Monthly Archives: July 2014

Insomnia, Sweaty Mattresses and The Ray Conniff Singers


Earlier in the evening, Mom and Dad had kicked off a party in the basement. So preoccupied, neither seemed to care if I helped myself to the fancy food and beverages spread out on the card table. When was the last time I was allowed unlimited access to expensive snacks reserved only for neighbors and relatives? Pork rinds. Chex Mix. Colas!

Three hours later, grasping the bed sheets, I whispered to God, “Please, don’t let me be sick. Please, I’ll do whatever you ask. Please don’t give me diarrhea. I was wrong to eat all those things. I might be in the bathroom all night. Please, God, please.”

As I squirmed, I could still hear Mom and Dad’s party going on two stories below in the basement; even Don and Doug stirred around in the living room. Already ten o’clock, I grew desperate for any solution for sleep.

I tried counting sheep. I tried counting backwards. I even tried reviewing last week’s Combat episode in my mind, a dumb idea since so much of it was filled with explosions. However, the stupid girly subplot the last half hour was so boring, replaying the episode brought on drowsiness.

Finally, halfway into blissful sleep, a real explosion hit:

 Oh no, it’s getting louder … and louder … and louder. No-o-o, God, no – not the Ray Conniff Singers.

Doug was at it again. Only eighteen, my older brother was already embalmed, an able-bodied teen sadly buried beneath a lethal interest in listening to a bunch of middle-aged squares trying to save tripe like “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” and “Three Coins in the Fountain” from musical extinction.  Tonight, he crawled from his grave to play songs on the living room stereo from his gutless record collection and keep me awake.

I dreamed of going downstairs and breaking his Ray Conniff box set in half across my knees, but did nothing. Instead, I chose to lay there and seethe. If I wasn’t going to use words to fight back, I had to find an alternative method in which to take family members on. It was Ray Conniff today; what if the battle was over something far worse tomorrow?

The recent hot weather here in Santa Fe reminded me of this unsettling event (excerpt from Maybe Boomer, Chapter 3, “Revenge“), lying across a sweaty mattress on a hot early summer night, being “serenaded” to sleep. Not so bad an experience, you say? Remember, as you read this post, you could have turned “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” off.


Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Remember This? The Traveling Carnival

002A carnival came to town last week.

With its Calliope music, bright colors and distinctive smells that only a carnival can produce, my stroll through our local extravaganza Sunday afternoon zipped me back in time to my very first carnival as a seven-year-old in Langley Park, Maryland.

I entered the gate alongside my parents that day with an appetite for new experiences. Naturally, I quickly partook in the carnival food fare. It didn’t take long to realize I had a low threshold not only for cotton candy, caramel apples and funnel cakes, but an even lower threshold for combining these tempting edibles with carnival rides.

Atop the tallest ride of all, something called a Ferris Wheel, I discovered my acute fear of heights – or was my vertigo from the incessant, annoying teeter-tottering of my chair, hanging on to the big wheel with just a few nuts and bolts? Failing to learn any lesson from the Ferris fiasco, I proceeded to experiment with my personal centrifugal force threshold on the Tilt-A-Whirl. It spun me around so fast I worried my carnival lunch would upchuck and meet me head on during my next pass around.

Battered, I retreated to safer rides. I rode the carousel and miniature railway, but felt like a big time weenie after. Laughs and screams – that’s what I wanted. I wished I was bigger, an older kid who could not only handle extremes, but relish in risky experiences. I’d never wished to be an older kid before.

A year later, I’d heard there was a much better carnival in Hagerstown, Maryland, about an hour’s drive from our house. I asked Mom if we could go.

“No, we’re not going to that Hagerstown carnival. It’s no place for a young boy, seeing the Bonnie and Clyde death car, Hitler’s staff car, those kinds of things.” Whoa – it had that kind of stuff?

“Can’t we see something there, Mom?”

“Like what?”

“The Globe of Death motorcycle thing and the human pin cushion.”

“Those are just acts and freaks, Michael. What’s wrong with rides?”

“Any carnival has rides. Hagerstown has a two-headed calf and a dwarf miniature horse. The Human Blockhead, too.”

It was at that moment I realized something – all my interests centered around side shows, thrill acts and Burlesque, things I could watch. Being a spectator was safer for me. No participation necessary. Just observe. In fact, hadn’t I chosen to be a spectator and not a participant for most things in my life so far?

The following year, returning to Langley Park’s annual carnival, I was surprised by my fascination with bumper cars. I was not only a willing participant driving them, but madman behind the wheel. In the protection of rubber-lined cars, I cherished the opportunity to hit people head on. I loved ramming their car so hard it made the driver cry. I especially craved the opportunity to smash into them when they didn’t know I was coming. I never knew I had such lust for legalized mayhem and controlled violence! What boyhood memories. What boyhood discoveries.

rodeo2 from fence 002The carnival I saw last week weekend at the Santa Fe Rodeo grounds was gone without a trace by Monday morning. What if carnivals go extinct just as quickly someday? What a shame. They are, if nothing else, a safe place for a child to learn limits.  How else could a vacant patch of dust and dirt provide such lessons?

