Matinee Memories

Summer of 1960 may have been the best time of my life. I had completed the Second Grade! I discovered Robert Heinlein juvenile novels, along with a number of other favorites. I was in that blissful human condition so rare in life; there was nothing I wanted to do that I did not have permission and means to do. 

We lived in Cushing, Oklahoma, about 2 blocks from my Grandparents. I could walk to the swimming pool, the library, or go back behind the house a block and mess about in the creek, or dig clay to make (very bad) Indian pots and bowls.... bliss.

But especially there was the Duncan Theater and their Saturday afternoon matinee for kids. Usually a double feature, with newsreel, a half a dozen cartoons, and even an old serial--Commando Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen is the one I remember best. Weissmuller Tarzan movies, Japanese monster movies... Bliss.  Admission was 25 cents, a medium  "suicide" drink 10 cents, and a "Guess What" 5 cents. (A "Guess What" was a small box of taffy type candy with a prize in it--press-on tattoos, 6 page comics, plastic animals (including the rare dinosaur), and --prize of all prizes!--a thin nail with a half circle bent into the middle accompanied by a length of gauze stained with red ink, so you could go around all afternoon with a fake bloody nail stuck through your finger.

When you had emptied the Guess What box you tore the flaps off one end and blew into the box, which became a squawker of strained and melancholy resonance, until the cardboard got too damp to groan any more. This was saved for any points in the western  or other feature where the hero and the heroine embraced or even-- heaven forbid--kissed! Or for when the bad guy had the upper hand. Or when you just couldn't stand being quiet any more.
for a picture of the box. I always went for the flying saucer when I could--the woman at the candy counter was not prone to indulging kid requests for a particular box, bout on occasion she'd relent and grant a pitiable request.

It was a summertime thing; a kind of deal between the theater and the town's parents to get the kids out of the house for a few hours parental peace and quiet for the weekend. 50 cents brought you all that with a dime left over for a comic book afterwards, purchased at Brownlee's corner store, which also featured (illegal) punchboards under the counter, a butcher's counter instead of prepackaged display cases, and ancient wooden shelves filled with both ordinary cans and sundries  beside mysterious stuff you never saw at the supermarket. 

During school months the matinee was a single feature, and everything else was cut back too, I think. Hard to remember for sure. But I sure do remember the movies and that awful, wonderful serial (which I now have on DVD!) I so wanted to be Rocketman (the alternative name for the serial).

I wonder now why I never never acquired those old Weissmuller movies on DVD? Probably because I know better than to revisit them.

I was always surprised coming out of the theater at the end of the afternoon to find the sun still up, and daylight still ruling.

Happy Days.  Good times. Sweet memories.

Big engines...1968 vs 2012

When I was 16 or 17, a classmate's family had a 1958 black hearse for sale for $50. It was a faded black, with a bubble gum machine painted on the tailgate; it had been used by a family member with a vending machine business.

The vehicle--hard to call it a car, and it wasn't a truck--had been sitting behind their house for quite some time; weeds had grown up around it. My classmate popped the hood and The engine was more or less intact, missing only the carburetor and a few other incidentals. He told me the engine was a "flat head" whatever that means. I didn't know then, and I don't really know now, though I suspect that I'll be hitting Google when I finish this excursion into nostalgia.

I thought it was a great bargain--it was a hearse, it had a head start on a funky paint job, and I would finally have a project to learn about cars & engines.

I actually had $65 dollars in the bank.  I went to my parents. The old man said it was fine if I bought it, but he wasn't going to help get it running, and I'd better figure out a way to pay for insurance as well as gas & oil and everything else.

So much for father/son bonding projects.

Anyhow, I swallowed some reality pills.  None of my friends really knew much about cars either, nor had they expressed any interest in taking on a rehab project that would probably take every spare minute of the next year without looking up to see what might be happening in the part of the world with girls in it. (When it came down to it, I felt there was a cost/benefit analysis to be undertaken by me too--one reason for having a cool ride is to get the chicks; if getting the cool ride to actually run takes a year, do you gain with your macabre chick magnet what you lost in opportunities during the repair year? A hard question to answer, because both possile time lines had healthy--opr at least large--doses of fantasy in them.)

So I didn't buy the hearse. Probably a good decision, but one that I have regretted more than a few times in the intervening years.

