Monday, October 28, 2013

my haunted house story

I can't explain why I did it.  Back in the day I did a lot of silly odd things that probably would've gotten me killed if I did them today.  This is a true story, happened Halloween week of 1977.  I believe it was the Jaycees that sponsored an annual haunted house.  There used to be an old house downtown, around the corner of First Avenue and Seventh Street.  It was the perfect old house for such an event.  I think the Jaycees took the show to the Gadsden Mall after the old building was demolished a year or two later.

It seemed all the kids my age were going to the haunted house.  A lot of the kids in my homeroom had been talking about having gone or were going.  If I recall correctly, Q104 was promoting it a good bit.

I was dating Debbie hubba-Hubbard (now Debbie Plimpton)  at the time.  I don't know why I decided to go.  Maybe she wanted to go and so I went because she was interested.  Maybe it was my idea, I don't think so, because having people jump out at me from the dark isn't really my idea of fun.  What I do recall is that I wasn't going into an unknown scenario unarmed.

Earlier in the week I had gone to a variety store and bought two water guns.  I picked Debbie up and drove down the mountain and parked around the old bus station.  I was surprised to see how long the line was.  People were lined up the sidewalk up First Avenue for an entire block, on up to the Sears building.  As we stepped up to the back of the line, I pulled out the water guns.  I held one out to Debbie.  She asked, "What's this for?"  I told her that if anyone jumped out at her while in the haunted house, shoot them.  It will be fun.

After a little coaxing she took the colorful plastic squirt gun and slipped it in her pocket. I had mine slid in my inside right jacket pocket.  We waited in line for a long time, 45 minutes to an hour.  I remember Debbie as we neared the house, her looking at me and telling me she couldn't go through with it.  She handed me back the gun.  I told her that it was okay...I thought 'more fun for me'.

I was psyched from concept.  I gave no thought to the outcome of doing such a thing.  I'm sure Debbie had given the outcome of such a thing consideration.  To me, there was nothing wrong with squirting people dressed as monsters in the face.  I had in my mind that I wasn't going to allow people dressed as monsters to jump out at me.  In my mind at the time, it was a justified kill.  Those fake monsters were going to get what they deserved and I was going to get a laugh out of it.  I slipped her gun inside my left jacket pocket.  I now had plenty of ammo to get me through this.

We eventually stepped up to the small crowded porch where a nice little old lady was exchanging money for tickets.  We had to wait for the old door to open.  In the meantime, I had a pleasant conversation with the ticket lady.  She was a very sweet old lady and I got her to laugh a little.  It was the quiet before the storm.

All of a sudden it was time.  A fellow by the door opened it for us to enter.  I remember entering four at a time.  As soon as the door closed, everything went pitch dark.  Our eyes were not accustomed to the darkness since it was still a little light outside.  I looked to my right to see if I could see Debbie (I could only hear her) when all of a sudden, monsters jumped out from four different directions.

It was a lot of noise and confusion, but I was cool, I was ready, I felt a rush and responded automatically.  I didn't have to think.  I pulled out both pistols simultaneously and blasted directly into the faces of the screaming monsters.  I know that I dowsed the eyes of each assailant.  The ghoulish howls turned into angry shouts.  It was over within seconds.

I remember being picked up off my feet and being tossed out the door.  I missed the porch.  I missed the four stairs.  I didn't miss the gravel walkway.  It was a good thing the gravel was there to break my fall.  They had been just as fast on their feet as I had been on the trigger.  I lay there for a minute looking up at all strange faces looking down at me...perhaps wondering what I'd done wrong.

After a moment my eyes focused on Debbie who was also looking down at me.  I was winded, a little bruised, chuckled to cover up the embarrassment.  "Maybe that wasn't a good idea." she said.  "Maybe not", I replied as I laughed nervously.  We made our way past the long line of people, each seeming to look at me with a bit of curiosity.  "Where's my guns?"  Debbie wasn't laughing, she just looked at me with that 'Really?' look on her face.  We weren't about to go back and ask for them back.

