05 July 2018

A Boy and his Books

As far back as I can remember, I've been a voracious reader. I was very sick as a child, with asthma, allergies and various other ailments that often kept me alone in my room. I would get nature books at the grocers, like Seashells of the World, a Golden Guide, for about a dollar. I would read Highlights at the doctor's office, and the backs of cereal boxes at home.

Some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s, I began to purchase books through my elementary school that were made available from Scholastic Book Services and their Scholastic Book Clubs. We would get a newspaper-like catalog that listed books we could buy, and a form with check boxes to order what we wanted. Always excited to get the new form, I raced home, made my selections and then begged my mother for enough money to get them (they were really inexpensive). I think my book budget was about a dollar -- which would net me four or five paperback books. Then, of course, the wait for a couple weeks until the box arrived in our classroom and the books were handed out. It was a happy time. I wish I could remember the names of all the books I got through school. There were dozens, perhaps even hundreds.

I have a vague recollection of only one specific book from that period: Life Under the Sea. I think the reason I remember that one is the dramatic cover illustration of a giant squid in a fight to the death with a sperm whale.

06 June 2018

How Much is that Doggie in the Catalog?

When I was a kid, growing up in the 1960s, my parents would regularly take me to three major department stores: Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penny. We shopped in the stores, but my parents would also order items from the catalogues that we would go pick up in the stores. Department store shopping and catalogue shopping were both part of my normal life.

There were also Hanny’s and Korricks in downtown Phoenix (back when the downtown was still a shopping destination), as well as Diamond’s, Goldwater’s, and Switzer’s (at Park Central, then later Chris-Town).

As I got older, I made a point of shopping in (well, at least walking around) some of the great department stores along the west coast. There was I. Magnin, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus (San Francisco), Bullocks Wilshire and May Company (Los Angeles) and I. Magnin (Santa Barbara). Little did I know that, by the time I am writing this, nearly all of those great stores would be history. So many of the major department stores have closed or are closing owing to stiff online competition. I can’t remember the last time I was actually inside a major department store. Like so many others, I do a lot of my shopping electronically; even though I miss the big department stores and their catalogues. (I had a job at the Broadway Department Store in Chris-Town Mall in 1977-1978.)

Recently, becoming nostalgic for that department store shopping experience, I bought a vintage Montgomery Ward catalogue from 1965. This was not the year I was born; rather, the year I probably would have started to become cognizant of the purchase of consumer goods like food, clothing and entertainment items.

I hate to use a tired cliche, but it really was like a trip down memory lane. The dresses! The shoes! The televisions! So many things similar to (if not exactly) things in my house growing up.

Sure, online shopping can really be convenient and sometimes less expensive; but I miss the experience of going to nice department stores just to walk around.

17 May 2018

It’s Da Bomb

When I met Matt in 1994, I was in the process of buying a condominium. I lived there about five years before moving into the house Matt bought for us. I liked condo living. It was a small complex (about 24 units) and everyone knew everyone. Quite of a few of the units were used as rentals, so my neighbors kept changing.

The neighborhood was generally quiet. One night, I was sitting on my balcony and I heard a domestic quarrel of some kind in the distance (several houses away). A woman was shouting “I hate you, I hate you.” Fair enough. People fight. Then, I heard this scream of terror, like the woman had been stabbed or something. Of course, I called the police. They arrived shortly and I gave them a statement.

My condo unit shared a landing with the unit next door. While the policeman was standing there talking to me, my neighbor’s baby began to cry. The officer gestured to the sound, as if to say, “Is this what you heard?” (Because I am clearly that stupid.) I politely told him, “no.” But, he turned and knocked on the door, I guess to see if my neighbor had heard anything.

The door opened to a cloud of smoke – if you know what I mean. The officer asked to come in and speak to the neighbor, who replied, “Now’s not a good time.” (Duh!) The officer insisted and then things got real really fast.

The next thing I knew, our complex was surrounded by police cars, a fire engine, an ambulance or two and sundry other vehicles. The police went door-to-door telling us we all had to evacuate the premises. I spent the night at Matt’s.

Turns out, my neighbor was busted for smoking weed – and lots of it. On searching the unit, police found several pipe bombs loaded and ready to go. That’s why we were evacuated. They arrested the husband.

I was allowed to go back to my unit the next morning. A couple days later, the next-door wife came to my unit. She was crying, almost hysterically, apologizing for what her husband had done, etc. They moved out shortly and I never saw them again.

I imagine the police never did find out the cause of the screaming woman I called about; but I wonder what would have happened if chance had not intervened on my neighbor’s activities.