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Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.

 

 

 

 

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New Instruments — Part II

23 May

New Instruments — Part II

The piano. The trombone. The harmonica.

The Piano

Well before, and sandwiched in between my learning to play the baritone ukulele or classical guitar, were the good intentioned desires of my mother that I learn to play the piano.

I was probably somewhere between five and seven years old.

Dad had bought a mid-sized Mason & Hamlin grand piano from a friend who needed the money. It sat in the livingroom and occupied a corner. Whenever my sisters and I played tag or hide-and-seek, it was a favorite place to hide, sitting on the thin carpeted floor underneath. Many times I dashed around the corner and banged my head on the underside of that piano.

For a short while I would walk a couple of blocks to the home of a piano teacher, who, in vain, tried to give me the fundamentals of piano. I’m convinced had ADD been a diagnosis at the time, I would have had it. I had no patience, and my lessons were short-lived. I rue that to this day.

Instead, I would spend hours seated on the piano bench, tapping out my own music creations, and playing with the foot pedals for effect.

Dad also had a Hammond electric organ, which he would play infrequently. He only knew a few songs, and those were mostly from “South Pacific,” his favorite musical. Of course. It was about the war, which had impacted him so very much.

Through the years the piano went through some transformation. At one point my parents had the black glossy finished removed for a softer, chestnut-colored stain. For the majority of its life, it remained unused and out of tune.

My sister took the piano and used it primarily for a lamp stand. She said she intended her children to learn to play, but that never happened.

Years later I bought it from her, and commissioned a person to refinish the instrument. She was glad to have the piano stay in the family, but more happy with money to use to go on a trip.

Of the family, only my first daughter flourished as a pianist. To this day she plays fluently, and teaches chorus in public school. She has a white enameled piano in her house.

When I separated and divorced from my Ender Wife (I had two: a Starter Wife and an Ender Wife), she got custody of the piano. To my knowledge, it is still in pieces from her move to another city, stacked among other furniture that awaits final resolution and use. She does play the piano, and had an old church upright for a time when I first met her.

Like any instrument, I believe, pianos are only happy when they are played.

The Trombone

In high school and college, my dad played the trombone. He had a silver-finished simple slide trombone that sported a small bell. I saw an ad featuring a trombone brand — King, I think — endorsed by the great Tommy Dorsey.

The summer between elementary school and junior high school, I decided to learn the trombone, and to play in the junior high band. Dad proudly presented me his to use. By that time, what might have once been a shiny silver lacquer finish, was now more like a dull gray pewter.

I sat in a row with other trombonist would-bees, with their very shiny Conn trombones sporting HUGE bells, and the fuse of my continuing sense of inadequacies was lit. Their slides slipped effortlessly along the double-tubed track. Mine? It slid like a rusty screen sliding door — jerky and unpredictable. I hated my trombone?

“What’s wrong with it?” my Dad asked. In his day it was probably the finest instrument money could buy. To me it was like comparing a Model-T to a Corvette Stingray. He made it more difficult to explain when he told me that Dorsey had come to his fraternity once at the U of Minnesota and actually played the thing. I thought of the sappy story about an old violin being auctioned off. Do you know that one?

  • “Let’s start the bidding for this violin at $10,000.” No bids.
    He dropped it by half to $5,000. Still no bids.
    Once again, he dropped it to $2,500, and then to $1,000, and then $500 — until in exasperation he had reached $10 for the violin.
    “Wait!” shouted someone in the back of the grouped bidders. An old bent man shuffled forward and took the violin in his hands, tucked it under his chin, and drew the bow across its strings.
    The result mesmerized the room. It was beautiful, and the violin sang like a Stradivarius. He handed the old violin back to the auctioneer and disappeared among the amazed bidders.
    “Who will offer $50,000 for this violin?” said the auctioneer.
  • Yeah, well I was no expert, and still wanted a bright, shiny brass like-silk sliding trombone.

The trombone is a dirty instrument, in my opinion. To get a sound, you have to basically spit through pursed lips into the mouthpiece. After a time, enough saliva collects in the slide tubing that the “voice” of the trombone gets very gurgly-sounding. At the end of the slide is a spring valve that the player opens and blows hard — which forces the liquid yuck out. Next time you see an orchestra, watch the trombone players. They will quickly lean forward to empty the slide of spit onto the floor area next to their feet.

