, I wanted The Goodbye Girl to take home the gold. I also wanted Star Wars to completely destroy Close Encounters of the Third Kind which at my young age I had decided was the most boring film in the history of the world. I reviewed it for my school’s newspaper and still remember the headline, “Close Encounters of the Boring Kind”. I really didn’t like it.

April 3, 1978 I stayed up late and watched until the final award of the evening was handed out. There were several things that made a huge impact on me that night. The first was Vanessa Redgrave’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actress. The next was Paddy Chayefsky’s rebuttal to her speech. This was also the night Bob Hope made a joke about the Oscars being referred to in his house as Passover that for some reason has stuck with me for all these years. By the end of the night Star Wars had pretty much beaten CE3K, but it still managed to lose to Annie Hall. At least Richard Dreyfuss won for The Goodbye Girl. One other memorable moment was watching favored nominee Richard Burton start to stand up to accept the award after only hearing the “Richard” part of it.

Ever since that night I have watched every single Oscar telecast live except for two. One year our cable was out and I had a friend and a family member both tape it for me so that I could watch it later. I followed the ceremony on the Internet using my AOL dial-up account. Another year I was just too tired to watch anything. I taped it and watched it later as well.

For several years Oscar night was met with plates of snacks and a festive atmosphere. The wife and I would each write down our picks and see who did a better job at picking the winners. It was usually me. Many times she would choose with her heart or a gut feeling while I would study all the factors like a gambler at the horse track. Never the less, she still managed to pick several that I missed. This year we pretty much let the whole thing drop. I had just gotten over a bad bout with the flu. There was no talk of making snacks. I guess she was worried about what my stomach would be able to handle, and she was tired from dealing with a sick hubby for several days. She sat down with me for the red carpet pre-show, but before the first award was handed out, she had settled in under the covers in the bedroom with the lights out.

One other thing that was different this year was that my daughter decided for the first time to actually sit down and watch the entire ceremony with me. Both of my kids have made attempts at trying to feign interest in their dad’s yearly big night, but these normally end within a couple of technical awards when they remember that there was something they needed to check on in their room. That’s kid-speak for “I’m bored and going to go play video games”. I was happy to have my daughter there this year, but I missed not having the wife beside me. Hopefully next year things will work out better. As for my picks… this was my worst year ever. I had absolutely no idea in so many categories. I had only seen one theatrical film in the last year (The Avengers) and hadn’t managed to pick up any of the available nominees on Blu-ray. Maybe next year.

When I Used to Get Sick

I have been struggling with the flu for the last few days. It hit me late Wednesday night or technically early Thursday morning. At first I didn’t know it was the flu. My doctor had just changed my medicines and I was sure that was it. Or maybe it was something I ate. I had eaten some of Lays new Sriracha flavored chips and surely that was the culprit if not the meds. I checked my blood sugar and it was up. That had to be the answer. My diabetes was making me vomit my insides out. My wife being much calmer and well-reasoned, stuck a thermometer in my mouth and informed me that I had a temperature of 100 degrees. You don’t get a fever with high sugar, bad food, or new medicines. You get a fever with a virus.

When I was a kid the thought of getting sick didn’t bother me. If I was too sick to go to school, Mom called and told them I wouldn’t be there. If I needed to go to the doctor, Mom bundled me up and drove me to the doctor. If I stayed at home, Mom would fix me foods that my stomach would handle and that would comfort me. Usually this was toast with butter, or after I got to feeling a little better, peanut butter. One food that I always wanted when I was sick and that no one could understand why I would want was pizza. Not just any pizza, Geno’s frozen pizza or any of the other rather bland frozen pizzas on a crust that doesn’t so much pass for a bread product, but as an edible form of cardboard. She would top this off with 7-Up, ginger ale, or Coke. I got a lot of Coke over crushed ice also.

If Mom did have to take me to the doctor’s office, she would usually pick me up a few comic books to read on the way home, and I could usually get her to buy me a model kit as well. The model kit would give me something to do and take my mind off of my sick tummy. At least that’s what it was supposed to do. Often times I would get frustrated when certain parts didn’t fit together properly and it would backfire by making me more upset and agitated.

