Posts Tagged ‘life’

I wrote a book!

January 31, 2012

In my copious spare time, I managed to write a little novel. This is my first attempt at writing for public (other than here on WordPress) so I don’t know what the reaction will be.  It is basically a love story that spans almost twenty years.  I drew a bit on my own experiences and embellished them somewhat then added flights of pure fancy.

Anyway, here’s the URL for the first chapter:

http://www.booksie.com/romance/novel/tom_oldman/wanderlust-chapter-1

I intend to add chapters about once a week or so.  Please let me know what you think; good, bad, indifferent, whatever.

T.O.M.

 

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Moving from the old year to the New Year

December 31, 2011

I have been neglecting this blog for quite some time now.  It isn’t that I’ve been busy – quite the opposite.  I guess I haven’t been busy enough.  I’ve written several blog entries, but owing to one reason or another just never posted them.  Here is one of them:

When I was lying flat on my back while recovering from a fall a while back, I honed my hearing enough to find out many things about my house that I didn’t know.  For instance, the water softener makes a gurgling sound that normally takes place around three in the morning.  With my odd hours of waking and sleep, I kept hearing it and wondering what it was

Pretty much every night, there appears to be some sort of small animal that roams around our back yard.  As soon as the dog behind us starts to bark, our cat springs into action.  She goes completely bonkers (an animal medical term meaning ‘taken leave of its senses’) and runs around the house with a tail the size of a large zucchini.  Everything (and I mean everything) in that cat’s path gets shredded; including anyone (me) lying on a bed in the living room.  It’s not that she jumps up on me but more that she allows herself to slowly move down the wall as she’s making the rounds of the living room.  Much the same as those old motorcycle daredevils that roared around “The Wall of Death”.  The hearing part of this rambling is her making noises like a chipmunk of steroids.  Sort of an Ekk-Ekk sound, but only when she’s got her nose within two inches of my ear AND I’m asleep

The toilet in the master bathroom needs a new valve seal as it will occasionally run for ten seconds and then shut back down

The clock above the television ticks very loudly when the TV isn’t on

The rest of the sounds in and around the house have been catalogued at least enough to keep me from wondering that they are

= =

All this is leading up to the substance of this post: What were the sounds you liked best about each season when you were in your childhood – say from eight to fourteen.  In my case, that would have been from 1950 to 1956.  I’ll start with summer

Summertime, especially in Washington, D.C., can, to be charitable, be rather hot.  From dawn, or shortly before it, the first things I heard were the chirring of the locusts in the trees surrounding the house.  That noise would continue throughout the day, providing background to everything you did outside.  Next would come the cawing of crows as they soared over those same trees trying to wake their brethren for another day.  Since school was out, kids would begin their shouting and running about.  In the late afternoon, there would be the tinkling of the ice cream truck as it made it’s rounds.  Finally, as it grew dark, more kid sounds as they played their games until the call for a late dinner

Towards fall, other sounds would begin to appear.  In the woods not too far away, chain saws would begin to snort and bellow their way through fallen trees.  The wind, which usually stayed away during the summer, would begin to blow and sigh through treetops and rattle shutters.  Soon, that sound would be augmented by the rustling of leaves as they try to infiltrate the back porch, only to slide down the screening.  The end of summer was always signaled over at my neighbor’s house by the running of a water pump as it drained their pool for yet another year.  A sad sound which usually ran for nearly a complete day because the pump was small and he didn’t want to create a swamp in his back yard.  Once school started, busses would blat and fart around corners to halt and pick up glum-looking kids dressed in sweaters and, later, parkas.

The crystal-clear cold of winter was almost a non-sound.  Only when it is a very early morning with no wind can you hear the scurry of snow as it rattles across the surface of older snow which has crusted overnight.  Leaves, those that stubbornly remained on trees, begin falling and rattling dryly against windows.  On weekends, the shouts, taunts, and general noise created by what seems to be hundreds of kids on a nearby sledding hill would invade the white countryside.  An occasional car can be heard passing by, slipping and sliding, on the unplowed tar road in front of the house.  Dusk falls early during this season and, soon after doing so, I could hear the measured crunch of my father’s footsteps as he walked from car to house.

Perhaps my favorite audio time of the year is spring.  This is when the cold, snippy winds of winter give way to an equal, but opposite, wind of promise.  If a person is outside, he will hear the sounds of birds in the trees after their long absence.  First comes the hardy birds, no songbirds, but steady, workaholic birds who are scouting places to raise their families.  As leaves begin to sprout, more colorful birds appear.  These you can hear simply by lying on the ground in your front yard and closing your eyes.  They make small skittering sounds as they hop to and fro, testing each fork on the limb for nest suitability.  Once found, they call to mates “come look, come look – I’ve found the perfect place!”  They say it in chirps and tweedles, but you understand them anyway.  On the last day of school, the expectant chatter of my friends as they jump off the bus for the last time this year makes me take heart that there really is a life after Suitland Elementary School.

Now, as a new year creeps up on me in less than five hours, I wish everyone good tidings in the upcoming year.

T.O.M

Playing catch-up

July 28, 2011

It has been a very long four months since my last post here.  Health conditions, as well as my physical location, pretty much dictated when (and for how long) I could remain on a computer.  For almost a month I was flat on my back after having fallen backwards from a stepladder onto the concrete floor of my garage.  Nothing got completely broken, but I was out of it for a while.  For the most part, I was unable to sit up.  This makes working a keyboard – even a laptop – very difficult.  I did a lot of reading during that time.

As they say on airplanes, I “can now move about the cabin”.  I walk with a definite bias to port (that’s right for non-nautical types) but I can walk now, which is a good thing.  For quite some while, any rear view you had of me appeared to be a large map of Africa with the entire continent colored purple; shading to deep red and orange as you near the Sahara.  There is also a sharp, red spike running north from the coast of Libya, across the Mediterranean and touching Greece.