As with nearly every instrument, learning a brass instrument comes with a painful learning curve — painful to listeners as well as the player — who wants to sound just like Dorsey, or any well-known instrumentalist. Tone and pitch are nonexistent in the learning months. And practice? Well, my ADD tendencies didn’t allow for much of it. I did find that the acoustic reverberation effects of the bathroom made whatever I played sound much better, though. And louder. You were out of luck if you needed to go and I was playing my trombone.

To complicate matters, I wore braces. Pressing my lips to the mouthpiece to get a sound ravaged the insides of them. And so my career was short-lived. Plus I played football (better suited to an ADD kid), and so couldn’t march in the band.

My band teacher was great, though, and all the band members were fun. We were herded into the same homeroom so that we could be in band class. Teddy Harris, a tall, skinny guy, played a mean drum, and in home room, all of us pounded our desks to the beat of a favorite rhythm. Our homeroom teacher was a saint. Or should have been.

And who doesn’t like a man in uniform? Blue and white swirling down sleeves and pant legs. Stove-like hats with a plume shooting up at the front, and a shining black visor. Brass buttons. And you got to march down Main Street in the Christmas Parade! Although we were always positioned just behind a group of gaily-dressed cowboys and cowgirls riding Palominos who definitely had digestive problems.

While my skill levels and interest in continuing trombone definitely plateaued in junior high, the experience was great. AND, the strangest thing happened forty years later.

I was working at a hospital in Western North Carolina in public relations and marketing. One morning I received an email from a guy who had also played in the band back in junior high school. Back then he called himself Steven, and was kind of a squirrelly kid with big eyes and curly hair. He played trumpet. We will call him Steven C. Now, he addressed himself as Steve C., and he attached a photography of himself with his family.

Steven had grown up. He looked like a male model. His family looked like a perfect group. And Steve’s wife? Her name was Lisa, and she had played the part of Blair in a TV sitcom called “The Facts of Life.” He was now the music minister of a mega-church in California.

Imagine that?!

Within the year the couple were in the news — news like ET and such — as things unravelled for them. All the time I watched thinking, “Gosh, this will really help when I play Six Degrees from Kevin Bacon next time!”

The Harmonica

There was a time, when as a student in college who was majoring in fraternity, I came to my senses. It was such an about-face for me that I literally turned from everything I had known to that point.

I had grown reasonably adept at my guitar (Part III), and had begun to write songs. Lots of songs. Christian-oriented songs. Thank You, My Lord, For the Day came into my head while driving to my college apartment. You’ve never heard it, unless you knew me back then.

I even rewrote the lyrics to Killing Me Softly:

We met beside the water,
My life was ebbing low,
And I could go no farther
Till He began to show,
A way of quenching dryness,
The cup of Life
And he was … (Wait for it)
Filling me softly with His love,
Filling my life from above
Filling me softly with his love
Forever giving me new life
Now I am living his new life
Filling me softly
With his love.

The Jesus Movement. But not a lot of Christian groups at the time. Then came the 2nd Chapter of Acts and others.

So I had written all these songs. My father, always the fan but never the critic, encouraged me and another song-writer, Ken, to record an album he and another of his friends would finance.

Ken WAS a musician. Up through the southern beach music tradition, he too had turned from all he knew. And he too had written a lot of music, and had formed a Christian band.

So we recorded an album in a local studio. Jubilant Feet. You’ve never heard of it, unless you know either me or Ken.

The very first track of the album was a harmonica solo. You were waiting for me to get to this, right? A guy from California named Steve Humphries played it. Foot-stomping and lively. His rif bent notes and wailed as he literally provided drums with his feet. Hence the title of this song and the album.

He would sing between playing.

Well I ain’t been to heaven but I been told
Streets up there is lined with gold,
See me walkin’ down them golden streets
An’ dancin’ to da Lord with the jubilant feet!

The harmonica craze hit our little Christian hippie group like a hail storm, and everyBODY went out and bought a Hohner Blues Harp in the key of C and began huffing and puffing, trying to coax music out of that small reed instrument.

Kind of like the baritone ukulele craze.

