Thursday, September 23, 2004

Checking in, checking out

We're off to Portland tomorrow morning and, naturally, Ivan has regrouped and will likely be waiting in Dallas where we have a one-hour layover. Yeah, I know Dallas doesn't look like it's on a logical route from here to Portland. Go ask American Airlines.
My stepson bought a car last night. Well, actually I wrote the check because he hasn't figured out how to get to the bank, since it's closed when he gets out of school every day. He's keen to start driving himself to school immediately and I don't want that worry in the back of my mind while I'm on the other side of the continent. He hasn't driven a car for nearly a year because he wasn't insured and I have concerns about how sharp his skills are. I figure I have enough to be concerned about with him staying by himself while we're out of town until Tuesday evening.
His sister seems to be stable, for the time being. We took her to a stress clinic last Friday night for evaluation and they concluded she should be seen on an outpatient basis. She seemed relieved that she wasn't going to spend the weekend at the facility and so were we. I think the prospect of being institutionalized, even for a weekend, was enough to make her get a grip.
Twelve years ago I was wallowing in despair over my impending divorce when my two best friends let it slip that they were conspiring to have me admitted to a stress center. It took me about 10 seconds to decide it was time to suck it up and move on.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

One of my shots of Toby Keith from last night's concert. I never thought I'd find any philosophical resonance in country music, but when it comes to geopolitics, Toby speaks for me. Posted by Hello

One of my photos of Terri Clark from last night's concert. Posted by Hello

Friday, September 17, 2004

I go to the MSNBC site ( every Friday to check out their The Week in Pictures gallery. This was the last in the sequence and, to my surprise, it brought tears to my eyes. It's a 9/11 sunrise memorial service in Shanksville, Pa. for the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 who showed their reptilian hijackers what Americans are made of. They were the first to fight back in the struggle that continues today and all of them are heroes.
 Posted by Hello