May our carnival come back next year. And the year after. And the one after that.


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Bad Traffic, Good Samaritan

Quote of the day: Traffic’s thy god; and thy god confound thee! — Shakespeare

004As I was driving in hot, heavy Santa Fe traffic last week, I stopped at an intersection and noticed a pair of headphones on the rear hood of the car in front of me. How lucky for the driver the phones hadn’t fallen off.

At just that moment, I decided to do it – get out of my car, grab the phones, run up to the driver, hand the headphones over, and dash back before the light turned green. I could just hear the driver’s thanks now, something like, “Did I leave them on my hood? You’re the greatest,” or “Hey, dude – thanks a lot, man!” or, “What, you trying to sell me my own headphones back, Jack?” (I preferred to dream the former remarks).

I put my plan in full speed operation. With phones in hand, I knocked on his tinted window. The silhouette of a head turned slowly toward me, then looked away. What? He’s looking away? Then – flash – the man drove off. I’d been totally dissed. I was Wile E. Coyote run over by a Mack truck in the desert, except I was still standing.

Then I got “the eye” from drivers behind me. Those that honked were probably thinking I was foolish being a Good Samaritan helping a brain-dead idiot stupid enough to leave headphones on his car in the first place.

Later down the road, I glanced at the headphones on my passenger seat cushion. Upon closer inspection, I saw one of the little speakers had been ripped out of its casing. All that risk and humiliation over something that was broken anyway.

Yet, as the day wore on, the better I felt about what I did.

In fact, the spirit behind my act, however aborted, buoyed my spirits for several days. I hadn’t felt that good in weeks.

Broken head phones. Mended heart.

“Meep meep,” the smiling Road Runner would have said.

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Filed under Blog, The Daily Thought

Six Tips to Save You Fourth of July Headaches

1 lawn chair 001







Before you head out to celebrate the Fourth on Friday, you might want to review these handy WhoWhatWhereHow questions.

1   The venue  –  in addition to the sure-to-be fantastic fireworks display, what else is attached to the celebratory proceedings? (A concert, a long parade, a long-winded great-grandmother’s presence?)

2   The people going with you to watch the fireworks    would you go with them if they hadn’t already asked you (before you had the opportunity to ask someone else)?

3   Seating  –  are there sublime seating comforts available where you’re going? (Regardless how anxious people are to watch the fireworks, the truth is it takes forever for them to begin, which means you’ll be sitting and looking skyward well into the ten o’clock hour.)

4   Weather  –  remember the last time you were stuck at an outdoor party and the weather was less than spectacular? Even if it was for only fifteen minutes, are you prepared to multiply that disaster by double-digit amounts just to ogle over fireworks?

5   Crowds  –  have you determined your truthful and realistic threshold for mobs of people milling around you everywhere? (Remember: you’re not eleven anymore.)

6   Transportation  –  despite the fact the drive to the venue might be fun and loose, have you considered what the way home will look like? (Again, you’re not eleven anymore and looking skyward at ten means you’ll be on the road with everyone else at eleven.)

I wish I’d known about these success gauges twenty-five years ago. But, as a young and stupid person at the time, even if I’d been asked, I was too naive to answer the questions and have any idea what I was talking about.  As a result, here’s what July Fourth, 1989, looked like.

1 – Venue: We went to the Mall in Washington, DC, to hear – from a half mile away – the aging Beach Boys gag over their outdated hits, Americana tunes, and canned, patriotic dialogue.

2 – People going with me: I went with every family member and relative living within the tri-state area.

3 – Seating: I learned firsthand that blankets, however large, soft and plush, do not qualify as back support. “The fireworks are only four hours away now.” Ow.

4 – Weather: “In the open air of the Mall, there’ll be a breeze. It’s gonna be awesome.” In the open air of the Mall there is, and always will be, heat, humidity, still air and active, ravenous bugs.” It was no different when George Washington boated through the swampy Mall area in 1776.

5 –  Crowds: The Mall scene was worse than the Battle of Gettysburg, and the million tourists toted enough food and beverage to supply an entire army with three months of rations (although most troops wouldn’t have lived long on Skittles, popcorn and bite-size wiener dogs).

6 – Transportation: Sure, the fireworks on the Mall were the best in the nation, but nothing justified the irritation of standing flesh to flesh with hundreds of sweaty, inebriated, fellow patriots on Metro trains going home later. The stampede to the train station rivaled the Antietam battlefield surge.

One day in the far-off future, when all households come standard with 62-inch inlaid flat screen TVs, perhaps everyone will stay home and watch the televised Mall fireworks display from their couch in privacy.

Eh, come to think of it, that’s no good either.

I say go out there and celebrate! (So long as I can drive with my folding chair strapped to the hood, ready for service.)


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