Saturday, October 25, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 3)

Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab
Hazardous waste bottle in a chemical lab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Like most kids I had a curiosity about chemistry, sometimes bordering on the potentially hazardous.  If interesting ingredients were accessible I was ready to mix them up to see what would happen.  I'm pretty sure it was inspired by something I'd seen on TV.  In one case I know it was.

         In one of the Little Rascals episodes the gang was baking a "surprise cake".  They mix up a batch of stuff in the kitchen to create a batter that eventually starts groaning and bubbling.  I wanted to do that.  So one summer afternoon while my mother was talking to a neighbor across a backyard fence, my sister Joy and I and one of the neighbor kids decided to make our own surprise cake.  Joy and I were about 4 and 5 at the time and had imaginations that were always at work.

          We climbed the counters, digging out flour, milk, spices, and whatever else we could get to and manage to get open and we started mixing in the biggest bowl we could find.  The mixture never bubbled or made noise, but we sure did make a big mess, evident by my mother's angry reaction when she came inside.    To our defense, we were in a hurry to mix things up and didn't have time to clean up.

          Then there was the time a few years later after we had moved to San Diego.   Once again it was Joy and I and some friend from down the street.   Joy and I were like the two stooges so I guess we always needed another kid to make the trio complete.   It was summer and we were exploring the garage to see what was there.   We quickly started assembling an assortment of chemical products--cleaning supplies, turpentine, and other miscellaneous containers of mystery liquids.

         We got a galvanized metal bucket in which to mix up our chemicals and the experiment was underway.  After stirring up half a pail of some nasty smelling dark liquid we waited to assess the results.  Nothing happened so we hid the bucket away in a sort of clubhouse that we had constructed out of stuff that was stored in the garage.   We then went to seek out other mischief.

        It was a few days later when a truly foul smell started permeating the garage.   When my mother inquired about the smell Joy and I looked at each other conspiratorially.   We knew what that smell was and now we were a bit concerned.  Scared even.  After my mother had gone back inside the house we immediately went to where the bucket was hidden.   The brew had a gag-inducing smell with a truly sickening appearance with unidentifiable particles floating in a film on top.  It was disturbing to say the least.

       Now I can't exactly recall what we did with this toxic mixture.  It was undoubtedly deadly or at least unsafe.  If this had been in the current age we might have called a hazardous waste clean-up crew to dispose of the substance.   Maybe we just dumped it in the backyard or maybe one of our parents disposed of the evil liquid.  As I think more on this I do believe I dumped it into a utility sink that was beside the washing machine in the garage.   I don't know what we created in that frightening chemistry experiment but I shudder to think back on it.

      It was kind of funny though--in a perverse sort of way.

      What were some of your fearful kitchen adventures?   Did you ever mix up liquids to see what you could brew?   What did you brew?


Saturday, October 18, 2014

Curiosity Kid (Part 2)

An illustration of a character from a story; a...
An illustration of a character from a story; also, an illustration of illustrations
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        Earlier this year I put up a post called "Curiosity Kid" in which I talked about some of things that mystified me as a child and wanted to know more about.  These were incidents that might have been somewhat embarrassing to my mother putting her in an uncomfortable spot.  There were other instances that were probably more of a nuisance to my mother or things that were done surreptitiously.

The Science Experiments:

        Kids are scientists at heart.   When we are young we are always experimenting to see how things work or what will happen if we do something that we probably shouldn't be doing.   And for the latter, most of those somethings are things we definitely shouldn't be doing.

         Rarely did I have a toy for too long before I began dismantling it to see what was inside and how the darn thing worked like it did.   Mechanical toys were my favorites.  Once the outer layer was broken through, I would make great discoveries such as finding that the Japanese recycled things like tin cans and old magazines to manufacture the toys they sent to us kids in the U.S.  This was the pre-China years when most cheap products were "Made in Japan".     After the dismantling, I would be without a toy and left with a pile of useless scrap that could not be reassembled.   Another toy in the garbage.

         My most major accomplishment of destruction for the sake of curious discovery was the beautiful bouncing horse that my sister and I got for Christmas one year.  I was about 4 or 5 at the time.   The horse was made of sturdy plastic and suspended by heavy duty metal springs to a metal framework.  Not only could one bounce on the horse, but there was also some sort of mechanism which after pulling a string the horse would make realistic horsey sounds.  My mission was to find out how those sounds were made.

