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Kicking the Tires

15 Jun


Kicking the Tires

By L. Stewart Marsden

My dad was an auto mechanic for years. On the weekends he and me used to work on an old jalopy he bought for practically nothing. Said it was his therapy. Well he musta had a severe case of the crazies on account he worked on that car till the day he died.

Sally, he called her. And she was the jumpin’ off point for many a life lesson I never forgot.

“Sally is just like a woman,” he said a lot. “She may be old, and may not work the way she did when she rolled off the assembly line, but she’s reliable and fixable. Not like the shiny new cars you see in the dealerships. No. And she wasn’t made for the smooth life of the highway, but the bumpy backroads.

“Once she’s back in shape, she’ll purr like a kitten and be the envy of every guy within three counties.

“Not like those fancy-finned gals with all kinds of gadgets. The ones what seems great the first time you take ‘em on the road, only to fall apart after not too long. The ones with built-in ob-so-lescence. Cosmetic crates, I call ‘em. Lemons with a fancy paint job.”

My dad’s ability to hone in on Sally as a universal roadmap to life was better than a lecture from a triple-PhD at some high-powered college or university. According to my dad, those guys had nothing but wind chimes for brains, which tinkled loudly whenever a fresh wind blew.

But Sally was the real thing. The true compass. From sex to marriage to being dependable and trustworthy as a worker. She was the rusted splotch-polished real McCoy example of how life should be, and once was.

“The thing about marriage is you are drawn by the sleek sexiness of a sedan or a convertible under the lights on the car lot. Never buy a new car at night, by the way.

“Oh, the shine and the new vinyl smell and the reflections of city lights as you cruise the boulevard make you think you’re in heaven! The AM/FM works just fine, and the steering is tight. The big rubber whitewalls grip the road on every turn, and you only have to tap your breaks to slow or stop on a dime. The clutch is taut, and the gears slide like butter from first to third.

“And there ain’t no crusted-over milkshake spills on the floorboard. The cigarette lighter is virginal, and the ashtray slick and clean. The visors hold where you place them, and the rear view mirror ain’t spotted.

“And it’s just fine as it can be, you say to yourself.

“But you worry. About the first bug marks on the silver bumper that won’t scrub off. Or a ding on the side where some jack-ass parked too close and swung open his door. Or the temperature gauge light popping on suddenly when you are miles from a filling station.

“That first slow leak from a nail in the road. Is that person going to stop at the light or not?

“It’s all a worrisome time.

“Plus your car needs the high-priced gas, not the cheapest leaded fuel, although you are tempted to ask the attendant to use regular instead, knowing your baby will eventually chug and shudder on the road –– right when you’re trying to pass a semi on a two-lane county back road with oncoming traffic.

“And you begin to try to save in other ways, avoiding the manufacturer plugs and points and air filters for the cheaper no-name brands. Less expensive motor oil. Maybe you don’t change the radiator fluid for a while. You quit hand-washing and waxing and zip through the new automats.

“Then it’s not too long before you hear the door hinges and springs creak loudly, and there is a crusted-over milkshake spill or two on the floorboard. The vinyl smell is gone. The cigarette lighter has turned gray-white on the coils, and the ashtray is dusted over and no longer shiny. Rust spots dot the bumpers and other chrome trim. And when you idle at a light, blue-gray puffs of lead-filled exhaust spew from your loud muffler.

“And you think to yourself, ‘It’s time for a trade in.’”

Don’t get me wrong. Dad loved Mom. And he always treated her like the fine Cadillac convertible he saw her to be.

But he was at his happiest when he worked on Sally. And he whistled. And he compared life to his life-long restoration project.

He and Mom stayed married sixty-seven years.

“Don’t ever forget, Son. You gotta kick a few tires to find the right one. And never –– ever –– buy a new car at night.”

Words to live by.

The Dream

14 Nov


The Dream

On thinking of the attacks in Paris

By L. Stewart Marsden


The dream endured throughout the night, even though he awoke several times in a sweat, his bedclothes twisted about his legs and ankles. He had but a moment to realize it was not real before he plunged back into the chaos as his head hit the pillow again.