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Crisis du jour

My stepdaughter, who is a sophomore in college, is having an emotional meltdown.
My wife called from work yesterday afternoon to say we will probably have to drive down to the college – about 2 hours from here – in the next day or so to take her to a stress center.
Just to set the scene, let me back up and give you my perspective on her two kids. Their parents’ divorce was a pivotal event in their young lives and they handled it in very different ways.
The boy gave up and imploded academically. He became a discipline problem and didn’t care about anything. I got that message very clearly when I learned he had been blowing off the twice-yearly state achievement tests by just filling in the dots to make patterns rather than to actually trying to answer the questions.
His older sister reacted by pushing herself academically and becoming a control freak. She also grew much closer to (read: emotionally dependent upon )her mother.
For the years immediately after the divorce, she was the “good kid” and he was the “bad kid.”
This all got exacerbated about seven years ago when their father married a woman with three kids of her own. Now he had been absent from home much of his first marriage – he threw himself into his work, piling up tons of overtime and putting everyone and everything ahead of his family. With his second marriage and his new wife’s insecurity, he vanished from his own children’s lives almost entirely.
He had them every other weekend, true enough, but they became unwelcome guests in the place that was formerly the only home they had ever known. Their rooms were now the rooms of the new wife’s kids and they no longer had the run of the house.
The boy took it the hardest, lashing out and occasionally getting into fights with the new wife’s feral kids. He even slipped into the master bedroom, poured a glass of water onto the new wife’s side of the bed, then went to another room and sat patiently awaiting the discovery and consequent punishment.
This all led to hundreds of hours of counseling sessions, some of which I got to attend.
About two years ago, the boy had a breakthrough of sorts and figured out how to let go of his anger toward his father. I guess he finally realized dad was a shithead, but he was his shithead so he might as well make the best of it.
None of this seems to have made his father any more interested in his kids’ lives, however. I’ve attended most of the boy’s parent conferences since he was in junior high school. When the father showed up for his first conference ever last spring, seated at a conference table with me, my wife and a half-dozen teachers and administrators, he offered an opinion and the assistant principal looked at him and said, “And you are…?”
I managed not to laugh.
He is also consistently late with his child-support payments.
The girl, however, stuffed her anger and pain deep inside and tried to cover it over with achievement. She spent her junior and senior years of high school at a free state-supported boarding school for high-achieving kids from small rural school districts. The school routinely has the highest SAT scores and National Merit Scholarship Test scores in the state and she was a good fit.
But she had almost weekly counseling sessions with the school psychologist during which she revealed almost nothing and mostly refused to participate in the process.
She became increasingly emotionally brittle and an offhand sarcastic joke from me was enough to make her burst into uncontrollable tears.
Suddenly she became the “problem kid” at the same time that her brother made a remarkable attitudinal turnaround – largely because of his success in a construction trades class. For him, it was like the fog clearing or an awakening. He got a job washing dishes at a local restaurant, devoted himself to saving money and now aspires to a career as an electrician.
His sister, who has a new career idea every week and wants to map her life out in intricate detail through grad school and beyond, is the one we worry about.
She shouldered most of the financial burden of college, taking out loans and working two jobs over the summer. This year she’s a dorm cafeteria supervisor – the only sophomore to win such a position – and is carrying a full load of classes.
She’s had a history of calling her mother almost daily to complain about schedules, teachers, roommates, her weight, her hair, her nose and on and on and on. Her mother does her best to make her understand that she has to solve her own problems, but the calls continue.
This week they’ve been more desperate and bizarre. She says she thinks people are watching her everywhere she goes, even though she knows that’s silly. An excellent Spanish student, she says she’s struggling in her Spanish class, thinks the instructor dislikes her and suddenly can’t speak or understand Spanish.
Yesterday, my wife asked her if she thought she needed to go to the stress center for awhile and she said yes.
This, of course, raises the spectre of her dropping out of school, losing the money she’s paid for this semester, and moving home with us.
For a couple looking forward to becoming empty nesters, this is not a pleasant scenario.
As things stand now, we’re driving down to school tomorrow morning to take her to a stress center for assessment. Whether she’ll go back to her dorm for the weekend or be admitted for observation is an open question.
Although she is loath to admit it, I’m convinced her perceived abandonment and rejection by her father is at the root of all this and I believe this dysfunction will only get worse until that matter is confronted and processed.
In the meantime, I’m working on strategies to keep my wife from going postal the following weekend when we’re in Portland, Ore., for my oldest son’s wedding. My ex is the queen of the rude and socially inappropriate remark and rarely misses an opportunity to slam me in front of our sons and whoever else happens to be present. I’ve learned to ignore it, but my wife wants to strike back.
But I guess all this is a whole lot better than living in Gulf Shores (the locals call it Gu’f Shores), Ala., today and having my home flatted by Hurricane Ivan.

Monday, September 13, 2004

I just couldn't keep that damned rope untangled. Posted by Hello

My friends and I all had these little Derringer cap pistols. We took 'em to school, of course, and reveled in the fact that we were secretly "packing heat." A kid could get into serious trouble taking one of these to school today. Posted by Hello

Yes, I had a red hand-painted Hopalong Cassidy necktie. I wore it to church and other formal occasions. Posted by Hello

Almost all of my friends had View Master viewers and reels, but I was the only one with a projector. I bored their brains out with forced presentations projected on the whitewashed cement block wall of my basement. Posted by Hello

I never had one of these, but my best friend Tom did. This little RCA Victor phonograph, that only played 45 rpm records is the main reason the 45 format succeeded. There were literally millions of these things sold, despite the fact that the fidelity was awful and the amplification was feeble. This was a phonograph for the masses. It was, of course, monophonic, stereo being a few years in the future and, at the time of its introduction, available only on 33 1/3 rmp records. Posted by Hello

The original Noma Bubble-Lites. My dad bought a couple of sets from the Western Auto store and thought they were ultra cool. Kind of a prototype of the lava lamp. Posted by Hello

For the first seven years of my life, a big Philco console radio like this was the source of broadcast entertainment in our house. It stood about four feet high, had a series of pre-set station buttons and received broadcasts in the AM and shortwave bands. It was made years before transistors, so there was a warmup period of a minute or so between the time you switched it on and when you began to hear sounds. Ahhh, vacuum tube technology. Posted by Hello

Who knew that this cheesy little box camera would put me on the path to photojournalism? My parents bought me one just like this on the eve of our trip to Yellowstone National Park the summer between my fifth- and sixth-grade years. It took 127 type film and made a very satisfying "click" when I pushed the shutter button. I would have been utterly dazzled to know about today's digital photo technology. Posted by Hello

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Reelin' in the years...