Yeah, I got one too.

But one of the guys, who played drums on the album, and had come to Jesus from a time of drugs and hard living, did something with his. Not at first. At first, everyone begged Terry to quit the harmonica and stick to the sticks.

Terry traipsed off to Nashville, still blowing that harp of his the wrong way (he held it backwards from the way you are ‘sposed to play it). He ended up being — I think — discovered at an open mic at Roger Miller’s restaurant, and became one of the most sought-after harp players in the town. He rode with Jerry Reed and played on Ronnie Milsaps albums, and others, like JC (do I have to tell you?).

My harmonica sat in a drawer. Then, maybe twenty or thirty years later while checking out of Cracker Barrel after a meal with my family, I spied the familiar Hohner blue boxed harmonicas they had for sale, and bought another one.

I have played mine at a few places. But I have never bought a harp holder and played my guitar like Dylan did. I prefer the single-note tunes, like Moon River, and such, where I can create dreamy vibrato.

I think of Terry whenever I pick my harp up. Even wrote a story about a kid and his harp, based ever-so-loosely on Damn Yankees. You’d have to read it to understand.

Terry’s no longer here, but his music is.

Perhaps this love of new instruments and music is because of Terry’s legacy: music lives on. It’s eternal.

 

Part III: The Martin. The Acoustic. The Mandolin.

New Intruments, Part I

10 May

New Instruments – Part One

Anticipation. Disappointment. Delight. Devastation.

In my early teenhood, a fad swept our little southern town: the baritone ukulele. The baritone is a size larger than the small Hawaiian instrument known then for playing those island tunes, and little else.

Kids around the town were popping up as groups — some rather large — to play the popular songs of the day, which happened to be folk tunes. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Joan Baez; Bob Dylan; New Christy Minstrels. Songs like “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Five Hundred Miles,” “Black, Black, Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” “Green, Green,” and so forth and so on.

I wanted a baritone ukulele. Badly. It’s the one on the far right of the picture showing ukulele sizes.

So, Christmas Day found me — like Ralphie — shoving my younger brother aside under the tree among stacks of painfully-wrapped presents for that instrument.

It was not to be. Oh, there was an instrument, alright. A ukulele. A little small Hawaiian piece made from blondish woods with four plastic strings. The one on the far left of the picture showing ukulele sizes. Little more in my estimation than those plastic guitar-shaped toys with the crank jutting out of the end of the sound box.

Disappointment didn’t begin to describe my reaction. Mom and Dad couldn’t imagine why I was not overjoyed.

After the holidays, my dad righted the error and took me with him to the music shop, where I picked out a real baritone.

If you are a golfer, you know the sign of someone who is more than a duffer is when you shake hands, and you feel the rough callouses gloving their hand. They are players!

So it is with anyone that plays a stringed instrument and has to practice and practice and practice. The tips of their fingers blister to the point of agony if they are as avid as I was. From the time I got home from school to deep into the night I was strumming and fingering cords and learning songs. My sister, whose bedroom was adjacent mine, would pound on the wall and tell me, “SHUT UP!!!” repeatedly to no avail. My finger tips were toughening.

I took my baritone everywhere. I even made a protective case for it using thick mil plastic and sheets I cut up, which I sewed together. Strap, too.

Every song I heard was a project to master. Over time, my ear for chords and progressions developed, and I could hear a song and KNOW what the chords were. It really didn’t matter that most popular songs were little more than three standard chords. All rock and roll songs basically use the same chords.

After a while, I grew weary of the baritone with its tinny sound, and began to eye the next step up: a full guitar.

This time Dad knew well enough to take me with him when he shopped for the instrument.

It was a beauty! A Terraga classical guitar! Six strings a bit more difficult than the four-stringed baritone, but, once again, I was determined. Nearly all of the popular songs on the radio were folkish in nature, AND, they had song books with the chords and everything!

I went away to school in the tenth grade. My guitar was my solace for what I thought was punishment for some of my, shall we say, less-than-perfect behavior. Only knew one guy at the school who was also from my small southern town. Walter. Glasses. Skinny. Yep, I was one of those who shunned the early nerds before they became kings of the hill.