It was embarrassing, but there was this incredible moment inside.  There was this moment, this exhilarating moment when I performed Neo in The Matrix.   If they had been actual zombies and my guns real, I would've walked out of there.

I recommend you not try this today.

Have a safe Halloween.

Saturday, October 26, 2013


His had the most beautiful male voice of my generation.  Not only could Harry Nilsson sing, but he could write.  His talent, his skill, so incredibly unique, that his greatest fans were The Beatles.  His music was everywhere, but not many people seem to remember him until you name one of his unforgettable songs.  His songs, his voice could take your mind to wonderful places.  I marveled then and I marvel now at his lyrics and that voice that seemed to soar like a magic kite on a windless day.  How did he do that?

Harry went against convention.  Yes, he delivered chart topping pop songs, but he wrote and recorded music that he liked. One never knew what kind of song he'd sing next.  He was so gifted, so unique, no one will ever match what he had.  I can't explain his music, because he was a fellow with an unbounded talent
I just can't explain his vast talent, you'll just have to go out and explore him for yourself.

Harry, you are gone but you will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

another 80's fave

1988, Mike +Mechanics released a touching song about fathers and sons.  I wish I had a nicer resolution of the music video, but it's the song itself that hits the mark.  There's a lot of heart in that piece, and the imagery helps to bring out the bitter-sweetness of the lyrics.

Living Years was written by Mike Rutherford and Brian Alexander Robertson.  Robertson solely penned the lyrics and Paul Carrack sang the lead.  Both Rutherfords and Robertson had recently lost their fathers.  Carrack's dad died he was only eleven years old.  You can tell that this work was a labor of love.  Living Years hit the top of the charts internationally.  It wasn't just a good tune, a good video, but a song that touches on a timeless, common, haunting thought of sons of sons.

I believe it's the goal of every songwriter to capture one's heart, thought and experience in a few clear or abstract lines.  Every songwriter is driven to ask their questions, uncover themselves on stage to reveal their pleasures and pains to anyone who'll listen.  Robertson caught it, he found the words in which countless orphaned sons in the audience relate.

I wasn't there that morning, when my father passed away
I didn't get to tell him, all the things I had to say
I think I caught his spirit, later that same year
I'm sure I heard his echo, in my baby's new born tears
I just wished that I had told him, in the living years.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

80's music video fave

 MTV (Music Television) launched August 1, 1981.  I guess the idea of music television had a good ten year run.  I watched a lot of music videos throughout the 1980's.  I watched videos on MTV, SupterStation WTBS's Night Tracks, and USA Network's Night Flight.  I favored Night Flight because it showed a lot unusual music videos and short films the other programs didn't show.

I loved the idea of music videos because I've always been a visual kind of guy.  I'd almost always imagined imagery when listening to songs off the AM or LP.  I was drawn to it because it was something I always envisioned anyway.  It was neat seeing visual interpretations of music.  There was a brief time when a lot of really creative videos were being released.

Even though I watched hundreds of music videos, only a handful are worth noting.  One of those videos is Every Breath You Take (1987) by The Police.  By '87, most music videos were not worth the time.  Every Breath You Take grabbed my attention.  Great song - great video.   I love the simplicity of production.  The black and white imagery of the band was very dynamic, helping to visually drive the rhythm of the song.  Something about music videos, if the song sucked, the music video won't make the song any better.  Every Breath You Take is a solid piece of work and stands without the video.  This video is fun to watch and remains one of my favorites.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

board of board games

I used to enjoy a good board game.  My wife can tell you that I'm the last person to participate in one these days.  She's the one that plays board games with the kids.  I guess I'm officially an old fuddy-duddy.  I just don't enjoy them.

As a kid we had a lot of board games in the closet; Life, Monopoly, Trouble, Sorry, Clue, Risk, etc.  Pull one out and we'd have enough interest amid a family of eight to find someone who wanted to participate.