He stood before a vast, open desert. Nothing grew on the plain but dirt and the occasional stone or outcropping of rock. In the long distance a bluish outline of a mountain range undulated. The sky was yellow-hot and cloudless. There were no birds aloft.

Between him and the far mountains, which seemed to be his goal, the dirt ground was pocked with small holes. Thousands — millions of holes. As he stepped towards the mountains, the head of a snake would suddenly pop out of a hole near his foot, which was bare of shoes. The snake would unhinge its jaw, as though to swallow him up, even though his foot was several times larger than the maw of the reptile. Its fangs protruded, ready to sink into his skin and inject a deadly venom.

He carried only a stick, and swung it low toward the head of each snake. The stick transformed into a machete at the snake’s head, and the beast was decapitated. Its body withdrew back into the hole and the severed head dug into the soil like a mollusk or crab. As quickly as each snake attacked, he dispatched it and it disappeared into the earth.

Behind him, he left a wake of sand splotched with blood.

Why are there no trees?

Above the scalding sand before him shimmered mirages of large lakes of water — a promise of respite from the heat and his sere throat. As he approached, each lake vanished, only to reappear some distance away, teasing him.

He continued to step and swing his machete, lopping his way towards the mountains with no perceptible progress.

He finally came upon the dried white bones of an animal. He could not tell its species nor kind. The vacuous orbital holes in its skull were like vacant eyes, and its death grin mocked as he passed. A dry wind whistled through its gaped teeth.

You will never reach them. It is useless. Why don’t you turn around and go back?

“There is nothing to go back to,” he heard himself say, and watched himself from a distance.

Then turn aside. Surely going on will result badly for you.

“There is no turning aside.”

Ah, yes. Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.

“Something like that.”

The snakes will eventually prevail against you, and you will end up like me — bones in the desert.

“The snakes are slow and small. They die easily.”

But there are many of them. As you cut off their heads, they burrow and re-seed into new snakes. They do not stay dead. And their number grows.

“Possibly true. But in the mountains there is water. Enough water to flood this entire plain. Enough to flood out every den of snakes and drown them all.”

You believe that?

“What other choice is there?”

You are a fool! Give up. Give in. Lie down and die.

“It’s not an option I will ever choose.”

Suit yourself.

  • * * *

The Foothills


Three more times he awoke, and on the last time staggered into his bathroom for a drink. He leaned over the sink and turned the cold water spigot. It soothed the dryness of his mouth and throat. He guessed he had been sleeping with his mouth open.

He crawled back into his bed, the area damp with his sweat. He closed his eyes and was back into his dream.

Behind him stretched the desert. Before him, scrub bushes and dried grasses and weeds appeared. He had managed to reach a gradual incline, and saw a pathway twisting up and away out of view.

The snakes still attacked, but with less frequency. There were fewer holes, but he still determined to be on the alert.

The first part of the climb was easy. The sand cooled, and ravaged his bare feet much less than before. He pulled some grasses out of the soil and fashioned a simple hat, weaving and twisting the dry material. The hat afforded him some relief from the hot sun, which was perpetually at its highest point in the sky.

As the pathway rose from the desert plain, the temperature also cooled noticeably, and his hope of finding some source of water grew stronger.

Rounding a bend on the pathway, he saw a shaded area sheltered completely from the sun. Sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, a bit hunched over, was an old man clad in light linen. His tanned and leather skin was in stark contrast with his clothing. His hair was bleached white, and his eyes sunken deep into his face. He, too, had a hat — made of straw and more finely fashioned than the one of the dreamer. He appeared not to notice the dreamer, and remained undisturbed.

The dreamer approached and reached out his hand to touch the old man’s shoulder, which startled the man from his sleep.

“Oh! There you are!” said the old man.

“You were expecting me?”

“Eventually. Unless, of course, the snakes got you. Which I see they did not.”


“You must rest a bit with me. And then we will continue.”

“Continue where?”

“To the mountain, of course. You were headed there, yes?”

“Yes. To find water and release the flood to kill the snakes.”

“Killing the snakes is no longer the goal.”