I and my guitar gently wept that first semester of school. I was homesick and hated being at the school. The seniors on my dorm were Dylan fanatics, and played their albums non-stop. I began to hate Dylan with his nasal talk-singing style. Never mind he was the guy who wrote nearly all the songs I loved that were recorded by other artists who could sing and play their instruments correctly. Who would have thought Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Not me.

It happened just before Christmas holidays. A guy who lived down the hall came running into my room laughing and giggling about something. Time slowed to a frame-by-frame recording. John Rust (not his fake name) was a portly lad with curly blonde hair and was always red-faced. Anyway, he ran into my room with a bound, and leapt onto my bed. On the bed was my Terraga classical guitar. As his arch peaked, I could see his expression of hilarity turn into horror. His landing was pin-point.

The destruction of the Tarrega classical guitar was complete.

“Oops!” said John’s body language.

He managed to get out of my room before I killed him.

Barely.

 

 

Part II: All is not lost and it is well with my soul

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

10 Feb

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

or,

Losing Touch With What It Means to Be a Kid

by L. Stewart Marsden

Note:
This piece was written a few years back, but in my opinion, is still relevant and will remain so until we come to grips with the issues that prevent our children from being able to range and roam safely. And until we adults put away our techno-toys and get outside ourselves.

At dinner recently I had to demand that my youngest children and grandchildren hand over their electronic gadgets from iPhones to iPads to Kindles and Nooks — innocuous-sounding replacements for true outdoor exercise. As well as table talk.

Am I not right?

Outdoor exercise. Hmmm. Today that’s the process of going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned school — and repeat the return trip, which is often spiced up with an air-conditioned mall or air-conditioned movie theater.

Sure, we’re the generation who brought you MacDonald’s and drive-throughs and empty calorie-laden drinks like Coke and Pepsi — TV dinners and more. But few of us were pudgy, ’cause we walked and biked miles every day through our towns and neighborhoods.

Kids today don’t know what outdoor play means. They don’t know what it means to survive and thrive for a full 12 to 14 hours in the neighborhood — wading down creeks to catch crayfish, or stealing those smudge pots street workers put out and lit to warn motorists of roadwork.

Or climbing trees to build really great tree houses 50 feet in the air.

Or blowing up coke bottles with M80’s and cherry bombs.

Or swiping playing cards and clothespins from your house and fastening them to the spokes of your bicycle. Two or three bikes equipped like that sounds like a Hell’s Angels gang! And who doesn’t like or wanna be a Hell’s Angel?

THAT was being a kid!

Nobody had allergies. Nobody cried or whimpered at the sight of blood. Or mud.

We didn’t have Wii controllers, we had Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, and plastic machine guns with full military combat regalia.

We hurled Dixie cups filled with flour to mimic grenades.

We played all over the neighborhood until the sun had set for an hour and our moms had to come out looking for us.

We were easily entertained by a box of stick matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Okay, that might have been extreme.

Comedian Bill Cosby (he whose name can never be mentioned again) said in a comedy bit he knew adults were out to kill the kids. His proof? Whirligigs, jungle gyms, and see-saws.

He left one out: the Flexi Flier. Not the sled, but the steel-wheeled running board vehicle, shaped like a bullet and designed for death-defying fun!

This crazy craft was great for areas like a flat, concrete paved parking area where there were no cars. Problem was, there were no flat, concrete paved parking areas with no cars in my neighborhood.

In my neighborhood, the street was paved, but with that rocky pebbly stuff — not asphalt. You know the kind: if you skated on it with your key skates (if you don’t know what these are, you will not understand anything else in this blog), and you tried to sing the word “buh” it would come out bubbabubbabubbabubbabubba.

Sidewalks — a concept that escapes current city planners — ran parallel to either side of the street. Sidewalks were constructed in squares of roughly three to four feet. Trees planted next to these sidewalks grew their roots under these squares and pushed the units out of kilter. This is an important thing to note and remember if you were a Flexi Flier rider.

The Flexi Flier design:

image

It looked like a sled. Not those molded thingies that are devastating our forests of plastic trees, but a thing of beauty! Made of real wood, and real steal. Painted with an American Eagle on top in multi-colors, and lacquered to a sheen. The metal steering and “bumpers,” painted bright red. It WAS a sled, but with four steel disc wheels rimmed with a half-inch of hard black rubber. Two wheels in the front, that could turn if you had muscles like Charles Atlas; and two at the rear.

