Category Archives: Stories from Maybe Boomer

Reading Books as a Last Resort

book in front of tv 003

The clock ticks on. And on. And on. And sometimes, our lives go on unhappily, unless we do something to change the things we don’t like.

I hear the ticks clicking toward next Monday when I’m voluntarily going through a series of neuropsychological evaluations. No, I don’t have ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (that I know of!). No, I don’t have headaches or Traumatic Brain Disorder, thank goodness. What I do have is a strong determination to better understand my lifelong headache of poor reading and comprehension skills. I’m sick of them, and sick of not knowing why I have either. If testing at this late stage seems desperate, it’s less desperate than the years spent floundering in school – and at work, still – dealing with my secret problem.

Cases in point:

Mrs. Johnson’s first grade reading period.

“All right, everyone. Read the first five pages silently at your desk and when you are done, we will talk about the story.”

The race begins. I blast through five pages, snap the book shut, cross my arms, and lean back in my chair.

A few minutes later, old Mrs. Johnson says, “Class, raise your hands if you’re done.”

My hand takes flight far over my head; all other hands appear grounded in comparison.

“All right, Michael. So. What color shoes was Jane wearing?”

Jane wore shoes?

“Speak up, Michael. Weren’t they the same color as the lamb?”

What lamb?

I look around. Every hand in class is waving hysterically, as if trying to peel the cracking paint chips off the ceiling.

“Michael, please sit down. Ellen, do you know?” This Ellen girl, with right arm nearly pulled out of its shoulder socket from spastic hand swaying, jumps to give her answer.

Her response is muted by a menacing white noise, like the sound I hear inside a conch shell. Such is the deep echo I encounter whenever I’ve done something wrong.

Finally, reading period is over. On to the all-purpose room for Friday art class.

Creating popsicle stick houses with glue, I am free. I’m an artist, not a reader. Right? Who needs library cards and late book fees? Who needs reading when TV’s around. Thank God for the weekend.

I start Saturday morning by viewing Captain Kangaroo and cartoon shows. During the afternoon, it’s movies – the simpler the better. After dinner, Mom and Dad switch the mood to serious evening news. Most interesting is the set decor, what the anchorman looks like, the pictures that magically pop up behind him. And commercials are the ultimate bonanza, always surefire entertainment!

Mrs. Marcotte’s eighth grade English class.

“So, Michael,” she says, catching me off guard. “What do you like to read at home?”

I’m astonished how many thoughts can flash through my mind in a split second of time to answer this question: The Flintstones / easy to follow TV show / no complicated character development / no deep universal themes you keep hitting me over the head with in class / love TV / hate your class …

“What?” I ask.

“Michael, I said, ‘do you watch television?’”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well, I think you need to watch less TV and start reading more. After all, what’s going to happen when you have to read things like Faust, Oedipus the King, and Pippi Longstocking?”

What? Who? Pippi Longstocking was a movie, but what movie were those other people in?

My guidance counselor’s office and my first plea for help.

“I don’t like to read.”

“Why?” Mr. Sexton asks.

“I just don’t. Mrs. Marcotte says we’re reading timeless landmarks of literature, but they’re really the most boring stories ever told …”

“Oh, no they’re not …”

“Oh, yes they are – of all time. And why does everyone and everything have to be so symbolic to something, and then symbolic to something else? If authors knew we had to go through all this in reading their books, they’d never have written them in the first place. Everyone else in my family is smart. Mom said we all came from good Scandinavian stock, so what happened to me?”

“Ha!”

“What?”

“If you want to see some really stupid people ….”

Mr. Sexton spins around in his chair and leans toward the floor between the wall and a cabinet. He returns with a big cardboard box that he dumps on his desk.

“Now t-h-e-s-e kids ….”

The box is filled with a carnival of confiscated classroom items: fuzzy dice, chains, novelty false teeth, yo-yos, cap guns, rubber knives, real knives, spray paint cans, “Car Mechanic” magazines, and a copy of Iliad with a giant “X” knife-gouged into the cover.

“Michael, you’re not dumb, unless you don’t use what you have. Learn to use what it is you do have – and always use it to its fullest. Perhaps you have a learning disability. Do you think so?”

“I dunno. What’s that? Other teachers just say I have the inability to learn, period if that’s what you mean. Guess there’s nothing symbolic about that, is there?” I say quite emphatically.

Sure, I’m smart enough to scrape by, but what about getting into college?

