A to Z Theme 2016

For my 2016 A to Z theme I used a meme that I ran across on the blog of Bridget Straub who first saw it on the blog of Paula Acton. This meme is a natural for me to use on my memoir blog. It's an A to Z concept and it's about me. No research and nothing complicated. I'm given twenty six questions or topics to discuss that are about me.

In April I kept my posts short and uncomplicated. In the midst of it all you might learn a few things about me that you didn't previously know.

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?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

When a Quarter Went a Long Way

English: Pete's Candy Store, in Williamsburg, ...
 Pete's Candy Store, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York City
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

         These days a quarter doesn't go very far.  Not like it used to when I was a kid.  The sales tax on my typical fast food purchase is usually way more than a quarter.  I'd never think of leaving a quarter tip on the table in a restaurant.  A quarter might give you a few minutes of parking on the street meter, but you'd better be prepared to have a whole lot of quarters if you're staying long--now many meters even take credit cards.  Hand a homeless person a quarter and they might take it as an insult.

          When my mother first started giving me an allowance in 1960 it was twenty-five cents each Friday.  It was amazing how far I could stretch a quarter.   A bottled soda was a nickel or a dime and you could turn the bottle back in to get some of that money back.   A candy bar, a pack of gum or Lifesavers, or a small packet of peanuts was five cents.   A quarter would reap a tidy harvest of goodies that could last a couple of days.

           Of course I'd find other ways to get more money for more goodies.   I'd do additional chores for extra pocket money.  Cleaning out drawers, rummaging through the car, or digging under the couch cushions was usually good for amassing a pocketful of jingling change.   Add to this the several dollars I might get at birthdays it seemed that I was never broke for fun money.

           A bit of wheedling my mother for special treats when we were on shopping expeditions always provided some return.   It didn't take much begging on my part since my mother was generous when it came to her kids and she was always willing to do that special something to make us a bit happier than we already were.   And we were happy.   There were always more things I'd like to have, but I wasn't lacking in much.

           Not that we were living a life of excess--frugality was a lesson taught well to me.   But I had enough toys, books, candy, and other things to add more pleasure to my life.  After all, I was usually dealing in fractions of dollars rather than multiple dollars.   My mother probably wasn't dealing with too much more.  Yet we had our treats as well as good meals.  I was dressed decently and our housing was comfortable.

            I'm not sure how much money my father brought home each week, but apparently it was enough.  We weren't rich, but it often felt like we were.   At least kind of rich as my unknowing mind would perceive wealth.  

           Now that I think back on my childhood I realize that wealth doesn't have as much to do with how much money we have, but more to do with how much we can do with the little money that we do have.  The same principle applies now, though now a quarter doesn't last long at all and a five dollar allowance would be considered small by many standards.

           When I had five dollars as a kid I felt like a wealthy man.  I could enjoy that money for weeks.   These days you might as well hand over the five dollars at the door of a business establishment and be prepared to leave with not very much.

            Quarters add up, but by themselves they are pretty meager in our time.

           How much allowance did you receive when you were a kid?   What were some of the ways you made money when you were a child?    What would you typically spend your money on when you were younger?