“What? Of course it is!”

The old man smiled and looked deeply into the dreamers eyes.

“You have much to learn. Let me show you something.”

The old man slowly pulled himself up from the log, and walked toward and past the dreamer back toward the desert.

“You’re going back?”

“No. Come look.”

The dreamer stepped up to the old man’s side and looked out over the plain he had crossed. It was no longer a desert, but filled with vibrant vegetation and animals, rivers and lakes, as far as the eye could see. He was amazed.

“I don’t understand.”

“If you look carefully, you will see the snakes.”

The dreamer looked. In the waters and on the ground he could see snakes of all kinds winding along.

“Are they not dangerous?”

“At one time they were not.”

“What happened?”

“All you see — all of the wonderful creations — were destroyed.”

“How —?”

“Not how, but who?”

“The snakes.”

“Ah, were it but as simple. No. Not the snakes.”


“Who, then?”

“The ones with the power. It has been so since the beginning of time.”

“What power? Who?”

“The biggest, at first. Then the strongest. Then the smartest. Throughout all time it has been so. Power overcomes the weak. The trusting. The naïve. Power leverages its way, has its way, and ensures its way will rule.”

“Is that bad?”

“Not for those in power. But for those taken advantage of and oppressed? It is intolerable. It is what changes the weak at some point.”

“Changes? How?”

“The weak tire are of the oppression. The weak understand in order to survive, they must defeat the powerful by adopting the tactics of their enemy.”


“If you are oppressed, or come from those who were oppressed, do the oppressors not become the enemy in your mind?”

“I don’t know.”

“Because you have not been oppressed.”

“But I have never oppressed anyone …”

“Ah! I suppose not. But having gained from the oppression of your ancestors, do you not still value those gains?”

“I don’t have anything I haven’t worked for. I haven’t oppressed anyone for what I have.”

“Have you not? Is not advantage gained from past oppression?”

“I don’t know. What advantages do I have? And how have those been gained from past oppression?”

“Status. Education. What I shall call ease of movement within your society. Are these not advantages? Have they not been attained at the suppression of others?”

“I don’t know! Why is this important at all? The fit survive!”

“A maxim of incredible conceit! In uttering it, those who do not survive are thus unfit. Do only the unfit suffer unjust ends? Are their prayers no less noble and honest?”

The dreamer stood and shook his head. This was stunning to him.

“Are you telling me we have brought this devastation upon ourselves?”

“Whom do you speak for? The oppressors or the oppressed?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Ha! Obviously you’ve never been oppressed! Still, the question is valid. Mark those who have risen in power and have held their power over the heads of others.  The Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. All of the conquerors throughout time have oppressed others and fallen. So in one sense, the oppressors have brought it on themselves by eventually falling. In the subsequent sense, the oppressed have earned their just rewards.”

“What’s the point?”

“Exactly! You tip-toe through the desert, snakes viping at your every step. They are the enemy to you. They are to be exterminated. Yet at one point, they were the oppressed. You and yours marched into their land, their culture, their lives to take from them what which they could not develop themselves at the time. Oil, gems, minerals and other resources. Out of their ground and under their mountains. All the while giving them pittance for their wealth.

“And as their governments and countries and people came into their own, they suddenly realized how they had been used deceitfully.

“And then you are surprised at their reaction? You are amazed they do not receive you with the same open-arms of decades ago?”

“But it wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything!”

“True. You didn’t own slaves. You didn’t rob the American Indian of his land and his heritage. You didn’t suck out the vitality from country after country. You are, in a word, innocent.”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Nonetheless, you occupy the end results of those atrocities. You have the advantage of station and class in life. You are on the inside looking out.”

The dreamer awoke and sat up in his bed. It took him a few minutes to realize where he was. It was still well before sunrise, and looking at his watch he realized only a short spell of time had elapsed.

He was wary of going back to sleep. He did not want to return to his dream.

  • * * *

The Mountain


The old man was surprisingly agile and quick, and made his way up the inclining path to the summit of the mountain. The dreamer had difficulty keeping up, though many years younger than his guide.  There was little talk and no rest along the ascent. The dreamer suppressed the urge to ask his guide to slow down, as he did not want to appear weak. “Are we there yet” was an entirely inappropriate question to ask.

