Tag Archives: family

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!

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Remember This? The Curative Power of Ice Cream

“Free ice cream! Free ice cream!” the vendor behind the refrigerated cart says.

It’s the happening thing on the plaza today, and everyone in Santa Fe has shown up to cool off on this glorious but hot afternoon.

Everyone who’s been served their frozen concoction has a unique relationship with it. You see, with ice cream around, certain things happen.

 

It allows you to not say anything – if you wish – to the person you’ve come to eat ice cream with.
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It commands deep thought.
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It forces conversation.
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It transports families back together.
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It brings out photographers.
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It never separates from the wrapper.
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It’s a powerful prop to demonstrate things.

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It’s a sensory sensation after a long journey.
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It tastes better when it’s free.
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And it’s mighty cold!
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The curative powers of ice cream are still there. Funny how they melt away tension from work, home, family, seriousness, isolation, boredom – even the heat.

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Remember This? February 9?

Last year, this date kept popping into my head and I didn’t know why. Why was February 9 such a big deal to me? It’s a day in the middle of cold, boring, depressing February, so what’s so special about February 9?

Ah-ha. Last year, February 9 marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles first Ed Sullivan performance.

That live telecast was a benchmark event in my childhood. I’ve often wondered what the event meant to others. Did girls everywhere really scream when they saw the Beatles sing? Did adults hate them? What did boys think of the group?What do children of those who saw it that night think of the Beatles now?

Remember that night?

With just one enthusiastic yell and sweep of his arms, Ed Sullivan proclaimed, “The Beatles!”

girls scream Beatles 002A roll of screams overtook Ed’s voice, a cavalcade of shrieks that nearly obliterated Paul McCartney’s opening lines, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you, tomorrow I’ll miss you ….”

As the four Liverpool lads sang  “All My Loving,” a camera cut to the audience: girls jumping, some pulling their hair, one crying in abject misery.

Cutting quickly back to the stage, the world got an up close and personal view of all four Beatles, each with their first name superimposed on the TV screen. The lads wore matching dark suits, white shirts, black ties, and tight pants. Their hair, completely straight and dry – nothing like Elvis Presley’s – was combed down to their eyes and over their ears, but their handsome faces bore striking differences – John’s long nose, Paul’s pouty lips, George’s angular jaw, and Ringo’s hawkish eyes.

A few minutes later, a close-up zoomed in on Paul as he crooned, “Till There Was You.” How could one guy sing so beautifully and have such great hair? It seemed unfair. Just as any girl wanted to be alone with the Beatles in any way possible someday, this boy – sitting around the old Silvertone TV set inside the basement of his unimportant little Silver Spring, Maryland house – wanted to be them. I, too, wanted to pull my hair out, but couldn’t. Not in front of my family.

I looked behind me at Cathy, my thirteen-year-old sister, sitting on the ottoman, keeping appropriate control of her emotions while watching the cuddly mop tops perform (or was she really leaning in closer and closer with each second, about to slip off the ottoman and crash on our hard, carpet-less floor).

Next to her sat Don and Doug, my seventeen-year-old twin brothers, flopped all over the couch, as if bored by the Beatles. But deep down, what were they really feeling?

And Mom rested in her chair, completely unmoved, except for a quivering upper lip, no doubt brought on by a view of John’s tight pants and crotch area as he led the way on the next song, a rollicking “And I Saw Her Standing There.”

Then I saw Dad standing there, just behind Mom, his arms folded, flattop haircut flat as ever, with not so much as one hair rising over the Beatles’ electrifying act.

What was wrong with my family?  I wanted to jump, kick, twist, shout – anything – but wound up having to wait an hour after the show to even tap my fingers. Finally, in private, while lying in bed, I patted the pillow, but that was all. How pathetic I’d look doing something outrageous like twisting my hips or dancing on the bed.

From that night on, I knew I wanted longer hair. Until I got it, I was a nobody to girls at school. Convinced I’d have hair like Paul McCartney one day, I rocked myself to sleep, savoring images of walking to school with my long hair flying about while I sang, “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you ….”

That was my take on the Beatles performance from the Ed Sullivan Show February 9 so many years ago. What was yours?

 

 

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Being Benjamin: “The Graduate” – Then and Now (an ode to Mike Nichols)

At the end of the film, “The Graduate,” Benjamin Braddock and Elaine Robinson are running for their lives. Darting into a Santa Barbara municipal bus, barely escaping their parents’ contempt and wrath, Benjamin and Elaine are on their way to living their own lives. Yes! Good for them. They made it. And “The Graduate” will end on a happy note.

But wait. Their jubilant smiles have disappeared. Sitting alone together at the back of the bus, they’re not even talking to each other either. Fade out? Roll credits? The film’s over? What? And who is this Mike Nichols guy?