Yes, a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Kind of like a BB gun was.

The Three Ways to Ride a Flexi Flier:

One knee position
You positioned one knee on the bed of the flier, and bent over forward to grab the imagesteering handles with each hand. This position was ideal on those nonexistent flat, carless parking lots. You would propel yourself with the other leg, hung out over one side. It was kind of like a huge skateboard with front wheels that turned. The kid in the photo is a random selection. The fact that he has no shoes or shirt or long-legged Levi’s on tells me he’s an idiot.

 

 

Stomach position
imageFlat on your stomach with your hands on the steering handles, and if you were a short kid, your legs extended over the back end of the Flexi. If you were tall, you bent your knees and rode with your feet in the air. Like a snow sled. This is undoubtedly the preferred position.

The kid on the left (a detail from a painting by Francene Christianson) is living a fantasy life. Probably somewhere in California, no doubt. Who the hell had flat and even sidewalks back then? Where’s the challenge in that?

Sitting up position
Buttox positioned over the rear wheels, and hands firmly gripping either side slat, you put your feet forward on the steering handles. Not as aerodynamic as the one knee or stomach positions, and you definitely could not operate the state-of-the-art front brakes.

There are no photos of this position. I suspect because few survived and blood and gore had not become a fare of the local evening news yet.

Stopping
The wheels of the Flexi were steel disks with a hard rubber rim about a half-inch thick. imageOn the steering handles were metal nubs that extended out over the front wheels. If you twisted the handles forward, the idea was that those nubs would rub the rubber rims — kind of like disc brakes — and the Flexi would ostensibly and eventually stop. After maybe half a mile when gravity or a curb brought you to a halt, it did. There was no way to quickly stop a Flexi that had built up momentum other than turn towards a bush hedge, tree, or brick wall. And uneven sidewalks.

imageIf you sped down a sidewalk and had built your speed up to maybe 15 to 20 mph — remember, you are about six inches above ground level — and you hit an uneven place in the sidewalk? Well, the Flexi would pretty much stop dead, and you would continue on — Flexiless.

Face, chin, chest, stomach, knees — pretty much any clothing on your front side — was rubbed away as your body slowed to a stop.

It wasn’t unusual to have a full body scab from head to toe from a Flexi mishap. It hurt like hell, but was an unmistakable badge of pride.

Alas, Flexible Fliers pretty much went the way of whirligigs and jungle gyms and see-saws. Fearful mothers and greedy lawyers pretty much did all that great fun in.  Plus kids today are wusses. If you don’t know that term, you probably didn’t understand anything above.

Keep your iPhones, iPads and iEverythings. It’s your loss.

Breaking news: The Great Beach T-Shirt Metaphor

4 Feb

BREAKING NEWS!

THE GREAT BEACH T-SHIRT METAPHOR!
(Or, what’s a meta for?)

image

Several years ago my DIL did a whimsical thing and designed a T-shirt for our annual beach trip during the week of the 4th of July.

What a great idea!

We all LOVED the shirts, which had a drawing of our cottage on the back, and other really neat stuff.

So, we meet at the beach, and my DIL passes out the shirts, and we wear them on the beach.

“Hey! Where’d you get THOSE?” asked a member of the extended family. (You see, I’m one of four children, and each of us have added children, and many of those children, children … so the number has grown exponentially over the years).

Oops!

An innocent oversight. We forgot to include about 40 others.

Sooooo, the NEXT year we INCLUDED everyone, and the design was somewhat generic and all names were stamped on the back and so forth and so on.

What began as my DIL’s fun, fanciful and serendipitous project had become, in the words of the somber and serious: AN INSTITUTION!

I can hear Zero Mostel singing “Tradition!” in my mind.

Fast forward a couple of years. We’re coming around Winter’s corner and will soon be springing through to summer, where all — with some additions — will once again gather at the beach during the week of July 4th.

I put out a letter to my siblings, asking if there is any interest in a T-shirt.