"So," you ask, "other than being evidence that you are in fact turning into a garrulous old crock who will spin boring yarns about his mythic childhood without even a good excuse any more, what is the point of rambling stroll down memory lane?"

Simple. I'm thinking about getting a new desktop computer for the house.

"Of course," you say. "Everyone who goes computer shopping starts by remembering projects from his youth that never actually happened. What's next? The year you didn't climb Everest?"

No. There are too many Everest-free years to get into right now. But there is a connection.

Because, you see, almost every home computer I've ever had I assembled myself from parts. Yes, I never tore down a car engine and rebuilt it to purr like a kitten and then roar like a lion when called on...but I have put chips into sockets, matched components, plugged in all the little connectors and turned it on and had it work.

Nice feeling. You can't cruise around Nicky's Drive-In and have everyone go "Cool!" but a nice feeling nevertheless.

So I'm thinking about a new computer... and some place in the back of my head and heart, the frustrated kid who really wanted that cool ride is pushing fora big, bad, way cool machine. Liquid cooling so I can overclock it. SSD cache buffer for the terabyte 6Gb/s SATA drives configured in RAID 10. 32 gigs of RAM. 750 watt power supply, clear case with black light interior lighting and fluorescent cables and cable ties. LED hub variable fans that change blink patterns when the fan changes speed--fan speeds controlled by motherboard heat sensors (of course). Intel i7 Extreme 6 core processor. Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 graphics card & Asus PA238Q monitor.

(I know--geek talk. I know how it feels to hear it and wonder; I still don't really know what stroked and bored is, or what a hemi is, or... but you get the idea. Take my word for it, this is high end speed racer stuff.)

Uh huh. That frustrated kid in the back of my head needs to focus on picking wining lotto numbers, becasue that's the only I'm going to be able to afford *that* rig.

And kid? As cool as it would be to have this hardware, it still won't make us chick magnets.

Coming up 60

So I came up 60 last weekend, an accomplishment mainly achieved by getting up every morning and not dying. Some people don't manage it, so it is an accomplishment, but scarcely an achievement.

I have been thinking about things to say about this notional milestone birthday, and nothing special comes to mind. Like most people who arrive at this point I'm a little surprised. In some ways I don't *feel* all that different internally than I did 40 years ago...but I am, and not just by virtue of grey hair, extra weight, and somewhat less stamina and recuperative power.

According to actuarial models I can expect another 18 years or so, realizing that's a statistical assurance and not definite. Anything else I want to accomplish needs to be done in that time period, and probably in less time than that. This is different than thinking about the next 10 or 15 years when you're 20 or 30 or even 50--there's not any room for "Well, I'll get to that later on."  This is pretty much it.

For someone of my temperament, there is some pressure to "get it right" is such circumstances.

Heh. I felt that pressure at 20; of course I feel it at 60! Who am I kidding? But this time it makes a bit more sense than it did then.

I don't know whether blogging will be part of what I come up with or not. But if it is, I will surely have to do better than I have since getting drawn into old friends reunion time on facebook!

I won't tell you to stay tuned. But if I find myself coming back here often, I may.

May your day and your week and life be blessed!

Too much memory

"I was the shadow of the waxwing slain
By the false azure in the windowpane"

I saw three Cedar Waxwings dead by the windows as I came to work this
morning. I have no idea why they chose today to smash into the windows.
Ove the years a few birds have done this--one a beautiful painted
bunting--but never before have I seen 3 at once.

It was odd to remember the first lines from a novel I tried to read over
40 years ago and failed to finish: Nabokov's  Pale Fire. I was 16. I
could say fictional academic exercise failed to move me much, but the
truth is it was too formal, arcane, and elaborate; it defeated me. And
bored me. I read it because my older friend George recommended it
and I wanted to be more like George.

But those first few lines stuck with me, and I can't really say why.
Well, that's not true--pure ego and pride had me start over and over
before I gave up for good; it would be unusual not to remember the
beginning.  I can also remember--more or less--the first phrases of
Finnegan's Wake, another book that defeated me when I was a mid-teen. 

If I couldn't read it, I could at least quote from it.