          Lacking any patience for careful dismantling--there seemed to be no easy way to take the horse apart to get to its innards--I took the most logical approach to doing the job.   I used a hammer.  With great energy I bashed through the plastic to find an odd little device that was something like a miniature record player.  After having liberated the mechanism from the hard plastic shell of the horse, the device now only played a weaker more draggy version of the horse sounds until it eventually quit working.   No horse sounds, no bouncy horse.   Consequently we never got another horse like it.

        Did childhood curiosity ever lead you to dismantle toys or other items?   Do you like to find out how things work?    Has any of your children, grandchildren, or other children in your life shown a predilection for taking things apart?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Parallel Roads: Friendships That Span Time

        Over the past few years I've written about my old friend Dan Holom on my blogs.    On Wrote By Rote I did an A to Z post about Friendship in 2013.  A few years earlier on Tossing It Out I related a story about a possible telepathic connection between my friend and I.  You can follow the links to read those stories.   Today I have a follow-up story regarding my long-time friend.

          Dan Holom and I became friends way back in junior high school nearly fifty years ago.  We were best friends during that time.  When high school came I moved away from Merrillville, Indiana where my family had been living during those junior high school years and relocated hundreds of miles away in East Tennessee.  I occasionally heard from Dan and saw him a couple of times over the years, but then for a few decades we lost contact.   I never forgot about him and though I had an idea where he was living, I never managed to reconnect with him until 2005.

           He came to visit me in California in 2006.  Actually he was meeting with the illustrator for a children's book he had written so he decided to pay me a brief visit as well during his short week-end stay.  Since then we have kept regular contact.

            A signed copy of his book Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel arrived in my mail sometime in 2008.  I was thrilled to see that his dream had come to fruition.  Over the years since then Dan has been working hard at promoting his self-published book.  Anyone who has been involved with self-publishing knows the hard work involved in promoting a book.   Dan has been steadily pushing his book through speaking engagements and whatever else he could do to promote sales.

            Now he has released his book on Kindle which makes distribution via Amazon far easier than trying to market to the book stores on his own.   The book is also cheaper for readers.  Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel is based on the Bible story of Daniel in the lion's den.   With whimsical illustrations by acclaimed Disney animation artist Mark Henn, children and adults will enjoy this entertaining book that is very values oriented.  

          If you don't mind spending $1.99 or if you have Kindle Unlimited where you can read the book for free, I would encourage you to help Dan with his book sales.   I think any children in your life would enjoy this book--it would make a great gift.   And once you've read the book please remember to leave a review on Amazon and wherever else you typically leave book reviews (don't forget your blog as well!). 

            Dan Holom and Mark Henn have big plans ahead.   Their book is to be turned into a series of Sleepy Sheepy adventures.   The success of this first book will make the publication of the next book an easier process.   Wouldn't you like to be a part of this fun series for children?   I hope so!

            You can find my reviews of Sleepy Sheepy and Daniel at Amazon, Goodreads, and my Sunday blog A Few Words.

           Have you had friends that you've reconnected with after many years?    Have you purchased any children's books on Kindle?   Can you help my friend Dan Holom launch his book series (sharing this post would also help)?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Google as a Memoir Research Tool

English: Computer-globe
Computer-globe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

          Since "Google" has become synonymous for "search engine" I've used this term in my title.  It's the search engine that I use almost exclusively and I would imagine most of you do so as well.   There are many search engine options and in many ways any of them are superior--certainly far more convenient--than other research options.

          Some of you enjoy going to the library and this research option can provide some great hands-on opportunities for research with resources that are frequently more reliable than internet resources.  Most of us have probably been the victim of unreliable internet sources which in some cases get duplicated onto other sites until the faulty information eventually gets permutated into seemingly reliable information  

          Caution must be taken when doing internet research, but that is an applicable caveat to doing any kind of research.   Often conflicting accountings of events and histories can mislead us if we are not careful.   Using multiple resources, organizing data, and filtering by the application of our own sense of logical reasoning can help us in drawing the best conclusions, but mistakes can still be made if enough care is not taken.

          My personal experience with internet research is a mixture of good and bad.   Search engines can give us access to facts such as weather, historical events timelines, geographical data, or even genealogical background--usually much of this information can be obtained for free right from your computer at home.  If you're like me and prefer to work in the comfort of your own home rather than getting out into the hubbub of the outside world, obtaining information on the computer is a great advantage not only from the standpoint of convenience but also limiting stress and  transportation costs.