But enough about that.  My mental powers were working hard while I was laid up and I’ve jotted down quite a few new idea for posts.  You’re going to have to bear with me, however, before I can sit down longer than 30-seconds without my back hurting.  I have a wireless keyboard, which is great, but it doesn’t help much when the monitor is sitting almost ten feet away from my easy chair.  I haven’t a chance of reading it from that distance.

At any rate, I do promise to get back into the swing of things and begin posting again.

T.O.M.

Still here

March 9, 2011

I’m still here.  The last couple of months haven’t been kind to me – or mine.  Both my wife and I came down with bronchitis. We were puzzled as to why, then found out that the vent in our bathroom had been blocked for years and not functioning properly.  This meant we had a build-up of mold; which is a prime cause of respiratory ailments.  The mold wasn’t visible though.  It had attached itself to the drywall (well, dampwall now) on the inside of the wall.  Plus, when the guy we bought the house from twenty years ago put in new windows they didn’t add a vapor barrier around the hole.  Another reason for mold.

It was so bad that we had to move out for four days while they tested for air quality.  Yep, we were tainted big time.  So now we are living in the basement while three rooms are being torn down to the studding and rebuilt with all new drywall and stuff.  With all this going on, I just didn’t feel like blogging – or anything else for that matter.

We are just about ready to move back upstairs so I may get back to more entries here.  If anyone reads this that’s been following my blog, go ahead and suggest a subject or two from past blogs.  I’d love to expand on any of them.  I realize there is no humor in this entry, but that’s the tag I use a lot.  Sorry about that.

T.O.M.

 

Fort Possum, Part 2

November 4, 2010

We met again the next afternoon.  Fired up once more with the spirit of adventure we rushed around like demented squirrels gathering up bits of board, pipe, nails, string, cardboard, and other items to make our fort a home.  My brother’s wagon was piled high with goodies so we had to be doubly careful not to dump the stuff on the ground.  Oops, too late.

Once again we piled items on my brother’s wagon and set forth – again – into the woods.  We would do the picking up thing several more times on the way there.  Each time we pondered the necessity of this or that item.  We were leaving a trail of discarded things a blind person could follow into our secret location.

Finally, we arrived and unloaded.  Well, actually, it was unloaded for us because when we stopped the wagon lost a wheel and the whole load dumped yet again.  “Just leave that crap on the ground.  We’ll get it if we need it.”  Sage advice from an anonymous voice in the group.

We spent the next few hours hammering, sawing, grumbling, and making an occasional profane shout when a finger get between the hammer and the nail.  The whole fort was taking shape now and really looking good.  We had three side up as tall as the tallest one of us and as soon as we finished the roof poles we’d begin putting pieces of plywood and thick cardboard on top.  We had some of the younger guys out in the surrounding woods gathering pine boughs to help hide the fort from casual view.

It was inevitable that we were finally finished.  In our view it was a finely crafted, very good looking fort.  In reality, it was probably very leaky, and a Big Bad Wolf could huff and/or puff it right down.  But what the heck, we were proud of it.  This time, before we left, we all gathered inside and took our solemn oath never to divulge the location of this secret place.  Never mind that probably every kid in the neighborhood knew where it was.

Wearily, we trudged back to my place, tools only in the little red wagon this time.  We had exhausted all the building supplies we brought.  Also included were numerous pine branches which would no doubt turn brown and un-hide our fort.  I had to admit, as I looked back from down the trail a ways, it did seem to blend right into the side of the cliff.

All week long we took about an hour each afternoon after school and drug items of comfort down to the fort.  An old camp chair appeared.  A very threadbare (and stinky, from Tad’s dog) rug was tried, convicted and sentenced to stand guard ten feet away from the front door.  A small two-shelf bookcase was assembled into which we put all our rations, comic books, tin cans with assorted goodies in them, and other things that interested pre-teen boys.  Nobody claimed to know where the smutty magazine came from, but we all agreed that it was probably okay to keep it around for a while.  At least until we needed glasses.

Due to the inconsistencies of parents, only five of us guys got to sleep out in the fort the first weekend it was ready.  My brother and I were two of them.  A nice fellow named Bert, a rather mouthy kid named Benny, and a very quiet kid named Xavier made up the fearless five who would initiate the fort.  We packed up for the trip (all 1 mile of it) like we were attempting to scale Everest.  My mother spotted my brother and I sneaking all sorts of stuff out of the house.  She reclaimed three packages of hot dogs, one of the tins of cocoa, a huge bag of marshmallows, and a box of firecrackers that had somehow gotten mixed in with them.  “Gosh, mom, I haven’t a clue where those came from.  No, I won’t set the woods on fire.  Well, okay, I’ll put them aside.”  Poop!  Nothing is more exciting than blowing up hot dogs and marshmallows with ladyfingers.

We arrived, arranged our sleeping gear on the ground and built a very small fire on the ground in the middle of the fort.  Upon reflection, after the place filled with smoke almost immediately, we decided that we should probably have put in a stove pipe.  Motion carried.  We hacked a hole in one wall and another in the opposite wall.  After twenty minutes or so we could go back in.  The smell of smoke permeated everything.  We didn’t notice it much.  The size of the fire was carefully regulated after that.  Put a stovepipe on the list.

I had brought a tiny little solid pellet fueled stove with me and a metal canteen cup so I decided to make cocoa.  Now, the cocoa that my mom confiscated was the one that had the sugar in it so when I slurped down a huge mouthful of the awful brew I barely made it to the door blowing it out with compressed air.  “Wahg!  Ick!  Where’s the sugar,” I asked; rhetorically, it seemed.  Nobody had brought any.  Add sugar to the list.

Candles were lit when it got so dark we couldn’t discern the colors of Superman’s cape.  Errant puffs of wind through our supposedly tight walls kept putting them out, or making the flame burn off-center enough to have a half-candle standing tall with the other half melted down to the base.  Matches were dwindling pretty fast.  Add them to the list.

