‘A Day in the Fall, Long Ago’ (2016)

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There’s not much left of this year’s autumn, so let’s enjoy it while we can.

Before we stack it on the memory shelf with long-past autumns that we thoroughly enjoyed.

A Day in the Fall, Long Ago

True, our high school football team was astoundingly bad, most years; but we enjoyed the games anyway. And kids and dogs dove into piles of raked leaves.

And no leaf-blowers. They hadn’t been invented yet.


‘Memory Lane: Soldiers Path’ (2016)

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How I miss places like this!

I grew up next to a woods which is now gone, paved over by Democrats who then go on to prattle about how much they care for the environment… but I digress.

Memory Lane: Soldiers Path

Among the notable–and somewhat mystifying–features of our little forest was a path made of cinders, which we called Soldiers Path. Deep in the woods, past Hangman’s Tree (from which you could see Portugal, if you climbed all the way up), this cinder path started out from nowhere and finished up at nowhere. Time had swallowed up all traces of whatever two destinations the path had once linked together.

I’d like to know why I thought “Hessians” were giant insects–moths too big to fly. But I have since outgrown that belief.

Memory Lane: ‘Free Inside–Money!’

Bolivian Currency High Resolution Stock Photography and Images - Alamy

I’d always loved the prizes you got “Free Inside!” cereal boxes. Imagine my delight, sometime back in the 70s, when a certain cereal offered foreign currency. Inside the box with the cereal.

The first time we bought it, we got a nice Bolivian 50-Whatsit bill. When we went to buy it again, we found all those cereal boxes on the shelves already slit open and rifled for the “money”–it wouldn’t buy anything, here in the US–and then put back on the shelves… like no one would notice.

No, I don’t remember what particular kind of cereal it was. Not one that I usually bought. I’ll bet I wake up at 2 a.m. and suddenly remember it. Heck, it was a long time ago. It wasn’t a bad cereal. But our supermarket couldn’t keep carrying it if the shelf-stackers were going to cut the boxes open, so it soon disappeared.

Who got stuck holding the bag? Probably the supermarket; the manufacturer could argue he wasn’t responsible for the store’s dishonest employees.

So you cut open the cereal box and walk away with 40 Bazongas from Upper Kafoozistan. Why steal that? You can’t spend it anywhere. Did they think the manufacturer might slip up and start putting US $20 bills in there? Did they think, “If we open all the boxes, we just might find a dollar”?

Patty remembers! It was Almond Delight. And what made it worse was that in a few boxes, there really would be real American money. Maybe even a $50 bill! Do you need a crystal ball to guess what would happen? I’d forgotten that part, but that’s one of the perks of marriage: you get two memories for the price of one.

It’s hard luck on the manufacturer, who had to pull this promotion in a hurry, and the supermarket ownership, stuck with cereal it can’t sell–but there are times when a few more moments’ forethought and ordinary prudence will hold you back from costly mistakes. Duh! Really–what did they think would happen, if they advertised “Free Money”–any money–inside the cereal box?

They shoulda seen it coming.

Memory Lane: ‘Turok, Son of Stone’

Turok: Son of Stone Covers

Yesterday Elder Mike reminded me of one of my favorite comics that I used to read when I was a boy–Turok, Son of Stone. For 10 cents a pop, you could follow the adventures of two Native Americans, Turok and Andar, in a lost world of prehistoric monsters and cavemen. The first issue came out in 1954.

I remember reading these on Grandma’s porch, enthralled, my imagination vividly responding to the pictures. Turok and Andar blundered into this place and couldn’t find their way out, so they had to learn a lot of new survival skills in a hurry. They called the dinosaurs “honkers,” for the noises they made. My favorite was “Ruuuuunk!”

All right, it was all a bit corny, but you don’t see that when you’re nine or ten years old. I just saw the dinosaurs–and wished we had some in the woods next to my house.  To this day I’m fascinated by dinosaurs. I don’t read comic books anymore, but I might break that rule if someone handed me a stack of Turoks.

Imagination! What would life be like without it?

I hope I never find out.

Memory Lane: Store Window Paintings

window painting/ seasons Spring,Summer, Fall etc. - Bawden Fine Murals

Once upon a time in the 1950s, on Halloween, my father used to take us to New Brunswick to see the Halloween paintings on the store windows. Downtown New Brunswick was bigger than I knew how to calculate, and there was a lot to see. In those days it was a nice small city: our family shopped there a lot. Now… Well, what gets better anymore?