Toward the end of the day the two crested the top of the mountain. The sun, which had held its post at the noontide position for the longest time, finally relented, and began to sink slowly in the western sky.  The aura created by sun and clouds and late-day colors was nearly too incredible to grasp, and both sat beside a monumental stone that topped the mountain. Before them lay an incredible sight: the world in all of its glory, going forever.

“What do you see?” the old man asked the dreamer.

“It is difficult to put into words,” he replied.

“There are no words to describe this. It is beyond comprehension. And please remember, that a millennia ago, it was a hundred times more spectacular. We — you and I — are complicit in its erosion and destruction.”

“How so?”

“We accepted the status quo. We turned our heads when we should have raised our voices. We allowed the evil to seep into our flesh and into our blood.”

“What evil?”

“The evil of the power. That we need to have it. That we need to wield it. That we need to suppress the weak and the lowly. King of the mountain. Conquer at all cost. Demand our way and our agenda.”

“So this glory is at jeopardy, then?”

“No. Not entirely. But its fullness is. We get but a dim view of its fullness. We diminish its full potential. And this is not only in Nature, but in our fellow mankind. Remember the weak?”

“If I am partially to blame, then what can I do to turn things about?”

“What did you say?”

The dreamer repeated his question.

“Ah! That is at least a beginning. Let me ask you — was the ascent to the mountain top an easy thing?”

“Absolutely not.”

“But, was it worth it?”



“I would never have beheld this glory had I not attempted the climb.”


A shaft of light awoke him. It splattered on the bedroom wall and ricocheted to his closed eyes, which he opened reluctantly. The dreamer did not want to leave his dream. He sat up in bed and everything he had dreamed during the night flooded back into his memory, unlike any dream before. Swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, he breathed in deeply, and prepared for a new day.

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

Immortalized words . . . family style

23 May





Immortalized words . . . family style

by L. Stewart Marsden


“Four score and seven years ago . . . “

“The only fear is fear itself . . . “

“Ask not what your country can do for you . . . “

“I have a dream . . . “

“I am not a crook!”

“I did not have relations with that woman . . . “

Immortalized words. For however long this world exists, that is. The caught quotes from the famous and the infamous, rich and not-so-rich.

They are layered like onion skin on the pages of history, and every now and again you and I leaf back through them. Or they are brought up in history class. Or on Jeopardy.

What about your family? What are the sayings and words of your family members that have become immortalized and carved into the bark of your family tree?

I know there are many priceless captures.

From my family, I can think of a few:


All hands on deck

My brother, then around four or five, was toddling about the family who were enjoying a Sunday bucket of the colonel’s best. John was full of gas, and with each step, propelled himself forward with a fairly short but loud report.

My grandfather, Pop Sprinkle, observed this, and finally asked,

“Johnny? What are you doing, son?”

“I’m just blowing the horn on my bottom!”

And Pop called John Captain Hornblower from that moment on.


Coffee, tea or me?

A neighbor child and friend, Johnny, had come to dinner.

“What will everyone have to drink?” asked my mother.

“I’ll have a beer!” Johnny announced, a face-splitting grin on his face. All us kids around the table giggled.

“Why Johnny! Do you drink?” asked my mother.

“Why sure!” he replied. “It just depends on what you’re drinking!”

Out of the mouths of babes . . .


A Wedding Toast

Again, years later at my brother’s wedding, a rehearsal dinner was held at a location that had lost its license to serve alcoholic beverages. As a result, there was no champagne for toasts.

Undaunted, Pop Sprinkle tinkled his glass with his spoon, and slowly stood to address the couple-to-be.

“Tonight reminds me of fornication,” he stated, jaws dropping and eyes popping all around.

“Fornication like this — there ought to be champagne!” (Comment me if you don’t get this).


Tennyson anyone?