As an adult I can be on my deathbed and I still have to call in to work and tell them I won’t be there. I don’t feel like breathing, but I have to go through a 10,000 question automated system to alert work that I’m not coming in. Oh and if you do that three times in a 90 day period there will be severe consequences (unless they are FMLA covered). I do have a wonderful wife that always pulls through for me when I get hit by the flu bug. She fixes me food and makes sure I stay hydrated. But my body has decided that it no longer wants cardboard pizza on a sick stomach. Baked chicken and baked potatoes all just lightly seasoned tends to stay down best now.

Needless to say the treat of getting a comic book or a model kit for being a good boy at the doctor’s office doesn’t happen anymore either. For one thing, I would have to buy them for myself since I’m also the one that would end up driving myself to the doctor’s office (unless I’m really bad and we have to try and catch my son before he goes to work). And also because neither comic books or model kits are as easy to find (or as cheap) as they were back in the late sixties/early seventies.

I’m not sure who in their right mind gets nostalgic for the sick days of their youth, but compared to the sick days of adulthood, I’d trade for them in a heartbeat.

I Miss Those Old Songs

I like a lot of different music. I always joke about the fact that my CD collection had Garth Brooks and The Butthole Surfers on the same shelf. A guy singing Elvis songs in Latin shares space with a cd of rock classics sung in “chant” format and a chant album done in oinks and pig latin. There is also a huge section of compilation cds featuring song hits from the 1970s. And there are plenty of more mainstream choices as well, Nickelback, AC/DC, Ozzy, Brad Paisley, David Allen Coe, Halestorm, Ice-T and Body Count, Nas, and plenty of others. About the only thing I don’t have represented is Gospel (other than an Elvis and a Johnny Cash gospel cd) and Polka (and even Polka gets a nod thanks to Weird Al Yankovic).

I listen to one of the local classic rock stations (FM 105) that also plays current rock except for late at night when I’m driving home and I switch to talk radio with Mike Savage and Coast-to-Coast AM. Even though I don’t usually agree with Mr. Savage’s political views, I still find him more entertaining than a lot of his competitors, especially when he drops the politics and tells stories about his life and travels.

I used to listen to Jack FM which was a hodgepodge similar to my cd collection. I also used to listen to the X which was a heavy metal/hard rock/alternative station that switched formats and became a FOX News station. The station I miss the most is WKAZ which played the hits of the 70s. The best part was that on Sundays they played the old American Top 40 shows from those years. These were the songs I grew up on. Mostly they played the well-remembered hits, but every once in a blue moon they would slip in Troglodyte by Jimmy Castor or My Girl Bill by Jim Stafford. The old Top 40 shows would play all the hits for a particular week, so you got a lot of one hit wonders and songs that had dropped out of the general consciousness. When’s the last time Donnie and Marie’s Deep Purple Dream was on the radio?

My wife and I made it a game on Sundays. We would flip on Casey Kasem when we got in the car, and try and guess what the year was by the songs he was playing. At the top of the hour they would always announce the year, so we always had less than 60 minutes to reach our conclusion based on songs that were just entering or exiting the countdown.

I also remember as a kid going to National Record Mart, Arlens, Hecks, Kmart, and G.C.Murphy and buying 45s with my favorite songs. When vinyl was replaced by cassettes and later cds, the singles didn’t seem as desirable. There were a few cd singles that actually included songs or versions of songs that were left off of the albums. That’s how I knew the words to the gory version of The Night Santa Went Crazy and heard the uncut acoustic version of You Oughta Know.

WKAZ changed formats to become another classic rock station. It resurfaced later as an oldies station concentrating more on the songs of the 50s and 60s. Also the signal was nowhere near as strong. What’s really funny to me is that WKAZ AM 94.5 was the rock and roll/pop station back when I was a kid listening to music in the 1970s. I remember hearing Harry Nilson’s Coconut on there for the first time and enjoying Me and Julio Down By The School Yard in heavy rotation. I even remember the name of my favorite DJ, Frank George. I had his autograph for years. It may still be in some of my junk we haven’t gone through.

