29 August 2017

My Childhood Toys

When I was a child in the 1960s, I had some really cool toys: things that would later be the objects of desire of collectors young and old. I would usually get them at xmas (that was our big gift-receiving time each year; birthdays being low key). Playing with the new toys would be the most exciting thing -- fantasizing about army soldiers, undersea creatures, race cars. Over time, the appeal of these toys would fade and new toys would come along to take their place. I never thought about it at the time, but the old toys would disappear and I would never see them again.

As I got older, I began to miss some of those toys. I did what I imagine others do: began hunting in vintage stores and online looking to replace the toys I once enjoyed so much. Over the years, I managed to find samples of most of the toys I remember as being important to me.

Last week, I was visiting a friend’s house. He proudly showed me a display case of toys from his childhood. He surprised me by pointing out that these were the exact toys he played with as a child. “Your mother saved your toys?” I asked, surprised. I didn’t know that was possible. My mother saved none of my toys -- not one. I don’t know this for a fact, but I think she took them (when she sensed I was bored with them) and gave them to our relatives or to thrift stores. (I certainly hope she didn’t just throw them away!) I couldn’t believe a mother would have been considerate enough to save them until much later.

I decided to look back at the toys I spent years finding, to replace (as much as possible) the toys I played with fifty years ago. Looking for them was fun, but now I’m sad that my mother didn’t think to keep them. 

[Click image to make it larger.]

Nabisco Rice Honeys Sea Creatures Started out as a sea creature in each box of cereal, circa 1968. They then had an offer where you could get the entire set of 12 sea creatures AND a deep sea boat for only $1. I wrote about this in more detail in a 2008 blog post. These came out at a time when I was very seriously considering being an oceanographer. I love sea animals (all animals, actually) so this really piqued my interest.

Hot Wheels I was not into cars when I was a teenager, but I was when I was in grade school. Can’t explain why these fascinated me. They just did.







Hasbro’s GI Joe Honestly, I think I was in love with my Joe and that’s why I wanted one. The Joe pictured is not like the one I had as a kid; mine had the plastic hair; but they’re much too expensive now so I settled for one of these later ones. I distinctly remember having the Deep Sea Diver outfit probably because of my love of the ocean.

ARCO Ark and Toy Animals My love of animals continued with these free premiums available at ARCO stations when you purchased a certain amount of gas. I never got the ark; I was just interested in the animals.

Miscellany: Thing Maker and Chemtoy Film Strip Viewer Again, unable to explain my interest in the Thing Maker; I just remember hours spent on the patio making all kinds of weird bugs, animals and skeletons. I enjoyed this for a long time; I think my parents bought me several of the different add-ons over time. The Film Strip Viewer I remember only vaguely. I can’t even remember what film strips I had. They were like Viewmasters (which I also had) but you could see a whole story, not just individual pictures.

Books
On the plus side, one thing my mother did keep were the comic paperback books I used to buy with my allowance (rather than actual comic books).

I can’t tell you why I favored these paperbacks -- except for Peanuts because I loved Snoopy; but I would always get the new volumes when they came out each month.

13 August 2017

How Much is that Ring in the Window?

I was a wee lad when the scary television series “Dark Shadows” made its debut 51 years ago. I loved the creaky, creepy quality of the show and the cheesy acting.

In 1967, the character of Barnabas Collins was introduced. He wore a really cool ring. I was so fascinated by the ring that I got something similar for my mother (see photograph) for xmas that year at a local five and dime. As you can see, it doesn’t look anything like the proper ring, but I gave it to her and told her it was like the TV ring. Sadly, she never wore it. My mother never even pretended to like the presents I gave her, but she did keep it and now (fifty years later) I have it back.

08 August 2017

My (Short) Life in Retail

In the mid-1970s, I got my first job out of high school. I was working at The Broadway department store on the east side of Chris-Town Mall, Phoenix. (The Broadway occupied the space originally built for the Korricks department store.) I loved working retail and I loved Chris-Town Mall so it was a short trip to loving my new job.

