Tag Archives: my childhood

Algebra and Me

Image result for images of temac algebra

This is the story of an educational cockup based on a failure to understand human nature.

I got some good grades in junior high school, so I was placed in an advanced math class in which “Temac,” short for “teaching machine,” was supposed to teach me algebra. It was a book with algebra problems on the left side of the page, which we were to solve in our notebooks… and the answers, under a sliding black plastic sheet, on the right side. As we finished each section, we were to turn in our notebooks for grading.

How many nanoseconds did it take me to figure out that all I had to do, to get the right answer to any problem, was to slide the sheet down the page and copy the right answer into my notebook? Voila! An A in Algebra! And without learning a blessed thing.

I think our teacher was a real mathematician who somehow found himself teaching in a middle school and had no concept of “temptation.” He saw the right answers in my notebook and gave me A’s.

Those right answers qualified me for Accelerated Math in high school, for which I had no foundation whatsoever. By peeking at the answers to get good grades, I learned no algebra at all! And boy, did I pay for that in high school.

The moral of the story is, if you make it really easy to cheat, and reward it, people are going to cheat. I’m not proud of what I did, but the temptation was far too strong for me to resist at that age. It prepared me to make a total hash of high school math. Geometry, Algebra II, and Trigonometry–disasters all.

I’m pretty sure I could do basic algebra, now that I’m older and have gotten all that cheating out of my system.

Or I could just keep on cheating and become a climate scientist.

Memory Lane: ‘Soldiers of Fortune’

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I know I’m gonna get you with this one: Soldiers of Fortune, from back in 1955.

My father watched this show; that’s how I remember it. I remembered the title and the name of one of the characters: “Toubo Smith.” I mean, you can’t forget a name like Toubo.

In each half-hour episode, globe-trotting adventurers Tim Kelly (John Russell, later to star in Lawman) and Toubo Smith (Chick Chandler) take on the crazy jobs that no one else will touch with a ten-foot pole, have wild adventures in every exotic location you can think of, and use up more stunt men per 30-minute series than any other in the 1950s.

I was amazed to discover some of those episodes floating around Youtube. In fact, you can get the whole two seasons, 1955-56, on disc. I watched one last night and enjoyed it a lot–skullduggery and derring-do in the mountains of Tibet. You have to admire the way they packed so much into so little time, and without giving the impression of hurrying through it.

Dad, I can’t remember this show without remembering you.

Nothin’ beats a good story, does it?

‘All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name’

Such a beautiful summer day as we’re having here today always makes me think of this hymn, All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name, as it was sung by our counselors at Y Camp–outdoor service on a hilltop, with the woods and fields of northern New Jersey spread out in all directions: gorgeous!

Here, indoors, at First-Plymouth Church in Lincoln, Nebraska, we have the same hymn sung by choir and congregation with organ and trumpets to back it up.

Memory Lane: The Back Porch

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I do miss our old back porch. It wasn’t as fancy as the one in this picture. It was raised on cinderblocks with a crawlspace full of spiders underneath, and it had a nice glider on it, ideal for playing chess.

We played a lot of Monopoly on that porch, seated on the woven grass mat on the floor: perfect for a rainy summer day. In the summer I could leave my lizards out there. Or just lie down on the mat and read Rick Brant. And no trouble with mosquitoes, thanks to the screen.

Ah, paradise! I’m old enough to realize that paradise usually consists of simple things that don’t cost a lot. And if we had a porch now, a porch like our old porch, I could sit outside and write even if it was raining.

I remember my parents, aunts, and uncles all sitting on that porch, talking, laughing, smoking, just enjoying each other’s company.

I hope we have a porch in Heaven.

You’re all invited, if we do. Monopoly, anyone?

‘Memory Lane: Golden Stamp Books’

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This, of course, was one of my favorites

How I loved these Golden Stamp Books! Especially on a rainy summer day: sitting on the grass rug on our back porch, coloring the pictures and pasting in the stamps.


Of course, you have to have an attention span, to enjoy these. You had to be able to sit and do something quietly, maybe humming or whistling to yourself, content to sojourn in the world of the imagination. No cell phones, smartphones, iphones, etc.

It was bliss.

Memory Lane: ‘Regimentation’

Image result for images of kids lined up for gym class 1950s

Although it was at least a thousand times better than the mess we have today, the era of the 1950s was not without its tiresome aspects. Among the most tiresome was educators’ penchant for militarizing children.