Mike Nichols was one of the new, young Hollywood directors springing up in the sixties. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” his directorial debut in 1966, presented controversial social issues rarely seen in Hollywood films then. The following year, “The Graduate” was released on December 21, 1967 – forty-seven years ago today. Sadly, on November 19 of this year, Mike Nichols passed away at 83.

Because of Mike Nichols and the power of “The Graduate,” I saw life through a close-up lens, one that expanded a view of the world I desperately needed at the time. Watching “The Graduate” this week brought back that same hyper-impressionable Mike Andberg, the half-person who, more than anything, wanted to be anyone but himself. Sad, but true. Such is the power of film and how it can be used as a benchmark in life, for better or for worse. I had no idea at the time how Mike Nichols – through his lead character, Benjamin Braddock – would influence me in so many ways.

About to be a freshman at Maryland University, I couldn’t wait to look like Benjamin strolling around campus in a brown corduroy sport coat (just as Benjamin did at Berkeley for what seemed like the entire second half of the film. Hmmm, not a bad way to live life – to stroll, to wander, to drift.) Sadly, I wore baby blue tee shirts under my open corduroy coat, blowing away any sex appeal the jacket may have initiated.

My next goal was finding just the right shades to look like Benjamin. Shopping all over College Park was worth the effort getting my hands on a pair of large, dark-rimmed sunglasses (that really looked nothing like Benjamin’s, nor did I look any more like Benjamin when putting the spectacles on). Wearing them at night was cool, too – perhaps the best pay-off. That’s what Benjamin did.

Since Benjamin shunned the bar scene, so would I. I, like him, preferred to spend my Saturday nights gazing for hours into space, out the window, or through an aquarium, all to the introspective sounds of Simon and Garkunkel’s “Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme” playing in the background.

Being part of the So Cal beatnik scene one day could be cool for me to join, but I’d seen how Benjamin tuned out the hipster crowd at the hamburger drive-in by rolling his ragtop down so he could eat alone with Elaine. That’s what I really wanted – an Elaine. Beautiful girls, beautiful dates, beautiful never-ending campus life. Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman) had a big nose; so did I. Benjamin got women; so would I.

Benjamin was a master of casual, deadpan reactions. He even yawned after his big kiss with Elaine. How cool and suave that act was, as if an attitude of “not really needing it (love)” turned women on! To him, marriage was a game. To him, his parent’s marriage was a wreck; Elaine’s was a wreck; in fact, my parent’s marriage was a wreck. It’s best to play it easy with love. And whatever you do, don’t do what your parent’s did.

So, here it is, many years later, and I’ve never married. I’ve also discovered treating women in an unemotional, casual, even-headed and deadpan way never really worked. Neither did it keep me from feeling deep pain when rejected. Even though I eventually dropped use of corduroy coats by day and shades by night, I wonder now how many years I felt far too comfortable as the man who inspired the coat idea in the first place.

I also wonder what took me so long to pay attention to the positive sparks ignited by “The Graduate” – my desire to go west and get away from my native east coast security; to feel the excitement of Hollywood; to experience the warmth of Southern California; to explore the San Francisco area bridges – all images of places introduced to me in the film. Yet, I waited until my forty-third year to go to film school. Forty-fifth to see Hollywood and Southern California. It wasn’t until this September I visited San Francisco and beautiful lower northern California for the first time. In part, this is what became of me.

As for Benjamin and Elaine, one wonders what became of them. Much older and wiser now, I say they probably became just like their conventional, values-depleted, money-oriented parents. Perhaps that was Nichols’ view, too (who, like many things, was far ahead of me in seeing this scenario). Mike Nichols was a visionary and great director.

I’m a film devote and helluva DVD spinner.

I guess I can live with that Mike.

 

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Remember This? Splendiferous Summer Camping and the Family Ties That Bound

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One Friday morning in August of ‘65, we packed all our clothes and gear into the Plymouth station wagon to head off to Thurmont, Maryland, and a camping area in the mountains called Crow’s Nest Lodge.

Mom – setting civilized rules from the get go – declared dried fruit as the official family snack food for the weekend. Oh, great. Flatulence City. Steadily munching on dried apricots in a vehicle that had no air conditioning would be suicide.

Well, ha! Talk about eating her words. Mom barfed all her dried fruit snacks only an hour into the drive.

By the time we’d set up our gear at the site, I’d already begun to see what it meant to live in the wild outdoors.

With camping, Mom now had the beauty of nature in which to feed the family, do the dishes, pick things up, and take care of the kids. Similarly, Dad could set up the tent and go straight to reading the newspaper to the sound of bucolic bees and whippoorwill. It was beautiful to watch both my parents unwind in the out-of-doors, particularly Mom, who got away from unnecessary modern conveniences like pillows, clothes washers, chairs with backs, and flush toilets to become one with our forefather’s bygone days of outhouse living.