I’m sure most of us can look back at our childhood and think of it as the ideal time to be a kid.
That’s certainly the case with me and I see the childhood worlds of kids since the 1950s as sterile and devoid of the kind of freedom my friends and I experienced growing up in a small town in the decade or so after World War II.
It seems to me that we’ve become increasingly frightened and protective of our kids, to the point where they’re content to be couch potatoes and video game addicts rather than riding bicycles all over town or tramping through the woods like we did.
Among my favorite things of childhood was Saturday morning TV. When I started watching, it was all black-and-white and included such staples as:
The Lone Ranger
Ruff ‘n Reddy – the first Hanna-Barbera cartoon series
Space Patrol – a pioneering science fiction series
Fury – a series about a boy and his horse
Sky King – an aviation-minded show in which Sky and his niece Penny flew around in a twin-engined Beechcraft called the Songbird and solved mysteries
And my personal fave: Captain Midnight
Captain Midnight had been around as a character since before World War II and kids had been joining his Secret Squadron since long before I was born in 1945.
The television series that ran from 1955 to 1957 was the final incarnation of the character and starred Richard Webb. It was easy to join. All you had to do was send in the wax paper seal from a jar of Ovaltine chocolate drink mix and $1 to:
Captain Midnight
Box P
Chicago, 7
Yes, kids, that was before Zip Codes were implemented in the early 1960s and big cities like Chicago were divided into postal zones.
By return post – which seemed to take freaking forever – you got a membership card, manual and decoder badge. The decoder was used to communicate with fellow Secret Squadron members and to decipher a secret message given at the end of each week’s program. Not exactly the Enigma machine, but it was great fun for a boy.
Conspicuous in its absence was the “pocket locator” – a walkie-talkie-like communicator that the Captain used to enlist the help of Secret Squadron kids in various dramatic episodes. All of the kids on the show had them, but there was no mention of them in the membership literature, largely because they were beyond the technology of the day.
I thought of that the other day when I took a call on my Handspring Treo 300 cell phone, realizing we’ve taken the personal communication concept far beyond the wildest imagination of a 1950s TV show.
Everyone in the Secret Squadron had a membership number. Captain Midnight, being at the head of the food chain, was SQ 1 (notice they avoided the more obvious SS designation, no doubt because that letter combination had a very bad reputation from the recently deceased Third Reich). SQ 2 was the Captain’s comic sidekick, Ichabod Mudd, or Ikky as he preferred to be called. The Captain and Ikky lived in a mountaintop observatory/laboratory along with Aristotle Jones, nicknamed Tut and played by Olan Soule. Tut was the scientist and gadget maker. Accordingly, he wore glasses and a white lab coat and was obviously the brains of the organization. Tut was SQ 3.
Far far down the mountain in the real world were the actual Ovaltine-drinking, card-carrying, pocket-locator-deprived Secret Squadron kids. The card in my wallet identified me to all and sundry as SQ 24418. I made a point of memorizing the number, but this is quite possibly the first time since childhood that I’ve written it.
Along with the basic membership kit, you could also send off for a red plastic Captain Midnight Ovaltine mug and a red plastic Captain Midnight Ovaltine shaker cup with blue plastic top. Both were emblazoned with a decal showing a goggled previous incarnation of the Captain with some goofy winged midnight-indicating clock logo on his flight helmet and proclaiming, “Ovaltine – the heart of a hearty breakfast!” Naturally, I had both items and used them often.
A second version of the decoder badge, resembling the Captain’s jet plane – the Silver Dart – came out in 1957 and, of course, I had that too.
But one by one, over the years, all of those items save the Ovaltine mug, went missing and I found myself wishing I had them back.
Fortunately for nostalgia-ridden baby boomers, there’s Ebay and the chance to recapture the toys, touchstones and talismans of our childhood. In recent years, I’ve replaced my two decoder badges and now stand ready to decipher any message sent to me by a Secret Squadron member.
Fortunately, I realized early on that I couldn’t afford to buy all of the stuff I had as a child. Besides, where would I put it? My wife already thinks I’m a little nuts about hanging on to stuff and the last thing she would tolerate would be a museum of my childhood.
So, I do the next best thing. I snarf the photos of these items when I find them on Ebay, making it possible for me to look at them without actually having to find a place for them.
I’ll post a few of those pictures, just in case someone else remembers them.
But somehow a picture of the Buck Rogers Sonic Ray Gun, a pistol-shaped plastic flashlight with a buzzer, can’t reproduce the barf-like smell of the plastic that fascinated me when I was 9 years old.