My eldest son and the family were out playing tennis on a breezy autumn day. All of a sudden, Graham dropped his racket, ran to the outer edge of the courts, his arms flailing and going “Aaaaaaaaagggggggghhhhhhh!”

We all thought he had been attacked by a wasp or something. When asked, he replied,

“I thought I heard a dog coming!”

You really had to be there!


Got stories?

So, what are some of your family quotes that have gone down in your family’s history? Share if you will. It’s participation Friday! Give it a go, Mate!

Query: looking for contributors to Anthology on Aging

21 May


Anthology on Aging

Poems, stories, essays, art and photography (and more)

on the Golden Years


I’m aware of more and more excellent work being done on the broad subject of aging. As I’m sliding down that slippery silver slope myself, I find much of my writing geared in that direction.

Are you writing about that time of life? Drawing? Photographing? Recording?

If so, and if you would consider contributing to a project that would be self-published, let me know by emailing me at skipmars at gmail dot com.

Agreeable details can be ironed out by agreeable people, I think.

How about you?

Wanna try?



A brief respite

19 Apr



A brief respite

My two daughters and I will be driving down to Orlando, stopping first in St. Augustine, for their spring break.

I’ll not be uploading to my website during that time, although I will have my iPad with me in the event the muse strikes.

We’re going to catch the Blue Men show (or whomever is actually performing), and go on countless nauseating rides. No doubt my aversion to motion-simulation rides will rear its ugly head.

Also no doubt there will be ample grist for the mill upon my return.

Thank you for safe travel prayers.









The Choicest of my choices

3 Apr



I’ve decided to begin a post of that work I consider my best in several categories. You may or may not agree as to its worth, and I welcome your input. As I’ve said many times, a comment is worth so much more to me than a click on the “like” button, as it gives you an opportunity to say what you did or did not like and why. That, in turn, provides me feedback, and helps me hone my craft. So, don’t be bashful. For those of you inclined to click “like” and move on, stop a minute, please, and consider a comment instead.


Today’s Choicest of my choices is a short story that appears in Through the Glass Darkly and is available on It is entitled “Mrs. Foy’s Koi,” and has a slight basis in truth, in that Mrs. Foy was a real person who did live in a Tudor-style home not far from where I lived. She also had a fish pool in her back yard.

My friends and I would traipse through her back yard, stopping at the pool to catch tadpoles.

For your consideration: “Mrs. Foy’s Koi.”

A riddle

28 Mar

A riddle: what is it?

It is sought an entire lifetime.
Some find it, and can live with nothing else.
Some do not have it and never find it.
Some seek for it in all the wrong places.
Some have it all their lives.
It is sought by many more than gold or silver.
It cannot be bought.
It is often given by others,
It can be found and lost.
It sometimes comes through tragedies or pain.
It can be renewed throughout a lifetime.
Without it life is senseless, confused and aimless.
With it comes understanding, and without it, understanding is impossible.
It is different for each person.

Note: this is not a post to “like,” but a post to get you to solve the riddle.

Vignettes: Radio, TV, Record Players, Movies and Outside Sitters

22 Feb

Small memories and stories concerning my family and my history

The first house: 607 Colonial Drive

Radio, TV, Record Players, Movies and Outside Sitters

Oh, what today’s kids are missing.

First is the great outdoors, not withstanding.

We did have our electronic entertainment, albeit a bit more cumbersome than today’s micro/digital/wireless forms. Even those have a trace of something today’s devices can’t replace.



When I was a kid, radio was pretty much AM dominated. Local radio stations beamed out to an audience limited by distance. You might be on one station as you are traveling, and a few minutes down the road that station “fuzzes out” and you have to find another station.

Other than in the car, radios were boxy and featured various dials. The innards of a radio was a complex entanglement of various wires and large glass tubes. Not a circuit board.

What was aired was a combination of popular music, news and shows. Popular music ran the gamut from the crooners (Crosby, Sinatra and Dinah Shore) to early rock and roll to genuine country. Pat Boone, Elvis, Fabian, Chet Atkins and Patti Page were among the names and music popular. That was pretty much the selection. A show might be To Tell the Truth, based on the popular TV show, or comedy by the greats, Milton Berle, George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny and Bob Hope.