The mailman delivers a cream colored letter, postmarked “Princeton, New Jersey.” It couldn’t be the Princeton University New Jersey people, could it? Could it?

I rip open the envelope. It’s the SAT Princeton New Jersey people, and they have my score. 742. Out of 1200. It has to be a misprint. I look again. 742. It can’t be. My life is doomed – the SAT proves it. After all, isn’t that what tests are designed for, to find out if you’re stupid?

Good Scandinavian stock Mom had said. Good Scandinavian livestock maybe.

Why would college be any different than high school?

I’m having trouble absorbing any textbook with less than forty percent charts and graphs. Ones without two-page photo spreads every three pages put me to sleep. Even my art history book is ninety-five percent text, a huge disappointment. I’m bamboozled reading long paragraphs, especially those containing clauses with double negatives. And reading the pamphlet, “Gaining Better Concentration and Command of Written Material,” at the college learning center is of no use. Deciphering all its outlines, checkpoints and checklists seem more complicated than reading itself.    

With so much catching up to do, I take a seat in McKelden Library one early Saturday morning and spread all my books out on the table.

By lunchtime, I’ve completed only one reading assignment. By two o’clock, I’m asleep in my chair. By four o’clock, all books are opened to pictures, graphs and colorful pie charts. By five, I’m asleep. By dinner time, I feel achy. I plan to skip eating and study some more before realizing I’m too tired to concentrate on anything, let alone read.

Preparing to leave, I strap on my knapsack. Stuffed with so many books, the weight hurts my back. Unable to carry the load, I retake my seat. Freed from assigned readings, my mind engages the real world. Questions abound. Why does my reading malady remain such a mystery? When did it begin? What explains it?

I exhale hard. Many characters, settings and dramas have led me here. But feeling so incomplete, there has to be more to the story than this.

Perhaps the neuropsychological tests are the rest of the story, or at least a beginning. Beginnings are hard, but I must unravel the conundrum that is my reading problem, not to mention anything associated with my slow learning, poor short term memory and difficulty understanding instructions.

I don’t expect anything to appreciably change just because I’ve been tested. It’s more about wanting to know what makes me tick.

 

Italicized sections are excerpts from Chapter Two, “Reading,” in my memoir, Maybe Boomer.

4 Comments

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Oh, Brother! Song is Your Religion

Dons Cathedral stain glass 003Silent Night. Holy night.

I’ve gotta get outta here. Now.

I’m shaking, and so sorry I’d paid any attention to this sudden urge.

On a lark, I’d checked the Yellow Pages for churches in my area. No way I’d find a Lutheran church this close to Mexico, right? But there it was, listed under Santa Fe. Curious, I headed out to see it.

What crazy urge had led me to believe I’d find a New England style-looking Lutheran church in New Mexico? This church was a brown box with cross on top. Yearning still, I walked inside the house of worship, hoping to rekindle a childhood memory of Christmas Eve’s past.

Forget dark ambience, all-wood vaulted ceiling, stained glass windows, and stubby pew pencils Lutherans were famous for providing congregations. The interior here was white-walled sterility.

Even the program was different. On the first page, the opening hymn had been scrapped, replaced by a song from some guy named “Paul Stookey.”

I sat to think a second. Could this be the same Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame? The famous Peter, Paul and Mary characters not in the Bible, ones I’d been forced to study in catechism class? Was there a cover charge at the door tonight I didn’t know about?

Sure enough, five minutes later, “Paul Stookey” stood before the congregation and sang. He looked like Stookey, sang like Stookey, thus, had to be Stookey. An actual celebrity was here among us, and he was Lutheran. I didn’t know Lutherans were allowed to become celebrities.

The wooden pew I sat in, the only truly authentic element I could spot from my boyhood church recollections, warmed me to the church’s modern thing going on. Completely scrapped hymns. Hip musicians. Hip songs. Relaxed dress code. Brighter ambiance. Bring it on.

Then the minister took over. Standing at the pulpit, he pumped out the day’s Bible reading, the Gospel, the Epistle – “Oh, brother on high,” this, “Oh, brother on high,” that. Trapped, I left his tiring, pious world for a far loftier one by humming “Leaving on a Jet Plane” for fifteen minutes straight.

After the minister left the podium, the congregation stood. All hands enveloped open hymnals while open mouths poured out the song’s first line, O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie ….