Made a stab at both books too early; some things you really do have to
be older to appreciate or even approach. I was trying to be a prodigy,
and trying in areas outside my real talents; I'd have done better to
stick what I was really good at. But I wanted to be a broad spectrum
prodigy, an increasingly futile desire in this age of massive
specialization and depth. Experiences like this did me no good; I have
always been somewhat soured on consciously "literary" work, and it
probably dates back to these and other excursions.

Which "brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back" to dead
birds on the sidewalk. The desire to be a prodigy led me to fly full
tilt into more than one window under the illusion I was flying toward a
free and open horizon.

I'll finish with another quote: "I was so much older then; I'm younger
than that now."  I may still bang into windows thinking I'm aimed at the
horizon, but I'm walking, not flying, and risk no more than a bumped
nose and a little more bruising to my old and tattered glad rags of

Red Hot Lava

Put 3 or 4 kids between the ages of 6 and 8 in a living room with two sofas & a couple of chairs that have removable cushions, and they'll either build a fort from the cushions or scatter them around and jump from one to the other staying off the floor, which is now "red hot lava".

Nobody teaches them this; they just do it.

Iwas thinking about this for no particular reason today, and realized it's always "red hot lava". Never just lava, or molten lava, or hot
lava... always "red hot lava".

Makes sense. Who would try to avoid beige lukewarm lava?

If I ever retitle my blog, or start a new one I may use that. "Beige Lukewarm Lava, And Other Things That Exist Only In My Imagination"

Pace Dave Berry, I don't think it would make a good name for a rock band. Quite the opposite.

I think the heat is finally getting to me...


Sometimes your prayers are answered quickly

Sometimes your prayers are answered quickly.

This morning, walking from the parking garage to the office, I voiced in prayer an all-to-familiar complaint: "Why am I hanging around here when I seem to have done everything I was put on Earth to do? What use is a grumpy old fat man anyhow?"

Of course I knew the answer-- there is always time and room to become a witness, to help, to give love, to show compassion, to comfort. But the air was hot and humid already, the day stretched ahead with little to recommend it, my antihistamine had not yet started to work, and an old injury was acting up... I was pretty much wallowing in full blown middle-aged petulant self-pity.

10 minutes after arriving at my desk I found myself talking to a young man who needed encouragement, a witness to the reality  and value of trust in God, and some perspective on how God answers prayers over time, not in an instant.  Which, paradoxically, was a strong, rapid, and complete answer to my own plaintive prayer not 20 minutes earlier.

So here I sit, firmly put in my place once again. Thank you Lord, for your never-ending mercy, your patience, your gifts of Grace, and your gentle remonstrations.

Amazing is too weak a word

Here are a couple of sites where you can buy DVDs of "public domain" movies and other hard to find old movies. Mostly.



I remember thinking in High School that I'd like to be rich enough to own prints of some of my favorite movies-- and I was thinking 16 MM.  Now? Even old style DVDs can be upcast to 1080i--better resolution than the old theater screens ever had.  you no longer have to be rich to have such things; you have to be pretty poor not to have them. 

 Amazing variety and quantity! I was looking at the DVD sales racks at Fry's the other day and realized that I probably didn't have long enough to live left to see every video on display there. A massive flood of information and entertainment, more than can be absorbed. More variety, more choices than I could have imagined being available 40 years ago.

 I doubt I have anything new to say about all this, but every once in a while I break through the acclimatisation and wonder at it all.  The once remarkable becomes mundane in such a short period of time that it becomes difficult to appreciate anything as remarkable.  And yet so much is...

 So. Take a minute. Recapture the wonder of it all.

 And then let it be normal again, because it's impossible to get anything done when you're gasping in awe.


The First Spin?

In 1066, William the Conqueror invaded England. As he arrayed his forces on the landing beach, he fell off his horse.  This was a time in which even the smallest event could be--and was--interpreted as an omen; William falling off his horse sent a ripple of concern through the men who saw it. Was this a bad omen, even the worst possible? Would their commander fall in battle? William stood up smiling and offered his own interpretation-- telling the assembled troops to see how eager England was to embrace her new King...

They relaxed and won the Battle of Hastings. In a later battle, William fell off his horse again, injured himself, and died.

Leaving omens aside--please!--this is the earliest example of political spin I can think of. Too bad it worked; we've been cursed with it ever since.

Can anyone think of an older example?