I was a floating clerk. Each shift, I would work in a different department depending on where staff was needed to fill in for illnesses, vacations, whatever. That was really fun. I worked in Men’s Clothing, Linens for a couple weeks (vacation, I think) and ended up in Stationery.

Stationery was a fun department. It was me and a very old (and very nice) woman named Dorothy who was smitten with the young Patrick Duffy on the new television program “Dallas.” Seriously, that’s all she talked about: J.R. and Sue Ellen, Bobby and Pam, Miss Ellie and Southfork. It grew annoying after a short while, but I eventually began watching it and became hooked just as she had.

One day, some workmen came out and set up a bizarre display for a bizarre new gadget called “Pong.” It was a small television in a box and a control console on a little shelf. I was trained on how to play so I could demonstrate it to customers. It was fairly popular with the crowds, but not more than any other gadget of the time.

My favorite memory was selling a man a card for his wife on xmas eve. That’s not so unusual, but his next comment to me was: I have to buy a present for my wife. Do you have any suggestions? I felt pity for the poor woman who married an idiot, a man who could not even think ahead far enough to buy his wife a gift on one of the other 363 shopping days. I suggested he might find a nice pair of earrings at the Jewelry Department next store.

[I stayed with The Broadway about a year, then went to work at Valley National Bank (another enterprise that no longer exists) before moving to San Francisco. Chris-Town began to lose its luster in the mid-1980s but has been experiencing something of a comeback lately. The space once occupied by the fashionable Korricks and The Broadway is now yet another tacky Walmart.]

29 June 2017

Food, Glorious Food

My spouse, Matt, got a little irritated at me the other day because, as he says, I obsess about food -- not in a general sense; rather, what I’m going to have for my next lunch or dinner.

I don’t think I’m obsessive, but perhaps I am. When I was a child, I had a lot of food allergies, so I always had to be aware of what I was eating (a lot of my food at the school cafeteria went to waste because of allergies). I lost most of those food allergies thanks to puberty, so I was able to eat hale and hearty like sailor.

Fast forward a few decades and I had to start paying attention to food again because of low blood sugar issues, and then enduring five years of that “whatever it was” causing trouble after I ate that turned out to be my heart defect. Heart surgery and the required heart medications (for the rest of my life, thank you) necessitate concern over not eating certain foods that conflict.

Of course, a hop, skip and jump later I find out I have cancer -- which necessitates (as you would imagine) even more concerns about foods that conflict with medicines, sodium that will damage my kidneys -- and, the worse one of all: foods that no longer taste good to me because of my chemo. Sigh. 

Rather than lamenting foods I can’t eat like I used to (I miss pizza and all-you-can-eat fish fries most of all) I've placed on a golden pedestal those foods I love and can eat (in moderation, of course) including chicken, fish, beef, potatoes, rice, salads, ice cream, beans, nuts and fruit. I throw in the occasional treat of chips, cookies, cheese or chocolate. (Before you ask, I’ve never been a huge fan of vegetables, and a lot them are forbidden to me now anyway because of medicinal conflicts.)

Maybe I'm obsessive. I’m just grateful that there are a lot of tasty foods I can still eat and enjoy.

21 May 2017

Of Dads and Circuses

Apparently, today is the last day for the venerable Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. It’s doing its final performance tonight. I’m kinda sad and not sad that it’s ending. I always liked the circus when I was a kid (although I’ve always hated clowns) and have some good memories about circuses. I’ve never been a fan of mistreating animals, though.

Yesterday was the 13th anniversary of the death of my father so I want to share a circus memory involving him.

Almost 23 years ago (this coming July) I fell while trimming a tree and severely broke the end of the long bone of my right arm at the wrist. It was early in the morning of my father’s birthday and involved a trip to the emergency department, an elastic bandage (they didn’t cast it ‘cause I was going to need extensive surgery) and a few ibuprofen. Here’s the kicker: we had made these big plans to take my father to a fancy dinner and then downtown to see the circus that very night. He loved the circus and all he wanted for his birthday was tickets to the circus.

We went to dinner and went to the circus. About an hour into it, the ibuprofen wore off and I was in such pain. I didn’t even think to bring more. No one had any in their pockets or purses and I was dying. I finally had to excuse myself, leave the circus, miss the second half and suffer in the car in great pain. My father offered to leave to take me home and I told him I would be okeh. No way was I going to be responsible for him missing the circus!