Tingles went up the back of my head. My chest constricted, as if the pews were grabbing hold of me and wouldn’t let go.

Above your deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by. / Yet in thy dark streets shineth /  The everlasting light. / The hopes and fears of all the years / Are met in thee tonight.

Images poured in. Our Christmas tree. The dark Christmas Eve sky and all its stars. Siblings Don, Doug and Cathy opening presents beside me on the basement floor. Mom looking happy. Dad acting happy. Eggnog overflowing. All other days of the year forgotten for this one moment. As various reflections on Mom and Dad lingered, I realized how much I missed my parents, and how much I loved them, or desperately tried to.

My eyes welled from hearing the tune. I couldn’t let people see me cry. I must not let them see my cry.

I bit my lip. I stared at the walls. I breathed deeply. I reviewed the upcoming Sunday NFL schedule. I toured the inside of my bank.

It was the bank tour that did it. I needed every image of cold teller cubicles and financial offices to block my feelings. I’d won, although wondered why a tender melody should cause such turbulence.

Tired, wounded from fatigue, I hoped to rest during the sermon. But the minister pounded his “Oh, brother” message over and over again.

I shot back with multiple rounds of “If I Had a Hammer.” Unfortunately, humming “Hammer” was tiring, too. Wrecked, exhausted, I closed my eyes.

Go forward, go hide. Go fight, go rest. Go feel, go numb. Mom, Dad. Then, now. Block, release. Religion, self-determination.

I opened my eyes. It dawned on me the fire of religion had drawn out just about every conceivable emotion in me during childhood. Living in our suppressed family household, had religion been a good thing to experience after all? Even now? Something from religion had to have been good for me, right?

A book cracked. The man next to me opened his hymnal to Hymn number 646. “Silent Night.”  The “Silent Night.” I grabbed hold of the pew like I’d never let go.

Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright.

Just two lines, and  I surrendered the fight.

I give in to all of what “Silent Night” meant to me. Its timeless melody put my body at total rest, mind at ease, and eyes in a place to shed their load, and, for one moment, blended all the good I’d ever known about church into one experience of blessed musical sounds, not to mention a little revisionist’s history. It’s as if someone from the back row had been saying, “It’s the music, brother – it’s music!”

This was a personal essay based on an episode in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

Photo:  Don Andberg

Leave a comment

Filed under Stories from Maybe Boomer

Clear Sight As Only A Shop Teacher Can Give

010How is anyone to know in seventh grade what they’ll be when they grow up? From my school experiences to that point, the one thing I did know was that the last thing I ever wanted to be was a teacher. Bland, boring, there didn’t seem much to appreciate about them. Until I met my Industrial Arts instructor.

Mr. Silvey. The entertainer.

On the first day of class, with his thick, black southern accent, I listened to Old Man Silvey modify, if not maul, student names during roll call.

“An, An, An–a, Anabird?”

“Here,” I said.

“Bear, Bear-a, Bear-a-Bear-a Bearatrone?

“Here,” Bertron said.

“Cor,  Cor, Cordit, Cordedreedio?”

“Si,” Peppy Cordero said. Shy, reclusive Peppy was Eastern Junior High’s only Mexican. Because of Mr. Silvey’s pronunciation, however, Peppy was now known as Cordedreedio to everyone in class, perhaps the whole school.

By the time Mr. Silvey got to the end of the alphabet and, “Val, Val, Val-val-val-val Stee Val?” – the real Steve Val looked impressed Mr. Silvey had gotten a name just about right.

After roll, Mr. Silvey kept the enunciation Olympics going, describing to the class the great shop project he saved for last every year, the  “the dee … dee … dee … fis shape coin holda … widda  … fell-cova unnerside like you see here, boys.” As I watched him stroke the smooth shellac coating of what we interpreted to be something called a deep fish-shaped coin holder he displayed in his hand, I knew I had to make one of these fine, wood products.

Then came the second day, the real first day of Mr. Silvey’s Industrial Arts course.

Sitting at my workbench, I watched Mr. Silvey snap shut his attendance book and announce, “Na, na, naz time for … film, ah ‘Warnin’: Safey Firs,’ boys.”

“Uh no,” the tall, pimply guy sitting next to me said. “Not ‘Safety First.’ Last year, three guys left class to go to the nurse after watchin’ that film. One kid didn’t make it and puked everywhere.”

“Puked? From watching the film?”

“Believe me, I saw it. Some real gory shit.”