I loved gawking at all those window paintings! Some of them were really quite scary–at least, if you were eight years old. The one I remember best is a painting of animated trees with leering faces–like something in the Old Forest in The Fellowship of the Ring. Trees that can move around when you’re not looking, and are up to no good: we are so lucky that there’s no such thing.

As our 1954 Mercury went up and down the streets, we gazed wide-eyed at the multitude of ghosts, goblins, monsters, witches, giant spiders… and evil trees.

I wonder which cities still do this, if any. Which towns? All you need is a shopping district and a lot of enterprising artists with warped imaginations.

Which is easier to come by?

‘A Halloween Story’ (2017)

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My mother made me a costume like this in fifth grade, and it really spooked the other kids.

I like to re-run this story on Halloween. It might be the best short story I’ve ever written.

A Halloween Story

Really, it would ruin everything if I told you what was under the mask. Too many writers try to dominate their readers’ imaginations. But really, you can’t scare anybody as badly as he can scare himself.

Memory Lane: ‘Soldier Boy’

Something, some spirit, called up this song from deep in my memory–a vision of a summer day, and a trip to the shore with my grandparents (it would be my introduction to surf-fishing)… with Soldier Boy, by The Shirelles, playing on the car radio. And oh, how I wanted to be back there again!

I grew up in a world of men and women. Now it’s a world dominated by freaks and villains who deny there ever was a past. Nothing good existed until they came along!

I can at least get back for two minutes or so. All aboard for the Jersey Shore, 1962.

Willie Mays Forever!

Belay the nooze, enough’s enough! I’m going to write about something that has always made me happy, and hopefully give you some pleasure, too.

“Unknowable” and I were chatting about celebrity, hero worship, and idolatry–they’re all related, aren’t they?–and I brought up the subject of… Willie Mays. To me, the greatest athlete that I ever saw.

Among other things, Willie was famous for this one play during the 1954 World Series. I was five years old. Anyhow, they were playing at the old Polo Grounds, where center field was about the size of a Jersey township, and Vic Wertz smashed a screaming fly ball to the deepest part of center field. A real moon shot. At this point, let the video speak for itself.

Willie lit up my childhood. He was my hero. But y’know what? I never felt the urge to delve into his personal life. I have made a conscious choice to remember him solely for the things I saw him do on the ballfield; and those are things that still give me deep aesthetic pleasure 67 years later. I think it’s the same kind of pleasure art lovers get, or music lovers, from their favorite masterpieces. Willie Mays in center field was the baseball equivalent of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.

Yeah! Sitting on the floor in our sitting room, playing with my grandpa’s blocks that he handed down to me, while my mother did the ironing while watching the Giants’ game on TV. That’s a memory that gives me joy!

Baseball isn’t what it was, not by a long shot; I no longer care for it. But I do care for my memories: and for a good few of those I say, “Thanks, Willie!”

Memory Lane: ‘Death Valley Days’

I just loved the opening theme of Death Valley Days–that haunting bugle solo. And there was something evocative in that distant view of the 20-mule team.

And then, of course, Rosemary DeCamp would come on with another ad for 20-Mule Team Borax, whatever that was, and the spell would be broken.

Death Valley Days first aired in 1952 and ran to 1970. In 1964-65 future President Ronald Reagan was the host (he quit to run for governor of California, which he eventually achieved).

Memory Lane: Favorite Board Games

The Value of Board Games – WOW! Children's Museum

We didn’t have hi-tech fancy electronic videos back in the Bronze Age, but we did have board games. And with summer waning, my friends and I knew it was time to dust off our favorite games. (I’m not counting Monopoly or chess, because we played those all year round.)

My cousins had Clue. “Col. Mustard in the Kitchen with the Candlestick!” I think the first game we learned to play was Chutes and Ladders. Look at the picture–there’s Stratego. You love it when they blow themselves up on the hidden mines, trying to capture your flag.

Candy Land. Sorry. Pachesi. Mille Bournes (oh, yeah!). Settlers of Catan (for adults). Go to the Head of the Class (did any of you ever play that?).

I’d love to hear what your favorite board games were–or are. They come in mighty handy when the weather’s not cooperating.

But I suspect that to enjoy them properly, you have to not have a cell phone.