One of my daughters, who had told me months ago that she and her cousin wanted to design it this year. I had forgotten that one of my son’s had put in a bid as well to design it. Apparently, design it is a big deal. My GKs designed last year’s.

Last year 53 relatives showed up to suntan and play bocci and ladder ball for a week. Not in one cottage, mind you.

So my daughter said she really didn’t want to do it, but I should contact her cousin, which I did to no avail. Still forgetting my son wanted to do it, I began the process. The picture is the design. The line across the belly actually is supposed to go down the right sleeve. CustomInk doesn’t have a template to show that, however.

I sent out a request for sizes to my family portion (those of my branch). One of my daughters said she did not want a T-shirt. Ba-dum! Somewhat hurt, I asked if anyone else did not want a shirt.

You know that phrase, “If you build it …?” Well, it also works for “If you ask it, they will answer.”

Rapid-fire semi-automatic responses. I’m ducking left and right, pretending the wounds are only superficial, but am both surprised and hurt by the unexpected reactions.

So, I do bleed if scratched!

There is a flurry of back-and-forth texts. “What if we tweek the design?” “I don’t want to wear a line of type across my belly.” “I hate the shirt style.” Yadda-yadda-yadda.

Then, in the midst of the firefight comes an aside from one of my SIL’s (actually, he’s the ONLY SIL I have … so far):

“Let’s fix this T-shirt and make the beach trip GREAT again!”

You could hear the drum beat. Budda-bum!

There it was, in all its glory: the beach trip WASN’T the great experience everyone in the family pretended it to be. It was in bad shape. It wasn’t the T-shirt at all.

It was the fact that something I looked forward to as a kid — spending time on the beach and building sandcastles and cleaning blue crabs we had netted at Southport, and going down to Myrtle Beach to ride the rides and then throw up — all of that had morphed into a tradition.

My kids will tell you they love the trip because it’s the only time they get to see their cousins. But has it run its course? Has it lost the old zippety-doo-dah? Is the salt in the air a bit less salty. The waters filled with more sharks than before? The Calabash dinners a bit more oily?

Like the T-shirt, it seems to be something to do because we’ve always done it. Something to look back on. Building memories.

MayBE like the government. “Well, we’ve always done it this way …”

Until someone said, “Make the beach trip GREAT AGAIN!” no one stopped and thought about it and said “Wait! What? It’s NOT great?”

You need to know that the next generation beyond my siblings and me is, for the most part, politically liberal (“Oh, jeesh, Edith — did you HAVE to say THAT?)

You would expect some exciting and different ideas about how to get the extended family together periodically.

Like, a reunion? And maybe not for a whole week? But a long weekend? Maybe in the mountains? Or somewhere else.

AND, we could have a commemorative T-shirt!

Budda-bum!

The metaphor.

OR, mayBE, not have a T-shirt, at all.

9-11: A Memory

11 Sep

9-11

A Memory

It was an extended moment — dragged on and caught on live television for hours. Yet another occurrence that would inevitably be the prompt for the question, “Where were you when …”

For me, it was added to a long and growing list of “where were you when …”

  • John Kennedy was assassinated
  • Martin Luther King was assassinated
  • Bobby Kennedy was assassinated
  • NASA’s Challenger exploded

With the exception of the Challenger explosion, news of the other events filtered through the news networks, along with photos and some video.

Not 9-11.

Two jet airliners smash into the Twin Towers, the first images not captured live on TV. Another jet airliner crashes into the Pentagon, and still another falls out of the sky to crash in Stonycreek, PA.

Like waves.

The effect was dumbfounding. Disbelief. No mental capacity to comprehend the why of it.

Who would shoot the President?
Who would shoot Martin Luther King?
Who would shoot Bobby Kennedy?
How could the space shuttle explode in midair?

At the time of 9-11 I lived in the sleepy town of Hendersonville, NC and was married with three children living at home.

Those videos and images and live television feeds were still able to find me, despite my insulation from the scenes of disaster. I was nearly 11 hours from Manhattan, and 7 hours from DC, yet unable to remain distanced from the events of that day.

In the afternoon, my wife and I walked down to a peaceful park near our house. A half-mile walking trail coursed around the large soccer field and basketball courts. The park was deserted.

It was late afternoon. The sun had begun its descent and was no longer visible. As we walked, I took note of the western sky. It was an incredible site.