FM stations were few, but as the technology for stereo recording and broadcasting came into existence, they all but made AM an extinct form of radio.

Then, transistors, and Sony, and circuit boards and miniaturization, and stereo, and public radio and and and . . .

Now, Pandora and wifi and a zillion types of music separated by fine lines of non-distinction.



Television was black and white. It began airing maybe at six in the morning, and signed off at midnight. If you turned on your television on during non-broadcast hours, a graphic design would appear with the words Please Stand By printed in large letters. The only sound was a hiss.

For kids, Saturday TV was the best. It featured Tom and Jerry, Popeye, Mighty Mouse, Looney Tunes and a host of slapstick cartoons. Black and white, of course.

There were also the cowboy shows: Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, the Cisco Kid and more. Many of these television idols would tour the country and appear live in nearby cities, or even in Christmas parades.

Adults learned their parenting skills from evening sitcoms that featured families: Father Knows Best, Donna Reed, My Three Sons, Leave It To Beaver and Andy Griffith.

Lucille Ball and Ed Sullivan ruled television — Ball with her wacky wit and Sullivan with his stiff-backed inimitable phrase, “a rilly gud shew.”

Jack Paar ruled late night — which wasn’t so late.

There were only two networks initially: CBS, NBC; and later, ABC. The closest broadcasting stations were in Winston-Salem and Greensboro. Charlotte was a reach unless you had a huge antenna on your roof.

The news was dominated by names like Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley.

Dave Garroway was the anchor for The Today Show.

Our local weather was a staged lookout tower where the meteorologist — then called a weatherman — climbed the long ladder to the booth where large clock-like dials indicated the temperature and barometer and wind speed and direction.

There were no women on broadcast TV at any level — other than Romper Room. Not one locally, either.

Nobody of color.

Interestingly, one of the most popular television comedies was Amos and Andy, a televised version of the radio show by the same name. Its plots were trite, though, and portrayals stereotyped.

Everyone else was scrubbed white with clean teeth and blue eyes and squeeky-clean. No one worked, but lived luxuriantly — with the exception of Riley ( star of The Life of by the same name). And Ralph, who drove a bus.


Record players

My dad always had the latest in sound systems. My sisters, brother and I were reared on a fine mixture of music, from the big band sounds that my parents loved so much, to musicals and opera. Not so much country. My mom always said country singers sounded like they sang through their noses, and she was not fond of it.

Portable stereo record sets became available and popular when my sisters were teenagers. Each had one. The players could accommodate three different types of records: 78 rpm, 45 rpm, and 33 1/3 rpm (the majority of record albums).

I never bought a 78 rpm album. My dad had some.

The 45 records looked a little like doughnuts, with a big hole in the middle. Two songs were featured, one on each side. Back then, artists — primarily rock and roll — recorded on 45s. If their music was popular enough, they might record an album.

RCA dominated album distribution by offering ridiculous deals — 10 albums for only one dollar! Then you had to buy one album a month, plus shipping, for the rest of your life. I think probably every teenager got sucked into that ploy.

Music began to differentiate. Rhythm and blues. Rock and roll. Motown. Beach music. Folk music. The Platters, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis, The Kingston Trio, The Lettermen, Peter, Paul and Mary.

Then The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin, and Kiss and more.

Record players morphed into eight track players with bulky cartridges. Records melted into cassettes, and then CDs, and finally downloadable digital files. Degraded quality.

I bought my daughters record players for Christmas, and spent dozens of dollars for vintage albums: Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, Peter, Paul and Mary. They were ecstatic.

What goes around . . .



If you are in your teens, or even twenties or thirties or forties — even fifties — you missed out on going to the movies on a Saturday morning and spending the whole morning in the local cinema.

There were three movie houses in my hometown: the Paramount, the Center and the Rialto. They were downtown within less than a mile of each other.

The Center seemed the largest. The Rialto was nicknamed the Rat Hole, and the advice was to keep your knees tucked up and your feet on the seats so that the rats wouldn’t run across them during the movie.

