Tag Archives: boyhood

March Badness

meftbllfrside 48bit 800 color  dust122It was March, 1963. I missed my old school from last year. I longed to have friends like the ones I had there. My new school experience at Oakview Elementary in Silver Spring, Maryland, was one big bore. Tedium. Rote drills. So many things, over and over again. Even air raid drills.

Curled up in a ball under my tiny wooden desk, I wrapped my arms tightly around my knees and bowed head. All I could think was – hadn’t World War II ended twenty years ago? Was sitting under this desk going to save me from our school roof falling down, let alone an H-bomb that landed on the cafeteria? Scarier still was coming face-to-face with sharp, petrified boogers down here, ones that dated back to World War I students.  If that wasn’t scary enough, what about the words, “Hitler was here,” and “Burn this school,” scratched on the underside of my desk?

Suddenly, my teacher said, “All right, children. Get up, now. The drill is over.”

Oh, no. Reading hour was next. Remember the exciting day back in early October when reading period was cancelled? Just to watch TV? That day had such potential.

It was a cloudy morning when a hundred students assembled on Mrs. Clark’s classroom floor, all eyes locked on the RCA Victor TV set showing Mercury Atlas 8 standing straight up against a clear Cape Canaveral sky. I sat cross-legged on the hard linoleum tile, my body forced between other kids’ legs and torsos. The position grew increasingly uncomfortable because the launch went through several delays. Even teachers began to whisper. “What’s taking so long?” “Do you think the rocket’s having technical difficulties?” 

Then the TV screen began to flutter. The picture turned snowy. The horizontal hold went wild.

An assistant librarian rushed to the scene to fix the ever up-scrolling picture. It looked like Mercury Atlas 8 had already blasted off six hundred times. Frustrated teachers fidgeted with foil-wrapped rabbit ears and various loose wires behind the set, all to no avail. If world-famous RCA Victor couldn’t keep its own horizontal hold under control, how was America to keep China from dropping the big one on our cafeteria, let alone Washington DC, worse yet Disneyland?

Out of nowhere, the TV announcer proclaimed the mammoth rocket had taken to the air. Everyone in the class rose to their feet and cheered the incredible news, even though no one actually saw the rocket go anywhere.

Eh. I wasn’t as impressed. Just not the same without seeing it. What a letdown. Even October had been boring. 

I missed my old school. I missed their horizontal hold, their TV sets, and my friends, the few that I had. I could think of nothing else. It was as though I was frozen here, locked in time forever, never to escape the worst month of all – March.

This was an excerpt from my memoir, Maybe Boomer. Read more there about my nostalgic look back at the 60s and the Baby Boom generation.


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Remember This? “Lassie” TV (and cuddly collie obedience vs. indifference)

Lassie was a staple for millions of television viewers from the days of black and white sets in the fifties to the fancy color consoles of the seventies. Perhaps what I appreciated most about this nostalgic boy-and-his-dog adventure show was the rural life presented with such carefree access to fishing, camping, wildlife and outdoor recreation, activities I still appreciate today. They’re all elements in this early Lassie episode you are about to see entitled “The Bear” in which young Jeff, old Gramps, and trusty Lassie head out to the country for the weekend.

I have a dog, too –  a rough collie mix named Rusty. More than a wonderful companion, Rusty provides laughter. He’ll never be as obedient as Lassie (“Rusty, come back in here!”), smart (“If you wouldn’t wander off, you wouldn’t need a leash”), energetic or outdoorsy (“There are other places to be than the couch, Rusty”), but he’s my Laddie.

During each step of this Lassie episode, enjoy Rusty’s colorful take on what he’d do in each situation.


Lassie helps Jeff dig the campfire ring.
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Jeff shows Lassie how to set up camp.
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In control whenever in nature, Lassie leads Jeff to a fishing stream.
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“That trout sure tasted good. And you were so good, Lassie, not begging at all.”
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“Gramps hurts his back, Lassie. Come quick!”
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“I better get help. You stay right here with Gramps, Lassie.”
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Lassie hears a bear and wakes Gramps from a nap.
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The bear enters the camp. “Stay back, Lassie! Good dog – stay right there.”
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Lassie fights the bear!
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“Lassie, you must be hurt, girl. Are you all right?”
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Later, lassie catches a fish.
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(Oh, yeah, Timmy eventually replaced Jeff on the show after three seasons, and there were a million Jeff-Timmy parents throughout the years. I, however, hope to remain Rusty’s obedient master forever.)

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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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