Dad was a natural in the outdoors with his talent for knowing just how to erect the two-hundred-twenty pound quarter-inch-thick canvas army-style six-man box tent that when fully constructed looked strikingly like a cinder block.
And I noticed how Mom brought the same cooking skills with her from home to the campsite. At dinner Friday night, her meals cooked over the Coleman camp stove were as brittle and overdone as ones charred on our electric range at home. I picked at my food, trying to separate the blackened parts from areas that still retained some semblance of color.

To truly scar my first camping experience, I discovered I was a high maintenance sleeper who repelled a sleeping bag at night – I actually woke up Saturday morning bound by rope. What? Maybe I did wiggle a bit, but rope? I was too sleepy to remember this rodeo, but come daylight, the memory of Dad sloughing it off by saying it was all part of roughing it in the wild rang a little hollow.

Then, after Saturday night’s dinner of Mom’s Crow’s Nest special of very baked beans and scorched franks, I filled up on real food – Jiffy Pop. It was not only satisfying, but shaking the aluminum encased platter of corn kernels over an open flame was a metaphysical experience for me. By ten o’clock, I was still there, igniting everything short of the picnic table. Eventually, with all wood articles incinerated, I burned wax, Play-Doh, foil and anything I could get my hands on, all as if I could burn my varied anxieties away.

Sunday morning, loosening myself from rope once more, I heard raindrops hit the tent roof. Scrambling to get out of the tent as fast as I could, I saw how the entire campsite had been protected from soggy wetness by a huge tarp that completely covered it.

Hallelujah. I knew Dad had to be good for something someday.

As the rain fell harder, the tarp began to leak. Drops of water plopped into the bowl of milk that had already drenched my cornflake breakfast. Everyone ate, but no one talked. Just plop, plop, dink, plop, plop.

When my sister, Cathy, couldn’t take the silence anymore, she turned on her transistor radio. As Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” screamed out, Mom frantically spun the dial for relief, finding the only other audible, stable voice – the local weatherman.

“The National Weather Service has just announced a severe weather bulletin for Thurmont and the surrounding area…. ”

Mom flipped off the radio and, along with Dad, decided it was time we pack up all of our belongings into the Plymouth and head home.

During the long, lackluster drive back, I reminisced the weekend experience.

Camping wasn’t fun. I hated rain. I hated commodes. And I hated our tent, the biggest six ring circus on Earth. Not only was there my rope fiasco, but the tent had been too small for everyone’s sleeping bags, blow-up mattresses, and clothes left strewn all over the musty floor. The only thing that was remarkable about the weekend was how each of us tiptoed through every one of these articles and managed to never touch them or another Andberg for two entire days.

I felt an inexplicable but strong urge to strike back, as if to swing in the air at everything but hit nothing. That’s because there was nothing solid to hit. Everything lurked somewhere below the surface in my world. In venturing out into the wilds of dangerous woodland with basically only tents, flashlights and Jiffy Pop, I’d been afraid of change. As it turned out, camping wasn’t any different than being at home. In fact, the saddest thing of all was that there was no change.

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Dad

(The kid on the left – whoever he is in this video – is a dead ringer for me on my first ever bowl.)

 

If there was one thing my father liked, it was bowling.

On the night he drove the family to the bowling alley for the very first time when I was ten, I asked why he chose duckpin bowling over up-and-coming tenpin bowling.

“Tenpins are easy. They’re big and tall – anyone can knock them down. Duckpins are short, stout and elusive – now those take skill to hit.”

Dad may have been right, but to me, tenpins would be much more fun, like knocking a burly, sexy Marlon Brando down when duckpins seemed closer to striking Ethyl Merman off her stride, if such a thing was possible. But, since Dad wanted to show us how to bowl, not to mention get out of the house for a change, I was all for it.

Once at the alley, the first thing I learned from Dad was that the other five people in my family also got to bowl. After I rolled my first two balls in the gutter, then clipped off the ten pin in the far left corner on my third, I reached for a fourth ball. Dad interrupted with, “Others in the family bowl, too. And you only get three balls.”

I wondered if my composite first frame score of “1” was anything to get excited about. “That’s very good for somebody’s first try,” Mom said, which I knew meant “1” really stunk.

Dad rose to bowl next. In the same way he lined up two by fours against the blade before sawing wood, Dad stared down the old, chipped wooden pins before making his first move. Silently, like a well-oiled machine, he took three evenly paced steps and fired the ball. The gray-black sphere clung to the lane’s far edge when, like magic, it curved to the middle. Then, pow. The Brunswick cannonball not only knocked all ten pins down, but the collision sounded like a factory of porcelain dolls had just blown up. How many pins did Dad just bust? And when do I get to bowl next?