Sure I could put on my cds and recreate all the music from that time. I could even haul out my 45s and listen to Convention ’72 by The Delegates or Mr. Jaws by Dickie Goodman or Clap For The Wolfman or Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road, but I’d much rather hear them on my radio with a dj introducing them in all their cheesy glory. I might enjoy listening to Bitch Came Back by Theory of a Deadman or Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked by Cage the Elephant, but none of them hold a place in my heart like the Star Wars Theme by Meco and the songs about stinky roadkill, horny cavemen, and a huge garden party. Of course another favorite was that song my 12-year-old mind thought was about watching a fireworks show with your girlfriend in the middle of the day, Afternoon Delight. Oh to be that naive once again.

What Was I Thinking?

I’m sure that when a lot of you read that title you expected a post describing some new crisis I was dealing with caused by a bad decision on my part in the first place. Nope. I was being reflective a few days ago about my childhood and started wondering about what I was really thinking at certain points in my life. Watching my granddaughter as she discovers new things and seeing her eyes grow wide and a smile form on her face or a giggle escape her mouth, I wonder what she is really thinking. How is her brain processing that toy that makes a rattling sound when you shake it or that sweet taste that she gets from Gerber apples? Then I got to wondering what I thought about certain firsts in my life.

I remember my mom, my aunt, and my cousin telling me about this time when I was a toddler and they took me to Shoneys with them and I demolished the Shoney burger my mom had gotten to eat. I think it was a Shoney burger. It might have been a Big Boy or a Slim Jim (two other sandwiches from that time). My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. But as much problem as I have now trying to remember the style of the burger, I have an even great er problem trying to remember the actual incident in question. I was so young that my memories of the incident are all second-hand even though I was the person they involved. I remember hearing of it happening, but I don’t actually have a single memory of the event that is my own.

Even going further on to things I do have a very basic memory of happening, I don’t truly have some of the all important memories of what I was thinking because I wasn’t really thinking for myself. I was parroting what I had heard or I was saying what I thought I was supposed to say and what the other person wanted to hear. I remember a conversation I had with my mom that somehow got on to the topic of nudity in movies at the time. Keep in mind that this was when I was in grade school. I hadn’t seen any nudity in movies or much of anywhere else, but it was a topic that had been on the news and there were forces crying about the new permissiveness. If you missed those reports, wait a few months they still pop up all the time, and I’ll let you in on a secret; they’re still B.S. More on that later. Anyway, we’re having this conversation because of some report on the news and I in my wisdom as a pre-teen stated that they don’t even call it what it really is. They call it making art. At this point my entire knowledge of making art involved finger painting and glueing macaroni to construction paper. So why did I say that? Obviously I had heard someone on television make this argument and I also figured that my mom would be anti-nudity since she always insisted that I wear clothes. I have no idea what I really thought about the subject, but I had perfectly parroted what I had heard and said what I thought my mom would want to hear.

Before I move on with the original point, let me clear up what I stated about the “new permissiveness” being B.S. If you study the past you will find tons of nudity and sexuality in Greek and Roman times. The British had things like The Pearl and a serialized story called My Secret Life. The French had nudie postcards. Yes, you say, but America is going down the tubes in regards to our movies. There’s so much more filth in them today. So who’s familiar with Can’t Stop The Music? It’s a 1980 film about The Village People and it features a dance number in a men’s shower with a shot of full frontal male nudity and some bare female breasts. It’s rated PG. Logan’s Run has a naked Jenny Agutter and is rated PG. These days a film gets a PG-13 for French kissing. I used to go to the drive in a lot with my mom, my sister, and her family. It was nothing for a trailer for an upcoming film to feature nudity and be played in between two family films like Golden Voyage of Sinbad and Big Jake. Movies today are if anything more conservative than in the past unless you go back to the height of the Hayes Code. We now continue with our regularly scheduled remembrance.