          Aside from the dangers of succumbing to inaccurate information that is sometimes disseminated online, my biggest trap is getting sidetracked by all of the easy access to other information related to our searches.  Not that this can't happen in a library or similar research venue, but distractions come so much more easily when we are on the internet.  One click on a link that we happen to see can lead us down a rabbit hole into subjects we had no intention of researching or just reading about.

           The distractions can be fun and even result in new brainstorms.   Sometimes we'll find information related to what we are looking for at the present or something we had previously been researching purely by accident.   Taking that sideroad can turn out beneficial, but more typically our diversions just make the research activity last longer.

          Google and other search engines are a boon to those of us who need to do research--usually far better than those encyclopedia sets most of us probably used for composing school reports.   As with anything there are good and bad sides.   The computer is an amazing tool for connecting ideas and bits of collected data.   I've found numerous things related to my family history as well as data that has sparked memories about my own life.  

         In compiling accurate and interesting memoir, we should never limit the resources we use to collect data.    We need to get out of our houses to experience the world and the lives of the people around us.  Reading good resource materials and talking to others can provide information we might not have run across in other ways.   However, since we often do spend so much time at our computers, the search engine is one of the better ways to prompt and fuel our imaginations.

          What is your preferred or favorite way of finding memoir data?    Do you have a problem finding trustworthy data online?     Can you recommend any particular sites that are particularly useful when researching for writing a memoir?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

A Book on the Window Sill

English: Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue i...
 Building at 123 West Jackson Avenue in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA,
 photographed in 1976. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

        As mentioned in my most recent post at Tossing It Out, one of the books that I read over the summer months was The Third Strike by Jerry Gray.  This is the second time that I've read this book which has been in my possession for over 40 years now.  There's a story behind this book.  I've decided to share that story here today at Wrote By Rote.

         By 1973 I had been working at Acme Premium Supply Company in Knoxville, Tennessee for a couple of years.  Acme was a wholesale carnival supply company dealing in plush toys, carnival glass, and all of the other prize items given to winners of carnival games.  It was a quirky business that provided me with the flexibility of work hours during the school year and the opportunity to work as much as I wanted during the summer months.  

         During the first half of the 70's I was attending the University of Tennessee full time most of the year.   In the peak carnival season of the summer months I worked full time at Acme with all of the overtime they had available and there was plenty to be had.  Due to the seasonal nature of the business there were periods when there would be work lulls and the warehouse would operate with minimal staff.   Since I was a favored employee who could be depended upon to be reliable, the company would keep me on duty even if there wasn't much to be done as far as the daily sales and shipping operations.

            There were always the maintenance duties of cleaning, organizing warehouse spaces, and restocking where merchandise had dwindled to low numbers.   So even if there were few customer sales or ingoing and outgoing truck traffic, there was always something to be done.  Some days I worked at a more leisurely pace because speed wasn't essential to get things done.

             When the main warehouse was overly stocked to the point there was no more room to safely store merchandise, we kept some of that overstock in a Jackson Avenue warehouse nearly two blocks away.  This extra space was in an old building that was one of many that filled an entire block.  Most of the buildings were empty and most likely condemned for use.   Apparently the building we used had been deemed usable, but it was not in the best shape.  My guess is that these buildings dated back to the early part of the 1900's or perhaps even earlier.

            Occasionally when I found myself working alone in this old building, I would explore the upper floors.  Nothing above the first floor was in use since it was not practical, and possibly not safe, to use those spaces.   There was an old freight elevator, but it seemed not to be operational.   There was an eeriness in those empty dank upper floors.   The hollow cavernous space echoed as I walked through it.  

            At the back side of the building were a few tall windows that overlooked the railroad tracks and beyond to East Knoxville.  I was drawn to the windows for the view as I would ponder my thoughts, worries, and dreams.   This lonely place was the ideal spot for contemplation though more than once I contemplated the possibility that the building I was in could collapse with me in it.

           During one of my early explorations when I was drawn to the back windows, I noticed a small book on the window sill.  Judging from the amount of dust that had settled upon the book it appeared to have been there a very long time.   After dusting off the cover I examined the book.  