The bottoms of all the seats were nubbed with the dried remains of gum. I used to make-believe that’s where bubblegum came from.

Just one screen in each of the theaters — none was a cineplex or multiplex or multicineplex. A large theatre with a balcony. The interior designs were fraught with ornate arches and columns and other architectural enhancements. Cushy cloth-covered seats that you had to fold up or down manually. No cup holder cutouts in the armrests.

And each sported a stage, with billowy velvet curtains to the sides and top.

A spotlighted emcee would cross to the front center of the stage and entertain a bit on Saturdays. Probably a local radio DJ. Then the film rolls would begin: news, cartoons (in color), and the serials.

News would feature world and national news. Flickering highlights of Eisenhour or Khruschev or whoever had made news recently. Sports briefs of Say Hey smacking one or running one down. Palmer and Nicklaus battling on the links. Horse races and the winning jockeys, smiling for the photographers, bulbs flashing.

The serials were spacemen and cowboys. Buck Rogers, or Hopalong Cassidy, bursting through a somewhat narrow screen in black and white, shooting and fighting and zapping and riding and rocketing through the air, only to end up in a dire predicament at the film’s end — a cliff-hanger — with the overly dramatic voice over: “Find out next time . . .”

Then, the screen would go black, and the curtains would open wider for the main event.

When the movie was over, streams of kids, yelling and laughing “Remember when he pulled out his gun and . . .” plus a thousand other climactic moments — everyone trying to outdo the other.

Coming out onto the sidewalk you were nearly blinded by the light. Your mother or grandmother was dutifully parked near the theater awaiting you, somewhat anticipating the raised energy levels due to the combination of film, Coca-Cola, popcorn and Goobers.

Most of those one-screen theaters have either been turned into museums, community theaters, torn down, or are the budget-movie locations.

What has not changed is that movies are still made to sell soda, candy and popcorn.

Except for the price of a movie ticket, which was 75 cents back then.


Outside Sitters

The Tar Heel. The Pointer. Several other movie drive-ins were located within a short trip by car from where we lived.

For one low price a carload of kids, or a whole family could get away for a night of open-air entertainment.

My parents and we kids called them the drive-in sitters, on account before the movie could begin (it had to get dark enough, and in summertime, that could be pretty late) we kids ran down to the front of the huge screen where there were all sorts of playground equipment. Swings, sliding boards, whirligigs, see-saws. Great fun, especially when the lightening bugs came out.

For the undoctrinated, the design was inclined rows with metal posts that offered metal speakers for each car. The speaker had an L-shaped attachment that hooked over the front door, allowing the speaker to hang inside the car. Biggest problem is that sometimes drivers forgot to put the speaker back on the pole before driving off.

Second biggest problem was the sudden rainstorm — especially if you had a convertible and the top was down.

Third biggest problem? Inadvertent sex education for kids who ran through the scores of parked cars to get a quick peek inside.

We had one drive-in that featured adult films. The way the screen was positioned from the road you could always catch a quick glance of the screen when passing at night. I’m pretty sure it was intentional, and wondered how many road accidents occurred there due to a distracted driver.

I knew just when to look, and awaited the inevitable remarks from my mom, who always rode in the front seat passenger side and knew what I was up to.

You just couldn’t get anything past Mom in those days.

You’d have to travel pretty far to experience a drive-in movie these days. There’s one in Belmont, NC. And there’s one in Beaverton, Oregon. Little bit of a span between them.

I highly recommend that you go to one, and take your family along, when/if you get the chance. It’s a bit of Americana that I think you will definitely remember.


24 Aug

photo (2)

A half pot of coffee at the end of the day,
and showing signs of a slick, oily skin on the surface;

My favorite coffee mug, bluish-green background with a U.S. route road sign:
Route 66, and a black rubber base the cup slips in and out of — made with tire treads around its outer band;

A reminder of a day’s jaunt into the Arizona desert along Route 66 — an hour and a half drive from Flagstaff — to the Grand Canyon Caverns, which my brother-in-law Scott said was worth the drive.

The Caverns are located in Peach Springs.

There are no springs, and there are no peaches. Just dry, dusty, tumbleweed-infested flatlands.