So I look back on my life and I wonder which emotions were real, which thoughts were my own? How much of what I know about my childhood is really how someone else remembers my childhood and their interpretation has become canon? There is one childhood memory that just happens to tie into both the subject of movies and nudity that I truly do recall what I was thinking. In 1974 a movie came out called Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry


...not to be confused with Dirty Sally

…not to be confused with Dirty Sally


There was also a television series around that time called Dirty Sally which was a spin-off from Gunsmoke and concerned an old woman and a stubborn mule. I think it was on Fridays on CBS. My mom and I loved it. When we saw the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry we figured it had to be similar to Dirty Sally. Even though the ads for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had nothing to do with the old West and featured Peter Fonda driving fast cars and running from the cops, it had to be something close to Dirty Sally. It had the word Dirty in its title… twice. Further proof to this theory was that I had one time seen an ad for a movie called Dirty Dingus McGee and it appeared to be a western. So with dirty in the title twice, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry had to be some sort of modern western comedy. I just didn’t know why they weren’t advertising the crazy old mule which was the funniest part of Dirty Sally. Mom and I were all set to go see the movie when my older sister intervened. She explained to my mom that the film contained some female nudity and she probably didn’t need to be taking me to it. My mother always took my sister’s advice (or so it seemed to me) and so my hopes of seeing Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry were shot down by a meddling older sister. To this day I still remember the anger I felt at my sister and the betrayal I felt when Mom told me that we weren’t going. Had she taken me, I would have seen a film that had absolutely nothing to do with an old woman and her mule. I would have been disappointed, however, I also would have at least had some basis for my next opinion on nudity in movies.

Suitcase Full of Memories

I had today off from work, but no money to do anything. I gave the wife her Valentine’s gift last night (the newest Rachel Morgan book from Kim Harrison entitled Ever After) and she fixed us a nice meal of comfort foods (steak, potatoes, peas, and cornbread). After eating we decided to go move some more boxes from the old house.

At the moment we’re trying to clear out the attic which mostly holds my toys. I still have a large amount of the toys I grew up with and I used to collect them as well, so there are plenty of boxes of odd action figures and the like. There was also a large suitcase that my sister had gotten me when I graduated high school back in 1982. I used it several times, but not recently. I had no idea that anything had been packed away in it, but was pleasantly surprised to find that something had indeed been stored in it. When I was a baby, my mom had a drawer in which she kept awards that I had won at kindergarten. She also had my baby book in there and artwork I made in school. She saved my Doctor Doolittle sweatshirt and my Jungle Book shirt. As I grew up she kept other things in there as well. My graduation program, my diploma from NEC, and other items. I had wondered the other day where some of this stuff might have gone. When I opened the suitcase, the question was answered for me as soon as I spotted the green trimmed white sweatshirt with Rex Harrison and a pushme-pullyou on it. This was the holy grail of childhood treasures.

I wish Mom was still alive to go over some of these items with me. I’m not sure what the significance is of some of them. I think the old mercury thermometer in the blue plastic case was my baby thermometer, and I don’t think this one was designed to go under your tongue. I’d really like to know what was special about it. There is a plastic elephant that I played with as a toddler, but I didn’t think it was a seminal item from my childhood. There was a stuffed doll with red hair and a bell inside it that I remember being much more important to me, but I didn’t find it in the case. I also remember hearing Mom, my aunt, and my cousin talk about a string of plastic bells that I had to have from Arlens back when I was still a baby. That also hasn’t shown up. I did find a toy lion that Mom said I used to carry everywhere with me.

The funny thing is, as much as I would love to have Mom tell me about all the things I don’t remember, I would also love to hear her tell me about all the other stuff just one more time as well. At one point I wanted to take a video camera and record my mom and my aunt talking about their lives and my childhood so that I could pass it on to my kids. I kept putting it off because there was always something else that needed to get done. Now both of them are gone and I can never hear those stories ever again. There’s probably an extra bit of nostalgia over this tonight because it was the day after Valentine’s Day, February 15, 2007, that my mom passed away. She had always been an incredibly strong woman. She broke her hip in 2002 and never regained her ability to drive or to walk unassisted. She had gotten worse before one night in January 2007 she fell in the shower. She kept going further down hill. My wife and I sat with her in the hospital for several weeks on the late night shift. My sister and her family sat with her during the day.