Moving from south to north was a huge cloud formation — like a flowing gown that tapered on the north end into the shape of an angel. The hues were purples and pinks and glints of gold. Like Gabriel, I thought, mournfully steering northward, weeping. The the angel’s wings and train of the gown spread to cover the southern sky in growing darkness.

At the time I took the cloud as a sign of God’s exceptional grief over the day’s tragedy, as well as a commitment to cover all of the destruction and loss and pain with a new day hours hence. I’m not given to spiritualism per se, but this was without a doubt a supernatural and spiritual response from the heavens for all who had the good fortune to look up at the setting sun that day. It will remain forever in my mind’s eye, as will those other images from earlier that morning. I wonder if anyone else saw it.

I also wonder, does that cloud of hope or comfort continually wing its way across each and every tragedy around the world?

Nostalgia: Christmas not so very long ago

1 Jan

Christmas, not so very long ago

 

forbidden_planet_poster_03The Forbidden Planet was one of my favorite sci-fi movies growing up. Released in 1956, it starred Leslie Nielson (of Airplane fame), Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis. It also utilized the Disney animators in bringing the monster of the planet alive.Forbidden_planet_monster

For me, the real star was Robby the Robot. This bubbly stainless-steel creature with rotating antennae was fascinating to me! Robby reappeared in the Lost in Space television series, as well as numerous other films and television appearances.

Whatta guy!

And guess what?

A miniature toy replica, with working antennae and the ability to walk storm-trooper-like across carpeted floors, was created and sold. And THAT’s what I wanted for Christmas! A Robby the Robot mechanical toy!

Sad to say I didn’t get Robby, but Robert the Robot, and unreasonable facsimile thereof.

mechanized-robby-robotThe difference between the two was glaring. Robby looked just like his larger movie self. And Robby operated on batteries, and walked independently.

Robert, on the other hand, was square-ish and awkward-looking, and was tethered to a control cord with a plastic box at the other end. Robert kind of skated along when the operator wound a lever that twisted in the control cord and turned roller gears. No batteries. And a lot of turning effort to get old Robert to move even an inch or two. And his movement was jerky, too.robert-the-robot

Growing up, we kids couldn’t wait for the Sears Christmas Toy Catalog to come in the mail. Each of us fought to hole up with the color photographed book and circle all the toys we wanted.

Sears-catalog

FtApacheFullMine were things like Fort Apache: a miniature plastic wall of pointed logs with a sentry post and corral fence pieces; soldiers in various positions, like on one knee aiming a rifle that bent off to one side, or on horseback, wielding a saber above their head. And the Indians with bows and arrows and tomahawks.

Or the Mattel Fanner 50 cowboy pistol and holster set, with silver plastic bullets you could actually put into the bullet chambers.Mattel_Fanner-50

My sisters? Barbie crap.

original-barbieAlthough I must admit to slinking off with one of their Barbies to check out anatomy.

Typically we would get some of the stuff we wanted. Also typical was the swing-and-a-miss when I would get a Robert instead of a Robby.

Like the Christmas I wanted a baritone ukulele, and got a regular ukulele.

All in all, we made out like bandits. Within hours of tearing open Christmas packages at 6 am we were out the door to visit friends to see what they got. That was a mixed bag. I remember one year the Lynches, who lived behind us got a motorized plastic car big enough to sit in and drive. Sure, it went about 1 mile a month, and the battery needed constant changing, but a car!

I think about those days when Christmas rolls around. Nowadays the kids in my life have Amazon wish lists, and it’s a click here and there and, voila! Shopping is done! The only real tension is whether or not all the gifts will arrive in time to spend hours wrapping them so the recipients can spend seconds unwrapping them.

No requests for Robby the Robot. No requests for Tinker Toys or Lincoln Logs or Erector Sets or Fanner 50s or Fort Apaches.

I guess those will forever be the ghosts of Christmas Past.

 

Copyright, 2016

Tempers Fugit

14 Apr

Tempers Fugit

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Through my years on this earth I have been amazed at the quick conflagration of emotion. All types of emotion. Anger, lust, sorrow — the merest spark sets them off as though each was pure ethanol. Sometimes there are no bystanders to get singed in the explosion. But sometimes there are.