“What, the puke?”

“No, the blood ‘n guts ‘n all. You’re gonna die watchin’ this film.”

If the film was that gruesome, it’d make somebody throw up today for sure, which would make me do a rebound throw up. I made up my mind I’d close my eyes through the entire movie.

And I did. Almost. I peeked. Twice. The first time, I saw a giant, curly-shaped burr get shot out from a two ton drill machine that mangled some kid’s face. The second peek, a grisly operation on the kid’s eyeball, followed by another operation on a kid’s arm, shredded to fibers from an even worse shop catastrophe.

When silence filled the room and the lights came on, I scanned for pale, puke-prone faces and wobbly gaits, but saw kids celebrating the film instead, reveling in real life gore. How sick. I didn’t get it. With all the blood and guts, why would anyone want to be in this class, let alone teach it? This is “art?” Who is Mr. Silvey?

For weeks after, the only power machine I got near was the soft cloth buffer. Not only unthreatening to life or limb, students who operated the buffer didn’t have to wear safety goggles, and ours were disgusting. Who knew who put the oily layer of skuzz all over them? Some geek with acne? A kid with flu? One of the grease balls guidance counselors dumped in shop classes every year?

In choosing so many buffer projects, I never got to make the coveted end-of-year fish-shaped coin holder. A lot of guys in class saw me as slow; Mr. Silvey did not. Instead, he encouraged me with what I could do. Come May, sensing my interest in the unpopular, mundane plastic envelope project, Mr. Silvey gave me the project’s plans, master template and my very own bright green piece of plastic pulled from his personal locked cabinet of materials.

By the end of his course, I saw Mr. Silvey not as a teacher with oddities, but man of empathy, enthusiasm. He reached me. He got it. He was my favorite teacher.

Bored in all my other classes, I drew caricatures of teachers during lectures. Caricatures of the male instructors came easiest. They fashioned outrageous sideburns, moustaches and beards – even nose and ear hair if they could grow it.
It wasn’t long before I’d identified a curious subset of middle-aged, balding instructors who exhibited something I labelled “the angle of incidence = the angle of reflectance” principle. This rule posited that teachers with little hair above the eye line had more forced hair growth below it, suggesting the angle of reflected bald head surface above equaled the greater incidence of hair below. And, interestingly enough, I found that the angle of incidence rule was true mostly of math and science teachers (fortunately only the males).

Wasn’t this the work of a true genius, a student far from average, with tremendous art ability to boot? Except for Mr. Silvey, none of my teachers saw this. I didn’t get it. And why did anyone become a teacher if he wasn’t interested in inspiring students to do something great, or at least, motivate them to be the best they could be?

Mr. Silvey cared. He helped me see how teachers could motivate students: in his case, much through an entertaining delivery as anything else. I saw how important teacher inspiration was to student learning and, in the process, it angered me how teachers failed to motivate students. In fact, it angered me a lot. You could say it even motivated me.

How was I to know eighteen years later I’d be a teacher? Go figure. I even taught art, all a reflection upon one very entertaining and empathetic instructor – Mr. Rozell Silvey.

This was an excerpt from the chapter, “Education,” in my memoir, Maybe Boomer.

2 Comments

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Not Reading the Book, Buying CliffsNotes, Then Watching the Movie Instead

013Walk into a bookstore and you may see a familiar wire rack filled with screaming bright yellow and black-striped manuals. Known as CliffsNotes, they were written to help students better understand great volumes of literature. Not. I was most disappointed in them. Understanding CliffsNotes was harder than reading the assigned books.

As of this particular September many many years ago, I hadn’t yet discovered the uselessness of CliffsNotes. I could almost hear the page turning in that direction.

“Class, class, settle down now. In accordance with our standard eighth grade English curriculum, we start a new unit today on the contemporary novel, Flowers for Algernon.” 

Yes! Finally something from this century. And finally – no more poetry.

Three weeks later, Mrs. Marcotte returns our culminating exam on the novel. I’m summoned to her desk.

She swivels in her chair toward me, taking off her black-framed glasses to reveal the dark, intense eyes I’d never seen this close before.  

“Michael, remember your poetry unit report, how you said you were going to do better? Well, there must be more to Flowers for Algernon than this. It seems you haven’t read the novel at all.”

“But I did.”

“Flowers for Algernon. All of it?”

“Yes.”

“All of it?”

“The CliffsNotes, too.”