One night she seemed to be pulling out of it. She wanted to watch Charles Stanley, a television preacher she enjoyed, and I made sure to find him for her. We talked and she seemed coherent. About a week later they were putting her in hospice. I had to return to work and so my wife took the evening shifts at hospice. On Thursday afternoon, I drove my wife up to sit with her and let my sister and her husband go home and rest. It was a rough day. It had snowed on Wednesday morning and my son had fallen asleep at the wheel of his car and slammed into a power pole. He missed a gas meter by a few feet. The car was totalled, but he was fine. My other sister had been planning to come in from out-of-state, but had a medical emergency of her own come up and wasn’t able to be there. We were worried it was cancer.

When I got to Hubbard Hospice House, my wife asked if I was coming in or just dropping her off. Mom’s condition hadn’t really changed since they moved her there. She wasn’t better, but she wasn’t any worse either. She was just out of it. She didn’t seem to know a lot of what was going on. She couldn’t really talk anymore. At least not to where you could understand the words. Those of us that knew her seemed to instinctually know her meaning however. I told my wife that I was going in. I didn’t plan to stay long, but I wanted to Mom to know in whatever sort of fog she was in, that I was there and I loved her.

When I got in, she was worse. Lots worse. Her breathing was more labored. The staff all said she likely didn’t have long. My sister didn’t want to leave, but she had to eat and shower. She needed some rest too. I called work and told them that I would not be in. Mom needed me and I was going to be there. My sister left and told me to call her if there was any change. I sat there with my wife for an hour or so and we talked to Mom. She couldn’t reply, but we wanted to let her know she wasn’t alone. My other sister called and I talked to her. I held the phone to Mom’s ear and let her talk to her as well. Mom’s eyes seemed to show at least a glint of recognition. My sister told her that she loved her and we finished the call and hung up. Within moments Mom’s breathing slowed even more. We called the nurses and began trying to reach my sister that had just left and my cousin. Everyone was on their way, but before any of them could get there she was gone. I held her hand and held my wife and cried. My cousin and her son arrived just a few moments later. It was over so fast. She was no longer in pain.

My sister and her husband soon showed up as well. My wife began making the calls. She had her parents go to the house and get the kids. Her dad talked with the kids and told them what had happened. Our daughter went home with them, but my son decided to stay home to help field phone calls.

That was 6 years ago, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about her and miss her. There have been many times something has happened and I think, “I need to call Mom and let her know,” only to suddenly remember that I no longer need to tell her because she already knows. As I said I’d give anything to be able to ask her about the stuff in that suitcase. I wish I could remember what all that stuff meant, but at least I will never forget who saved it for me and I will always remember how amazing and wonderful she was. Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom. I miss you so much.

Don’t Throw That Out

There was a comedian on The Bob & Tom Show awhile back that commented on how Hoarders and American Pickers are two sides of the same coin. They both feature people going into people’s homes where they kept everything and never threw anything out. On the one show they talk about how sick these people are and that they need help while on the other show they talk about how amazing these people are and how they are preserving rare bits of the past. My wife sometimes accuses me of being a hoarder while I think of myself more as preserving the past. The thing is, every time I give in to her and throw something out, I always end up regretting it. It’s been that way all my life.