By nightfall proper, we had exhausted all our jokes and were down the bodily noises in the dark.  Benny entertained us with an amazingly loud medley of burps and belches.  This act was followed by Xavier who managed to bring tears to our eyes – with his exhaust fumes.  “Sorry, guys.  Hot dogs just make me fart.”  Take hot dogs off the list.

Somewhere around midnight, I guess, Bert got up and wandered around outside stubbing his toes at least six times trying to find a place to pee.  He didn’t want to turn on his flashlight because then we ‘could see him pee’ and that just wasn’t acceptable.  He had taken a candle, but it blew out and he hadn’t taken any matches with him.  He finally found a spot.  The sound of falling water affected the rest of us predictably so we all files out and created a small tsunami which flooded out at least one anthill.

Back inside, after whispering ghost stories to each other for a while we began to drop off one by one.  I think that Benny was still talking when I drifted off to sleep.

I came awake suddenly for some reason.  I couldn’t put a motivation to it, but my eyes just popped open.  I lay silent, breathing very slowly listening for whatever it was that woke me.  Bert, who was lying next to me, started pushing against my leg with his leg.  I pushed back, but he kept bumping and pushing at me.  With no warning, he began rolling over onto my stomach.  “Hey!  Dammit Bert.  Move back over, whydontcha?”  I said, and pushed back again.

“It’s not me, Tom.  I’m over here.”  His voice answered from across the fort.  “Benny!  Get your hairy arm off my face!”

“Whatd’ya mean me?  I’m still in my sack.  Kick Xavier instead.”

“It’s not me guys.”  Said Xavier.  “So who the hell is it?”

The only flashlight in the place flicked on and highlighted a huge apparition of an animal as it stood on it’s hind legs, transfixed and still, in the middle of five guys who were in the process of levitating.   “AHHHHGH!  What the fuckzat?”  Screamed someone – who sounded remarkably like me.

All six of us tried to get out the door at the same time, which solved the problem of enough ventilation since the entire wall fell with a crash.  The poor Opossum that had started all this carefully looked at us, snorted, and ambled down the path.  We gathered all our bedding, which had been sucked out the door in the vacuum behind us as we left, and peeked into the fort to see if any more  possums were forthcoming.  None were found, but the hole we had noticed before and plugged with a rock was now rock-less.  We figured he had to have come out of that hole and found we’d built a fort over him.

We decided that henceforth the fort would be known as Fort Possum.

T.O.M.

Fort Possum, Part 1

October 21, 2010

One of the cool things that pretty much every kid, the males as least, got to do was build forts.  Big forts, small forts, one-man forts, snow forts, tree forts, and the most grand fort of all: the dugout fort.  Fort building was an art form practiced by pretty much all us guys that lived within our housing area in Maryland.

The very first thing you have to do is carefully select your crew.  You have to have the right mix, or any fort building activity will be negated by squabbling among the members.  I had to start with my brother.  This was mainly because I’d enlisted him to help me spirit away a few boards, nails, a small hammer, and (for some reason) a three-legged stool from our basement.  I didn’t really want him with me, but he was a certified squealer and this was going to be a secret fort.

Several of my normal cronies volunteered to help.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  The one person we needed was Ralph.  His dad owned the local hardware store.  Nothing got built in our neighborhood (by grown-ups or kids) without materials from him.  Ralph was a whiner though.  Nothing grated on your nerves worse than a kid who constantly whined about this or that – usually in a high-pitched, nasal voice.  We’d just have to figure out how to exclude Ralph when it came time to select officers in the club.

Our survey team started out one sunny Saturday morning.  We loaded up our trusty bicycle baskets with lunch goodies and bottled soda.  Pedaling though the neighborhood, we gathered up our crew.  Eventually there were seven of us rolling down the hill towards the stream that ran between the last houses and the woods.  This particular set of woods was called the Big Woods.  It went back roughly two or three miles over pretty hilly ground and ended up against the security fence of Andrews Air Force Base.  At it’s widest point, it was perhaps four or five miles long.

There were several trails worn down from the travel of kids in search of fun.  We followed the main one for a bit and then veered off onto a lesser trail.  Soon, we were pushing our bikes through shrubbery that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.  As I was more-or-less the leader, I had to, er, lead.  This meant I got to pick the wrong little trail and end up right at the edge of the cliff overlooking the gravel pit.

“Whoops,” I declared as I shuddered to a stop.  “Wrong turn.”

“Hey!  Dipshit.  This here’s the quarry.”  A chorus of agreement followed his carefully worded remark.  “Come on, guys.  Let’s go back this way.”

The outspoken second-in-command (by virtue of his keen insight as to my leadership abilities) backed up, turned around, and forked off in another direction.  Eventually we located a very nice place at the base of a small cliff.  There were tiny caves in the cliffside but none big enough to be of much use to us.  We did some extensive surveying work (walked back and forth and estimated how big the area was), made some notes on a paper bag (we had forgotten paper) with a pen that skipped (provided by my brother).

Some discussion followed as to the actual suitability of this spot as opposed to a different spot but it was quickly tamped down by a comment from one of the bystanders: “What the hey?  So build already!”  This from Mr. Moshwitcz.

“Let’s eat.”  This from our most rotund buddy.  He grabbed at the food bag and ripped it open.  He had to be slightly restrained from pulling everything out and stuffing it in his mouth.  I say ‘slightly’ only if you consider wrestling him to the ground and sitting on him ‘slight’.  Benny made the mistake of opening a bottle of Coke by putting the lip of the cap on the bolt in the center of his handle bars and slamming his hand down.  Classic bottle opening technique.  What he’d forgotten was that the Coke had been out in the sun, not to mention been bounced along in a bike basket for hundreds of miles, and it literally exploded out of the neck and all over us.

“HEY!”

“Fathead!”