“Oh. You should never substitute them for actual reading, Michael.”

“I know.”

“You know?”

“Yeah. ‘Cuz they were more complicated than the book was. I mean, I needed CliffsNotes for the CliffsNotes. And I would’ve used them, too, but they didn’t sell that kind.”

“So, you really didn’t read the book then, did you?”

“Well … not really.”

“Then how did you answer the question about Charlie’s retardation?”

“From the movie.”

“What?”

“Except it was called Charly, Mrs. Marcotte, not Flowers for Algernon, but Charly with Cliff Robertson and Claire Bloom and …”

“Never – never – watch the movie instead of reading the book. Now go back to your seat.”

Walking to my desk, I spot a big F on the last page of my test.

I’m a hair away from failing English. I never thought I’d have to do it, but the time has come to see my guidance counselor.

“It’s not fair, Mr. Sexton. The day before the test, she goes on and on about symbolism. Then about scenes I’d never seen before. Movies aren’t allowed to leave whole scenes out of a book, are they?”

“Well, Michael, you’re going to learn that … well … it seems to me if you’d read the book …”

“CliffsNotes didn’t help either …”

“That if you’d read the book you wouldn’t have needed either the movie or the book guides. Why didn’t you read it?”

“Because I don’t like to read.”

“Why?”

“I just don’t. Mrs. Marcotte says we’re reading timeless landmarks of literature, but they’re really the most boring stories ever told to teenagers and  …”

“Oh, no they’re not …”

“Oh, yes they are – of all time. And why is everything in them symbolic to something, and then symbolic to something else? Why doesn’t she just tell us or make a list on the blackboard of symbolisms we can choose from?”

“Well, what do you think authors might be trying to show us in their …”

“If authors knew we had to go through all this in reading their books, they’d never have written them in the first place. Everyone in my family is smart. Mom said we all came from good Scandinavian stock, so what happened to me?”

“Ha!”

“What’s so funny, Mr. Sexton?”

“If you want to see some really stupid people ….”

He spins around in his chair and leans toward the floor where, between the wall and a cabinet, a big cardboard box sits. He dumps it on his desk.

“Now these kids ….”

The box is filled with a carnival of confiscated classroom contraband: fuzzy dice, chains, novelty false teeth, yo-yos, cap guns, rubber knives, real knives, spray paint cans, “Car Mechanic” magazines, and a copy of Iliad with a giant “X” knife-gouged into the cover.

“Michael, you’re not dumb, unless you don’t use what you have. Learn to use what it is you do have – and always to its fullest. Perhaps you have a learning disability. Do you think so?”

“I dunno. Other teachers say I have the inability to learn, period – all of ‘em – if that’s what you mean? Ha. Guess there’s nothing symbolic about that, is there?”

This is an excerpt from the chapter entitled “Reading” in my memoir “Maybe Boomer.”

I read this excerpt in its entirety at op. cit. Bookstore in Santa Fe, New Mexico on September 10, 2015.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Blog, Remember This?, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Stories From Maybe Boomer: HMOs, Nuts and Deevertiks

white lab coats 003The health care system grabbing the country’s attention during the nineties was Health Management Organizations, or HMOs. On paper, they seemed great with their long list of primary care physicians and offices from which to choose. After years of hassle, paperwork, long waits and questionable care, I took action.

Do it. That clinic in DC, on U street, inner city and all that comes with it. Go there. Otherwise, it’s another round of crowded suburban HMOs. White, male MDs. Sterile lab coats. Masses of boomers getting pushed in, getting pushed out.

I do it. I sign up, walk in, and feel instantly relieved.

Now, I love my doctor’s office. Look at the lobby – devoid of all glossy magazines on fancy tables and annoying charts of the human digestive tract tacked to the wall. Is that a cute, cuddly kitten poster I see over there? A poster from the movie Shaft? I’m digging it, and I’m especially digging all the different people passing through in all their various levels of cleanliness.

Sure, my new primary care physician seems late, thirty minutes late to be exact, and maybe I could use one of those fluff magazines to read, but it’s okay. I’ll wait. Everything’ll be fine.

Finally, she’s here, and I like what I see. My MD is a large black woman, complete with African shawl-like thing wrapped around her shoulders.

“Hello, My-kal. Whadd can I do for you today?”

“Yes, I hope you can help. I’d like you to look into my digestive problems.”

“How old you now, My-kal?”

“Thirty-five.”