Now let me be clear. I do not have a house that you can’t walk through with stacks of empty milk cartons and half eaten peanut butter sandwiches stacked from floor to ceiling. I do however have a large collection of books, magazines, toys, DVDs and CDs. I also have a collection of candy bar wrappers. Okay, that one may seem a bit strange, but hear me out. As a child I used to love going to 7-11 and buying candy bars. One of my favorites was the original Marathon bar. One of my fondest memories of my years going to National Education Center’s National Institute of Technology was going to the Ben Franklin’s next door and buying a candy bar for break. I was quite fond of the Mars bar. Neither of these candies are produced any longer, and as I watched more and more limited edition candy bars come and go like the inside out Reese’s Cup, I decided to save some of the wrappers. I began by carefully removing the candy and then placing the wrapper in an old photo album. I’m a little behind in placing some of my wrappers into the photo albums, but one day I will. And while this may sound like the collection of a mad man, it’s actually pretty cool in my opinion. I love seeing how M&Ms have tried all these new flavors and promotions over the last few years. There’s a crispy M&M wrapper, a white chocolate M&M wrapper done for one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, ogre sized M&Ms for one of the Shrek films, raspberry, orange, candy corn, and all sorts of other specialty flavors.
MandM

My wife has tried to convince me (half jokingly) to throw the old wrappers away, but to me they are little pieces of art. Also I know as soon as I do, I will immediately regret it. I used to have several years worth of Entertainment Weekly and in an effort to cut back on the amount of stuff I have, I agreed to throw them out. They were magazines and they were for the most part written to recap the entertainment news of a particular week. Why would I ever want to refer back to them. About two months later I was cursing the decision as I tried my best to locate an article they had done on scenes that had been cut or altered in Fantasia only to realize that issue was one of the ones that got pitched. I ended up buying most of the issues back through eBay. A similar thing apparently happened with some old composition notebooks I used to have. These books contained a listing and mini review for every film I had seen from around 1976 until 1982. They told where I saw it, when I saw it, and who I saw it with as well. I would love to have them to look back over now, but I think they got tossed during one of our moves. There is still hope that they may be packed in one of the books in the attic that we haven’t moved over to the new house yet. The only thing for certain is that I will never replace them on eBay.

I’m not sure why it’s so hard for me to throw out stuff like this, but it is. I have successfully pitched some magazines without any regrets (Esquire, Interview, Radio Electronics), but then I have regrets over purges of other magazines from as far back as Junior High. I have made some horrible trades for things I was really excited about at the time. I traded a Mego Star Trek Enterprise play set for a daybill style ad for Futureworld and I traded a stack of old EC comics for the first appearance of the Swamp Thing. I sold a huge collection of Fantastic Four comics for far less than I should have to help finance a trip to Canada back in High School (and then ended up not going on the trip because I didn’t get enough money) and sold some Aurora Monsters of the Movies model kits for money to buy some Doctor Who paperbacks at a science fiction convention.

So I have a collection of lots of useless geegaws that mean nothing to most people, but they still mean something to me. I have my original 1978 Star Wars calendar in the original mailing carton it was sold in. It will never be 1978 again, but for me there is a tiny bit of the magic from that wonderful time in my life trapped inside those pages. It contains the fuel that lights 1000 memories of my childhood. How could I possibly part with that?

Last night I was depressed. My health was giving me problems, my finances were out of whack, and I had decided to just sit there and internalize it. I sat down for a few minutes before I went to bed and tried to work some of my issues out by writing about it right here on this blog. When I got up this morning I found out that my post had been chosen as a “Freshly Pressed” winner by Word Press. The funniest thing is that right before I found this out, I was thinking about how depressing the whole post had been and that I would have been better off taking the time to follow the one depression cure that has always worked for me.

I discovered a few years ago that if I wanted to feel better all I needed to do was watch Smokey and the Bandit.
Smokey_and_the_Bandit
There are so many reasons why this works for me. Smokey and the Bandit takes me back to the 70’s. I was a kid without a care in the world. The film tapped into the whole CB radio craze of the time and had an amazing cast. Burt Reynolds was the man back then. Jerry Reed was a singer turned actor that seemed like someone you could have a good time with. Sally Field was shedding the image of the flying nun and was incredibly cute and sexy without being overly sexual. Jackie Gleason was hilarious, which was a real eye opener for a 13-year-old kid that hadn’t grown up on The Honeymooners. And of course the icing on the cake was the presence of Paul Williams. Paul Williams wrote some of the greatest songs of my youth, created one of my all-time favorite soundtrack albums with Phantom of the Paradise (which he also starred in with Gerrit Graham and Jessica Harper), and played Virgil in Battle for the Planet of the Apes which had been my favorite film of all-time just a few years earlier.