We managed to overlook the fact that the drawing of Captain Midnight on the manual cover didn't look anything like actor Richard Webb, who played the lead role in the Saturday morning TV series. Posted by Hello

The 1955-56 Captain Midnight Secret Squadron decoder badge. My membership number was SQ 24418. Posted by Hello

The 1957 model Captain Midnight Secret Squadron decoder badge. The decoder stuff is on the other side. The red nose cap detaches to reveal a secret compartment in the fuselage for hiding lint. Posted by Hello

The cast of the 1950s sci-fi series Space Patrol. Watch where you point that disintegrator ray, Cadet Happy! Posted by Hello

Remember these water pistols? It seems like they showed up in the hallways of my grade school every spring until the teachers confiscated all of them. Posted by Hello

This was an early clue that I was doomed to a career in newspapers. A Superior Cub printing set like this was one of my favorite toys, despite the tedious process of hand-setting those little piece of rubber type. Posted by Hello

This was my first bicycle - a red Monark with a streamlined front fender headlight and a feeble battery powered electric horn in the tank, operated by the red button on the right side. (Well, actually this is a picture of a similar bike I found on Ebay.) It had one speed, coaster brakes and stood up to a lot of abuse, including a few years of delivering newspapers. Posted by Hello

The Hubley cap gun version of the the Colt 1911 automatic pistol - this was my alltime favorite cap gun. As a grownup, I now own the real thing. Posted by Hello

O, frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!

CB's blog is back, albeit with a declaration he won't write anything about what he or his buddies are doing in Mosul. He did, to my great joy, restore all of his earlier posts which give you a powerful sense of what it's like to be an American soldier in Iraq:
Go there now:

Friday, September 10, 2004

Ahhhh, the Gilbert Erector Set. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. It's not that kind of erection. This kit came with a whole bunch of metal pieces and about a bazillion little screws and nuts and an ELECTRIC MOTOR to power whatever you cared to build. Imagine how fast you could put this stuff together with one of today's power screwdrivers! I spent hundreds of hours screwing around with one of these sets. Posted by Hello

Remember woodburning sets? This was about the dopiest craft item you could give a kid. Why would you waste hours tracing pictures onto wood blocks with a hot iron when you could use that same tool to melt crayons and candles and burn holes in every plastic item you could get your hands on? Posted by Hello

The Buck Rogers Sonic Ray gun - it was a flashlight that used two D cells and had a buzzer that sounded when you pulled the trigger. I'll bet you didn't know that this was the World's Greatest Signaling Device. It says so right there on the box. When you unscrewed the yellow lens/bulb holder and sniffed the battery compartment, the plastic smelled like barf. Posted by Hello

Smoke ray gun? What the hell is a smoke ray and how could it work? We kids didn't trouble ourselves with such questions, we just ponied up our quarter and our corn flakes boxtop and waited for the postman to bring our guy. I think the "smoke" was just dust from a flour-like powder that got poofed out of the muzzle. I also remember my mother being very upset when I coated the arm of a couch with the powder. Posted by Hello

This is the semi-useless Space Patrol flashlight, made to look like a cool rocket. I think I had one, but I'm not sure. Maybe I just wanted one... Posted by Hello

Space Patrol binoculars!!! You had to send away for these things that had simple plastic lenses (no internal prisms or fancy optics) and kinda magnified far-away objects. Their wraparound style made them cool. But the elastic band that allowed hands-free use made them unspeakably stupid because it made it likely that the young user would try to walk around with the binocs in place, stumbling and crashing into furniture and mom's favorite African violets. Posted by Hello