My surprise is not only regarding others, but myself as well.

I remember when I was a Tweener — twelve or so. Acne-ravaged, hormone-driven, I was attending a Boy Scout Camporee. These were gatherings of hosts of Scout troops within a council to camp and show off and compete various skills. Campsites, fire building, cooking, lashing, signal flags, personal fitness. Rough and tumble hearty competition Lord Baden Powell looked down upon with great pride.

It was night, and dozens of troops were huddled about campfires that spit sparks into the chilled night air. I was restless, and was spying other troops in order to see how they were set up. One or two Scouts from my patrol — the Flaming Arrow patrol — trailed behind.

For no reason I veered through a campsite and through the actual campfire, stomping on the glowing oak and pine coals with my heavy-soled hiking boots.

“Hey!” yelled one shadowed scout from the unit. “What’re you doing?”

I carried a walking stick — a low-hanging branch snapped from one of many pines populating the camping area. The scout approached me from my backside. I gripped my stick and swung it around behind me, striking the kid in the face, slicing his cheek.

Blood immediately spurted. More scouts from the unit burst from tents to his aid and some ran at me. I took off into the shadows and darkness, my minions close behind. The shouts from the attacked unit fading as I dodged into the surrounding forest and headed back to my unit. I felt like a marauding Mohawk, my painted face and balded head infused with a warrior’s mentality.

I could not begin to tell you why I did what I did. I was both mortified and elated. My heart thumped a thousand times a second, and I felt such power surge through my pubescent body.

On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

No problem with the physically strong part. Especially with the element of a hidden weapon and utter surprise. I didn’t think about what God and my country thought about my actions. I was Presbyterian, and pretty much everything about God was preached in a vague Scottish brogue from the pulpit by Dr. Watts. Scout Law? A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.

Twelve. Like the Twelve Commandments. Or was it ten? Okay, then two were extra. So I chose to drop kind and courteous. Worked for me.

If you have never felt the infusion of anger run throughout your body and mind, to release mind and control to the rage of a tsunami, you have not lived. You cannot understand the anger and lack of control — or rather the submission to the control of something so large and overpowering that to resist is pointless.

Have you?

Sure you have. You, the corporate executive. The tenured school teacher. The pious Sunday School teacher. You all have.

And if you were truly honest, you would admit to the exhilaration that abandonment results in.

The problem, of course, is the aftermath. The clean-up.

I took the woman I was head-over-heals in love with to a party. A house filled with people I sort of knew, but felt no real connection with. The music was loud, the rooms elbow-to-elbow crowded. The alcohol flowed generously. The cigarettes spewed noxious and delightful clouds of smoke which hung in the air.

My woman disappeared. I began to search for her, and climbed a staircase to the second floor, where I found her with several other party-goers who were sharing joints. Their eyes were half-lidded with content. A lava lamp pulsed and glowed from the corner of the room, beating out red-hued light onto the ceiling.

She looked at me and smiled, and extended a short snub of a joint to me and beckoned. “Come join us,” she urged, her brown eyes glazed and inviting.

But the invitation had the opposite effect on me, and I exploded in anger, left the room, descended the stairs and bolted from the house.

She followed.

“What’s wrong?”

I couldn’t say. Everything was wrong. This was not me! This was not her!

And I slapped her. Open-handed across her face. Hard.

And I left. Left her hurt. Left her alone. Abandoned her. The person who caused me heartaches during my Senior Dance at the school I attended when her mother drove her home. The woman who looked like Sophia Loren to me. Who played Bonnie to my Clyde. Who grabbed me in the back seat of my car one rainy afternoon and pleaded with her eyes to go further.

But I loved her. I could not see her as a sexual object. The Playboy monthly playmate who extended across a three-page color spread. Smiling. Promising. Tempting.

When you love someone, they are angelic. They are pure. They are perfect.

So at my advancing age I still wonder at those rivers of lava just beneath the surface. How they poke through a fissure in the crust of emotion — spew fire and bile that arcs and illumines the night air. What is that? Why is that?

Do you know what I’m talking about? Scratch the surface. Just a little. I believe you do.

Where does that stuff come from? Do you know?

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 14 April, 2015