So if I had only popped in the brand new Smokey and the Bandit Blu-ray that I got for Christmas last night, I probably wouldn’t have written the post that I did. Sure I might have felt better, but I would never have known the joy of being recognized for my writing. Well except for that one award I got several years ago for my ability to write quality porn for a now defunct web site.

Why Do I Have To Be The Strong One?

One of the things I miss about childhood is knowing that no matter what happened, my mom would take care of me. If I needed money for something she would always find it. I never really knew how bad or how tight finances were because Mom spoke mostly in vague and generic terms. Now I’m the adult. I have two grown kids and a wife. The daughter is 19, but while technically grown-up, has never had to deal with the grown-up world on a true one on one basis. She has had her own problems that she has had to deal with (after deciding that she was all grown up at 18), but Mom and Dad have always been there to catch her when she faltered.

When my daughter moved out (okay, ran off) in mid September of 2011 to go live with her then boyfriend and his parents, she learned that things weren’t as bad at home as she thought they were. Apparently we were horrible monsters because we did things like make her do her homework, go to school, clean her room, wash the dishes, and take care of the pets. Six months later she was 5 months pregnant and pretty much begging to come home. We took her back with open arms, but at the same time the wife and I had finally found the perfect comfort level. We had all the bills under control. We enjoyed each other’s company. Now we had another mouth to feed and another person to add back into our personal dynamic. It was hard, but we managed.

A month after this happened I found out that I was losing my job. I was given two years to find another spot to land in the company or be unemployed. At 47 I did not need to be unemployed, so I took a much more physical job than the one I had. The other option was to try and get a job with more stress or one that would likely be abolished in a future round of budget cuts. My schedule changed, but I assured everyone that we would be okay. I would actually end up making more money per paycheck.

In July my granddaughter was born. I love her dearly, but I was also faced with another human being that ultimately I would end up being responsible for taking care of. My daughter would look after her and my wife would make sure she was fed and clothed and clean (tasks my daughter still has difficulty with performing for herself), but I would have to work to pay for her food and her clothes. My daughter originally planned to breast feed exclusively. That soon changed to occasionally and was eventually supplanted entirely by bottles of formula. Formula is not cheap.

Her husband (they were married in March, but he is still only 17) moved in around October and we also started moving around that time. They lived in the old house while we lived in the new house, and I paid for the utilities on both houses. In December my son and his wife moved into the old house and my daughter and her family moved in to our new house. It’s a long complicated game of musical houses, don’t ask.

So around this time we’re trying to move, trying to get set up for Christmas and Thanksgiving, and keep everything going when my paycheck gets screwed up. In my old position I was responsible for making sure all the employees in my unit got paid. In the new position I have to hope that the supervisors remember to put in things like paid leave. Needless to say, one of them didn’t.

My health also decided to start really giving me problems. My blood sugar would spike or would bottom out and my asthma became more debilitating than it had been in years because I was getting into so much dust, and dirt, and pet odors during the move all while exerting myself physically and then headed to work where I would perform even more physical lifting and loading.

Here we are now in February and I am still trying to recover financially from two screwed up checks, holiday expenses, and feeding a family of five. Today my blood sugar spiked high. I was shaking. I couldn’t function and had to call off from work. I ended up sitting in a recliner and sleeping most of the day. When I was awake, I was silently fighting the urge to break down and cry. I know my life isn’t nearly as bad as so many other people’s. I know we will eventually get things straightened out. I know we will eventually get moved, get the kids into their own place, and get a quiet and restful home life, but right now all I can think about is why do I have to be the strong one? Why do I have to put on the brave face and not let anyone know how bad I’m hurting? How did Mom handle things like this and make it look so easy?