(Expletive deleted)

(Ditto)

After cleaning hot, sticky Coke from most of us we unloaded some of the preliminary building materials and pushed them back into one of the holes.  A suitable sized rock was located which we pushed into the hole as a plug.  On our way back to the housing area, we made sure to take our bearings although there probably wasn’t a single kid for miles around that couldn’t have navigated anywhere inside those woods with a blindfold on.  What we did do was make the approach path deceptively vague.  We added obfusticating notes like ‘go 792 paces from the big dead tree towards the hill with the big rock on it and then crawl on all fours down the game trail through the blackberry bushes’; stuff like that.  We figured that if any kid could count up to 792 they were welcome to join our merry band.

Back at the house, we drew up a list of contents we might need.  Some things were written down and others were laughed out of existence.  For instance, who needed a bathtub?  In just over 1000 paces, we could walk over the cliff and fall into the water-filled gravel pit.  Sheesh!  Candles.  Candles were good.  We’d need a lot of them.  One of the guys said he could get some so we told him to do so.  We’d need lots of boards, but getting them down to the fort was going to be a problem.

We ended up gathering all the stuff and stashing it under my back porch.  The cave under our back porch usually ended up being the staging grounds for loads of my nefarious and clandestine projects.  That is until the time that we’d found that small canister of sulfur in the trash behind the high school it was very secure.  But, as they say, that’s another story.

It was an impressive pile of goodies we’d gathered.  Some almost new two by fours, three rather large hunks of plywood, a big jar of nails, two rusted hammers, a pot of glue (glue?), and a short-handled shovel.  Looking like a line of castaways moving camp, we trudged towards the site of our new fort.  At about the halfway mark, we had our first mutiny.  “I’m not carrying this damn board one more inch!”  Peewee declared, throwing it to the ground.  In all fairness, he was the smallest of the group and he had picked the longest board to carry.  That didn’t say much towards his intelligence and, when this was pointed out, his answer was a simply “Up yours, asshole!”

We redistributed the load somewhat and continued.  I don’t know how long it actually took us but by the time we finally dropped the stuff at the site we were tuckered out.  Lunch immediately followed.  Leo was not allowed near the Coke.  Soon the clatter of hammer and the ragged sound of a saw torturing wood filled the little glade.  Big rocks were put to play driving stakes into the ground so that we would actually have something to nail the boards to.  About halfway through the lower level a sane voice spoke up.  “Hey, wait.  Where’s the door going to be?”

We had run boards all the way around the three sides (the fourth being the side of the cliff) and left no opening for any kind of door.  “Well, poop.”  A voice sounded from the rear of our group.  A half hour was wasted while we argued just where the door was going to be.

“Over here, so we can look downhill.”

“Over here, so we can look uphill.”

“Over here so we don’t have to run through blackberry bushes every time we have to pee.”  Spoke the voice of reason.  We all voted for that answer and modified our stake pounding to include a doorway facing the ‘pee area’.

We ran out of lumber and stamina at about the same time and decided to quit for the day.  Wearily, we stashed most of our leftover goods up against the hillside and departed for home.  Most of us were headed to church the next day (except Abe) so we agreed to meet at around noon at my house.

T.O.M.

 

The subject is: bullying

October 9, 2010

When I read this article in the San Francisco newspaper I was appalled.

Article:

Then I remembered that this is really nothing new.  Bullying has been around for a lot longer than just recently.  My own experiences in the mid-fifties with bullying were just as bad as these four souls, but I took some good advice from – of all people – my parents.  I sought out my dad and, surprisingly, he came through with some pretty sage advice.

His thoughts were along the lines of  ‘don’t react to the taunting’ and ‘just walk away’.  And, he added, ‘if that doesn’t work, take a first, and aggressive, step.  hit first and keep hitting’.

Well, that is all well and good if you are faced with only one bully.  In my case, this particular bully had ancillary bullies that liked to hang around with this lug and add to the general taunting and other activities.  One of them would initially corner me and, like magic, the rest would appear in a circle around me.  This was performed in places where being seen by anyone in authority was just not going to happen.  Bus stops, either in the morning or the evening, were a favorite.

Due to school rules, we had to board and exit the bus at designated stops.  This was enforced by the driver who made sure that we only got on or off at our stops.  Unfortunately, most of the bullies got off at the stop before me and would hit the street running.  They would run through back yards and emerge on my street ready for me as I got off the bus.  The familiar circle would form and things would begin.

First, it was great fun to grab all my books and fling them across the street.  Then, as I tried to pick them up and gather papers that began to blow away, the group of them would trip me, push me, and generally keep me from getting to the papers.  This would go on for a while until the main bully would take a swing at me and, usually, connect.  This was never done where I could see it coming, but, instead, the blow would usually be in my back or on the back of my head.  Many is the time I finally made it home with blood running down into my shirt collar.

My mom would get severely pissed off and go raging around the house yelling and making threats of her own against ‘those bastards’.  I suspect that most of her rage was directed mainly at me as she tried to get the blood out of the material. ‘Why can’t you just fight back?’  she would ask.  She didn’t really have a clue about the social significances of ‘fighting back’ when faced with more than one person.  I’d get killed.

My dad finally came through one evening.  He told me he’d signed me up for boxing lessons at the base gym twice a week.  In his college days, he’d been a football player and was still pretty beefy for an old guy (mid-30’s).  He said he’d get in some gym time while I was taking the lessons.  We both decided that I wouldn’t tell anyone I was doing this.  Mostly this was for self-preservation because if the bullies heard they’d only escalate before I was ready.

I suffered through weeks of hell.  I was taunted, kicked, pushed, hit, and body-slammed into many walls for the next few weeks.  Finally, about two months later, I felt that I was ready to at least try and make a stand.

I would look in the mirror and see a skinny, slightly freckled face, adolescent staring back at me.  My arms were pencil thin and I had to admit to myself I hardly presented a fierce demeanor.  I would strike a pose, fists up, and then almost break into laughter at how silly I looked.  I hardly looked menacing.