           The compact book with a green hard cover had "The Third Strike by Jerry Gray" printed in gold letters.  The book only had sixty pages.   The chapter titles intrigued me.  Titles like "Rain in the Bowery", "Battle of the Bottles", and "Climbing the Heights of Darkness" piqued my curiosity.  Six short chapters was the extent of the book.

            Taking the book home with me I read it that night.  The writing was quite good--poetic prose with a somberness that made me even more curious about the book and why it was in that old warehouse.   The story of Jerry Gray lingered in my thoughts.   I decided that one day I would write a story or perhaps a novel about a character inspired by this "Jerry Gray" even though there was little more that I knew of him than what was written in this book.

            My guess is that this book was a publication that may have been intended for free distribution to those suffering from alcohol dependency.  The story is about one man's struggle with alcoholism until he eventually loses the battle.   There are moments of deep introspection, revelation, but ultimately hopelessness for the author who exhorts others to heed his warnings and take charge of their own addictions.

            Since the area where Acme Premium Supply was located was an area frequented by winos and homeless alcoholics, my supposition would be that one of these poor souls who sometimes had found refuge in the building our company was now using for extra storage had been given the book at an AA meeting or by some party wishing to help inspire someone who was in the depths.   If this scenario were the case, it was probably something that had happened years prior to my finding the book.   The warehouse had probably been abandoned for several years before Acme started using it.

           Eventually after many moves and over a decade of living on the road, my found copy of The Third Strike became lost in all my stuff that had been in storage at my parents house.   The memory of the book stayed with me over the years and often came to my mind.   After I moved to where I now live I would sometimes look through boxes that were still packed to try and find this book.  Finally, this year before taking my vacation trip, I found the book.  It was time for another read through of this book that had haunted me for so many years.

            The Third Strike was the first of the books I read this summer.  It was still as good as I remembered it being.  The small volume now resides on my bookshelf where I will undoubtedly pick it up now and then to drink in the beauty of the words.   Too bad that this "Jerry Gray"--a pseudonym as revealed in the Foreword--wasn't writing more and drinking less.  That is, if this author story is actually true.  It really doesn't matter who wrote the book.  A good book is a good book.   I almost wish this one were longer. Or if the person who did write it wrote other similarly well written books that I could be directed to.   Maybe I'll never really know.  Or maybe one of you reading this knows something about this book, this author, or anyone affiliated with either.

         Do you ever explore old abandoned buildings?   Have you ever found an abandoned book that influenced you in a big way?    Do you have any ideas or knowledge about Jerry Gray, The Third Strike, or Starr Daily?  


Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Concert Series: The Hello People

English: 1978 Todd Rundgren
 1978 Todd Rundgren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

      During this year's Blogging from A to Z April Challenge Michele at Angel's Bark for the letter "C" wrote about concerts she had attended.   Her post brought to mind some of my own concert memories.  In my comment response to her post I suggested that I might use her idea as an occasional series topic.  This post will be the first of a sporadic series that will most likely correspond to Battle of the Bands posts that you will find on my blog Tossing It Out.   If you haven't visited to vote on my current Battle I hope you will drop by before Sunday evening September 21st at which time I will tally the votes to come up with the most favorite artist of the two I've presented.  The winner will be announced on my post of Monday the 22nd.

The Sounds of the Silent

        Many of us undoubtedly have fond memories of concerts we've attended.   Most of mine come from my college years and the decade or so that came after those years.   I had more time to spare, less obligations to care about, and more friends who were more than willing to join me in my concert experiences.   Actually there were more than a few concerts that I attended by myself since my eclectic music interests took me to events that no one else I knew was willing to join me.

        Another of the reasons that I attended so many concerts was that they were relatively cheap--anywhere from free to five or six dollars.   The big concerts with two to three big acts averaged about five dollars each.  I don't recall paying for parking for most of these, but if we did pay to park the fee was only a dollar or less.  A concert night was not a huge outlay of cash even considering I was only making $1.75 to $2.50 an hour at the job I worked during my off school hours.

        One of the more outstanding concerts (they were almost all outstanding for that matter) was in May of 1972 with the line-up of the headliner Alice Cooper, the band Free, and Todd Rundgren with The Hello People backing him up. Alice Cooper was the draw for most attendees--I was certainly an avid fan.   Free was a bonus.  Their song "All Right Now" had been all over the radio as a huge hit.  They rocked and would have been a great headline band.