At Edgar School, for gym, we had these white X’s painted on the blacktop and you were supposed to stand on one, and then Mr. Weiss would put us through a drill, “Ten-hut! Eyes right, dress right, dress!” If you went to the Y after school, you got more of it. “Count off by fours–count off!”

Looking back on it… what were they trying to do?

Sure, I played soldiers with all the other kids, and there was always a war movie playing on TV, and everybody had toy army men. Most of us had fathers who had served in World War II (my daddy was a sailor). Left to our own devices, we enjoyed a healthy patriotism and would have been happy to slam the Bad Guys–by then, the communists: Hitler, Tojo, and Mussolini were dead–anytime, anywhere.

They called it “regimentation” and it was too much of a thing that wasn’t that good to begin with. I’m convinced that their overdoing it contributed much to the cultural meltdown of the later 1960s. Halfway through ROTC I found myself thinking “Enough, already!”

News flash: They’re still putting kids through drills to teach them unquestioning obedience to The Authorities: but now they call it “school” and “university,” and instead of counting off by fours, you recite the titles of all the latest made-up “genders.”

Memory Lane: Major Hoople

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You may have heard me say “Fap!” now and then, and probably asked yourselves, “Did he say ‘fap’? What’s fap?”

I grew up with Sunday color comics in the newspaper, and one of my favorites was “Our Boarding House,” featuring Major Amos B. Hoople, a lovable pompous windbag whose wife, Martha, controlled him by making him go outside to beat the rugs. I wonder if anybody still beats rugs.

Anyhow, when the major’s at a loss for words, he often resorts to his customary exclamations, “Fap!” Usually followed by “Hak-kaff” or “Harrumph!” This sort of eloquence is seldom met with nowadays.

I am unable to confirm a report that Major Hoople left home to become a Diversity Reponse Team People’s Investigator at Fimbo University.

A Present for ‘Bell Mountain’ Readers (2017)

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It hasn’t been a whole year since I posted this video, but a lot of you have joined since then, and I think you might enjoy it.


When I was a boy I used to have a dream in which I crouched in the mouth of a cave while a stampede of assorted prehistoric animals thundered by–sort of like in this video. I’d give much to have that dream again!

Memory Lane: ‘Melvin the Moon Man’

Image result for melvin the moon man game

Before the advent of video games featuring blood and guts flying all over the screen, children had to be content with benign, peaceful, harmless games–like this one.

Remco put out “Melvin the Moon Man” in 1959, and it was a hit. My parents got it for us for Christmas, and it was simple enough for all three of us to play: my sister, age 4, my brother, 7, and me, 10. If we had had a cat, he probably could’ve played, too.

You spin the handle of the unique Tumblebum dice glass (that, and the colorful graphics, were the game’s big selling points), and your plastic Spaceman traveled around the United Craters of the Moon collecting Moonbucks. The one with the most Moonbucks wins. No tactics or strategy involved. Just follow the map according to the roll of the dice.

I don’t know what Melvin cost in 1959, but it’s selling on eBay today for up to $150. In 1959 anything over $5 was a major expenditure for my father which my mother would have to weigh carefully. They really must have loved us to buy us silly stuff like this.

And that’s what makes this memory so sweet.

How to Keep a Toddler from Going Up the Stairs

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My grandma had an original turn of mind.

I stayed at her house a lot–she was always available to baby-sit–and one thing she didn’t want me to do, when I was very little, was to climb the stairs. In case I fell. So she kept me from doing that by telling me that the Mick-Mock lived up there, but was never there if a grownup went upstairs. Not ever.

Here’s the cool part: she never told me what the Mick-Mock was. She left it all to my imagination, which was fully up to the challenge of terrifying me. I imagined the Mick-Mock as a ferocious collie, probably because one of the neighbors had a collie dog that used to go into a berserk rage if you walked past on the sidewalk. I was very afraid of that dog; but I knew the Mick-Mock would be worse. Much worse.

But because I was told the Mick-Mock was scared of adults, I was just fine with the upstairs if one of my aunts took me there. That’s where their own rooms were, and I could even sleep peacefully up there at night because they were there, too, and so the Mick-Mock wouldn’t dare show itself.

Later on, Grandma worked the same–I don’t want to call it a scam: let me call it “psychology”–on my brother. He, three years younger than me, imagined the Mick-Mock as a malevolent stick figure. I’ve got to hand it to him: that was cooler than my imaginary killer collie.

We grew out of our fear of the Mick-Mock. Grandma set it up in a way that allowed you to grow out of it. I guess raising six daughters taught her a few tricks over the years.

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