The big day arrived.  I was as ready as I ever would get.  Today had been an especially bad day because one of the hangers-on managed to trip me into a wall and I’d split my lip.  I was already in a bit of pain so I figured ‘what the hell’ and sat down on the homeward bus.  Moving around on the bus was strictly forbidden and, as I said, the driver enforced rules harshly.  This meant that the ‘Wild Bunch’, as I called them, would leave me alone until the dropped off the bus and began their run to meet me.

Sure enough, we rounded the corner to my street and arrayed nearby, but not enough to cause concern to the driver, was the circle of bullies.  I stepped off the bus and, hidden by the side of the bus where the driver couldn’t see him, I got smacked in the back of my head with a hardback book.  I stumbled, unprepared, and dropped to one knee.  He moved in closer as the bus went on down the road.  With one hand down on the ground to help me get back up, I curled my other hand into a fist and rose up.  In one swift move I clocked him right behind the ear.  He got this shocked look on his face and I added another tap right on his cheek then fell back into a defensive posture.

He was so shocked that he just stood there until the main bully got into the act.  I heard him coming across the gravel at the side of the road and pivoted to meet him.  Without thinking, my right fist shot out and banged him right on the nose.  He halted in his tracks and just stood there.  His buddies took a step back, knowing he would probably begin to wipe me out, as usual.

Before he even moved again, I hit him with a one, two:  a fast punch to the ribs and another one to the side of his face.  Then I backed up and scanned from face to face looking for any movement on their part.  They didn’t move an inch.  They were all looking at their hero, who now had blood dripping from his nose, trying to clear his head and breathe.

“Enough?”  I shouted.  “Have you had enough?”

He answered by stepping towards me and flailing away with hands curled into fists.  The fight was on.  He tried several face shots which I blocked very well.  He got in one hit on my shoulder that caused my arm to tingle, but it was still functional.  Two more attempts to hit me in the stomach were blocked also.  Then he decided to kick me.  That was a big mistake.

As his foot rose I reached down and caught his heel.  With a grunt I flipped him over and he fell to the ground on his back.  All the air whooshed out of his lungs and I decided he was out of action.  I was wrong.  He managed to get back on his feet but as soon as he did, I hit him on the jaw – twice – very hard.  The first one split the skin on his cheekbone and the second one widened it even more.

He was getting groggy now and tried to rally his buddies by egging them on and into the fight.  They, thank goodness, decided that seeing what he was getting was not something they wanted any part of.  Two of them drifted away and the others just stood there.  The head bully, however, had regained some composure and moved in closer to me.  I stepped back smartly and popped him a good one in the middle of his chest.  That took all the fight out of him and he just dropped his arms and tried his best to gather in enough air to sustain life.  He was done.

I said something like “now that I have your attention: leave me the hell alone.  You got that?”

He nodded and turned away snuffling blood and spitting onto the ground.  I watched him walk away, weaving a bit, until he was down the block.  I massaged my knuckles, worked my jaw back and forth a couple of times, gathered my books and papers, and walked home.  I felt a whole lot better even though I had just beaten up a guy.  I had a feeling I’d seen the last of him.

I was right.  The next two years of school passed with no hassle at all from anyone – especially the main bully.  I don’t recommend this for everyone but sometimes the only good defense is a great offense.  Strike first, and strike hard is sometimes the only option.

T.O.M.

It was a dark and stormy night…

September 22, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night…

All really bad literature starts out that way.  There is even a yearly contest that celebrates this genre of writing.  The basic rule of the contest is that the first (and, usually the only) paragraph start with those seven words.  Then, the aim is to tack on as many words and phrases as you can while remaining semantically and syntactically correct.  There is a Wikipedia entry here describing this contest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bulwer%E2%80%93Lytton_Fiction_Contest

Here is my entry:

It was a dark and stormy night and, while my brother and I eagerly awaited the coming dawn hoping for an announcement on the radio about our specific schools closing, we dreaded that we would hear no word of our school; unless the snow got so heavy that power lines snapped or were brought down by heavily laden tree branches giving way under the pressing weight of snow – not to mention the numbing cold which would cause objects outside to freeze into brittle shapes that would shatter at the first touch of a strong wind – to fall heavily over frost-tightened transmission lines running through the neighborhood.

There!  Pant, pant.  My contribution for posterity.  But, seriously, folks, here’s what happened in January of the year 1954 to the metropolitan area of Washington, D.C.  The storm dropped an official eleven point three inches, but my little community got almost seventeen inches.  We did, in fact, get four snow days off from school.  Two of them were endured with no road traffic on any of the streets in our area.  This, of course, was celebrated joyously by every kid in the neighborhood – bar none.

When we had gone to sleep, there were vague warnings on television that a bit of snow would come our way.  My dad, being a meteorologist on base, and savvy to the ways of weather, said, and I quote, “bull”.  There was an added syllable to that statement, but I shan’t repeat it here.  He added that “it’s going to snow like hell and they’re not admitting it”.

As my brother and I bedded down we could hear the wind rising and the beginnings of snow pellets smacking against the window panes.  In the darkness, I smiled to myself.

We awoke the next morning to a murky dawn.  Light from the sun was very dim owing to the huge flakes of snow falling down in whirling eddies to land on the eight inches already on the ground.  When I heard my dad’s voice, I knew we (and he) were right:  it was a blizzard and we were free!  If he couldn’t get to work, I knew for certain the bus’s couldn’t get through.

Amid cries of joy, my brother and I practically burst into song as we washed up, dressed, and bounced out into the dining room for breakfast.  It was probably a record-breaking performance in terms of getting ready to meet the day.  After all, why would we want to waste a single minute of not having to go to school?