Waiting for Mom to bowl, then my older siblings Cathy, Don and Doug, was no fun, but I took it like a man and patiently sat on my hands until Dad said, “You’re up. Remember – follow through.”

I didn’t know what follow through meant, but assured myself it was something akin to “throw the ball hard, then follow it with your eyes.” Following Dad’s advice, I not only took three steps to launch my rolling rocket, but fifteen.

“You fouled,” Dad said, referring to the red light that signaled my foot foul to the entire bowling center. I thought this egregious error was as good an excuse as any to use for getting an0ther gutter ball.

Pressure was mounting. I’d used four balls to amass one measly point.  Still, my hopes were high. My time was coming. I could see a strike on the horizon. No foot fouls – just exploding pins and lots of porcelain dust.

Toss number five was right down the middle, but started to curve, barely hugging the alley’s edge, before finally settling in Gutter City, its final resting place on the fringe of town.

“What?! Oh, come on-n-n-n,” I whined at the pins.

I couldn’t flub up like this again. My reputation as a fairly coordinated kid was on the line.

I fired my ball right down the middle, one that stayed there until impact. But, what? No strike? Instead, I received the duck pin menu specialty from hell, the all-too-familiar, overdone “chop.” Only two pins were knocked away from my straight on roll. “Shit. You bitch!” I yelled at them.

Uh-oh. I’d never used those words in front of Mom and Dad before. But walking back to the bench, expecting the worst, no one said a thing. Perhaps they couldn’t hear me. In dodging this bullet, and knew I better cool it.

Being last on the scorecard and watching everyone else get occasional spares, I shrunk lower in my bench seat with each frame. Dad’s praise was going to everybody else. I might as well be at home, quietly assuming the submissive posture I usually took in the family pecking order.

Then Don got a strike. Then Doug. Then the clowns bowling in the two lanes next to us blasted strikes. If I didn’t show up now, I was nothing.

Desperate, loose, and dangerous, I let it fly. Before I knew it, every pin disappeared from sight.

I jumped, fist-pumped and spun around. With jaw clenched, I swaggered to the bench, looking into my father’s eyes, as if to say, “Ev’ry goddam pin iz down, you bitches! Yes!”

From being in this new place called a bowling alley, I learned to be animated, that I could be animated, and that I sorely needed to express myself.

Sometimes it’s not what a father says, or does, or promises. It’s as simple as where he takes you.

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Single Guys With Dogs (who’ve never had a family of their own)

Quote of the day: Blest be the tie that binds. — Fawcett

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All my life, I’ve seen the father-son bond, the adult-infant connection, from afar. Never having married, I’ve envied the man who’s experienced what it’s like to be a father.

When I was 44, I got my dog, Woody, from the shelter. He was only a year and a half old.

Because Woody has always been well, I’ve enjoyed the perks of being a dog owner. But when man’s best friend suddenly gets sick, (and perhaps it isn’t until he does), that’s when you feel like a parent.

Two years ago, Woody suffered his first major health scare – a sudden attack of vestibular disease, a middle ear disorder. His eyes shifted back and forth uncontrollably, causing him disorientation and constant wobbling. All I knew at the time was that he looked like he was dying.

That night, Woody wouldn’t rest. He was panicked, hyper, trying to stand without success. I wished peace for him, that he might find comfort. The hours seemed like days. Then I realized how fatigued I was and wished for some rest of my own – all part of pet responsibility.

I took him to the vet first thing in the morning. She diagnosed him with the vestibular problem, gave him shots and fluids, a tranquilizer as well. It was all about Woody and the doctors. I felt helpless having little more to do.

Sedated, Woody needed to be carried from the vet’s office to my car. After all these years, I suddenly realized I had never done this before! Trying to carry my fifty pound friend on my own, I was afraid I was doing it wrong, or was hurting him, so I asked the attendant to help me. Sliding my arms under his front and back legs, I cradled Woody’s limp body up against my chest. Feeling his warm body against mine was a sensation I’d never had with him. I was carrying something in my arms that so needed me, and had for so long. This connection was primeval. It was good to feel part of humanity in a way I never had.

The next day, Woody was better, but still wobbly and groggy. As he teetered left and right, he was nonetheless able to right himself. But he needed me to help guide him along. I felt a little like a father walking his son for the first time, holding his toddler’s hands above him, letting him take his first baby steps.

As the day goes on, neighbors come to ask where Woody is, saying they’re concerned that he’s all right. I never knew they cared so much. I reassure them he is getting better by the hour.

Two days later, with Woody back to normal, I finally relax – I’ve got my family back.

Woody lived another two years as an active, happy dog. After passing away recently, what lived on was my eternal thanks to him for having given me my own sense of family and the joys one brings to all.

In the end, is there anything better than a pet?

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