And the Grand Canyon Caverns, of course.

In the dirt yard of the Caverns is a very large and ultra-realistic Tyranosaurus. Well — maybe not so realistic. You can see it from a distance. Actually, along Route 66 you can see everything from a distance in Arizona. Just like the movie “Cars.”

Grand Canyon Caverns

It was an omen.

At least inside the center it was air conditioned, and full of touristy things to buy, like postcards of the caverns, and turquois jewelry, and deerskin leather moccasins and belts plus Indian beaded bracelets and headdresses.

But the very best item was in the dry goods section: Roadkill Helper, by Betty Trucker.

Roadkill Helper

A guy in a kind of park ranger outfit — skinny kid with scraggly blonde hair — made an announcement that in the next few minutes the tour would begin of the caverns and that everyone needed to buy their tickets. He reminded me of David Spade, whom I detested on SNL — and was just as sardonic.

There were all of eight, maybe nine people in the store at the time of the announcement, and we all shuffled to the cash register where another similarly dressed person took our money.

The price now is $17 for adults and $13 for kids 5 to 12. Can’t remember what it was then, but the three of us looked at each other and eye-signalled “Can you say r-i-p-o-f-f?”

The young guy held a feeble lattice gate open for about seven of us to squeeze into a hope-and-a-prayer elevator. As he got in and closed the door, he said “This elevator sucks.” Sucks was his favorite word.

As we inched down something like 1,000 feet through the earth’s crust, Spade gave a lack-luster review of the caverns history, interspersed with SUCKS every now and then. It took 13 SUCKS to reach the bottom.

Two of our fellow sardines were from a germanic country, and spoke with heavy accents, asking Spade a question.

“You guys from Germany? My German sucks.”

At the bottom the elevator opened into a large, cavernous room. We walked about as Spade labored through his memorized speeches, again spiced with SUCKS.

It didn’t compare to other caverns we had visited — like Luray.

It sucked.

After maybe a half hour we wound back to the closet elevator and sucked our way back up to the top, glad the event was over. Glad we were leaving David Spade behind — perhaps to be a victim of the giant ground worms from the movie “Tremors.”

We could only hope.

On the way back, we stopped to grab a tumbling tumbleweed, not knowing if tumbleweeds are protected.

The tumbleweed eventually made it onto the airplane back home, and later disintegrated. As tumbleweeds go, it sucked.

But, my Route 66 mug, with its sucky memories, lives on. A favorite keepsake.

By the way: I don’t recommend the Grand Canyon Caverns. The mug I recommend. Not the caverns. The caverns suck.

Schwinns and Sepia Memories

25 Jan


I remember my first 21-inch Schwinn 10-speed bike: bright red with skinny tires; no fenders; a molded seat of hard leather; hand breaks mounted on upside down, tape-wrapped handlebars; and rear derailleurs that sounded like rocks had been dropped into an electric blender when you shifted.

That bike cost my dad $86.95 plus tax, according to the 1960 Schwinn Catalog.

I rode that bike everywhere in my hometown of High Point. It was my ticket to freedom from my house and from the confines of the neighborhood. Anywhere and everywhere were possibilities, as long as my legs and my wind held out.

Gangs of us kids would congregate – like in the movie The Wild One with Marlon Brando – swooping from a dozen separate driveways to form our bike swarms. We attached dozens of playing cards to our bike frames with clothes pins, inserted into the spokes of the wheels. The effect was staggering! Unmanageable hoodlums that we were, we buzzed loudly down streets in those acts of obnoxious defiance. We were rebels without a cause. Heads tipped back, hair flowing in the wind, we were miniature Brandos who dreamed of big-screen lives.

It’s not like that today. No gangs of kids swarming like bees on the streets on their bikes. No shouts nor peals of laughter as blurred silhouettes streak around a corner, or dive down a steep hill, hands and arms raised recklessly above un-helmeted heads.

As with many of the memorable moments of yore, those have faded to sepia-tinted images, framed by the years and hung on forgotten walls only to gather dust and to vanish in the light of a growing past.