After breakfast, the two of us dashed down into the basement and began dragging various snow-traversing implements out of the pile at the back wall.  First, and foremost, our mukluks.  These had survived, and still fit us, from our stay in Alaska and were probably the warmest foot coverings on the planet in that day and age.  They consisted of actual seal skin and bear hide.  The seal skin was turned inside out so that the slick outer layer (when it was on the seal) was turned against our woolen socks.  Then you laced up the bearskin (fur outside) with thongs made of Caribou.  The ones that I and my brother wore were gifts presented to us by the old trapper who lived next to us in Fairbanks – bless him.  Believe it or not, Wikipedia even has an entry on this type of footwear.)

Next, we located our two sleds.  Mine was brand new the year before and was called a Flexible Flyer.  It was too, flexible, that is.  It could be steered by means of a “T” bar across the nose.  When you twisted it, the runners curved and you went the way you steered.  Of course, many factors had a bearing on whether or not you actually turned; ice, being one, and other kids being another.

I laid my sled upside down on the workbench and proceeded to touch up the runners with a little file.  Dings, burrs, and other faults which would slow progress downhill were filed off and what resulted was a knife-edge of perfection.  Hah!  I thought.  If this one ran over a foot I should expect to see severed toes at least.

A huge box of snow clothing almost fell on us as we yanked various items from the pile.  I found my pair of snowshoes and set them aside in the hope that it would snow long enough for me to use them.  Little did I know.

Soon, we had everything we needed and struggled to haul them upstairs and into the back porch for staging our assault on the yard.  We looked out into the slowly brightening scene to find that the snow was now over the lower bar on the fence.  That meant it was nine inches deep – and it was still snowing.  Insisting on forcing us to have something hot inside, my mom pulled us back into the kitchen for hot cocoa; not that much forcing was needed.  She made the best cocoa in the neighborhood and kids came from miles around to get a steaming cup of it.  Drop in a few marshmallows and instant brown, furry, upper lip.

Back on the porch now.  Mukluks are easy to put on – if you have three arms.  You definitely need two to hold the top while you push your foot into it.  The third is necessary to keep the inner skin from compacting under your foot.  Since my brother and I were old hands at donning mukluks, we just helped each other.  Once fitted, we wrapped the thongs tightly in a cris-cross pattern from the base to the top and tied them off.  Adding a thick coat with muffler wrapped around the collar and gloves we were ready for some fun.

Snow on the East Coast, especially near large bodies of water, can come in several graduations of ‘wetness’.  If the wind is blowing pretty hard (like, enough to blow your cap off) the snow turns into hard little pellets that sting when they hit.  All morning, the wind had been dropping so that by the time we ventured out snow was falling in much larger flakes.  These tended to be a little wetter and when you tried to slog through drifts it felt like walking in molasses.  This time we were lucky.  The snow was pretty dry and the sled pulled nicely behind us.

We were headed for the hill on the road behind our house one block over.  It was called Boxwood and it went down very steeply to a cross street.  This would have been a perfect sledding hill but for one flaw:  there was no street on the other side of the bottom junction, just someone’s house.  In an effort to stop or at least slow kids from zipping across their yard to crash into their front porch, the owners had installed a line of small pine trees with a trunk about three inches in diameter.

Any kid can tell you that pine trees may be nice, but they will not stop a good sledder at speed.  When you hit the tree – and you WILL hit the tree – the front of your sled rides up the trunk, bends it over, and thumps rhythmically on the underside of your sled as you pass over it.  It will, however, slow you down to below the sound barrier.  Not the official sound barrier of around 768 miles per hour but the kid sound barrier of AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!  I’M OUTTA CONTROL!!!!!!!!!

I have no idea how many times the owners had to add shingles to the lower portion of their house after sleds have come to a stop against them.

Anyway, as my brother and I slogged around the block, pulling our sleds behind us, we were joined by other hardy adventurers with their sleds.  By the time we all got to the top of the hill there was a crowd of maybe twenty kids of all sizes and downhill capabilities.  First things first.  A chain of kids was formed (chosen mostly by boot size) to walk in a line across the hill and move downwards.  This packed the snow down so that we had a good base.

Packing a good base is important because if you don’t, the very first time you take a flying leap and plop down on your sled, you’re going to eat yards of snow coming over the front bar.  When it is packed, what you have then is a glistening, slightly icy, surface suitable for supersonic power-sledding

Finally, the packing is complete and the hill is ready for trial runs.  Testers are democratically chosen by their size (“I’m bigger than you so I go first”).  They will make the first couple of runs in a sitting position so they can slam their boots down in an effort to stop if anything gets in their way.  This method is mostly psychological because nothing can stop on this hill.  The best that you can hope for is managing a slight turn.  To top it off, turning too much will guarantee that your runners will dig into the snow/ice and you’ll end up doing barrel rolls all the way down.

The hill is declared ready for business and by now there are hordes (maybe fifty) of kids ready to zip down the slope.  The hill itself starts very step and levels out about halfway down and then steepens for the final drop to the cross street.  There is a small drainage gully at the bottom which, if you aren’t prepared for, will launch you into the air.  How far depends on many things.  For instance, your weight, your speed, your intestinal fortitude, and the like.  Most of us like to hit this jump by hanging on to the sides of the sled (if seated) and hanging on the sides of the sled (if prone).  The main difference is that if you are seated you stand a good chance of retaining your seat on the sled, otherwise you’re gonna take a fall.

It is now time for my first run.  I stand a ways back from the crest, adjust everything I can adjust so that my legs are unencumbered by excess cloth (or loose mukluk strings), and I take off running.  In three steps or sometimes four I end up crouch-running lower and lower to the ground.  I hold the sled out in front of me slightly, making sure that the runners are in line with my direction of travel, and prepare for the controlled crash when I finally hit the snow and flop on the sled.