That’s it. That’s the story. My dad had a fantastic time and then I had to have surgery. If you’re interested, you can read an old blog entry I did about that whole other part of the story here.

18 May 2017

You

Three years ago this month I wrote the following in frustrated response to another one of those young snot-nosed brats who went around killing people ‘cause he couldn’t get laid. I never published it; but rediscovered it today when perusing some of my old writing. Sadly, it’s even more relevant now than three years ago with even more people of privilege thinking their privileges are problems. 

You're twenty-two and still a virgin and you think that's a problem. You drive a BMW and have wealthy parents but can't get a date and you think that's a problem. You have been given everything in life you ever wanted, you've been coddled and pampered and spoiled yet you think you have a problem.

So, you think you'll solve your "problems" with knives and guns. You think you're a big man by shooting people you don't know, and running over people you never met. You think "exacting revenge" will make people appreciate you. Well, you're wrong. You're nothing but a petty little coward who, rather than taking his bat and ball and going home, ruins the lives of so many others with bullets and knives. As if that will help.

Life owes you nothing; if you want a better life, make your life better. Success will not be handed to you; you have to work for it. Money will not be handed to you; you have to earn it. Friends and lovers will not be there just because you want them; you have to work to be someone who others desire to have in their lives.

Instead of looking at others to change, change yourself. Make yourself someone who others want to be around. Make yourself someone who achieves success through hard work. Make yourself someone worthy of taking up the space your body occupies.

Because, when you compare your life to the lives of others who have far less, you will soon realize that these "problems" of yours are not problems at all: they are privileges you have but do not appreciate, they are opportunities to make the world better that you are squandering, they are little lights of hope and courage that you are not sharing with others. They are, in the end, the good in you that you're refusing to make visible.

14 April 2017

22

It’s been nearly two years since my last novel, but my newest one is now out! It’s called 22 and is a story unlike anything I’ve ever tried before. It has a more diverse cast of characters and follows the course a single gun takes as it makes its way across the country and touches many lives in the process.

The story begins with a young woman named Miranda. Miranda looks 22. So, she tells everyone she’s 22. The super of her apartment thinks she’s 22; the owner of the bakery across the street thinks she’s 22 -- and most importantly, the men she allows to pick her up on the beach think she’s 22. She uses her looks to great advantage: an afternoon of sex, perhaps a few dollars for rent, food, maybe a new dress or two. If the men are willing to pay for them, why shouldn’t she accept them?

Miranda’s life changes one morning as she’s walking back from the bakery. She’s taking donuts and coffee to the man she allowed to pick her up the previous afternoon when a young man with a gun tries to rob the bakery. There’s a scream and a gunshot.

Here, then, is an example of the “butterfly effect”: the theory that a single occurrence, no matter how small, can change the path of the universe forever.

22 charts the course of lives changed by a single occurrence: the addition of a gun in a world where guns are heavily regulated. Is it the answer one person is looking for? A way out? A way to make some extra money? A way to end the pain? Some lives change for the better, some for the worse, some end forever.

Of course, things don’t always work out the way we might expect. Actions have consequences. And some actions have unintended consequences. That certainly proves true for Miranda.

(See links in the "My Books" section to your right.)

01 April 2017

'twas a Mouse that Broke the Ice Queen

I like pulling April Fools jokes on people. One priceless example happened when I was working in a bank in Berkeley (CA) in the 1980s. We had an assistant manager who was cold as ice -- nothing was ever right, nothing ever good enough, and the fact I was gay sent her over the moon (and not in a good way).

In one conversation she mentioned how she hated mice (big surprise) so I conspired with other management members (who sat near her) to slip a fake mouse into her top desk drawer. Come the fateful day, we all waited as she sat down to her desk that morning, started to work, spoke on the telephone. I dropped all kinds of clues to the other management members so that she could hear: mouse droppings had been found in the break room, some scratching had been heard, etc.