“Ah, you too young to be hee-ah!”                                       

“What, thirty-five is young? It doesn’t feel that way. I jog, but feel like every mineral’s been drained from my body afterward. I lift weights and come down with stomach pains a few days later. And then there’re these abdominal aches on my left side …”

“Deevertiks.”

“What?”

“Could be the pesky deevertiks. My-kal, have you been diagnosed with diverticulitis before?”

“Diverticalitis?”

“See, when you get old, these little pouches form in your colon, you know where that is, right? You eat nuts? Stop eating nuts. Now. Seeds, too. All Boomers eat too much seed, and never chew.”

I’m confused by the barrage of information, then realize this is great news. Just stop eating nuts and seeds and my problems are over.

I love this doctor. I love her clinic. I love brothers and sisters. I feel so much better. I not only thank her, but stand to shake her hand.

“Oh, no, we’re not done yet. Gotta make sure it’s the deevertiks. Get infected dere, people known to lose twenty feet.”

“Twenty feet of what?”

She hands me a pamphlet entitled, “Your Digestive Tract,” and some papers.

“Here. This form for barium enema. And upper GI. Any hospital will do them. No. You go next door with Howard. Do better there. You had AIDS test? All – men – need – AIDS test! Siddown.” As she pulls out a needle and syringe, all I can think about is being protected from a barium enema.

Howard, as it turns out, is Howard University Hospital down the street. I wait in a prep room there for my upper GI when a nurse presents me with a large Styrofoam cup containing a vanilla milkshake-like substance. Mm-m-m, with just a hint of pina colada, too. 

She returns with three more cups to drink. Downing the second, I tell her it tastes more like barium colada and I’m nowhere near the drunken state I want to be in. Despite my bloated condition, the x-rays of my upper GI tract reveal no abnormalities.

What was abnormal was the lower GI procedure I endured. A total stranger pumped a ton of barium in through my rear, took x-rays, then watched the barium jettison back out of me like a 747 taking off.

A week later, I review my intestinal x-rays with an MD at Howard University Hospital.

“See, right there, there are tiny, tiny deevertik pouches in your colon.”

“Where?”

“There. You best not eat nuts and seeds.”

Great. I’ve been Liquid Plummered for $2,000 and told to avoid watermelon and macadamia nuts yet again.

I immediately go out and gorge on three PayDay bars, the ones with 99% peanuts. Why not? Who cares now? The next HMO doctor will probably say the same things, or that he can’t do anything more for me, or that I have AIDS. Munch on.

This excerpt is from Chapter Thirteen, “Health” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Stories From Maybe Boomer: Compassion, and Befriending “It! The Terror From Beyond Space”

Paul and I perused the channels on my family’s ultra-modern new television set hoping to find a great color show. Zippo. Every progarm was in black and white. I wanted to impress Paul, my new companion, and so far, the Quasar – Motorola’s beautiful twenty-four inch console set – was letting me down.

Things changed at precisely two o’clock.

“Oh, wait, flip back. Flip back,” Paul said.

I cranked the Motorola’s spiffy all-metal dial back one click to the opening credits of a movie.

It, the Terror From Beyond Space! This could be cool,” I said.

“Look, look how clear the title is,” Paul replied. “You’d never be able to see that on your old Silvertone set.”

So blown away by crisp picture quality, we’d forgotten the fact the movie was in black and white. We didn’t care. The alien creature creating havoc inside the spaceship’s darkly-lit hull devoured our attention. To us, this standard 50’s sci-fi flick was a classic.

Halfway through It, I cried out, “Look at the scales on the monster’s skin!”

“And look! Look! There’s a zipper!”

“What?”

“On his back …”

“It’s really a rubber suit …”

“It can’t be …”

“It’s a rubber suit!”

“It’s so fake …”

“And look, now he’s picking some guy up …”

“And twirling him around …”

“Like he’s gonna heave him …”

“But it’s so fake …”

“Just showing their shadows …”

“I know …”

“Instead of them …”

“I know …”

“So the zipper doesn’t show …”

“I know …”

“I hate that …”

“I know.”

“I hate that.”

“Me, too.”

However, It got clobbered in the end. But what a bad finale that was. The monster was our hero. How could the American astronauts, dressed in hokey space suits, zap It before he reached the ship’s cheesy-looking control room to eat everyone in sight? I was so let down.