A note here on sled alignment.  If you don’t get the runners exactly aligned it is possible to either miss your sled partially (or completely) and end up on your stomach whizzing down the hill and feeling bits of cloth, buttons, zippers, and gloves ripping off to trail after you; or, the sled will stop dead and you will trip over it and complete the very same trip also sans sled.  The good news about the second scenario is that your sled will be waiting for you when the medics bring you back up to the top of the hill.

It is still snowing hard so the bottom of the hill is shrouded in swirling mistiness.  There are unofficial “hill criers” that will shot that the coast is clear so when you hear that call it is presumed safe to take off.  I do.

A perfect launch.  Feet propelling me swiftly from behind the crest to the very top of the hill, a neat drop of the sled to the snow, and a belly-flop that whooshes air out of my lungs.  I make sure I don’t drag my toes behind me, which is considered ‘chicken’ by the hard core sledders.  It also screws up the take off zone by making grooves.

In no time, I am halfway down the hill and slowing slightly as the grade flattens out.  The bottom clears a lot here at the halfway point and I see that my intended target zone is clear of anything fauna.  Flora are another matter.  I see, too late, that the trees that I was able to slip between last year have now grown branches that stretch from on to another.  This tends to hide anything behind them.  I vow to make a small turn.  Just enough to pass around in a great arc from one side of the hill and end up running perpendicular to the hill on the cross street.

Things don’t work out quite as I planned and my turn is cut short at about the halfway point by a small patch of snow which hasn’t been stamped flat yet.  I hit it dead center and am blinded by the snow I scooped up over the front bar.  Since I wear glasses, this is not a good thing and I spend precious moments frantically trying to clear them.  I can see again, but only to get a really close view of a garbage can before I smack into it with my shoulder.

Like a bowling ball against pins, I topple the cans (there were two of them) and scatter trash around.  My speed has been cut down to practically nothing but when a discarded magazine slips under my runner, it and the sled attached, comes to a dead halt.  Unfortunately, I don’t, and I end up flying forward off the sled and into a scooped up ridge of snow from the guy’s driveway.

“Yahoooo!”  I shout as I turn and contemplate climbing back up the slope for another run.  My brother and I spend most of the day on this hill.  By the time noon rolls around there must have been a hundred kids whooshing down the hill.  It is barely controlled mayhem on the slope.  Established corridors for travel back up to the top are demarked, and for the most part obeyed, but occasionally a downhill sledder picks up a passenger.

When lunchtime arrives, my brother and I troop back to our house, gobble down sandwiches, and head back to the hill.  It continues to snow the rest of the afternoon until we have a base coat that is around six to seven inches deep.  Very prime sledding conditions for sure.  Finally, tired, sore, and ready for a rest, we go back to our house for the last time.  It continues to snow all night long until the next morning arrives with the aforementioned seventeen inches.  School is forgotten and for those four days we live it up.

T.O.M.

So far, so good

September 8, 2010

Well, things are looking up.  My diagnosis, along with some serious hedging by the Doc, is that I have an inflamed prostate.  I maintain that if the various Docs hadn’t poked and prodded it that it wouldn’t be so inflamed.  I’m sure that flinging electrons and magnetic lines of force at it couldn’t have done it much good either.

I can at least sit for longer periods of time without feeling like I’ve sat on a pine cone – the size of a football.  The little blow-up circular ring thingy my wife came up with looks suspiciously like the neck brace you use so you can sleep in a moving vehicle, but what the hell it appears to work.

I’ve been rummaging through my extensive collection of yellowing, fading, black and white prints in search of the next post.  Nothing is coming to me.  There is one picture of me and my cohorts standing in front of what looks like a pile of debris left over from an explosion in a laundry, but, in reality, was our first attempt at a submarine.  It even worked – at 50% capacity (down, but not up).

Oh Emm Gee!  I just found a picture of me in my finest, going to my first big junior high dance, getup.  My mom insisted that I wear my prophylactic black-frame government-issue glasses.  I say this because they were guaranteed to keep me “in” and girls “out”.  I wore my hair in a high, pompadour, which fairly glistened with bear grease.  The sides were shaved up to approximately the height of my eyebrows.  Thank goodness the picture is in black and white because, as I recall, the suit was one of those that shimmered a deep purple in the right light (i.e. light above 12 lumens).

And here I am astride my mighty Monark with the huge balloon tires and the fat side panels in indestructible iron that always managed to hit a knee when you least expected it.  I suspect that the name came from a spelling-challenged marketing type who listened to the word ‘monarch’ and spelled it phonetically.  My dad bought it for me in place of the Schwinn Black Phantom (another spelling challenged name) I really wanted.  His explanation for this was that the Monark was much nicer (his euphemism for ‘cheap’).  I figure the net weight of the bike was around 150 pounds.  And, all I had was one gear forward.

Moving onwards to the Europe category I see the Germany slot is filled to capacity with bunches of pictures of countryside, cities, and suburban areas.  Here’s one of me and three of my buddies getting beer delivered to our table at one of the locales Bier Halle.  The server is a very buxom young lass and, yes, my eyes are diverted down the front of her dirndl.  In all fairness, I should add that the other three guys are similarly engaged.  I can’t for the life of me remember who took the picture.  Not Virginia, I hope.

A self-portrait of me.  I took it while focusing on the mirror in front of me.  Why?  Nobody knows; least of all, me.

What’s this?  A crash scene?  No, wait, that’s one of my tent on a backpacking trip down the Rhine River.  We had been rained on, very heavily, and once the sun came back out we flopped out sleeping bags over the spine of the tent.  At first, it looked like a couple of people were getting artificial respiration by being rolled over a barrel.

Many pictures of Virginia.  Some are flattering and other not so flattering; like this one here of her just getting up while we were all on our bicycle trek.  She is brushing her teeth and trying to make be go away at the same time.  She looks rabid so it’s best to stay away from that one.