But, she wouldn’t open her desk drawer. Finally, I asked to borrow a pencil from her. She opened her drawer, saw the fake mouse and shrieked and we yelled “April Fools!” She asked who was responsible and I told her it was me. Then came the payoff: she started laughing and laughing and laughing. Perhaps it was the first time anyone did anything fun to or with her (because of her horrible attitude).

Interesting to note: after that, she was still cold as ice and mean, but she did show me a slighter softer side.

23 February 2017

My First Collectible

I remember acquiring this little thing when I was probably three or four years old. My mother and I were at some kind of antique or collectible store (for what reason I don’t know as we never shopped at such stores to my recollection) and I was admiring this little porcelain thing. The owner of the shop, entranced that I was such an adorable tike, just gave it to me. I was surprised, but it made sense (seeing how I was adorable).

Not sure what it is, but probably an individual salt cellar, porcelain with gold paint and roses printed on the side. No identifying marks, but it’s at least 50+ years old (based on my age when I got it). I’ve had it in my possession all that time. Can’t tell you what struck me about it originally. I liked the roses or the shiny paint or whatever. No idea. I remember the man was really nice. Seriously, it’s like it just happened day before yesterday.

I’ve collected a lot of neat things in the ensuing five decades but this was the first. This in no way reflects my taste in collectibles, which runs toward mid-century modern. But, there you are!

15 January 2017

Two Years and Counting

Today is two years since the heart surgery that saved my life. I literally had about two weeks to go before a valve would have failed and I would’ve ceased to have heart function. Pretty scary to think about how things might have been. I can't say that brush with death made me rethink my life, to make every minute count, to do the things I always wanted to do. I’m fortunate that I’ve always done what I wanted to do without regard to the disapproving looks from my parents, or the disappointed comments from friends. Fuck 'em, I always thought, and just went ahead and did what I wanted. For me, every minute has always counted. We only get one shot at this life and I wanted to be able to look back and say I always spent each minute the way I wanted, doing what I wanted with MY life.

Of course, in these two years I also found out I had cancer. Oh, well. Shit happens. I’m coping with that the same way I always coped with everything else: do what I want (to the extent my energy -- and kidneys -- hold out) and keep moving forward. Sure, my time on this planet might have been shortened, but I can honestly say there is nothing I ever wanted to do and didn't do. Except maybe visit Tokyo. That's still on the list of things I want to do. Hopefully, that’ll happen. If not, well, I've done all the other 99.75% of things I wanted in my life. I think that's pretty good.

I've made these last two years count just like I made all the previous years count, just like I hope to make the next year or two or three or however many count. Don't wait to do the things you want. Do them now because you might not have an extra two years to do them in.

03 January 2017

Being Nice Has Advantages

In 1992, I was in a pretty bad car accident (see photograph). A commercial truck went through a red light and I plowed into the side of it. I wasn’t hurt much, but the car was. (The police officer told me I was lucky to have been driving such a well-made car, otherwise, the result would have been much worse for me.) Being the sap that I am, I called the owner of the company and asked him not to fire the driver who caused the accident. Even though he wasn’t hurt, I was worried that he would lose his job.

Fast forward several weeks. The insurance representative for the company vehicle was insisting my precious 1977 Mustang II was totaled and offered me $500 to close the case. Insulted? You bet I was. 

Finally fed up with arguing with them, I called the owner of the company for which the other driver worked. I calmly told him I was being treated very unfairly by his insurance company. I explained that my father (of all people) said I should call my insurance agent and say my neck hurts and my back hurts from the accident (none of which was true) to get more money. Shocked, I told my father that people who lie like that are why insurance policies are so expensive. There was no way I would lie. I told the owner all I wanted was my car repaired like it was before the accident. Nothing else.

The owner was very understanding and told me he had to make a call and would call me right back. In about ten minutes, his insurance company called and told me they would pay the several thousand dollars needed to repair my car AND arrange for me a free rental car in the meantime.

I called the owner, shocked at the change of heart from the insurance company. “I have millions of dollars of commercial insurance with that company,” he told me. “I told them to treat you right otherwise I would pull all my policies and go to a company that would.”

It took a long time, but I got my beautiful car back, good as it was (see photograph).