I know why I lost interest in board games.  It might not make a lot of sense to most, but I know why.  I grew tired of it because playing often brought out the worst in people.  The last time I played Monopoly was in the late 80's.  It will continue to remain the last time I  play Monopoly.  I didn't really want to play in the first place, but I was begged into it.  I tried to decline, but I was begged into it.  Did I say I was begged?  Since I was the guest in their home, I eventually succumbed to the pleading.  The game of their choice was Monopoly.  I rarely won at Monopoly.  Toward the end of the game, as I was about to win, one of my hosts flipped the board and stormed away.  I picked up the scattered pieces and put them into the box and left quietly.  What little interest I had in playing board games escaped me that afternoon.

It's not just other people, it's me too.  Board games are not relaxing or fun for me.  Because of my experiences in life, I personally find board games stressful.  I don't want to compete against family or friends.  Competing isn't fun.  I like having fun with friends, not beat them.  I really want out if I sense the game is affecting a fellow player's mood.

The Game of Life, I recall, was a game I actually asked for a kid.  I liked the spinning thingy in the middle of the board.  When I got the Game of Life, I realized it was too much like life and so I quickly lost interest in it.  I find most games are like the Game of Life.  If I want to be entertained, why must I play a game that reminds me of life?

Not long after Gina and I were married, we reconnected with some friends of mine who lived in the area.  Gina had heard of a game called Scruples.  It's a game that poses 252 questions of moral dilemmas of work, family, friends, neighbors - relationships in general.  We had invited the young couple over for diner and Gina wanted to play this new game.  We all started out having fun, but it turned into a living hell quickly.  The first question that was lobbed to my friend was something like, "Do you deem it necessary to tell your partner decision you make?"  His wife chimed in, "Why YES, we discuss everything.  He make our decisions together!"  Her smile quickly faded when he started laughing.  "No I don't.  I don't have to tell you everything.  I have to make decisions that you don't know about on a daily basis!"  It took him a little to long to realize he needed to stop laughing at her.  She then demanded to know what decisions he'd made without her recently?  Still laughing at her, he told her that he spent a very large amount ($5,000?) on equipment earlier in the week.  They got into it right there in our living room.  After the dust cleared and our friends were gone, I closed Pandora's Box and never opened it again.

I've had too many bad experiences with board games.

Gina likes games.  Her favorite is Scrabble.  For years there seemed to be an ongoing Scrabble match at her mother's house.  For years, if food wasn't on the kitchen table, there would be a Scrabble board.  Every now and then I'd be begged and would agree to a game of Scrabble.  There was always an understanding that I could leave the game at anytime.  I didn't mind it as much because there was always a good mood around the board.  Those Hales though, sure liked to make up words that never were.  Most of the time I'd sit on the couch at a distance and tune out the commotion in the kitchen.  Rarely do they play Scrabble anymore.

Gina and Katie like to play chess together.  It's a mother daughter thing.  I never learned that game, nor do I have the interest to try.  It's nice that they love being together and enjoy each others company over a game or two...or three.

Every Christmas Gina will purchase board games for the girls.  We have board games that have never been played.  I have an old trunk full of board games that have not been touched in over a decade.  We also have an entire closet dedicated to board games that are seldom touched.  I'd like to have the space back, but for some reason those board games are too precious to part with.  I am hoping as the girls move off, they will divide the games between themselves and take them with them as they go out into the world, find a mate and multiply. 

We'll keep the chess game for Katie and mother to enjoy as time goes by.  Kelsey likes playing checkers with her mother.  Maybe we'll keep that game too.  We'll keep Candyland and and Shoots and Ladders for any grandchildren that may come our way.  Other than that, I'd like to see those dusty boxes go.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

fix-it shops

Last time I went to a genuine fix-it shop was in Bowling Green, KY back in the early nineties.  I have an old Hamilton Beach three motor milkshake blender that needed a new cord.  It didn't take'm long.  They kept it about a week so they could give the old classic a once over to make sure it was in good working order.