Here’s one of the many I took at Oktoberfest.  When I got ready to print this one I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t look right until I realized that I took it when inverted in a ride called, here in the States, a Hammerhead.  I haven’t a clue what they called it in Germany.  It’s the ride that swings back and forth like a pendulum and then, for some insane reason, begins to rotate the pod you are sitting in.  As I recall, the camera weight went from over 200 pounds to somewhere around minus 50 pounds.  Mmmmm, what fun.

Hey!  I made a blog entry.

T.O.M.

A Temporary Pause

August 31, 2010

It has been some time since my last post here, and I’m sorry for that.  I’ve been on a bit of a treadmill here trying to get a couple medical problems straightened out.  It seems to be taking an inordinate amount of time to schedule the various tests needed to diagnose the problem.

I’m not going to go into a long litany of symptoms (real or imagined) because it would just bore you to tears.  Suffice it to say that it is some sort of internal functioning that’s off kilter and causing bodily distress.

I find it hard to sit down for long periods of time, and, since I can normally be found at my computer most of the day, this cuts down on how long I can sit here.  The rest of the time I find myself with my feet propped up in my living room chair surfing the satellite TV for some sign of life on this planet (although the satellite itself is technically defined as being ‘off-planet’).

The following opinions are my own, and I stand behind them (because I sure as hell am not going to stand in front of them).

I have discovered in the last month that the various movie channels (HBO, Showtime, IFC, Sundance, etc. plus the most enjoyable one – TCM) tend to run the same movies in a cycle of rotation that is far too quick.  Fox Movie Channel is a prime example:  they show the very same movie THREE times in a row every Friday night.  What a waste of bandwidth.

My absolute pet peeve is the HD channels.  When HD first came out, and I went to a demo at some store (I forget which) and thought that now we were finally going to get some really great programming and pictures.  We’ve come a very long way from the snowy, grainy, and faded out black and white of my first TV in 1954 to super-duper HD we have now.  What I am seeing on the HD movie channels is absolute crap!  The phrase that strikes fear into my heart is “this movie has been reformatted to fit your television screen”.  Come ON guys!!!!  My screen is 16×9 right now and when you slap a pan and scan movie on it, it looks TERRIBLE with those black bars on either side.  If I eliminate them and stretch the picture, then everyone looks like a three-foot tall toadstool and cars look like roller skates.

When a movie is cut to pan and scan proportions you lose about 30 to 35% of the picture.  The sides are chopped off and the top and bottom lose a little also.  When what’s left is zoomed full screen, it gets very grainy.  So, what you get on a HD channel with a pan and scan movie is a very sharply presented fuzzy picture.  Why the hell can’t they present a widescreen movie as it was produced (and copyrighted) on at least the HD channels?

A few of movie channels (Starz, The Movie Channel and, of all things, IFC) are now occasionally putting widescreen movies on their channels.  To them I say:  “You go for it!”  I’ll watch their movies before I’ll watch any pan and scan crud.

It is interesting to note that if I flip back and forth between my basic cable and the satellite for channels that match, there is a definite time lag between the land-based and the space-based presentations.  If I am fast enough, I can get some hilarious out-takes; especially if I go from space to ground.  This cuts out around 1.5 seconds of dialog.  This gap is more than enough to chop out entire words which results in what I call ‘Indian-Speak’.  “Um – we go now.  Come back later”  (NOTE: this is not very PC in today’s world, but what the hell.)

Flipping the other way (ground to satellite) you get the same dialog spoken over again.  This is also hilarious and reminiscent of Max Headroom (if you remember him – Matt Frewer).  “And that-that-that-s what hap-happened”.

The invention of the DVR (Digital Video Recorder) is very nice.  It allows you to record programs that come on during the time you are sleeping so that you can ignore them until your disk maxes out and you have to overwrite them.  This is simply because you cannot watch TV all day and then try to watch the ones that were recorded during the previous night.  Hint:  not enough hours.  One thing the DVR does let you do is zip through the inane commercials – which is definitely a step in the right direction.

Not a lot of people know that virtually every network show will put out a bit of digital one’s and zero’s immediately before a commercial comes on.  This is to alert the receiving stations that a commercial is about to start (see, it sort of fits in that way).  There is no reason I can see why the makers of the DVR couldn’t key on this digital signature and simply SKIP the commercials and record only the show.  Most probably the big reason is that the advertisers would tie the CEO of the company to a stake and burn him.  Perhaps that’s a deterrent – you make the call.

TCM (Turner Classic Movies) is a great channel.  The absolute newest movie I’ve seen on that channel in the last six months was one made in 1993.  The month of August they streamed out a LOT of movies made in the 20’s and 30’s.  Their other feature that I like very much is what they’re calling “The Summer of the Stars”.  This lets them feature a particular actor/actress for almost a 24-hour period.  What I don’t like about it is that this channel presents the movies of their star that were less than critically received (I.E. bombed).  This is not always the case, but I’d venture to say more than 50% of the time.  For example, on neither Henry Fonda’s day nor Maureen O’Hara’s day was the movie “Spencer’s Mountain” shown.  My opinion only:  that it’s a great movie and deserves to be shown.

TCM is also one of the very few channels that do NOT broadcast the copy-protection scheme that won’t let you save the movie directly to a DVD.  For some really obscure (read: stupid) reason, you can TAPE it and play it back, but you can’t even do a tape to DVD without being told that it won’t happen.  I realize there are ways around that.  Buying a ‘picture stabilizer’ will work, as well as having a TV tuner on your computer and ripping the movie to the hard drive.  The second method is very labor intensive and takes approximately three times as long to get recorded than to just sit and watch it the first time.  The first method is simply wrong, even though the ‘stabilizer’ will remove the copy protection pulses from the digital stream, it’s illegal.

So, here I sit – er – lay, propped up in my Barka-lounger, contemplating my navel and whacking a few keys on my laptop.  Once this strange malady gets diagnosed, and the treatment started (if any), and I’ll be back pecking away.

T.O.M.