          However, the pairing of Todd Rundgren with the Hello People was the act that interested me the most.   I'd already been a Rundgren fan for a few years and had a couple of his albums.   But the Hello People?  I owned their first two albums having found them in cut-outs and loved their music.   What a surprise to find two great acts unpretentiously paired as an opening act.   Being able to see Todd Rundgren in concert was definitely cool, but to see the Hello People coming to Knoxville, Tennessee was a totally unexpected treat.

         I will say here that Rundgren and the Hello People delivered a great concert far exceeding any expectations I had for them.   Honestly I didn't know what to expect, but the show they put on would have been enough for me.  I would have been happy to sit through a couple hours of their act with no other accompanying groups.

        After the coliseum lights darkened and a myriad of lighters flamed up to ignite the joints that were a staple of any rock concert back then, the stage lights came up to reveal a group of mimes.   The white-faced characters began a typical mime routine.  They were proficient in their mimery, but there was no clear indication as to why the mimes were there until they took to their instruments.   As they broke into a jazzy tune from their second album, the Hello People broke the silence barrier and began doing what they did best--playing music.

           Todd Rundgren soon joined them and the collaborative group skillfully addressed a series of some of Todd's best songs.  The Hello People were solid as a back-up band.    The set was too short for my tastes.  As I have already noted, I could have devoted the entire evening to nothing but these fantastic musicians.  But alas, the set ended all too quickly and proceeded to the next two acts.

          I wish there was a filmed record of the Todd with the Hello People.   There may very well be since I've run across at least one YouTube clip of them.   I'd like to see the entire set as I saw it on that May night in 1972.   Those concerts all went by so quickly that it's hard to remember a lot of the details.

Here's the YouTube clip that I've found:


         Those concert years were great times.   It was cheap entertainment compared to now when the cost of parking alone can often exceed an entire night out back in the 70's.  There were many great entertainment events that I witnessed during that time.   I'll try to recapture some of those memories in future posts on Wrote By Rote.

          What great concert memories do you have?   Were there any groups who surprised you with their presentations?    What do you like best about going to hear music artists perform live?


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Is My Life Story Worthy of a Memoir?


         Recently I received a comment on a guest post that was published at my blog Tossing It Out on July 20th of 2011.   Yes, sometimes these comments do crop up on older posts, usually due to someone doing a Google search on the topic of the post.   It's good to know that these posts are showing up on the search engines.

        Anyhow, this guest post was by my long time blogging friend and memoirist Karen Walker at Following the Whispers.   If you don't know Karen I encourage you to check out her blog and give her a follow.  Her first publishing success was a memoir dealing with some of the tough life challenges she has had to endure.   Currently she's wrapping up her first attempt to publish a novel.  Her blog posts usually offer snippets concerning her life that might make you put your own situation into perspective.   If you're thinking about writing a memoir or have already done so but have not yet started submitting it anywhere, Karen's blog might be a good place to commune with others of like mind.

         However, getting back to the comment Karen received on her guest post at my blog, it was offered up by Michael Fontana who left his comment on the post "Do's and Don'ts of Memoir Writing:...". Here's what Michael asks:

Karen, I am writing a memoir and am desperate for a glimmer of hope. It seems that the web is chock full of people saying, "do this" or "don't do that". Also I'm beginning to feel my subject matter is contrived, already been done, or that it's just not that interesting. I seem to be stuck on the idea of having to present it from growing up (which is when I showed traits of what is to come in the "arc") and so many say "don't talk about growing up, being bullied, drinking/drugging/recovery" etc. I'm a bit lost because when I tell stories aloud people say "you have to write a book" but the process is making me think that I don't, but I really want to LOL! Thoughts?
           Here is Karen's reply to Michael:

Hi Michael,I want to encourage you to continue to write your story. Try not to pay attention to what others are saying about the do's and don'ts right now, including me. Just put down on paper the story you want to tell. You can always delete or add things later. And it doesn't matter if someone else had similar issues and told their story. Your story is unique because it is yours. And the way you tell it will be unique, too. Just allow it to come out. With editing, you can start to pay attention to some of what others are saying. But not now. Good luck!karen

       Not much for me to add to Karen's simple practical advice. If you feel compelled to tell a story, first of all just write. Then later on you can go back over your work to see what you did right.

       You can find Karen's complete guest post at Tossing It Out.

        Do you think your life is too boring to write a memoir? Have you read any boring memoirs about a person who had an exciting or extraordinary life? What do you think are the most important things to consider when writing memoir?