This past week I went to the little vacuum and sewing machine repair shop downtown Gadsden.  I had a Brother sewing machine that is my 10 year old daughter's pride and joy. It's a plastic sewing machine that's a little over a year old and outside the warranty.  I told Kelsey I'd see what I could do to get it fixed.  I half expected the repairman to tell me that it wouldn't be worth fixing.  He opened it up and checked under the hood.  He tinkered with it for about five minutes and handed it back to me.  "She's good to go!"

I've got other items items that need fix'n.  I've got my dad's old drill that I'd love to keep using.  It must be about 50 years old by now.  It's just a paper weight these days.  The motor works, but it sure makes a racket when you pull the trigger.   I've got some bike wheels  on my daughter's bike that need truing.  I'd like to have my dad's old watch ticking again.

I try to mend items in my shop, but I lack the know-how when it comes to fixing a lot of things. I'm pretty good with glue, bracing and screws, but not much when it comes to electrical things or things with cogs and gears. There are items that I've let go, tossed or given away, and replaced that I just didn't know how to repair.  
Man I wish we had a full service fix-it shop around here.

We all know what happened to fix-it shops. Manufacturers started producing items that were disposable. Most of the electronics that we buy today are cheaper to buy a new one than repair the old one.  
More and more plastic items on the shelves.  Less and less need for a fellow with the know-how to keep the old stuff working. 

A few fix-it shops are scattered about, but I'm afraid they'll be gone for good.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

my indestructible feet

my indestructible feet
once upon a time
shoes were an option
when playing outside
i'd feel the grass beneath
i'd get them stained
with red dirt clay
sink my toes in mud
in a sand box
pebbles pavement rocks
that gravely road behind my house
my feet could endure it all
once upon a time
i'd get cuts
but it never stopped
my indestructible feet
once upon a time

Monday, October 7, 2013

dad's little layout helper

The Batmobile at Green Valley Raceway
I learned last week at the Welcome To Gadsden facebook group that Green Valley Raceway is closing.  I never went to see a race there, but my dad used to do the brochures/posters for them.  Dad wasn't a racing fan, but he was a friend of one of the owners, Dr. Charles Jordan.  Dad was an attorney by trade, but he enjoyed doing layout and design for print.  When doing corporation work, he was also known to help out with doing the new company's logo.  He was quite good at it.

My interest for graphic design came from my dad.  I used to sit there next to him at the kitchen table and assist him.  His polio limited some of his ability in his arm, so I'd often hold a ruler or help with the rubber cement.  It was old school layout.  It made me feel important to help him layout those brochures.  Dad would let me keep hold of many of the publicity photos after Frost Printing was finished with the print job.

The Batmobile did come to town in the 1960's.  In fact, so did  the Munster Cars and the Black Beauty of Green Hornet fame.  These cars each made a special appearance at Green Valley Raceway (and drag strip).  The above photo was taken at Green Valley, but not one of the slicks dad used to help promote the events.  The above image of the Batmobile was taken at the actual event.

Of course I flipped out when dad handed me these 8 by 10's of these famous TV cars.  I made the mistake of taking them to school the next day.  My friends begged me for them and I gave all but the Batmobile away.  Somewhere along the way, I lost that one.

It won't be the same driving down Green Valley road at night and not see all those bright lights and loud noises coming from the track.  They are going to put houses where the cars used to race.  Kind of sad, but such is life.

Friday, October 4, 2013

down town

I think of my downtown every time I hear this song.  I imagine this tune must make most baby-boomers think of a particular downtown of their youth.  I remember Down Town playing over our AM radio as my mother was driving us down and around Broad Street in Gadsden, AL in the early sixties.  Petula Clark's clear voice filled the car.  I was sitting in the middle of the backseat playing with a little blue plastic car that mom purchased for me in the downstairs toy department at W.T. Grant's. I was very excited to be downtown and to have that little toy car, looking out the window at all the people on the sidewalk.   It's just a snippet of a memory, but a very clear memory.  This song is attached to that particular moment in time.  It is also attached to my home town.  Every time I hear it I think of my downtown.  Is it the same for you?