After Paul went home, sudden pangs of nostalgia came over me for the Silvertone set my family had owned forever. It sat in the corner of the basement now, unplugged, abandoned, collecting dust. The beautiful, ash-colored television had once been the family’s universe, producing a relentless drone close to sixteen hours a day. Occasionally, Dad had spoken over the Silvertone in anger when its fifteen inch screen shrank to eleven by nine after the horizontal and vertical holds got their way with things. With the all-encompassing love for our new Motorola, I knew the Silvertone’s worn-out tubes and technology would be hauled away soon.

Sure enough, a few weeks later, the set was gone. Both the Silvertone and It had been beaten by technology. Just as the creature was left alone to decay on Mars’ barren landscape, I imagined the frightening sight of my cathode comrade dumped in a landfill somewhere, disrespected, with no funeral service conducted or head stone prepared. I’d have appreciated its ashes being put into a nice urn, or a Kool Aid pitcher if we couldn’t afford the urn, or at least sprinkled around the Quasar as a respectful remembrance. I would miss my companion terribly. After all, before Paul, the Silvertone was the best friend I had.

This is an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer. The post honors the fifty-seventh anniversary of It! The Terror From Beyond Space and its August, 1958 debut.  Note: the film takes place in the “far off future” – 1973!

1 Comment

Filed under Blog, Stories from Maybe Boomer

Stars, Stripes and My Bedroom Massacre; Stories From Maybe Boomer

Botanical Garden . Revoltnry War 016The doldrums of summer seem longer and hotter when you’re twelve. June days are whiled away in nervousness about the future. July is hotter, but as the month progresses, you feel less vulnerable somehow. By August, anxiety turns to excitement – you’re no longer an elementary school pip squeak, but big middle schooler, about to start fresh in a better school this fall, that is, if you don’t blow it. Better get ready.

I surveyed the entire space. With just a little help from Mom, maybe I could renovate my bedroom. Time had come to scrap the deplorable furnishings I once thought were cute during elementary school days: grandmother’s old and dirty hand-braided rug; the pastel, curlicue flower wallpaper; the orange curtains that looked like a Halloween costume massacre. What I really wanted was mod wallpaper, something resembling the big, bold, blue vertical stripes I’d seen on shirts the Beach Boys wore. Imagine having my entire room surrounded in stripes! Other guys my age probably had their bedrooms done up just this way. Now it was my turn.

To keep the momentum going, I asked Mom to buy some new wallpaper in exchange for my agreeing to help put it up.

It must have been the rare offer of labor that explained Mom’s drive to the wallpaper store that afternoon, the closest I’d ever come to riding shotgun in an ambulance. Anticipation was building. Modern wallpaper was meant to be.

Energized, I flashed through hundreds of wallpaper sample book pages with Mom, trying to find a design I liked.

As the hours passed, excitement waned, patience thinned, and the quality of selections deteriorated.

“How about this one, Michael?” she asked, her right hand displaying a light orange-striped pattern.

“Mom, I want wallpaper for a boy. This is for a boy’s room.”

“Oh, and look at this one,” a stupid pea-green stripe design. “And this one here is really something,” an implied stripe motif using tiny rabbits. “When you look closely, it’s really tiny little …”

“Mom, Mom, I’m not a girl.”

“Okay, then what is it you want? This?” Her hand slapped the sample sheet of eggshell white.

“No, Mom, I don’t want …”

“Then don’t use that tone of voice with me, young man. Now, what do you want?”

“I dunno, it’s not here, but it’s gotta be around somewhere.”

Ten minutes more and the search was done.  I’d given in. One of her designs won. I hated myself.

A week later, I stared at thin, tiny, microscopic, vertical baby-blue stripes surrounded by large Revolutionary War battle scenes pasted all over my bedroom walls. I knew Mom suffered from Colonial Stylism – the pervasive affliction of many sixties housewives – but this had gone too far. As our home decorator, she’d colonialized everything: pillows, couches, mantle piece decorations, probably her own underwear, and now my room had been captured and sterilized.

Johnny Tremained-out, I didn’t want anyone to witness this massacre – ever, particularly guy friends. What could have been a place to share with them was now a museum of Boston Tea Party scenes. I felt half-dead realizing all my years ahead would be spent gaping at deadly rifles, horses, ships, whips, and men running around in three-cornered hats.

This excerpt is from Chapter Three, “Boys,” in my memoir, “Maybe Boomer.”

4 Comments

Filed under Stories from Maybe Boomer